Walker With Sleeping Gods: Liz Colter

World of Mystery

Exciting News!  Alan Robson and I will be presenting a Thursday Tangent tomorrow, on a Thursday, even…  It will feature original fiction, thoughtful discussion, and everything you loved in the Thursday Tangents.  Make sure you don’t miss it.

Now, on to our regularly scheduled Wandering, a guest appearance by author, Liz Colter.

My encounters with Ms. Colter have occurred in mysterious stages, which is strangely appropriate, since that is how her fiction also seems to unfold.

I first encountered her as L. Deni Colter, the author of “The Weight of Mountains,” one of my favorite stories in DreamForge magazine’s second issue.

At Bubonicon in 2019, we were doing a panel on DreamForge before a surprisingly full room, given that it was early on a Saturday.  After the panelists had introduced themselves, moderator Emily Mah Tippetts announced that there were two other DreamForge authors­—John Jos. Miller and Liz Colter— in the room.  She then suggested they introduce themselves.

I’d known John for decades, but who was this mysterious “Liz”?  When she mentioned the title of her story, I was very excited.  Later, we ended up chatting.  Almost immediately, I knew I wanted to interview her.  In preparation, I read her most recent novel, While Gods Sleep…  But more about that later.  Let’s let her speak for herself.

JANE: Liz, I always start these interviews by asking the same question, so here it is…

In my experience, writers fall into two general categories: those who have been writing stories since before they could actually write and those who came to writing somewhat later.

Which sort are you?

LIZ: I’m a came-to-it-later writer. I was a massive daydreamer when I was young and I nearly flunked out of grade school due to daydreaming, but it proves to me that I was always wired for writing fiction. On top of that, I’m English born and was raised with a very English mother who was a strict grammarian. My vocabulary tested high when she started me in 1st grade a year early, and reading and writing assignments were always strong areas for me in high school and college. I was also an avid reader from about age 10 onward, nearly exclusively science fiction and fantasy.

I might have come to writing earlier, but I stayed too busy after graduating from college, pursuing a lot of different interests, schools, and (as my biography will confirm) many careers. I never made time to write seriously until about twenty years ago when I found myself with a seasonal work break, a rainy winter, and my first computer. I started my first novel that winter and wrote 10,000 words in a week. I’ve never looked back.

JANE: Your official biography lists a wide and fascinating variety of careers including field paramedic, athletic trainer, and roller-skating waitress.  How did this very active lifestyle influence your writing?

LIZ: I’m a bit “Jack of all trades, master of none” but at least this has given me a wide range of interesting experiences and a fairly unusual knowledge base of draft horse farming, firefighting, emergency medicine, outdoor skills, and plenty of other things.  (That biography is by no means a complete list!) I’ve also had the privilege to meet a few true masters along the way.

As to how it’s contributed to my writing, in my early short stories I did what many beginning writers do and tried to write stories like ones I’d read,  avoiding things that were personal or unique to me. As my writing developed over the years, I’ve learned to draw more deeply from my past, not only from my experiences but, more importantly, from the feelings and truths that came with those experiences.

JANE:  In While Gods Sleep, Ty, your protagonist, is a locksmith.  Did you learn how to pick locks to get into his character?

LIZ: <laughs> No, that’s one skill I haven’t attempted to learn, at least not to the point of physically learning lock picking. That said, I am absolutely obsessed with getting details as accurate as I can in my stories. I fall down research rabbit holes constantly, so even the shortest of stories can take me far longer to write than perhaps they should.

Locksmithing was certainly one of the things I researched for While Gods Sleep. I did the standard Googling, but I also reached out on a writer’s forum and got responses from a couple of people who had practical experience and could answer my very specific questions.

JANE: Let’s talk a little about While Gods Sleep.  When I started it, I figured it would be a variation on the popular portal fantasy sub-genre, in which a character in our world is drawn into another.  The more I read, the more I realized you have two imaginary worlds here.  Why did you make that choice?

LIZ: I wanted this to be a contemporary fantasy but I used an alternate 1958 Athens, Greece setting for a couple of reasons. For one thing, I’ve never lived in Greece, so I set it far enough back in history to hopefully give it a contemporary and accurate feel, but not be tied down to getting every detail of present-day Athens correct.

My second reason for the time period was to give the world a slightly less realistic feel since I needed to alter the history of Greek royalty to incorporate the storyline for an important pair of characters. They were the main reason that my Athens ended up being in an alternate world. I could throw demigods and creatures into the real Athens, but I couldn’t change the history of the rulers without changing the world a bit.

JANE: And those rulers…  Shiver.  Shiver.  So good.  So creepy without ever being a cheat.  Nicely done!

Based on what I’ve read of your work, you very much like mythic material.  What draws you to myth and legend?

LIZ: It’s almost a which-came-first question for me between my love of speculative fiction or my love of mythology and folklore. One of my favorite books as a child was a beautifully illustrated book of Russian folk tales, though the biggest hook into reading I can remember was discovering Tolkien at age 10.

In junior high and high school I spent much of my free time in the library reading all the Kurt Vonnegut they carried as well as all the Greek mythology I could find. I remember doing a research paper around tenth grade and choosing Hindu religion and gods as the subject.

 I honestly don’t know what drives the passion. Perhaps it’s learning the classics or the draw of mythological archetypes. Maybe it’s a natural progression from the fairy tales and folklore I grew up on or the appeal of learning about the similarities and differences of myths and religions in different cultures. Probably, it’s a bit of all those.

JANE: Tell us a little more about your other works.  While you’re at it, tell us why you’ve chosen to publish under several different names.

LIZ: To date, I have three published novels—two of them Colorado Book Award winners—and two or three dozen published short stories.

On the pseudonym, I went back and forth at first about using one, but eventually published my early short stories under my full name, Liz Colter.

When my debut novel, A Borrowed Hell, was accepted for publication, first by Shirtsleeve Press, and later at Digital Fiction Publishing, I revisited the question. My protagonist was male and my hope was that the book would appeal equally to all readers, and so I made the decision to switch to a non-gendered byline, L. D. Colter.

The next novel I published as L. D. Colter was While Gods Sleep—hopefully the first in a set of contemporary, myth-based novels from different cultures.

My next published novel was an epic fantasy, The Halfblood War from WordFire Press (that first novel I mentioned earlier, which I started that rainy winter on the farm). While plenty of readers, like me, enjoy multiple sub-genres of speculative fiction, my contemporary and my epic fantasy novels were very different. I decided to use a slightly altered pseudonym for my epic fantasy, L. Deni Colter, to make it easier for readers to know what they’re getting from me, as I expect to continue to write both contemporary and epic. Both my newsletter and my website list all of my books, as do my other social media pages, so hopefully everything is easy to find.

JANE: You’re not the only author I know who uses slightly different names as a “code” to guide reader expectation.  It’s an interesting choice.  Can you give me a link to your newsletter, in case any of my readers would like to follow any of you?

LIZ:  They can sign up for my newsletter here.  I have a website, too, where all my secret identities are listed.

JANE: I’ve taken a lot of your writing time with this chat, so I’ll let you go.  I definitely look forward to our next in-person meeting, and to reading more of your work.

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