William Penn called home from California in May expecting a full report of the days activities from his wife and children.
He wasnt expecting to hear that hed won the American Book Award.
I said, Uh, yeah right, the MSU English professor said. I didnt think my wife would tease me with that. She played the answering machine for me over long distance. It took about two days to sink in.
Penns newest novel, Killing Time with Strangers, is the award-winning work.
The book chronicles the life of a young man seeking to find his perfect love - but with every mishap, he must face the consequences.
The novel took several years and several drafts to complete while Penn worked to include Native American influences that have become well-recognized in his other works.
Its a funny book with serious intent, he said. The way I work is I keep doing whole drafts until Im happy with it.
In the final draft, I didnt even look back to see if it was good. I knew Id done it.
Penn accepted the award in Chicago last month with his family watching - proof that his wife wasnt just teasing him.
With him being tucked down in the basement, this was the manifestation of his success, said Jennifer Penn, the authors wife. The kids had a great time. It was wonderful for them to be a part of this.
Although William Penn has spent much of his time away from the classroom working on his novels, short story collections and essays, Jennifer Penn said it isnt difficult to deal with the schedule.
I dont really suffer, she said. Hes down in the basement. I have the run of the household.
But with the success of his new book, Penn is adding another item to his résumé, and more projects to his daily routine. Three more books are in progress right now.
He has won the North American Indian Prose Award, the Critics Choice Award, the Stephen Crane Prize for fiction and has been selected as the Writer of the Year and Editor of the Year for the Worldcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.
But the American Book Award sets a new precedent for the writer.
One never really expects to win that kind of prize, but I cant say I was really surprised, said Patrick ODonnell, chairman of the Department of English. Bills work has been gaining respect for several years now. I think its well-deserved recognition.
ODonnell expects Penns success as a writer to show in his classes this fall.
I think it reflects very well on him, he said. I think its a good sign of the kind of faculty that we have here.
With more books waiting to be published, Penn just hopes he can continue to write in his basement office, spend time with his family and teach students who love writing.
You can want to be famous more than you can want to write a good book, he said. I wanted that when I was 25, didnt get it obviously, and Im very glad that I didnt. You just have to write.
Life may be a record of failure. At the end of the novel, the last sentence comes to that.
That may not sound like much inspiration for doing a novel, but thats what happened.