Liz Colter has followed her heart through a wide variety of careers, including farming with a team of draft horses, and working as a field paramedic, Outward Bound instructor, athletic trainer, and roller-skating waitress, among other curious choices. She also knows more about concrete than you might suspect. Her novels written under the name L. D. Colter explore contemporary and dark fantasy, and ones written as L. Deni Colter venture into epic fantasy realms. She’s an active SFWA member with multiple short story publications. “A Borrowed Hell” was her debut novel.
What inspired you to write this book?
After many years of reading mostly epic and secondary world fantasy, I suddenly discovered a number of new-to-me contemporary fantasy authors whose work I loved. I’d already written an epic fantasy novel, but these authors galvanized me to try something different. I set out to write a heroic story with a current-day character on the brink of disaster who finds his metaphorical and literal way back, and used settings across America as the backdrop for both the alternate world and real world scenes.
Who are your favorite authors and/or characters?
Neil Gaiman, Tim Powers, and China Miéville were three of the most influential authors I discovered around the time I started working on “A Borrowed Hell,” and they are still among my favorites. I learned from them to push myself in terms of thinking outside normal tropes, to always try for the unexpected and then take it a step further. This relates to characters as well as plot, and especially to secondary characters, which can so easily end up being cardboard cutouts. In “A Borrowed Hell” I began having more fun with names, but also thinking outside the box with all my characters. It’s something I’ve continued to develop more in the two books I’ve written since.
As for favorite characters, I have so many: Neil Gaiman’s Chernobog, and the Zorya sisters in American Gods; the Marquis, and Croup and Vandemar in Neverwhere; Tim Powers’ Spider Joe in Last Call and Horrabin in Anubis Gates; and China Miéville’s Weaver from Perdido Street Station. They’re just a few of the many characters who have shown me how engaging and unique secondary characters can be.
Why did you choose this excerpt to feature in SunLit?
“A Borrowed Hell” starts, as most novels do, with an inciting incident—the point where everything changes for the character. The inciting incident takes place in the real world, though, so I chose to start a few pages later with my main character’s arrival in the alternate world to give a feel for the setting and the challenges he faces there.
What was the most fun or rewarding part of working on this book?
It was rewarding to write a novel that made me feel proud of the story. July is a character who comes from a very tough childhood (not physical or sexual abuse for anyone looking for trigger warnings). As an adult, he finds himself in a situation where he needs to quite literally confront his past in order to move forward in life. The story was written to be a supernatural adventure story and not to be didactic in any way, but I think it’s also a hopeful tale about breaking free of old chains.
What was the most difficult section to write in this book? Why?
I pretty consistently hit a wall at about the two-thirds mark in any book, and this was no exception. I suppose it’s a product of genre writing, as the situation usually gets exponentially worse for the character up to a crisis point and then the author is stuck with trying to find a way out for them.
What was one interesting fact you learned while researching this book?
I tend to heavily research details in all my books, almost to a fault. It pulls me out of a story when authors get details wrong, so I try hard not to do that to my own readers. For this book, I’d been to most of the places I included in the story, but had to rely on research and a good friend for convincing details about Coit Tower in San Francisco and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Through that research, I discovered some interesting history about the origins of Coit Tower, the murals there, and its patron Lillie Hitchcock Coit: a cigar-smoking, trouser-wearing, socialite who enjoyed gambling and investing her money in projects she felt would beautify San Francisco. I found it interesting enough that I included a little of it in the story.
What project are you working on next?
I’m currently working on a set of fantasy books based on various mythologies. While “Gods Sleep,” the first in the set, was released this past September and has its framework in Greek mythology. The second book, which is completed and awaiting publication, is based on Mayan mythology and religion. The third is not yet started, but it’s likely to revolve around Slavic folk religion.