Every time bestselling author Peng Shepherd tries a new restaurant or travels to a new place, she orders classic pork and cabbage dumplings. 

“My grandma used to make them every time we visited,” Shepherd explained. “That was the thing she would make for me because she knew I love them.” Then, when we ask the author of All This and More to name her comfort food, she immediately responds with “dumplings.” 

Shepherd usually goes for boiled (or steamed) first, since “That’s the most simple version, right?” This type of dumpling has become her “litmus test” of sorts. “If you can do that great, then I know all of your other ones — like the shrimp ones, the egg ones, the chicken, the mushroom — they’re all going to be good,” Shepherd added. 

But what if every time you ordered dumplings, they were perfect? The perfect shape, the perfect texture, the perfect filing? What if your dumplings — your life! — were perfect because you ensured that all of it would always be perfect? 

This is the idea behind All This and More, Shepherd’s third novel, which is on shelves today (July 9). Set in the near future, a TV show called “All This and More” harnesses advancements in quantum physics “to allow contestants the chance to revise their pasts and change their present lives,” per the book description. The contestants have a chance to make their lives, well, perfect. 

Complete with the tagline, “You could have all this…and more,” choices abound. The contestants also have unlimited chances to redo any scene at any time (within the time limits of the show, of course). And there’s another twist, too. The reader — yes, you the reader — gets to decide what happens next. 

EnVi spoke with Peng Shepherd over Zoom about her new novel, the consequences of choices, and what a perfect day looks like to her. 

Questions (And Characters) Drive the Story

While Shepherd’s three novels — The Book of M, The Cartographers, and All This and More — have more differences than similarities, they are all “character-driven stories with a speculative edge,” as Shepherd described it. “With each of my books, they’re in a slightly different genre. But the common thing is something very strange or kind of dark is going on,” she said. 

The Book of M, published in 2018, for example, is about disappearing shadows and an apocalyptic virus. Two years later, Shepherd released her sophomore novel, The Cartographers, which investigates purposeful errors in maps and what they mean. Even a story like All This and More — although it does feature an overly cheery TV host (who was also the first season’s contestant) — has something dark simmering underneath all the brilliant shine of perfection. 

“They’re really focused on a very human question or a very human struggle,” Shepherd mused. As she pointed out, All This and More is “about a woman who’s given the chance to go back and rewrite her past mistakes to make her present life perfect.” Coupled with the advanced technology used in the TV show “All This and More,” this idea seems harmless. Especially since nothing in the woman’s actual life will change until she makes her final choice in the last episode. 

“But at the heart of it, [All This and More] is really more about the question of ‘If you had almost endless possibilities, how would you pick the right now?” Shepherd emphasized. “Or if there is always another path, how do you figure out how to stop choosing and just live instead?”

Although All This and More follows Marsh, the lucky chosen one to make her life perfect, the novel is written in the third person rather than the first person. “I came to that really late because, actually, when I wrote the first draft, the whole book was in second person,” Shepherd revealed. Originally, the reader took the perspective of Marsh — “you” were literally “making the choices” right then and there. However, Shepherd added, “Second person is really hard to sustain over a novel of that length.” She discussed this knot with her editor, who suggested switching the narration style to the third person. 

This adjustment was “a lot easier to get into Marsh’s head and feel what she’s feeling,” said Shepherd. One of the limitations of the first person is that the character would have to constantly narrate and report to the reader. Shepherd continued, “I didn’t know if we’d be able to get as deep,” talking about the essential questions that drive the story forward. By writing in the third person, Shepherd was able to dive even deeper: “What does [Marsh] want? What is she going to give up if she makes this choice? Does she think it’s worth it?”

