About the Author
Shawn Penning’s Brief Autobiography
Sometimes people want to know why I’m just
now getting around to completing my first novel. The short answer is
“I’ve been busy.” Now in my defense, I
haven’t been working on the book for thirty years or anything
Shawn Penning, Author of The Cicadas like that. I'm not as fast as Stephen King when it comes to cranking out the novels but I’m not a one-every-thirty-years guy either. Overall, The Cicadas took about three years, and the short story, The Ketchup Incident, took about three hours.
Now back to being busy. A few years ago I moved to Michigan and my wife and children remained in Nebraska for about a month during the transition. Any married person with children who has found themselves, even if just for a month, a couple of states away from their family can identify with this. You suddenly have so much time on your hands you don’t know what to do with yourself. For me, it was a chance to start writing. I would head over to Barnes and Nobles and write until they closed or until my computer’s battery went dead. I became addicted to Chai and finally, addicted to writing. That first attempt at a book was for my daughter, only five years old at the time and she not only inspired me to write the story but also starred as the main character.
At some point business, or perhaps more
accurately, busy-ness crept back in and stole my inspiration. I never
finished that book but I will eventually; I’m sure of it.
When I do, I’ll rewrite the completed first half because
undoubtedly I could not write as well then as I do now. It’s
not that I think I’m a great writer now, it's just that
As a West Point Cadet I’m better now than I was then, and I’ll be better tomorrow than I am now. I believe to be a writer, one must write. To be a better writer, one must learn to write better. So I began my study of the craft at an age that was a little beyond twenty. Okay, beyond thirty. Actually, it was around 2001 or 2002 when I first picked up Stephen King’s On Writing. After I figured out that one can learn a lot from reading books (I’m a little slow sometimes), I read more of them and tried to apply what I learned. I’m still trying to apply what I learn in those books and anyone who has read Stephen King’s only instructional book can’t help but cringe every time they read or (God forbid) write an adverb. Thanks Stephen (he said admiringly).
I can’t leave out my English instructors at West Point. The two I remember are from my freshman (Plebe) and sophomore (Yearling) years. As a Plebe I found out that I could not do anything right and the upperclassmen yelled at me constantly in case I forgot. I also found out that I knew very little about writing of any kind but I learned that I could learn. Perhaps my creative writing teacher did not teach me as much as Captain Dunn did that first year but in her class I discovered the most important thing of all. I could make up a story that at least one other person found
Shawn Penning (right) about to board a Huey
Helicopter and carry the American Flag into a
German-American Festival in Germany. very interesting. “Your writing is so vivid and compelling,” she wrote more than twenty years ago and I still remember the comment today. Teachers beware, what you say matters. The strength of that single comment drove me to write again all these years later.
So I was busy. Too busy for sure at West Point. That’s another book that I will write someday but take my word for it; Cadets are busy. After West Point I guess I don’t have much of an excuse except that I moved eight times in the three years that followed my graduation from the Academy. From New York to Georgia to Ohio to Germany. While in Germany,
Carrying the American Flag
I served as an Army Signal Officer in a 155mm self-propelled howitzer battalion. Those are the cannons that look like tanks, I usually tell civilians.
A great thing happened while I served in
Germany--the Berlin Wall came down. Everyday we had been training to
stop the Soviet horde from coming across East Germany and into the West
but after the Wall fell most of us wondered what to do next. We
didn’t wonder long before we were deployed to Saudi Arabia,
Iraq and Kuwait. I fought alongside my fellow soldiers in the first
Gulf War, a one-sided victory won with technology, leadership, and a
clear mission. When the war ended, I left the army and returned to the
States, this time to Michigan, to join a major pharmaceutical company
as a sales representative. There were more moves, to Wisconsin,
Nebraska and then back to Michigan.
My Velocity Homebuilt Experimental,
Ten Years to Build Meanwhile, I took up a few hobbies that may have stolen some writing time. I had already learned to fly and I thought I needed something to fly in. I began construction on an experimental airplane called a Velocity that I thought I could finish in a year. It took ten. About that time, I met a pretty girl who liked me enough to marry me. We learned to scuba dive so that we would have something to do on our honeymoon (I'm a little slow sometimes.) I had already started skydiving and I continued that habit until the kids came a couple of years and a few hundred jumps later. Once our daughter arrived, I found that particular hobby hard to justify.
Some might read this and wonder why The
was set in South Dakota. I spent the first eighteen years of my
life living on the edge of the Black Hills, looking up at the bright
stars and wondering about all the things we saw up there. We had a
large second-floor balcony attached to the house and my brothers
and I used to take our mattresses out for the night and gaze at the
stars, wondering what the little moving lights
Serving in Combat as an Officer
During the First Gulf War
were. We called them moving stars, and today I’m pretty sure that I know what it was we were looking at but I’ll save that for another time (hint: they were not airplanes or helicopters or airships of any kind).
Anyway, this is my brief autobiography. I’ve left a lot of things out (like I have eight brothers and sisters for example), but that’s okay, if you're not completely bored by now, then perhaps there is another book in here somewhere. If you're curious about anything, feel free to ask a question on the comment link. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy The Cicadas!