Many Madison residents are familiar with Chris Jennings Penders as a longtime staffer at the E.C. Scranton Public Library, or accompanied by a camera as he photographs local events and sights. Now they can add his name on their bookshelves with the upcoming publication of two books, which he'll launch at a release party, open to all, on Tuesday, Nov. 20. (Photo by Margaret McNellis/The Source
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Most residents probably know Chris Jennings Penders from his work as a photographer, or from Scranton Memorial Library, where he’s worked since 1996. Chris, however, is also a writer, and on Tuesday, Nov. 20, he’ll celebrate the release of not one, but two books. One of them, a short story collection titled Random Acts, has been in the works since the 1980s. “It’s all dark fiction,” Chris says. “It was a release of the negative energy I had growing up. Everybody goes through stuff in high school; I wanted to make sure that whatever was going on around me, I didn’t project negativity.” One of the reasons Chris writes is to express himself. “I have this inner voice that tells me because I have this stutter,the only way you can prove you have something to say is to write,” Chris says. He has dealt with this challenge his entire life. “It used to really weigh on me,” he says. “It made me quiet, but I didn’t want to appear to be less intelligent.” Chris feels that even though people who know him don’t find it problematic, he’s found it to be a struggle that writing has helped him cope with. “I have to be creative. When I’m not, I feel the world closing in on me,” Chris says. Regarding his fiction, Chris reveals that 90 percent of his stories are told from a female point of view. “I struggled writing from a male point of view,” he says. “I couldn’t pull it off; it didn’t flow.” He attributed the cause of this to the “female energy” that’s always been in his life, from his female friends. Chris’ second book, a collection of essays titled Taking Off a Coat, was just as crucial for him to write. “Writing, for me, is like breathing,” he says, “If I don’t write, I die.” His essays, collected from one of his blogs, center on death and dying, and what Chris believes happens to us after we pass from this life. “I think we come back in groups. I think we have soul groups,” Chris says. “I think of past lives and reincarnation in relation to school. Every time you graduate to a new grade, it’s because you learn something in the past. If we meet a challenge, we won’t meet it again in the next life because we’ve learned from it.” Chris used the movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray, as an example. “Every time Bill Murray goes out, he steps off the curb and into a puddle. He does it again and again, until he doesn’t anymore,” he says. For Chris, life’s challenges are about learning from them so as to avoid repeating them. “I realized, shortly after I started writing the blog, I no longer needed to write to release negative energy. All of that’s in the past,” Chris says, noting that he also writes to grow spiritually. When it comes to the process, Chris loves to write, but he loves editing even more. “The editing process is much easier. Once something is on the screen, or paper, I’m more driven,” Chris says. “Once written, it’s easier to go through and edit.” With his two books, Chris has forged a path through a process he’d previously only dreamt of. “I’ve always aspired to see my name in print,” Chris says. Some of his short fiction has already been published, but not in a book—at least, not until now. “To have two books,” Chris says, “pinch me. I’m speechless. I joke and tell people I’m living on cloud nine.” It may have been a long road to publication, but Chris has enjoyed the journey thus far. “It will really be real when I can actually touch the books,” he says. With his release party around the corner, Chris had hoped to have books available for party-goers to purchase, but happenstance had other plans. “Originally I saw it as a bad thing that the books wouldn’t be available in person on the 20th,” he says. But now, people can order them on Amazon before the release party and get them signed, or they can order their copies at the event itself. “I can’t stay in a negative place,” Chris says. “It only hurts me. I was ready to find the positive. This is one of the things I blog about, too.” Chris actually maintains two blogs: a blog for his photography at cjpphotos.com/blog, and a blog for his writing, cjpwisdomandlife.com, which was the birthplace of the essays that became a published collection. His blogs, and his photography, will remain his focus. “I just want to keep writing and keep up with my camera. I’m driven by creativity; it’s an obsession,” Chris says. “I literally write every night.” Chris posts to each blog once a week, and usually stays a month ahead to allow for plenty of time to edit. “Deadlines are important,” he adds—they keep him going, and “it’s so important to keep going.” Chris’ joy at his publication is palpable. “This is an exciting time to be alive,” he says. From facing negativity to seeking the spiritual and positive, Chris’ creativity has been a mainstay for him throughout his life. To nominate a Person of the Week from Madison or Killingworth, send a nomination to firstname.lastname@example.org. A release party, open to all, for Chris Jennings Penders’s two books, Random Acts and Taking Off a Coat: Ruminations on the Infinite Soul, will be on Tuesday, Nov. 20 at 6:30 p.m. in Hubley Hall at the First Congregational Church, 26 Meetinghouse Lane, Madison. Both books will be available for purchase from R.J. Julia Booksellers and amazon.com, for a retail price of $14.95.