The Choices Behind All This and More

Speaking of Marsh, her name is a nickname of her nickname — Marshmallow. From the very beginning of All This and More, it is clear that “Marsh” is not the character’s birth name. “It started back when the story was about ‘you,’ and ‘you’ were going to be Marsh,” Shepherd explained. “And so, I was looking for a name — or a nickname — that could fit anybody, whether they were young or old, regardless of gender or background or anything like that.” In the end, Shepherd decided that “Anybody could be Marshmallow.” 

When the author overhauled the perspective, the name “Marsh” stayed. “She just felt so much like Marsh already because I [had] been writing her [for] so long as Marsh the marshmallow,” Shepherd said with affection. “So it just stayed that way.” 

Just like the writing experience, All This and More is an incisive — and sometimes chaotic — exploration of choices. However, Shepherd began writing the story in the “opposite situation.” “We all just live in an age of infinite options. There’s always just as much to choose from,” she mused. “Sometimes it almost feels like there’s so much to choose from, that it’s kind of meaningless to pick any of it. What is any of it even worth?” Shepherd contemplated other questions through this story too: “What can make you happy when there’s just always another, always another [option]?”

Marsh has an infinite number of choices as soon as she steps into the quantum “Bubble” — the place where contestants can make their choices freely and safely. But Shepherd started writing during the first COVID-19 lockdowns “when we had no choices,” she remembered. “We were all just stuck in our house for a little bit, waiting to see what was going to happen.” 

Shepherd elaborated further on what sparked the inspiration behind All This and More.“The initial idea came from that desire to go somewhere, travel somewhere, see something new” or even “just walk down my street,” she said with a small laugh. The game show that appears in the novel “would let you just snap your fingers and try a new scenario,” so you could see what “perfect” really looked like in your life. All This and More, as Shepherd noted, was “a response to this feeling of being trapped that we all had.”

While Marsh tries to make her life perfect, however, there also is the question of who else in her life is affected. From her husband to her teenage daughter and her best friend to her “new possible love interest,” “they’re all really emotionally connected,” Shepherd said. She added, “It’s really a process of as you develop one character — the deeper you get with them and the more you start to understand them — the more the others develop too.” 

Shepherd drew a parallel to how everyone is connected in many ways to the other people in their lives: “That’s how our own lives are.” She concluded, “Everyone is related to everyone else, and if you do something in your life, it does affect the people you care about and vice versa.” 

It’s Time To Choose

As most writers know, the first draft of a book is never perfect. For Shepherd, her first drafts are a way for her to find out what exactly she’s writing about. “I start with just an idea or a character, and the writing of the first draft for me is just discovering what the story is,” she said. “So a lot of the time, I will be surprised by something that was hiding there in the first draft, but as soon as it comes out — when you look back at the other stuff you’ve written — you’re like ‘Oh, it was there the whole time.’” (Shepherd hinted that Ren’s character surprised her when she was writing, and that’s all we can say *wink, wink*)

Writing All This and More was particularly special because there were multiple plotlines, depending on what path readers chose for Marsh. According to Shepherd, it was “kind of complicated to make sure that everything lined up.” After certain chapters, the book forces readers to pause and choose whether to read on or jump to a new section. “I really wanted to make sure that whatever path you’re reading, it does always make sense and has meaning, too,” she added. Although it was “definitely a process,” Shepherd emphasized that this unique structure was “so fun to write.” 

In fact, Shepherd didn’t even have an outline when she was writing her book of choices. Instead, she trusted her instincts and took a risk. “I thought if I had a map and I plan[ned] it all out ahead, it might feel a bit artificial and I [didn’t] know if it [would] be true to the characters,” she noted. As a result, the author “let them go where they want[ed] to go” to center “what they would have chosen.” Basically, as Shepherd revealed, “I was letting the characters lead the story, rather than me leading them.” 

The same idea goes for readers of All This and More. Not only do they have to make important choices for Marsh throughout the book, but the Choose Your Own Adventure-type novel culminates with deciding the story’s ending, too. This structural decision surprised early readers, Shepherd told EnVi. They were expecting her to “force them into one ending,” the conclusion that maybe she as the author preferred.

