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Author Spotlight: E. H. Lupton

E. H. Lupton

Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.

Today: E. H. Lupton (she/they) lives in Madison, WI with her husband and children. Her debut novel, Dionysus in Wisconsin(2023), won third place in the New England Romance Writers Readers’ Choice contest and has been shortlisted for both the Lambda Literary Award for gay romance and the Midwest Book Award for fantasy/scifi novel. Her poetry has or will shortly appear in Asimov’s Science FictionParanoid Tree, and House of Zolo’s Journal of Speculative Literature, among others. She is also half of the duo behind the hit podcast Ask a Medievalist. In her free time, she enjoys running long distances and painting. Find her at

Thanks so much, E.H., for joining me!

J. Scott Coatsworth: What was one of the most surprising things you’ve learned in writing your books?

E.H. Lupton: This is very specific, but in 1970, there was a grocery store in Madison that was burned down in the immediate aftermath of the Kent State shooting. Like May 4th was the shooting, May 5th someone torched the Kroger. That year was the year anti-war protestors blew up the physics building, which happened in August (one of the most famous things to have happened here during that era), but there were a lot of bomb threats and arson the whole year leading up to that, and I was totally unaware of it until I started researching these books. I used to walk past the former site of the grocery store every day for three years.

JSC: If you had a grant to write any book you wanted as a freebie without worrying about sales, what kind of story would you like to tell?

EHL: That’s basically what my life is like right now…I’m a part-time writer with a day job, and up until my novel got nominated for the Lammy, I was a nobody. Now I’m still a nobody, but I’ve sold slightly more books. At any rate, with no following and no guaranteed interest in my work, I am writing exactly what I want to write (a multi-book, multi-generational, historical/urban fantasy series with a lot of romance and sex scenes). It actually makes me happy to be an indie writer, so I don’t have to worry about one book making enough profit to justify publishing the next. 

JSC: How do you approach covers for your indie stories?

EHL: Right now, I do my own covers. All the covers for the Wisconsin Gothic series are inspired by Grecian art, and especially by pottery, so first I look at a lot of amphorae and kylixes and whatnot until I see a pose that feels like it conveys something about the novel. Then I do a lot of sketches. When I’m happy, I make a painting with acrylics and acrylic pens, scan it, and typeset it. Then I light candles and perform the sacred (evil?) rites to convert it to CMYK for the paperback.

JSC: What book is currently on your bedside table?

EHL: I’m apparently a book hoarder, or I have a lot of emotional support novels on my bedside table. In no specific order: Hither, Page (Cat Sebastian), Peter Cabot Gets Lost (Cat Sebastian), As If Seen at an Angle (Kevin O’Rourke), Daniel Cabot Puts Down Roots (Cat Sebastian), Wild Milk (Sabrina Orah Mark), Dune (Frank Herbert), The History of Sexuality: An Introduction (Michel Foucault), The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen (KJ Charles), Inherent Vice(Thomas Pynchon), and Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts (Kate Racculia).

JSC: What inspired you to write Old Time Religion? What were the challenges in bringing it to life?

EHL: At the end of the first book in the series, Dionysus in Wisconsin, I had fallen in love with the characters and wanted to keep writing about them. They were in a place where they were happy, and I think that could have been the end of things, but I did think there was still a lot they could do. Like at the beginning of DIW, if you asked Ulysses what his biggest problem was, he would say not having a dissertation topic when his advisor is making noises about him finishing up. But his problem is really that he’s stuck in this protracted adolescence, still living at home, still a student, still occupying this not-quite-adult space. I decided I wanted to follow him along as he figured it out. There were also a bunch of overarching plot points that didn’t get tied up yet. (Most of them don’t get tied up in Old Time Religion either, but we’ll get there, I promise.)

JSC: What secondary character would you like to explore more? Tell me about them.

EHL: I’m obsessed with Ulysses’s younger brother, Lazarus. He’s an Air Force pilot currently (during Old Time Religion) serving in the Vietnam War. I think he was working on a unit in Thailand that would do unarmed aerial reconnaissance. Having lived in Vietnam and spent several years studying Thailand, the connection with Southeast Asia is important to me. And if he comes home kind of broken from his experiences, well—I love writing characters who are having a hard time of it.

JSC: What’s your writing process?

EHL: I usually start out with a couple of characters, a setting, and some vibes, and I write straight through, beginning to end. I try to write a relatively fast first draft—I don’t have a set number of words per day I aim for, but eight to twelve weeks to write a 75k-word draft is about right. Then I do two or three rounds of revision to fix the plot and language. Then it goes to my editor for copy/line editing. Then as I accept their changes, I often do additional revisions to tighten up the language. Left to my own devices, I’ll be fixing the language up until I have to push the publish button.

