This week I have an interview with author L. D. Colter, creator of A Borrowed Hell. Without any more delays let’s get this interview started.
Jonuel: Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
Colter: Nearly every book that has resonated with me made me take a hard look at what, specifically, made it so good. I’m very particular about what I read while I’m writing new work; I like the atmosphere to feel similar in some way to what I’m shooting for and the writing style to be something I aspire to. It gives me lofty goals to shoot for and a reminder to push myself to grow as a writer. I don’t imitate those writers or works – and couldn’t if I tried, and wouldn’t if I could – but reading mind-blowing finds that leave me stunned and changed helps me see the fantasy genre in a new light and helps me absorb an intrinsic feel for the technique it takes to get there. Reading Neil Gaiman, Tim Powers, and China Mieville in particular in the past decade probably inspired the single biggest change in my writing since I began writing more than 15 years ago. Discovering their work was eye-opening, and was the inspiration that lead me to leap from epic fantasy back into literary magic realism/weird. I cut my teeth in my teens and twenties on Kurt Vonnegut, John Crowley, and straight literary works like Catch-22, but immersing myself in a new generation of magic realism writers after a long break definitely made me rethink where I want to go with my own fantasy writing.
Jonuel: Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Colter: Essentially, I do write under a pseudonym. I write novels under the initials L. D. (Colter) rather than my name for a couple of reasons. One is the illusion that it might provide a tiny bit of privacy in the unlikely event of widespread popularity someday, but the far bigger reason is to avoid possible gender-bias. I’ve written four novels so far, and each one has a main protagonist that is male. I don’t want a female author name to turn off potential readers who are male and might assume the novel is geared toward women readers. I think all of my novels strike a good balance for readers of any gender (or gender preference). Even though the primary characters are male (so far), the main female characters are always strong – usually stronger than the men, who are struggling the most through some adversity or change. In A Borrowed Hell, I think I have two of the best and most real characters I’ve ever written. It’s a shame to feel a need to write under a pseudonym to hide the author’s gender (not that it’s a secret – there’s an author photo and my full name in the bio), but I believe it helps get past that hump of whether a reader will look further than title, cover, and author name or not. The other pseudonym issue I’m considering is whether to take a different name for epic fantasy novels than I do for my contemporary/magic realism novels. My epic fantasy isn’t published yet, but I think the choice, when I have to make one, will be a yes to help differentiate the styles.
Jonuel: What kind of research do you do and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Colter: As a reader, I’m a huge stickler for logistics so it’s very important to me in my own writing that I get the details right in my own books. Not just big things, like avoiding plot holes, but small details, too. You never know what expertise your readers might have, and I hate having my suspension of disbelief suddenly ruined in the middle of a story by a detail that’s blatantly wrong. So yes, I do a ton of research all the time. Not necessarily at the beginning (I’m a pantser), but for any detail I’m not sure about along the way. For a book like my current work-in-progress – a contemporary magic realism fantasy that’s Maya mythology-based and takes place in 1950s Guatemala – that means a ton of research. I’m on my third textbook on Maya culture and religion, I have online dictionaries of Mayan languages downloaded, and have even contacted two archeologists who have PhDs with emphasis on the Maya. For “A Borrowed Hell” the characters are in a couple of locations I’ve never visited. Besides my internet research, a friend went to Coit Tower for me with a video recorder and filmed and narrated everything, including things like the stairwell, an (empty) bathroom, and the grounds.
Jonuel: Do you believe in writer’s block?
Colter: I don’t believe in insurmountable writer’s block. Yes, there are days where it’s hard to get going and days where the ideas feel like they just won’t come. The only answer to that is “butt in chair.” When it’s just a day that the words aren’t coming to me easily and I want to keep procrastinating, it’s usually just a matter of buckling down to it. I need to turn the internet off and turn my voice recognition program on. Once I start dictating and forcing words to happen, all of a sudden that dam breaks and it starts to flow and I have 1000 new words. The harder problem is when the struggle goes on for multiple days in a row or a couple of weeks at a time. If I hit a long stretch of trouble, it usually means I’ve taken a left turn in my story when I should have gone right. I go back to my reverse outline (the list of scenes I’ve already written) and try and analyze what’s not working or where the story went off the rails. Usually I’ll see the problem and have to do some rewriting before I move forward again. If I can’t see it, then sometimes a beta reader can. I find a word goal per day when I’m writing new material is invaluable. I don’t let myself stop for the day until I reach that goal.
Jonuel: Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Colter: Both. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything other than writing, and as an introvert (like so many writers) quiet time alone always energizes me. How energized or how exhausting the process feels depends on how well the writing is going that day. There are days where things flow, the words work well and make me happy, and the progress is energizing. There are also days where writing feels like such a struggle that it’s exhausting. Usually those are the times I’m procrastinating writing because the thought of it is harder than the actual writing once I get going. I think that internal battle with myself – when I keep clicking away from my writing and onto the internet to procrastinate – is what actually tires me out. Once I buckle down and start, I usually feel a lot better – at least until the afternoon or end of day slump. Even if I’m being productive, there comes a point where my brain overloads, sitting too long at my computer wears me down, and I know it’s time to quit for the day.
“A Borrowed Hell” is available on Amazon in ebook or print. Additional formats coming soon. “Colter has created a world equal parts magical realism, inner journey, and psychological horror. Carlos Castaneda meets Thomas Covenant in a well crafted tale of fear, doubt, and redemption as July Davish pursues his inner demons in order to face them down and break the cycle of anger and frustration that has held his life hostage. Recommended.” -Nathan Lowell, author of The Tanyth Fairport Adventures and the Solar Clipper Series Liz can boast a modest degree of knowledge about harnessing, hitching, and working draft horses, canoe expeditioning, and medicine. She’s also worked as a rollerskating waitress and knows more about concrete than you might suspect. She’s a Writers of the Future winner and her short stories have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies.