An interview with Chris Panatier

stringers

Chris Panatier’s new novel, Stringers toes the line between intellectual science fiction and bat-shit crazy fun. It also features one of the best friendship duos akin to Sam and Frodo.

Chris is someone I have looked forward to chatting with since his debut novel, The Phlebotomist. And I wasn’t disappointed; he is a fascinating man with his hand in many pies: lawyer, artist, and author.

chris panatierCheck out the below conversation that Chris and I had via email.

[GdM] Hey Chris, thank you so much for taking the time to interview with us!

[CP] Thank you so much for having me, Beth. What a treat!

[GdM] You are a lawyer by day, an author of some wildly cool science fiction, and an artist of album covers. What attracted you to law as your day job? How did both being an author and an artist start?

[CP] I have a bit of a reverse story from a lot of writers, I suppose. Most would-be authors I hear seemed to know they were going to write early on. Not me. I was too lazy for that. I had to write a 30-page paper in my third year of law school and considered it a great affront that anyone would be required to put down so many words. So, long story short, my desire to be a trial lawyer came pretty early and I’ve done that for twenty years. I like to find the story in the case, then speak it to juries with an aim to holding companies responsible for doing bad things to people.

As for art, that started in childhood, but (due to laziness) I didn’t really get serious until around 2007 when I started trying to draw album art and bands started to find me.

Writing hit me like a bolt of lightning. In 2015 I was struck by the desire to write a novel—probably because it suddenly dawned on me that the marriage of writing a story and a reader reading that story is this very magical thing. That you can write words that lots of people will read in the same order, but the story as it manifests in one reader’s mind will never look like it looks in somebody else’s brain. There was a beauty to that idea I couldn’t shake. After that, I started writing. Badly. But I wrote every single day for years until my work began to find homes.

[GdM] Is there a story that was very influential for you? If so, how?

[CP] I think it depends on the day and influential in what way, you know? But on this day, the stories that comes to mind are some that my mother read to me when I was very young. A Wrinkle in Time fascinated me. I think maybe that planted the little seed that hatched so many years later. As for modern stories, Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer has been something I’ve aspired to in terms of pure beauty and story execution. Ask me tomorrow and get a different answer!

[GdM] I read on an AMA you did a few years ago that you furiously wrote The Phlebotomist in 70 days. The story was at the forefront of your mind. Did you have the same sort of burst of writing with Stringers?

stringers[CP] Stringers came in two parts. I’d actually begun the book that became Stringers first. I remember that the early version of it was kind of fizzling out on me. I put it down and wrote The Phlebotomist. When I resurrected Stringers two years later, I got the first draft done in three months. Sometimes all you need is time.

[GdM] You released The Phlebotomist in the middle of the pandemic and released Stringers recently. Has anything changed between releasing your first book and now your second?

[CP] It definitely sucked super hard to have a debut come out when it did. On the other hand, my publisher, Angry Robot, was so supportive and organized lots of on-line events for me and other writers. I have enjoyed being able to do in-person events now in support of both books. Most of the time I feel like a little cave dweller yearning for human contact, so I try to get to any events I can. Readings, cons, what have you.

[GdM] You are both an artist and a writer. Each of these disciplines requires different parts of your creative faculties. But process-wise, would you say that you approach both similarly? For instance, if you are a pantser, do you go into an art piece and create whatever feels right at the time? Or do you have a set of criteria that you want to hit?

[CP] Great question! The longer I write, the more the two crafts seem the same to me. It may be different for others who do both things, but for me I never know what I’m really working with until I start writing/sketching. I may have a broad idea, such as a premise in writing or a compositional structure in drawing/painting, but I usually just need to start and see where the art takes me. Pantsing in both endeavors is a process of discovery for me. Before I ink a drawing I’ve probably sketched and redrawn aspects of the piece dozens of times. Same goes for writing. Leave what works, bin the rest.

Another interesting thing I’ve noticed is that art and stories come together in much the same way—both paintings and books go through an ugly phase and you just have to remember that more often than not, you do come through on the other side!

[GdM] What are some album covers or art pieces that you genuinely admire, and why?

[CP] There is so much good album art. I’m hugely inspired by anything John Baizley has done. Some of my favorite work by him is the cover of Skeleton Witch’s Beyond the Permafrost album and Pig Destroyer’s Phantom Limb. Also, anything Pushead did for Metallica. Love the painterly stuff by Adam Burke, who did the cover for Vektor’s Terminal Redux. Just off the top of my head. What these all have in common is some type of trapped energy that seems ready to leap off the page in addition to nice composition and linework (if pen is involved). I’m a sucker for pretty lines.

[GdM] Speaking of Album covers, I bought your Full Metal Coloring book about a year ago. It is gorgeous. When will we see another coloring book from you?