JSC: What was the first book that made you cry?

EHL: I don’t know about first, but The Fault in Our Stars made me cry in public. I used to take books to read at the gym, on the treadmill or elliptical. Now I know to make my choices more wisely.

JSC: Would you rather be in a room full of snakes or a room full of spiders?

EHL: How big are the spiders? In general, I think I like snakes better. I feel like you know where you are with a reptile. A big snake can just feel like a hug. But with small spiders…my eyes aren’t that good, and they move fast and I want to know where they all are at all times. And big spiders, that’s just Shelob.

JSC: What are you working on now, and what’s coming out next? Tell us about it!

EHL: I’m editing book 3 of the Wisconsin Gothic series. Troth will be out in early October. It follows the same main characters of the first two books (Sam and Ulysses) as they get dragged into investigating the strange connections between Sam’s grandfather, a deadly magic cult, and their new next-door neighbors.

Old Time Religion - E.H. Lupton

And now for E.H.’s book: Old Time Religion:

What’s one more deadline?

Ulysses Lenkov is on the verge of finishing his PhD when his ex-girlfriend shows up with a problem. It’s been six months since the murder of her husband, Hugh, and Livia is plagued by strange noises in the night, poor sleep, and a magic book that may be cursed. The more Ulysses delves into the events that led her back to Madison, the more concerned he becomes.

Ulysses’s boyfriend Sam Sterling, jealous and unhappy about Livia’s return, suspects that she may not be telling them the whole truth. In the meantime, he’s starting to worry that he may not have left Dionysus as far behind as he thought—with odd effects for him and Ulysses. When Ulysses’s academic advisor suggests their relationship is a problem, magically speaking, he’s suddenly forced to make decisions he never wanted to face: break up with Ulysses to keep him safe, or stay together despite the risks.

As Ulysses’s defense bears down on them, the questions start to stack up. What really happened to Hugh? Does his death tie in to secrets from deep in Sam’s family’s past? And will Ulysses be able to figure it all out before he winds up a victim?



It was the first day of spring, 1970, and coincidentally the first nice day of the year in Madison, Wisconsin. It was a day on which all students at the University of Wisconsin were compelled by an outside force to find a patch of grass or a bench and lie down to nap in the sun. There were students stretched out on the greening grass all up Bascom Hill, on Library Mall, and on benches all over campus. 

Ulysses Lenkov was performing this arcane rite to Ra, or Amaterasu, or possibly Helios on the Terrace, a broad flagstone and cement patio behind the student union facing Lake Mendota. It was dotted here and there with enameled steel tables and chairs in bright colors, yellow, orange, and red, and Ulysses all but collapsed into one of these to wait for Sam. There was a cool breeze off the lake, but the sun was warm, and he was exhausted.

The year had been going well. He’d written the lion’s share of his dissertation in the weeks since he and Sam had returned from Madeline Island, where Sam had narrowly escaped becoming the god Dionysus. Instead, he’d become the subject of Ulysses’s dissertation. It wasn’t the usual way of choosing a topic, nor of embarking on a relationship, but they were making it work.

If Ulysses was being honest, that their fledgling relationship had survived was surprising. He wouldn’t have blamed Sam if he’d dumped him. Ulysses was pretty sure most people wouldn’t want to hang around with people who had killed them, even if it had turned out okay in the end. But Sam was somehow still there, putting up with Ulysses’s inane questions and bad habits and busy schedule, accompanying him to the lab for tests, even reading draft after draft of the actual dissertation without complaint. A voice in the back of Ulysses’s head continued to insist that Sam was bound to come to his senses sooner or later.

He did his best to ignore it. Ulysses put his feet up on an adjacent chair and tipped back in his seat, turning his face to the sun. He was almost done. He was going to defend, and graduate, and do frankly terrible things to Sam’s body. Things were fine, and until they weren’t, there was no point in worrying.

He was on the verge of dozing off when a scraping noise startled him from his reverie, and a voice said, “Jesus Christ, Ulysses, you look terrible. What the hell are they doing to you?”

He recognized the voice, and it made him squeeze his eyes more tightly shut. Of all the universities in all the world . . . “I did a favor for a ghost this morning,” he said, and opened his eyes. A woman had taken the seat across from him. Blond and compact, with a smattering of freckles across her pale face, hair cut in a pageboy, brown eyes. She had fierce eyebrows; he’d been on the receiving end of her glares too often, and he had very much hoped never to see them or her again. But now here she was, smiling in a soft, soothing way, as though they were old friends. “What are you doing here?”

“Buying you ice cream,” she murmured, shoving a cup across the table at him. “Happy birthday.”

