E. H. Lupton (she/they) lives in Madison, WI, with her family. She is the author of the novella The Joy of Fishes (Battered Suitcase Press, 2014). Her poems have been published in a number of journals, including Poet Lore, 300 Days of Sun, and House of Zolo's Journal of Speculative Literature. She is also one half of the duo behind the hit podcast Ask a Medievalist. In her free time, she enjoys running long distances and painting. Dionysus in Wisconsin (Winnowing Fan Press, 2023) is her debut novel.
In today's interview, E.H. Lupton shares all the details about her debut novel and how they intertwine historical fiction, spellbinding fantasy and a moving M/M romance.
What inspired you to write this novel?
EL: I had been working on a few novels (still unpublished) set in London in the 1880s, and I got to talking with a friend about writing something set in Wisconsin instead, a place that I am intimately familiar with but which is rarely written about. We started chatting about what era would be best to set it in, and landed on the 1960s as a time that had a lot of interesting features, especially here in Madison, where the anti-war movement was very strong. The excesses of the era (the book starts about two months after Woodstock) led kind of inextricably to Dionysus as an antagonist and I was off.
What is your writing process like?
EL: I usually start with an idea for the beginning of the book. A couple of characters. I don’t usually have much of an outline, I just have vibes. Sometimes I think that if I know too much, I won’t be surprised, and then neither will the reader. I write a first draft in about eight weeks and then I revise a lot. For Dionysus in Wisconsin, I had Ulysses, who is our protagonist, and I think I had the phrase “Something is moving in the North Woods.” I didn’t know how the magic was going to work, nothing.
How do you approach writing your characters and bringing their relationships to life?
EL: Character is really important, because it drives everything in the novel. Sam and Ulysses have friends they interact with, family members, individual pasts. Grounding characters in their individual histories helps make them feel real. One thing I like about dual POV books is we can see the characters apart. Then when we see them together, things start to crackle, in part because we understand who they are and where they come from.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
EL: All kids learn really early that language is powerful. I’ve been watching my kids figure that out—it’s not just a way to fulfil desires, it’s a way to bond with the people you’re closest to, by making them laugh, expressing your love…it’s a kind of magic. We just take it for granted because we see it all day every day.
What is the most challenging part of your artistic process?
EL: Knowing when to stop. I love revising; I love the feeling of making something palpably better. I need a deadline to get me to let go of a project or I will pick at it forever.
What do you hope readers take from this story?
EL: “Wow, that was fun,” would be a good one. Or “wow, that was unexpectedly beautiful,” because I care a lot about the language I use in addition to the story I’m telling. I hope they leave loving the characters as much as I do, and looking forward to book two.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
EL: Don’t waste time writing things that you’re “supposed” to write if you hate them. Some people aren’t meant to be short story or literary fiction writers.
What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel?
EL: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, by Charles Yu. Very funny, very touching, very brilliant.
What would your advice be to any aspiring writers?
EL: Work hard on improving your craft. Read widely and think about what you’re reading. Try writing in different genres. Find workshops and critique groups. There’s no magic bullet, unfortunately, but there are lots of tiny steps you can take. Also, don’t be afraid of self-publishing! (I was, for a really long time.)
What are you writing next?
EL: Book two in the Wisconsin Gothic series, Old Time Religion, is due out in January 2024, so that’s at the top of my list. I’m currently revising it before sending it off to my editor. If all goes according to plan, look for a preorder going up in October.
A graduate student and an archivist work together to fight a god.
Fall, 1969. Ulysses Lenkov should be working on his dissertation. Instead, he's developing an unlucrative sideline in helping ghosts and hapless magic users. But when his clients start leaving town suddenly—or turning up dead—he starts to worry there's something afoot that’s worse than an unavenged death or incipient insanity. His investigation begins with the last word on everyone's lips before they vanish: the mysterious Dionysus.
Sam Sterling is an archivist who recently moved back to Madison to be closer to the family he's not too sure he likes. But his peaceful days of teaching library students, creating finding aids, and community theater come to an end when the magnetic, mistrustful Ulysses turns up with a warning. There's a god coming, and it looks like it's coming for Sam.
Soon the two are helping each other through demon attacks, discovering the unsavory history of Sam's family, and racing to find a solution that doesn't lead to heartbreak and death. But as the year draws to a close, they'll face a deadly showdown as they try to save Sam—and the city itself.
Dionysus in Wisconsin is the first in a new series of urban fantasy/historical M/M romances set in Madison, WI in the late 1960s/early 1970s. It doesn't end on a cliffhanger and can be read as a stand-alone.
Thank you again to E.H. for a wonderful interview. Make sure to head over to her website for more news and to keep up to date with future releases.