Michael Panno likes to write books that make you think about humanity and morality, but are also hilariously funny and entertaining. Animal Rites is no exception - a retired Secret Service agent and circus dwarf embark on an epic journey into the seedy world of animal poaching, pornography and prostitution. As our Author of the Day, Panno talks about this book, life in general and what he hopes readers will take away from it.
Please give us a short introduction to what Animal Rites is about.
Frank Noble is a retired Secret Service agent living in his grandfather’s cabin in the Angeles National Forest, surrounded by nature, a stray mutt he has named Bones, and a family of bears who seem to enjoy the classical music Frank plays on his cassette player. When he discovers the mutilated bodies of two of the bears, Frank embarks on a hunt of his own. It turns out to be a dark and bloody journey into the seedy world of animal poaching, pornography and prostitution.
What inspired you to write a book about poaching?
I read an article in the L.A. Times about a group of animal poachers who had been busted for killing Black Bears, and selling their gallbladders and paws on the black market. I wondered what might happen if some poachers were to kill the wrong bears; that is to say, what if someone was emotionally attached to the slain bears?
Tell us a bit about Frank Noble. Who is he and what makes him so special?
Frank is a man of strong moral convictions, convictions that led him first to Vietnam, and then to the Secret Service for twenty years. He is also an idealist who has seen too much of the world. That clash between his ideals and reality has left him with a reservoir of anger that he fears he can’t control. And so he flees to the woods, hoping to find some peace. When that new peace is shattered, he has to quickly switch from shepherd to avenger. What’s special about Frank is that even in his quest for revenge he doesn’t lose his core sense of morality.
Why did you decide to work a circus dwarf into the picture as a supporting character?
I needed Frank to have a partner to help move the story forward. The circus serves as a metaphor for the “real world” and it lends itself to the theme of animal rights. Portraying Marcell as a dwarf to play opposite this brooding Vietnam Vet, just seemed perfect. I mean, I never considered any other option; it opened up lots of opportunities, not the least of which is Marcell’s struggle with his self-identity. He is my favorite character in the book, full of irony and a strong lust for life.
Animal Rites is dark and bloody, but also very funny. Why did you decide to include humor in this book?
Humor is always important to me in my writing and in the books that I read. The first thing I ask someone who has read Animal Rites is if they thought it was funny. The humor helps the reader navigate through the darker parts of the story, just like it helps us in real life.
How much has touring as a musician influenced your views on humanity?
Interesting question. We live in a culture obsessed with fame. I spent twenty years playing in clubs, pretty much being ignored. Suddenly, I’m on tour with a famous band and people want my autograph. That kind of an abrupt transition will make you think a lot about humanity, especially your own.
Your book not only deals with how humans exploit animals, but also how humans exploit one another. Why did you find this an important theme to write about?
Life can be frightening. Humans are insecure, and that insecurity leads us to exploit others in some desperate attempt to assuage our own fears. I mean, that’s really the human condition, isn’t it? The Animal referred to in my title is Man, so even though I’m dealing with issues pertaining to other species, Man, in all his dysfunctional glory, is the main topic. As a fiction writer, I try to shine a little light on that topic—without preaching—and hope that light helps in some small way to drag us a little further from the cave.
You describe your scenes with so much detail that readers find it easy to visualize. How do you pull this off?
That is the task at hand, isn’t it? Keep the reader interested. They need to see what you, as the creator of this world, see. If the picture you’re painting is muddy, you’re finished. I try and keep my imagery as concrete as possible, listen to that nagging voice in the back of my head that keeps telling me it’s not quite right, and trust my intuition.
What do you hope readers will take away from Animal Rites?
First and foremost, I hope they are entertained. They’ve come into this world I’ve created and I want them to feel it wasn’t time wasted. Beyond that, if I’ve been able to shed a little light on my subject matter, all the better.
Your book makes readers wonder about what the "right" ethical decisions actually are. Was this intentional?
Absolutely. We’re faced with these questions everyday, whether it be seemingly small dilemmas like who to invite to our party, or much larger ones like which countries we should or shouldn’t go to war with. Frank Noble kills bad people. Is that okay? What if we all took the law into our own hands?
Should Animal Rites ever be turned into a movie, who would you like to see as Frank Noble?
I should be so fortunate. As long as Frank wasn’t reduced to some super hero on steroids, I’d be happy. But, more to the point of your question, Josh Brolin comes to mind; Woody Harrelson could do it.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I know my way around a pool table, and I’m a good poker player.
What are you working on right now?
I’m half way through a thriller with a lot of back-story, so it’s rather ambitious. And I’ve also been jotting down some notes for a sequel to Animal Rites.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
All three of my novels are available on Amazon. I wrote the screenplay for a documentary about wolves entitled: OR-7 The Journey that can be seen on Vimeo.com. And I have a website: michaelpanno.com. I can also be reached by email: [email protected]