Some Thoughts with ... Pat Luther
I have lived in Portland, Oregon on and off throughout my life.
I’ve been a pizza boy, a Kelly girl, a corporate propagandist, and both a purveyor and debunker of conspiracy theories, and once had to take a class in money laundering and terrorist financing.
I once helped save the world.
The 2008 financial collapse was almost entirely not my fault.
I once drove to Guatemala with five people in a Subaru, and I’ve volunteered with archaeologists, where I’ve sifted dirt, flown drones, and dodged a giant boulder. (It wasn’t actually moving, but it was still a close call.)
I’ve been a member of one fundamentalist religion and two secret societies, and ran my first D&D game the summer before I saw my first Star Wars movie.
I’ve programmed satellites and police databases, and lost one job because the project I was working on got shut down by the EFF, and another because Bill Clinton said the wrong thing to an Iranian official.
I’ve also written two novels – so far.
Welcome to my favourite section of the blog. Today we get to interview Pat Luther, the author of Yellow Tape and Coffee.
Let's dive in!
1.- What made you decide for self-publishing?
I originally was trying to go the traditional route, querying agents for a while, and having no luck. None of them gave me any feedback at all. Then in early 2020, right before the pandemic shut everything down, I went to a writers’ conference and got to talk to a bunch of agents in rapid succession, and they all told me the same thing: The word count of 213,000 words was a major deal-breaker that nobody wanted to take a chance on for a first-time author. I thought about breaking it into a trilogy, but for various reasons, it wouldn’t have really worked.
One of the agents I spoke to at the writers conference mentioned self-publishing, and that having a self-published novel, if it had any success at all, would actually help when querying a second novel of more publishable length (unlike, say, 20 years ago where self-publishing a novel could make it almost impossible to work with a publisher in the future). I looked into it, and realized that I could pretty much do everything myself that a publisher would do other than the marketing, which I’d almost certainly have to do most of even if I had a publisher.
It worked well, especially when putting together the audiobook, that I decided to do the same for my second novel, too, even though it’s closer to that 100k that traditional publishers like.
And I understand now why they don’t like those big novels. The profit margin on them is considerably smaller - I make about three times as much on each sale of the small one – so they’d have to sell a lot more of them to make the same profit.
2.- Regarding your novel Yellow Tape and Coffee, I would like to ask why did you choose werewolves?
I’d heard of stories – books, TV shows, and games – that involved secret societies of werewolves or vampires or other critters. I wondered what it would take to actually keep something like that a secret, so started thinking about that.
Funny thing, when I started writing it, I had no idea there were already books where the werewolves were the main focus. I’d always seen and heard of them as sort of a side in a vampire or other supernatural novels. As I wrote it, it seemed like everybody had stories of werewolves in the Pacific Northwest, and when I was halfway through the first draft two different TV series started up that involved specifically werewolves in Portland.
If I’d known all that when I started, I might not have done it, so I’m glad I didn’t.
I decided to go with werewolves instead of vampires partly because I didn’t want them to be immortal. I wanted them to have the problem that any secret society does of having to continually bring in new members while not letting anyone know they exist.
3.- Despite using a fantastical creature, your approach to it is kinda methodic and I would even say scientific, why did you decide on it?
I wanted to be able to believe it myself, so I tried to present werewolves as a phenomenon that could be understood in the real world, and observable with objective scientific evidence. Part of the reason for Holy Mountain Research was so I could show how they were looking into them, exactly what experiments they were running, and so on. I did a bunch of research on metallurgy to try to figure out why silver was special and show what other metals they had tried and what the results were. Of course, I ended up having to cut almost all of that out.
But, I like things that make sense and that can be understood and predicted once you know the rules, so I did my best to keep everything consistent and logical that way.
Also, I stuck to reality as much as possible. Obviously, the werewolves aren’t real (sorry.) But everything Veer said about them - about the existence of YouTube videos claiming they’re real, and about 30,000 people in France over a twenty-year period being tried as werewolves, and the records of the trials still existing - is actually accurate.
4.- Yellow Tape and Coffee is structured for a multi-POV. How that influenced the process of writing it?