[CP] Oh, I’m so glad you like it! I’ve actually got more than enough art to do a second coloring book, but I wanted to make it available in a larger format. My agent (Sara Megibow) recently submitted a proposal for a new coloring book to a few places. Cross your fingers!

[GdM] I read that you drew the anatomical heart on the cover of The Phlebotomist. Is that true? How did the cover design process go for that book? The cover is very cool and distinctive.

[CP] That is a true fact! It was a very collaborative process. I told Angry Robot that I wanted to have a hot pink cover (to match my protagonist’s hair). They came up with the medical illustration theme and had a few possible centerpieces done in that style. Pen and ink is something that I have a lot of confidence in, and so I asked them if I could draw the center image. They said ‘go for it’ and that was that!

[GdM] The covers for Stringers is also amazing. Did you have a hand in Stringers as you did with The Phlebotomist?

[CP] I had a lot of input, and we even played with the idea of my doing a cover for it. I actually painted a giant spaceship with oils but we later decided it didn’t really do the job we wanted for the cover. The concept that made it to the front was mine, and the brilliant execution was the work of AR’s graphic designer Kieryn Tyler. I absolutely love what she did.

By the way, the spaceship made it onto the book. If you look at the spine, you’ll see a very tiny image at the top. Hahaha!

[GdM] How did you shape your protagonists, Willa and Ben, in The Phlebotomist and Stringers? Was there a starting point, an idea that you worked from? Or did you build the story first, and the protagonists developed organically?

[CP] Another great question! I have a tough time developing characters outside the confines of the story. With most of mine, I know little more than their circumstance and primary motives before I begin writing. They gain layers of flesh as the story goes on. In my experience, characters are truly defined by their decisions. So putting them into the story is key for me. All I knew about Willa, for instance, was that she’d be older (only because the phlebotomists I’d encountered were older) and that she would be employed by the company at the center of the book’s conflict

[GdM] Can you tell us a bit about Stringers?

[CP] No spoiler version: Ben has a lot of knowledge but doesn’t know why. He’s an encyclopedia of natural sciences (with a focus on bug sex), antique watches, and the Chime—though he can’t say what the Chime actually is. Unfortunately for Ben (and his best and only friend, Patton) there are people in the galaxy who do know what the Chime is, and obtaining it is very important. Naturally, Ben and Patton are abducted. It devolves from there.

[GdM] Stringers has a ton of crazy humor, often involving a jar of pickles. How fun was writing all of the shenanigans?

[CP] An absolute joy. I had every bit of it in my mind’s eye and it unfolded like a comedy film. I admit I laugh at my own shit. I’d love to see this book on the screen at some point because I truly think people would need supplemental oxygen from all that happens to our “heroes”.

[GdM] Also, what made you choose the sex life of animals and watches for Ben’s unique pool of knowledge?

[CP] I needed something that seemed entirely random but was still engaging. Here, engaging meant humor + strange facts that could keep the reader involved as they plow through the footnotes that symbolize the many intrusions of poor Ben’s asshole brain.

[GdM] What are some deep intellectual dives you went down in research for Stringers? What is the coolest thing you learned? You had to have discovered a lifetime of information about insects.

[CP] The deepest dive I went on had nothing to do with bugs or animals at all, actually. It was in trying to develop a plausible, but original, faster-than-light travel device. I watched hours and hours of videos on particle entanglement in order to get a basic understanding of the science to then bastardize it into the mechanism for Naecia’s “Switch Drive”. The bug stuff was fun and amazing, but for me the exploration of actual physics was more rewarding. Doesn’t mean I won’t regale people with facts about head-fucking snails at parties.

[GdM] Would you say that Patton is Ben Sullivan’s Samwise Gamgee? I think we could all use someone like Patton in our lives.

[CP] Wow, I hadn’t seen that comparison yet. It’s shockingly apt! For both Patton and Ben. Because Frodo—like Ben—could be a selfish asshole, and Sam stuck by him.

[GdM] What is next for you?

[CP] I have a dark fantasy manuscript with my agent and some beta readers right now. It’s nothing like my prior two books (I guess that’s becoming a theme!). Tough to describe, it’s sort of Monsters Inc, + Wizard of Oz + The Exorcist. I’m very excited about it.

Thanks so much for having me!

Read Stringers by Chris Panatier

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Elizabeth Tabler

Elizabeth Tabler

Elizabeth Tabler runs Beforewegoblog and is constantly immersed in fantasy stories. She was at one time an architect but divides her time now between her family in Portland, Oregon, and as many book worlds as she can get her hands on. She is also a huge fan of Self Published fantasy and is on Team Qwillery as a judge for SPFBO5. You will find her with a coffee in one hand and her iPad in the other. Find her on: instagram.com/elizabethtabler https://beforewegoblog.com/ https://www.pinterest.com/scottveg3/ https://www.goodreads.com/Scottveg3 https://twitter.com/BethTabler