Emily Roberson’s debut Lifestyle of Gods and Monsters takes inspiration around the famous and that which has made them not just famous, but multi-billionaires. What are the societal structures and cravings that have created the atmosphere necessary for the Kardashians to sustain for fifteen+ years?
Crossing these modern realities with the ancient roots of Greek Gods, allow for rich mythology to breathe these debates into. Released on October 22nd, Emily Roberson took time to answer a few questions around her thoughts about these ideals
1) Ok. The first thing (not the only thing but certainly the first) that caught my eye about Lifestyles of God and Monsters was (because my mom watches and talks about it non-stop and made me binge watch it when I was taking care of her after a health set-back last fall) was “Greek Mythology meets the Kardashians” – I love Greek Mythology and anything inspired by ancient Greece/Rome and Mom with the Kardashians NON-STOP. As it is my reviews of Merciful Crow and Wilder Girls sent her running to the library lol- anyhow… long story longer… I have to know- where did this idea come and what inspired it?? I want details!
One day a few years ago, I was thinking about the Kardashians (as one does), and how people say they are famous for nothing or famous-for-being-famous or famous for sex tapes. And that made me wonder, who are other people in history who have been famous for no particular reason other than they are fascinating? Not actors. Not royals. Just people who we can’t stop looking at. And that made me think of the Greek myths.
I wasn’t thinking of the heroes or the gods, but all the other people –Echo and Narcissus, Europa with the bull, Leda with the swan, or Pasiphae in her wooden cow – and how they really are only famous for who they hooked up with (or didn’t hook up with in the Echo/Narcissus example). I got stuck on the question, what if it had really happened? What if it were all true?
And then I started asking myself if it were true, how in the world would people have known about it? Because if I were Europa or Leda or Pasiphae, I wouldn’t have been telling anybody anything. (“Oh that cow? That was nothing. A big misunderstanding.”)
Then the mental image of the paparazzi in the trees in Crete, stealing pictures of that wooden cow appeared in my head, and I wrote the first chapter of LIFESTYLES in a flash. It took a lot longer to figure out the rest. But that voice, Ariadne’s voice, was there from the start.
Which also ties back into the Kardashian/Jenners, because for me, the most interesting ones are Kylie and Kendall, who never got to choose that life. It was chosen for them. Just like Ariadne.
2) As the release date gets closer, how did you feel about your debut novel going out into the world? Anything you didn’t expect?
Shockingly, it has been a delight, which isn’t what I was expecting. Maybe it’s because I had wanted it so long that it had moved past ambition and into some other plane, but I’m finding so much joy in this. If you had told me six months ago, that I would be loving putting pictures of myself up on Instagram and having people vote on my launch party dresses (as I’ve been doing), opening myself up for people to say they don’t like them (or me?), I would have told you that there was no way I was doing any such thing. But somehow, I am, and I’m having a ball.
Every time I get scared, I think about some girl or boy in the hinterlands, whether it’s Arkansas (where I’m from) or Peru, who wants to tell a story so badly, but is terrified that the world will think it is too weird or they are too ordinary. And I want to tap dance with joy that my (quite weird) book is out in the world, and that I’m out in the world with it. Even though I’m pretty ordinary.
3) You have worn many hats in your life- bookseller, reporter, marketing manager, writer- and lived in many different areas in the country. How have these different career paths lead you to write a novel and how have living in these different places shaped your lens on life? How have both shaped who you have become to this point?
I think every one of these jobs has led into this one. Living in different places has made me see the ways people are the same and different. Writing LIFESTYLES, I needed to conjure a world where something very, very upsetting – sending kids in to get eaten by a monster – was very normal. I think living in lots of places lets you see the ways that different things are normalized in different places, and how you could grow up with something, accepting it, just because that’s the way things have always been.
I also think reporting and working in the corporate world gave me lots of thoughts about power, how it works, and how it is protected. And I think that got in the book. I also think the marketing career was a huge, huge help. Not that marketing myself is anything like marketing engineering services (which is what I did), but the things I learned in that job have been very helpful. I didn’t understand that when I wrote a book it would be like starting a one-woman marketing firm, where I’m the only client. But that’s what it is.
4) Are there other mythos you would like to draw from in the future? Would they run in the same genre? Is there anything currently in the works?
