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Pennington turns passion for writing into successful book

Thursday, Mar. 6 | By Constance Lyons
Penny Pennington didn't set out to be a writer, but she has found success with the publication of “It Burns a Lovely Light.”
Courtesy Photo
Penny McCann Pennington didn’t set out to be a writer.

“I went to Radford intending to be a teacher,” she said. “Then I decided it wasn’t what I wanted to do, and I switched to business. But at the same time, I wanted to get into something creative. I started writing for the school’s newspaper. That was the start.”

After graduation Pennington moved to Pittsburgh and went to work for a film company. “I did all sorts of things: worked on a remake of “Night of the Living Dead,” and on “The Silence of the Lambs.” I assisted with casting and, helped train the dogs (for Silence). This was at the time when the city was in decline; the steel industry was failing. We filmed in abandoned factories. The city was just starting to dig out, to begin its recovery.”

Pennington married, moved to Raleigh, N.C., and went into the video industry, founding a company with a couple of partners.

“Once again, I was involved in all the aspects of production,” she said. “I wrote, directed, produced.”

Eventually she divorced, remarried, and movied to Warrenton, where she and her husband own a farm and raise Angus cattle. And she began to write a novel.

Although, like the main character in the book, Pennington’s father was in the military (a general), the novel is not autobiographical, though, like any novelist, she draws on her own experience.
Most of the book is set in Pittsburgh.

“There’s a subtle parallel drawn between the renaissance of the city and the self-recreation of the characters. They both have to reinvent themselves,” she said.

After the death of her parents, Farley James has to abandon her dreams of being a world-travelled photographer. Her brother William is fragile emotionally and physically, and a savant, and there is now no one else to take care of him. They return to their mother’s childhood home in Pittsburgh, Bridge Manor, now a tumbling down Victorian boarding house run by their dour Aunt Claire.

Slowly, through hard work and friendship Farley begins to climb out of the darkness that has enveloped her. And then disaster strikes: in a senseless attack William is beaten nearly to death. Farley and the Bridge Manor residents take turns caring for him, while at the same time Aunt Clare is struggling not to lose the family home.

“It’s a grim and bitter story in some ways, but also full of hope,” said Pennington. “I worked hard at handling it with levity and humor, especially in creating the boarders. They make up a sort of patchwork family, just as the city is trying to patch itself back together. The focus is on the bonds of family.”

Pennington is working on a second novel, but refuses to reveal its subject.
She loves to write: “I can’t wait to get at it in the morning,” she said. “The story, the characters: they often seem to come out of nowhere. Of course there’s a basic plan, a story line, but I find it somehow developing and changing on its own.”

The use of the word “burns” instead of Millay’s “gives” is intentional. “One of the character objects to Millay’s language. “She says, “a candle burns itself out. It doesn’t just sit there, endlessly glowing.”
“It Burns a Lovely Light” is available from Amazon.com for $13.91 in paperback or $13.21 on Kindle.

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