He sat up and put his feet down, suddenly conscious of how the metal chair was digging into his back. “Livia,” he said helplessly.

She grinned. “Hello, U. I’m back.”

Ulysses picked up the cup of ice cream and inspected it, but it seemed like normal, unadulterated chocolate. He’d thought about this moment a lot when she’d left. First with a sort of vicious anger, then a mix of sorrow and anxiety, and finally just tired equanimity. Then he’d met Sam, and it had been a while since he’d given her much consideration. He wasn’t that sad half-person anymore. 

“Delightful,” he said dryly. “Why?”

“I got a job at the hospital,” she said, folding her arms on the table. “I’ve been crashing with your sister and Obe for a few days while I look for an apartment, and now I’ve signed a lease. And then I was passing by and I thought, there’s Ulysses, looking all rugged and sleepy . . . maybe I’ll take him out for dinner on his birthday. That seems like a way to make amends.”

Ulysses wasn’t too surprised that Celeste hadn’t said anything to him about Livia’s return. He knew the two of them maintained a friendship that predated his and Livia’s ill-advised relationship by some years. Beyond that, he knew nothing and didn’t want to.

He took a bite of the ice cream. It was sweet and cold, and it only served to make him aware of how much his stomach was already roiling. “No amends needed,” he said gruffly, putting down the plastic spoon. “It’s all water under the bridge now.”

“Let me take you out anyway.” Her eyes sparkled. She always had a way of commanding attention. Now all of that charm was pointed at him. “I know we didn’t leave things in a good place. I want to make it up to you.”

Ulysses took a deep breath. “What do you want?”

He watched her take a deliberate bite of her own ice cream. “Other than dinner with an old friend?” She was delivering some pretty complicated facial expressions, a little seductive, a little annoyed. Livia never did anything unconsidered, but he wondered how much of the annoyance was purposeful. He hoped she was frustrated to find that he wasn’t going to come running when she crooked her finger.

“I have plans,” he said. “If you just tell me why you’re here, we can just skip straight to the part where I tell you to go to hell and we get on with our lives.”

“Plans.” She waved a hand dismissively, as though she could not wrap her head around the fact that he was going to turn her down. “With the god?”

Technically, in his dissertation, he was referring to Sam as a demigod, because he had been a god briefly and wasn’t anymore. Still, the distinction didn’t seem germane right at that moment. He’d also used a pseudonym for Sam and obscured as many personal details as he could, and for Livia to know and toss the truth around so casually made his stomach turn over. “Where did you hear about that?”

“Word gets around,” she said airily.

Ulysses guessed what Livia meant and made a mental note to tell Celeste what a traitor she was. “Why do you care who I’m seeing? You were very clear about your feelings when you left.” He was unable to avoid trying to stick the knife in, and it was a miscalculation. He knew it as soon as he uttered the words. Saying that made it sounded like he was still bitter, bitterness meant he still cared, and she was going to think that was a way back in.

But she didn’t take the bait the way he’d expected. Instead, she took another bite of ice cream, then set the cup down. “I just don’t want you to get hurt,” she said softly, sitting back in her chair.

“What are you talking about?”

Livia looked smug. “I’ve read D’Ailleurs’ Introduction to Demonology just like everyone else. Gods are jealous creatures. I’m sure it’s great at first, the easy affection, the physical chemistry . . . but what happens when you fall in love with them?”

Ulysses shifted irritably in his seat. “Some people do fall in love with their partners.”

She smiled again and then went in for the kill. “How do you reconcile those feelings with the fact that gods demand worship?”

He stared at her across the table. She stared back in silence, one eyebrow raised. It wasn’t as thought she was bringing up anything new, anything that he hadn’t thought about, but it’d been a few years since he’d had to endure her finger placed so unerringly on his ambivalence. His head started to throb unpleasantly, and he looked down into the melting ice cream. “Don’t worry about me.” 

She laughed. “You look like warmed-over garbage and I’m not supposed to express concern? I thought we were friends.”

“Are we?” Ulysses asked, mostly to needle her. He picked up the spoon and stirred the melting ice cream. “I’ve been in prolonged contact with a ghost today, that’s all.” He raised the spoon and forced himself to take a bite. It was delicious, but his stomach didn’t like it any better than the first time. He put the spoon down. “Also, I’ve been writing my dissertation on a rather compressed schedule.”

“How’s that going?”

“Almost done.”

“Heard anything from Laz?”

He gritted his teeth. “He’s still alive.”

“And your grandmother, how is she?”

“Fine.” The headache settled above and slightly behind his right eye. He looked at her across the table and tried to imagine how he would have felt even six months ago, knowing she wanted to see him again. 