Playing with the structure of the story — and the choices — was fun, but Shepherd was also thinking more about the why. “It just felt right to do it that way,” Shepherd noted about why the readers have to make the final choice. “I didn’t want it to be that I was asking readers to make choices as they read just for structure’s sake, just as a gimmick,” she continued. “I wanted it to be thematically relevant, and I wanted it to matter to the story and to the reader…So that’s why the whole plot is designed around a game show, where the point is making choices about your life. I just wanted to echo that in the end, too. The last thing you do is you have to make the hardest choice of all,” Shepherd emphasized.

At the end of the day, while Shepherd writes stories with a “speculative edge,” her books are very much rooted in real life and questions the everyday human faces. “The whole book is about Marsh having to grapple with what a choice cost[s] and what will you give up in every scenario that she faces. What are you giving up to get that new thing?” added Shepherd. 

When readers reach the last page, Marsh understands the weight of her choices. “She’s done everything she can do. She knows exactly what it’s going to cost to choose any one of the three,” Shepherd pointed out. “[The ending] puts it back on the reader, and it asks you to think, ‘What would you do in this situation?’” The three choices are vastly different from one another, each one with its obvious positives and negatives and maybe some not so obvious positives and negatives. “I think it helps you kind of understand a little bit about yourself, the one that you choose first, that you think is the most right,” the author mused. 

All This and More for Peng Shepherd

Writing an ambitious novel like All This and More naturally came with its challenges and its joys. “You end up with more paths than you can realistically use,” Shepherd noted as one example of a roadblock she faced during the creative process. She joked that the first draft was actually two times the length of the 512-page book now. In response, her editor had taken one look and said something along the lines of “No, honey. I love it, but like, no. People can’t read 900 pages,” Shepherd revealed with a laugh. 

Although it was difficult to decide what to cut, the author also discovered a fun aspect of the reroute. “You can read [All This and More] straight through like a conventional novel,” Shepherd said, a decision that arose after having to condense the novel. “If you don’t want to jump, you can still read one path all the way straight through and get the full story.” She further explained, “It got really fun at that point because I wanted to make sure every single path, including the one that you can read straight through, had some of my favorite chapters in it.” (All of the paths that appear in All This and More are loved equally.) 

But then again, even those who take the traditional path — like the writer of this interview — need to make a final choice to reach the final page of All This and More. “That’s the most important moment,” Shepherd emphasized once more. “I still want the reader at that point…to make a choice, no matter what.” This sentiment also underscores the butterfly motif found in the novel. A nod to the Butterfly Effect, the characters in All This and More are well-acquainted with how even the tiniest change can make a huge impact later on. “If a butterfly flaps its wings, that could affect the hurricane that starts the next day,” Shepherd said about the Butterfly Effect. “It can even be that dramatic.” 

Of course, we also had to ask, “Would Shepherd join the All This and More TV show?” The author had some thoughts for us in response: “I think if you had asked me at the start of writing the book, I probably would have said, ‘Yeah, [I’ll] just try.’” But despite the benefits of such a show and the allure of the promise of perfection, there is also a lot of “risk and a lot of danger,” Shepherd pointed out. In the end, her answer is probably not. As she said, “I’m not sure I would because I think the real danger of it…is that you don’t know when to stop.” 

Shepherd continued, adding, “I think that’s the really hard thing about having this kind of power, is that after you make one choice, it would just be so impossible not to keep making them until you got to a certain point that was like, ‘How far is too far?’ And even if you had gone in thinking there were some lines you weren’t going to cross…I think the longer you stayed in there, the harder and harder it would be to hold your lines.” 

