SHERIDAN — Sheridan native Colleen Penor wrote and illustrated her first children’s book, “The Rubber Ducky” when she was 7 years old and has been writing short stories, poetry, essays and short plays since.
In 2014, Penor received first prize in the 83rd annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition for an essay on experiences during her four years of service as a military police officer in the U.S. Army.
Now Penor, who currently lives in Casper and works as a certified public accountant, has just published her first full-length novel and will have a book signing at Sheridan Stationery, Books and Gallery Saturday.
“Daeios: 140 Feet Down” is set in a cavern fortress called Daeios 140 feet beneath the desert of southern Utah and northern Arizona, where the characters have been trapped by a killer storm with just a year’s worth of food.
Penor tells the story through the eyes of her protagonist Shea, a survivalist who has just arrived underground with her family in the year 2034.
“My inspiration was from current world issues,” Penor said. “It brings up climate change, racial tensions, abortion rights, drug addiction, men assaulting women and the #MeToo movement. It’s not a political book but I just took these issues and imagined what they’d look like in 2034.”
Penor began her work on the book with initial ideas for the protagonist, though she didn’t know exactly how she would turn out.
“I had a protagonist first and I didn’t know who she was,” Penor said. “It took me a while to find out that she was a young girl going to college without much direction in her life.”
From that point, Penor set the year and place and began free-writing “on a great big artist pad.”
“I write in big letters. I write in pencil so I can squeeze stuff in or erase stuff or cross stuff off, and then I put it on those big notecards,” Penor said.
“It’s like an outline format, but it’s an outline that I can shuffle around and change.”
Since the characters are driven underground by killer storms, Penor had to research weather patterns, the polarity of the earth and other possible sources of the storm. She also researched mountain lions and how deep caverns would have to be for a nuclear disaster.
For a time, Penor had a beginning and ending but was uncertain of the middle, and she said the most rewarding part of the process was seeing how the story unfolded.
When she was stuck on a part, she found the best way to set her mind free for new ideas was to ride on the back of her motorcycle, listening to music and thinking through the plot issues.
“I would say it’s therapeutic just to let your mind create,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s hard work too, but it’s good, fun, hard work.”
Penor began work on the book in 2014, initially completing it in about two years. After receiving a lot of interest from editors and publishers, it was ultimately rejected and Penor rewrote the last third of the book about a year ago, making it more of a thriller.
“I decided it didn’t fit and many of the characters I had created in that last third of the book were unnecessary, and it just made it a more thrilling story,” Penor said. “They kind of took the story off on a tangent, I felt.”
The No. 1 thing Penor hopes readers will gain from the book is enjoyment, though she also hopes it will stir reflection some of the issues raised.
“I’ve not taken a stance on any of them, and so I just would like them to think about things, think about where our world is going,” Penor said. “The book emphasizes family, and I hope people value their families and find the relationships in this book positive and good.”
Throughout the process, Penor learned how to write and edit a novel, work with a professional editor, and do in-depth research. She also said she increased her vocabulary and practiced plenty of patience. She learned to enjoy the challenges of filling plot holes and writing her way out of creative slumps.
Although the book is a standalone book, she has notes on certain portions of the book that could one day be rolled into a sequel, and she also has notes for a crime thriller.
Sheridan Stationery, Books and Gallery owner Robby Smith knew Penor from when she lived in Sheridan and was a customer at the bookstore. She booked the event after receiving a phone call from Penor.
“We like to give Wyoming authors a chance to have book signings for their books,” Smith said.
The book was published on Nov. 9 and is available as an e-book, paperback and hardcover. Penor also hired a female voice actor of a similar age to the protagonist to record an audiobook, which she hopes will be available next week. The book signing will take place Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“Hopefully she’ll have a great turnout here. She knows a lot of people,” Smith said.