There are! I’m having so much fun writing another Greek myth, not in the Cretan cycle, but one of the ones we’ve all read in Bullfinch or the D’audeliare’s. It’s still in progress, and I’m afraid to say more, because the one thing I’ve learned through this process is that everything changes in ways you don’t expect. I will say that part of my overall project is telling these stories sideways – from the points of view of characters who haven’t been at the center of the stories.
I recently saw a tweet from Emily Wilson, translator of the Odyssey, quoting one of her students saying, “Trying to reconstruct ancient Athenian women from ancient Athenian tragedy is like thinking you could deduce the experiences of African Americans from black-face minstrel shows.” And I think the same thing is true for the girls in these myths. I want to uncover them, reimagine them, give them new trajectories, all while honoring the stories we grew up learning. And it turns out that’s really hard. But I’m having an absolute blast trying.
5) Given the plot points around social media/reality tv, are there any themes or lessons that you hope might be pulled from reading the book?
I guess the biggest theme is that things are really complicated. Ariadne isn’t on social media/reality tv. She hates it and judges her sisters for participating, but she’s got her own (huge) moral blind spots.
I think there is a tendency of those of us who hold ourselves to be “good” or above certain things to judge the Kardashian/Jenners to hold ourselves the way that Ariadne does, being “better” than them, but I do want people to ask themselves, what is it that we’re really opposed to?
Teenagers exploited by adults? We should all agree that’s a problem. But young adult women in skimpy clothes who like their own bodies? Why is that a problem? Why are we on a high horse about that? Young women making billions of dollars off their own bodies instead of having other people do it? But then, what does that mean? Do we condone lots of young people objectifying themselves for the benefit of tech billionaires? I don’t think that either. It’s all super complicated. (Back to my earlier theme.) But the complications are ancient, and I don’t have a good answer (I’m not sure there is one).
Also, I’m not sure that answers are what fiction is about. But I am so excited about all the conversations this book will bring out.
More than anything, I hope the lesson that I hope people pull from the book is a question Ariadne never asks herself until she meets Theseus. It is an ancient one – cui bono (who benefits)? Ariadne’s whole life, she’s been doing exactly what the people in power ask her to do, all while holding herself superior to her sisters. But she never stops to ask whose needs is she serving?
Ariadne’s story is about finding her own way, and I hope that speaks to people.
6) If there is anything you would like to say and haven’t had a chance the floor is yours…. shoot!
Mostly that I had the absolute best time writing this book. It is a book that has so many things that I have loved since I was a kid – fashion and flash and ethics and mythology and power structures – and I hope that other people take their chance to make the things that they love, without worrying so much about what the world will say. Because the world is full of people who will tell you that you suck if you go looking for them, but that’s not a reason to not make things that light you up inside.
Emily Roberson Biography
Image by: Laura Kellerman photography
EMILY ROBERSON is the author of LIFESTYLES OF GODS & MONSTERS (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October 2019). She lives in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Emily has been a bookseller in Little Rock, a newspaper reporter in Vicksburg, a marketing manager in Boston, and a writer in Chapel Hill and Dallas. She graduated from Brown University and has a master’s degree in English from the University of Texas at Austin. She now lives in Little Rock, Arkansas with her husband, three sons and no pets.
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How do you keep a secret when every minute of your life is packaged up and sold to the world?
Sixteen-year-old Ariadne’s whole life is curated and shared with the world. Her royal family’s entertainment empire is beloved by the tabloids, all over social media, and the hottest thing on television. The biggest moneymaker? The Labyrinth Contest, a TV extravaganza in which Ariadne leads fourteen teens into a maze to kill a monster. To win means endless glory; to lose means death. In ten seasons, no one has ever won.
When the gorgeous, mysterious Theseus arrives at the competition and asks Ariadne to help him to victory, she doesn’t expect to fall for him. He might be acting interested in her just to boost ratings. Their chemistry is undeniable, though, and she can help him survive. If he wins, the contest would end for good. But if she helps him, she doesn’t just endanger her family’s empire—the monster would have to die. And for Ariadne, his life might be the only one worth saving.
Ariadne’s every move is watched by the public and predestined by the gods, so how can she find a way to forge her own destiny and save the people she loves?