In some ways, the pre-Sam Ulysses, the person he’d been for most of his life, felt too remote to conjure up again. It was a little reassuring to realize he actually was over her. Even if he simultaneously had to ask himself how much of that was due to Sam’s influence, supernatural or otherwise.

Ulysses closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, he tried to really look at her, to really think about why she might be there. And he thought that, down beneath the flirtation and easy antagonism, there was something else he hadn’t recognized at first. “What are you afraid of?” he asked, leaning forward.

Livia’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t go using your hocus pocus on me.”

“It’s just an observation.” He felt the tide of the conversation shift slightly. “So it’s something big. Big enough that you’re worried I’ll say no if you don’t flirt me into submission first.” He gave her a tight little half smile of his own. “What have you run afoul of in—where did you go? California?”

“Chicago,” she ground out.

“Something so bad you fled all the way back here, where you swore you’d never be caught dead, and back to me, who you swore you’d never speak to again.”

“I do feel like I’ve come from the afterlife, back to a rather disappointing earthly existence in Wisconsin.” Her lips quirked up. “Have you ever brought someone back from the dead?” She looked away from him and out at the lake, where a few brave or foolhardy souls were wandering atop the rapidly melting ice.

“What do you mean?” He sat forward, folding his hands. “The ghosts I deal with, most of them don’t want that.”

Livia nodded. “But the ones who do?”

“I persuade them otherwise.”

“But if they were newly dead. If you had the body. If you—”

Ulysses cut her off with a wave of his hand. “No. Absolutely not. That’s blood magic, and it’s dangerous.”

If he’d hurt her feelings with his emphatic answer, she didn’t show it. “All right,” she said indifferently.


Livia shook her head. “It doesn’t—”

“Ulysses!” The shout, from off to his right, made her fall silent. She looked over first, and he saw her eyebrows go up. Sam striding across the courtyard toward him from the theater wing of the Union. He was tall and a little too thin, with a mass of curly hair, light green eyes, and olive skin, wearing a gray suit. He was attractive, but there was something arresting about his presence that went beyond his outward appearance. He tended to draw eyes. He definitely drew Ulysses’s, all the time.

Ulysses let her look for a second, then said, “You gonna tell me what this is about?” He hoped he’d kept the whole complicated mass of Sam-related emotions off his face.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” she said softly.

He got up. “Well, think about it.” He shoved his chair in, drawing a complaint as it scraped across the concrete. The noise made him wince. “Excuse me.”

Ulysses met Sam halfway across the Terrace, which he judged was probably out of Livia’s earshot if he kept his voice down. He could tell Sam was watching Livia over Ulysses’s shoulder as he approached, a little V between his eyebrows. When his eyes shifted to Ulysses, he smiled, and Ulysses smiled back, loving this and hating having it observed in equal measures.

“How was rehearsal?” he asked.

Sam shook his head. “The show is a mess. But we have a month to get everything under control.”

“About as expected, at this point?” Ulysses had only the vaguest idea of how theater worked behind the scenes. But from watching Sam as stage manager and Sam’s friends Ellen and Harry, the writer-directors of the show in question, he gathered that a certain amount of frenzy, disorganization, and disbelief that they’d ever get things worked out was a part of the process.

“Yeah, it’ll be fine,” Sam said easily. “Who’s your friend?”

He didn’t bristle as he said it, but there was suddenly something in the air that Ulysses didn’t like. “No one important.” He rubbed his forehead. “Hey, I’ve got a headache. I think I’m going to bow out of dinner tonight, maybe go home and lie down.”

Sam’s attention was immediately focused on him. “Are you all right? Do you want me to come with you? I could go tell Harry—”

“No, that’s all right. You go. I just need to take it easy for a few hours.”

“But it’s your birthday.” 

Ulysses didn’t want to worry Sam, but there was also no way he was going out. He managed a half smile. “I’d just be a drag, feeling like this.” 

They stared at each other for a moment. Ulysses was sure that had they been alone, Sam would’ve had more to say. But he was still uncomfortable expressing affection in public, and Ulysses wasn’t going to push him. “Do you have that chapter you wanted me to read?” Sam asked finally.

“Oh, yeah. Thanks for the reminder.” He made his way back to the table, Sam trailing along behind him. Livia sat up a little straighter as they drew near, tipping her head toward Sam just far enough to convey interest. Ulysses ignored her and dug the pages out of his bag. “It’s mostly just corrections, except for the argument on page seven.”

“I’ll take a look.” Sam took the papers, an unhappy expression on his face. “Are you sure you’ll be okay?”

“Yeah.” Ulysses allowed himself to pat Sam’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about me.” He grabbed his satchel and gave Livia an ironic little bow before he turned and walked away.

He felt their eyes on him for a long time after he was out of speaking range. But when he finally turned around, Sam was gone.

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