BookLife Talks with Bill Patenaude
A sponsored Q&A with the author of 'A Printer’s Choice'
Debut author Patenaude’s life as a former ex-Catholic with an education in mechanical engineering left him uniquely qualified to write the first novel in his series about free will, which our review called “masterful.”
What’s the story behind A Printer’s Choice—why and how did you write it?I’d become known for my blogging and commentary about polarizing topics such as climate change, eco-protection, and Christianity. I’ve always wanted to explore those subjects in ways that unify and reach wider audiences. One day, I watched my mother, who suffers with Parkinson’s disease, lose herself in the pages of a murder mystery, and I thought, “That’s one way to get people’s attention.” A few hours later, I had my plan: write a science fiction murder mystery rooted in some of the most ancient questions about free will.
The dichotomy between religion and atheism plays an enormous part in your novel. How do your background and your faith inform the story?
I’m a former ex-Catholic, so I understand life with and without a religious grounding. What brought me back to the Church is a long story. Suffice it to say that my younger years and my life today helped me create a world with good and bad among both religious people and nonbelievers. Moreover, my career as a government regulator helped me humanize the book’s “engineers,” who have outlawed religion in their new worlds built in space.
Our review says that your “take on the possibilities of technology is inventive and in line with contemporary science.” What kind of research did you do to make the technology in your book feel possible?My education in mechanical engineering and my longtime interest in space flight give me a fairly good foundation for science fiction. Nonetheless, I did reach out to several NASA experts for advice. I kept most of the story’s tech somewhat familiar because I wanted to focus on two major realities: life in the space station of New Athens, with its cities and farmlands, and, of course, the titular artificially intelligent 3-D printers, which were conceived out of basic physics and my own imagination. The more challenging research involved working with several retired U.S. Marines so that I could get the protagonist right—not to mention the battle sequences.
Why or how do you think this book is particularly relevant now, or how do you imagine readers at this moment will connect to it?
This gets back to my answer to the first question—my desire to encourage unity in our polarized culture. There’s a reason the book’s tagline is “Every future must face its past.” It’s my hope that in re-presenting some of the philosophical and theological underpinnings of Western civilization, we might begin to understand a multitude of views on how to build a better future.
What is the one thing you most want to tell readers, other writers, booksellers, publishers, or agents about you or your book?
For writers, find ways to get your stories published. As a first-time author with a genre-crossing story about faith and free will, I found Izzard Ink’s collaborative publishing model the most helpful. And I was able to work directly with great editors and artists, like Stephen Youll and Jamie S. Warren, who created the cover. To the publishing industry, I’d say take chances on unknowns, because if there’s one thing our world needs, it’s good stories that bridge divides. These stories may come from unlikely sources.
What’s next for you?
The sequel, the second book of the series. Throughout A Printer’s Choice—really right up to the last sentence—Fr. John McClellan is faced with choices. Now we’ll explore the consequences of his decisions and what it all means for our lives in the here and now.