Debut Author Interview Project: Chris Panatier

Welcome to Libri Draconis, Chris Panatier! His book, The Phlebotomist was published by Angry Robot in September 2020, and has one of the most memorable covers I’ve ever seen – AR have been killing it in the design department. Add it to your Goodreads here and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link). And the more I talk to AR authors, they seem like a fabulous publisher, so listen up, aspiring authors!

Please tell us about your book:

Thanks for having me! Since it took me so long to get the short synopsis down for The Phlebotomist, that is what I’ll put here, because anything else would miss something:

To support herself and her grandson Isaiah, Willa works for the blood contractor Patriot. Instituted to support the war effort, the mandatory draw (The Harvest) has led to a society segregated by blood type. Hoping to put an end to it all, Willa draws on her decades-old phlebotomy training to resurrect an obsolete collection technique, but instead uncovers an awful truth.

Patriot will do anything to protect its secret. On the run and with nowhere else to turn, Willa seeks an alliance with Lock, a notorious blood-hacker who cheats the Harvest to support the children orphaned by it. But they soon find themselves in the grasp of a new type of evil.

How did you celebrate its release?

Probably just like every other debut in 2020, in front of my computer! Angry Robot did a great job of introducing the book during the pandemic and I did a host of blog posts and podcast interviews to go along with the release. So, while I’m sure everyone would have preferred to be able to do bookstore events and convention panels, I felt that my book received a nice reception.

Why and when did you start writing in earnest?

January 2015. I had just seen the movie Interstellar and read The Science of Interstellar by Dr. Kip Thorne. I was so blown away by the world of astrophysics that I’d been introduced to that I felt compelled to write about it.

What was your publishing journey like?

Well, after seeing/reading about all that awesome science, I immediately dashed off an epically mediocre “middle grade” epic fantasy/sf thing, convinced it would break the world. When eighty agents didn’t agree, I was disappointed, but moved on to the next project. Writing had its hooks in me. So, I began writing other novels and also really dove into short fiction in 2018. Short fiction, at least for me, has been key in honing my skills.

After 150+ agent rejections over two novels, Angry Robot said yes. It’s certainly no lie that you have to put out the absolute best work you can, and then find one person who connects with it.

How many books did you write before your debut and what did you learn from them?

That’s a hard question to answer because there were (and probably are for most writers) a lot of partials. So, I had one full novel written and then four or five partials into which substantial time had been invested. The Phlebotomist was my second finished novel.

At this stage in my career, all of those words were about learning. My writing, aka ‘the prose’, got better by leaps and bounds—this is, I think, the first thing to improve with practice. After that, came understanding story structure and character development. The chief Big Thing I learned was that all problems in writing are solved with time and practice. I’m still learning a lot.

How has your relationship to writing changed after finding out that your debut would be published?

It became a whole lot scarier. That’s not as bad as it sounds, but all of a sudden, you learn your work is going to be out there and judged. It’s a dream come true—and anyone who gets a book deal should celebrate that—but I’m so tightly wound, my celebration was short lived. I worked even harder after I knew The Phlebotomist would be published. Revised and edited until my eyes fell out. More hours, reading more, interacting more with other writers. Since then, I’ve chilled some. I have more perspective, but I’m still largely driven by fear.

What do you wish you had known before publishing your first book?

Angry Robot really takes care of its authors in terms of preparing them and helping to drive publicity for their books. I didn’t feel all on my own. That said, most of the things you learn along the way is really stuff you can only learn by going through it. Experience is the real teacher, I guess.

What challenges do you face as a published author?

There is pressure, of course, to improve on the last thing, to avoid a sophomore slump, I guess. My next book is nothing like The Phlebotomist, so I know that it won’t appeal to everyone who liked the first book. Every author feels that pressure, I’m sure, so I’m not unique in that respect. All the same, I have bouts of doubt, imposter syndrome, and all the rest. Hopefully it is successful enough to continue building an audience.

Do you feel the industry has been welcoming to you?

Absolutely. The community is very supportive. I have a tight group of fellow writers that I call my friends who I’ve never met in real life!

How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

There was a lot going on over the last year that affected everyone, I’m sure. The pandemic was like, just another layer in the crap cake we were all being fed. I had a tough time focusing for a few months, but with no end in sight, I just decided to get cracking. I’ve written basically two full first-drafts since last June. In that respect, it’s become a productive time.

Do you think that current events have changed the reception of your debut?

My book wasn’t shy about addressing current events in an allegorical—and sometimes on-the-nose—sense. I did see a number of reviews noting that the social commentary of The Phlebotomist was apt for our time. It addressed government control, consent, media manipulation, etc.

How do you approach reviews, what was your first negative review like?

I have never received a negative review. 😉

Authors wiser than me warn against reading reviews or caring what they say. That’s great and all except that I am physically unable to restrain myself. I’m a complete junky, I admit it. My first negative review ruined my morning. Having someone point at your baby and say, “that baby is hideous” is tough to stomach. Nowadays, though, negative reviews impact me far less. You get used to it. Writing will teach you real fast that you can’t please everyone.

What are you planning next?

I’ll keep writing novels and short fiction. My next novel, Stringers is a humorous sci-fi adventure with all the requisite probing you’d expect from an alien abduction story. It comes out from Angry Robot in April of 2022.

Do you have a set writing routine?

I do! I get up at 5:00 a.m., brew coffee, and try to write until at least 7:30 a.m. If the day allows, I’ll write again later on. Getting up early is an awful, terrible, thing and no one should ever do it, but it does keep me from tweaking all day wondering when I’m going to write, because I’ve already done it. Most of my life is spent trying to manage my Type A-ness.

What is your preferred writing soundtrack?

Total silence, ambient coffee shop, or instrumental music (Russian Circles, Loscil, Red Sparrows, Tides of Nebula, or Ludovico Einaudi)

Coffee, tea or other writing fuel?

Coffee. Occasional mint tea.

What was your favourite moment on the journey to publication?

Finding an offer from Angry Robot to publish The Phlebotomist in my junk mail. No lie.

What books (or other media) have you loved recently?

Books: Hill House by Shirley Jackson, Shrouded Loyalties by Reese Hogan, Gate Crashers by Patrick Tomlinson, one of several Murderbots by Martha Wells, The Expanse by James SA Corey, We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor, etc.

Podcasts: Ty & That Guy (Expanse Podcast), Writing Excuses, My Dad Wrote a Porno, The Writer Files, Smartless, Our Opinions are Correct, National Geographic Overheard.

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