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. Her novels and short stories written under the name L. D. Colter explore contemporary and dark fantasy, and ones written as L. Deni Colter venture into epic fantasy realms. Her debut novel “A Borrowed Hell” was the winner of the 2018 Colorado Book Award for Science Fiction/Fantasy. “While Gods Sleep” won the 2019 award in that genre.
The following is an interview with Liz Colter.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit
What inspired you to write this book?
I’ve had a love of mythology ever since delving into ancient religions and cultural myths around high-school age. Greek mythology was my first passion, and when I decided to write a set of fantasy novels based on different mythologies, it seemed the natural place to start.
Who are your favorite authors and/or characters?
Currently, some of my very favorite authors are those few who write at the intersection of commercial, literary, and at least slightly weird fantasy. Neil Gaiman, Tim Powers, and China Miéville excel at this, in my opinion. Two of those three aren’t usually classified as writers of “weird fiction” but they can always surprise me and they take things in wonderfully original directions. Not surprisingly, some of my favorite characters are their inventions. I can say the same for my early favorites as well, writers whose work still influences me: Ursula K. Le Guin, Patricia A. McKillip, Gene Wolfe, Roger Zelazny and more.
Why did you choose this excerpt to feature in SunLit?
The excerpt comes from early in the book and starts at the point where the main character’s journey to the underworld begins. I think this works well as an introduction because it also explores the backstory about one of his two near-death experiences as a child and his real-or-not encounter with the Greek gods while dead. This section begins where Ty (my Greek protagonist with an Americanized nickname) has been coerced into this undertaking by the money-lender to whom he is indebted. Without being told much of anything, he’s been abducted, tattooed, and now transported to Lake Marathon.
What was the most fun or rewarding part of working on this book?
It was great fun to finally write a book rooted in the Greek myths I love, but better still was getting to play with them in completely unique and original ways that were entirely my own creation. It was a goal of mine from the start to avoid the more common tropes and to take this in unexpected directions, starting with setting it in a slightly alternative 1958 Athens.
What was the most difficult section to write in this book? Why?
There were a few difficult sections (there always seem to be a few), but an early hurdle came when my hero first arrived in the underworld of Erebus. I had to invent a setting that I hoped would grab readers’ interest, the unusual things he would encounter there, and what the rules of magic in that place entailed. Trying to re-invent such well-known mythology while still making it recognizable and entertaining for those who enjoy the myths turned out to be a pretty big task to set for myself.
What was one interesting fact you learned while researching this book?
Setting it in1950s Greece, even an alternative one, I had plenty of research to do. Fortunately, a Greek author friend of mine, Natalia Theodoridou, helped immensely with culture and setting details. The majority of the book takes place in the underworlds, but even there, I had to frequently review the myths I borrowed from. I don’t know that I could pick out just one interesting fact, but I enjoyed learning about the contemporary history of Greece and post-WWII Athens, though only small bits made it into the book.
What project are you working on next?
Continuing my goal to write a set of books based on mythologies from different countries, my work-in-progress is rooted in Slavic folk-religion. Unlike “While Gods Sleep,” this one (still untitled) takes place present-day in the real world, but will hopefully be another high-octane supernatural thriller. I describe it as “Slavic paganism meets The Tempest in Northern California” and hope to have it completed this year.