Playing with the different perspectives was a lot of fun. One of the major things I wanted to show was how perception can be not so much wrong as incomplete, when you don’t know the whole story. Without being in their heads, for example, it can be hard to tell the difference between Carl and Grant. They both did some similar things. Carl considers himself a freedom fighter, and Michael considers him a terrorist. Which is right? It depends on your point of view.
We also, thanks to Veer’s conversations with Victor, know more than Carl does about Holy Mountain Research, and how wrong he is in some of his assumptions. Except, is he really? A lot of what he believed to be inevitable did occur, after all.
When I was writing it, I set myself several “rules” and one of them was not to repeat scenes. As much fun as that might be, I wasn’t doing Rashomon. (Another thing I hadn’t heard about until after I started talking about it and my friends kept asking “Oh, like Rashomon?” so I had to look it up. Brilliant movie, but not what I was doing.) I did reference events from different points of view, but only showed them each from one. There’s one exception where Michael and Veer’s scenes – after she crashes her car on Skyline Boulevard – overlap a little bit. So, I let the reader figure out that, while nobody is being dishonest, nobody is entirely reliable, either.
5.- Apart from a fantasy story, this is a political novel. Why did you choose this format?
I’ve always been interested in politics, too. I think it’s an outgrowth of my interest in conspiracy theories. Which, at their best, are an attempt to figure out what really happened by filling in the gaps that aren’t known - either because they’re just not documented, or because somebody is deliberately keeping information secret.
I also have, like many people, very strong opinions about how the world works, and about how it *should* work, and the vast differences between them. I’m a big fan of the government of the people, by the people, and for the people, and of not letting people stomp on other people’s freedom. A key part of that, of course, is not “letting” them, which means we need to have some way of preventing people with power from using it to exploit those without.
Some people think that as long as we have good honest men in charge of everything then we don’t need laws to restrict them, but I disagree. Victor is, after all, a good and honest man who cares deeply about his people, but his people needed more freedom than he was giving them. The Were of San Diego, of course, were even worse off under Gregor, who at one point in his life was a literal Nazi.
But, that interplay between laws restricting and ensuring freedom, has always been of interest to me. I play with it quite a bit in my SF series as well, but more on that later.
6.- Your book is a big one, especially for your debut. Were you afraid at some point by the length of it?
Definitely. As I mentioned, it was the length of it that pretty much forced me down the route of self-publishing. And a book that size, it turns out, costs more than twice as much to print, but you can’t charge anywhere near twice as much for it, so the profit margins from it will never be great. But even so, if I get around to writing a sequel - which I wasn’t planning on doing – I always intended it to be a standalone story, but I’ve had tons of ideas on what to do with all those characters next – it’ll probably be comparable.
7.- If I’m not wrong, you’ve also published another novel. Could you tell us a little bit about it?
Yes. Thoughtless is a science fiction novel, set in the asteroid belt a couple of hundred years into the future. Ceres, Mars, and Venus have been colonized, and Earth is having a lot of problems. The main character, Del, works for an organization that looks after corporate interests in the Belt and functions as a sort of law enforcement and search-and-rescue. It’s terribly corrupt, and she’s not one of the more honest ones. In Yellow Tape, I noticed that all of my characters tend to be very introspective, curious, rational, and emotionally mature. Del, is none of those. But, hopefully with enough redeeming qualities that people like her.
8.- What can we expect from Pat Luther in the future?
I’m about to come out with a new high fantasy story on Vella. It’s a lot more light-hearted and kinda silly compared to my other stuff, but should be a lot of fun. It’s called Yagmar the Barbarian: The Singer and the Staff. Fittingly, my longest title yet for my shortest story yet. My original plan was to spend about a month on it, but it’s ended up taking the better part of a year.
Once that begins releasing (February 10th on Vella and Patreon!) I’ll be focusing on Careless, the sequel to Thoughtless. I’ve got about six books planned so far in that series, but the plan is for them each to stand on their own. So, even though you’ll be able to trace character development through all of them, they should be able to be read in pretty much any order. I hope to have Careless ready for publication by the end of the year, but we’ll see.