A Perfect Day

One glance at Shepherd’s Instagram, and you can tell that she’s been places. From Japan to Azerbaijan and almost everywhere in between, Shepherd is an adventurer. (She also has lived in Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, London, Mexico City, and New York.) For All This and More, too, she will be traveling around the U.S. for a book tour. Starting in Phoenix, Arizona (where Shepherd grew up) for the novel’s launch event on July 9, the tour will end in late September in Albany, New York for the Albany Book Festival. In addition, Shepherd will attend the Library of Congress’s National Book Festival in August. 

Although Shepherd has traveled to the places found in All This and More — Iceland, Mexico, and Hong Kong — she said, “I didn’t know at the time that I was going to write them into a book.” They are all very different from each other, but Shepherd believed that they are a “perfect balance for each other.” There are snowy adventures in Iceland; scenes worthy of a telenovela in Mexico; and sleek, metropolitan energy in Hong Kong. “It was also really fun to get to write [about] a place that I had been and seen in person,” Shepherd added. “Because I could really bring out what I love about those places in the story” (including the food, of course).

Since she is a globetrotter, Shepherd told EnVi what she likes to do when she arrives in a new country. “This will sound silly, but I love walking the place,” she admitted. “I love walking it to a degree that I think it drives whoever I’m traveling with just up the wall. I want to walk like 30 miles,” Shepherd said, semi-joking/semi-serious.  

Compared to traveling the place in a car or on public transportation, “I think I see it better,” Shepherd explained. “If you have time to walk, I feel like you’re so much more likely to stop and look in that cafe or check out that shop or just smell the air better; you hear the sounds.”

Walking also creates the core of the author’s dream vacation. “My dream vacation is just put[ting] me in a city and let[ting] me literally walk every street until my feet fall off and I’ve lost all my traveling companions because they’ve given up on me and left,” she replied, eyes bright.  

Shepherd may have a chance to do all that walking during her upcoming trip to Taiwan. Her mom’s side of the family is Taiwanese, so her grandmother, her mom, and Shepherd are planning to go back to their homeland in the next few months. (Shepherd’s grandmother and mom have not been back in decades). Although traveling in general is exciting, Shepherd is particularly looking forward to this family trip. As she told us, her family has tried multiple times to travel to Taiwan ever since Shepherd’s high school graduation, but it just never worked out. 

After exploring the island nation, Shepherd is hoping to make a stop in Uzbekistan. She recently went to Türkiye, Georgia, and Azerbaijan to research for her next book. (It is “set kind of between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea,” she revealed.) Although Shepherd is only halfway through the first draft, she did tease a few more details about her next standalone novel. “It’s a lot darker than All This and More,” for one thing. It’s also “ twisty,” she noted and in a vein akin to the roots of The Book of M

“It’s about body doubles who are hired to impersonate a very, very powerful famous person,” Shepherd continued. “As all their lives get more and more woven together, everything gets more and more dangerous and then starts to unravel.” But that’s not all: “All of them are losing track of who each of them are because they’re all pretending to be the same person in such convincing ways,” she added. 

Just like in All This and More and her previous novels, this new work tackles a central question. The heart of the book revolves around identity, but with a more sinister tinge. “Who are you if you spend all your time pretending to be someone else?” questioned Shepherd. “And then conversely, if you’re the original person, and somebody is better being you than you are, who are you also?” Time to get those TBR stacks ready, book lovers! 

Although we are both aware of the consequences of seeking out “perfection,” EnVi wrapped up the conversation with one last question: “What is a perfect day for you?” Naturally, “I’m probably traveling. I’m walking. The place has amazing food,” Shepherd thought out loud. “Then, somehow, even though there are only 24 hours in the day, I’ve managed to spend the whole day exploring, but [I’ve] also written for a couple of hours,” she continued. “That’s the perfect day.” 

But after a brief pause, she added, “And dumplings.” Now that sounds like an even more perfect day. 

All This and More is available to purchase wherever you buy books. Keep up with Peng Shepherd and her upcoming novels on her website, Instagram, and X

Want to read more author interviews? Check out EnVi’s conversation with comic artist Agnes Lee here!