Author Katee Robert is something of an expert when it comes to morally grey but seriously sexy heroes. Her O’Malleys romances follow a modern crime family, and her Wicked Villains series takes its inspiration from classic Disney characters such as Jafar, Ursula and Hades.
In Neon Gods, Robert returns to the character of Hades, this time reaching all the way back to Ancient Greece for inspiration, turning the myth of Hades and Persephone into a love story that touches on public perception and political gamesmanship.
The myth of Hades and Persephone is a perennial fascination in romance. Why do you personally find it so compelling? Why do you think we keep coming back to it, as well as revising it?
I love this myth because there are so many different lenses to see it through. Was Hades really the villain? Did Persephone choose to eat in the underworld intentionally? Was Demeter a controlling monster of a mother or simply overcome with grief? Every retelling brings a different point of view, and I’m totally addicted to reading the different interpretations because there’s always a new perspective to be told. I think a lot of people feel similarly.
"There are a lot of Greek myths, in particular, that are brutal. Happily ever afters are in short supply."
You wrote another version of Hades in Learn My Lesson, inspired by the 1997 Disney film Hercules. What was it like to write two different versions of Hades only a few years apart?
Hades is one of those mythological characters that I feel like you could tell a thousand versions of because he’s so nuanced. The portion of his myths I pulled from for Learn My Lesson was the dark lord of the underworld that people feared. Greek mythology is basically a soap opera, complete with sex, scandal and murder. I really leaned into that source material with Hades and his Furies ruling over the “underworld.”
The portion I pulled from with Neon Gods is more of the misunderstood character who’s not as monstrous as people believe him. I’d honestly like to write a lady Hades someday, too.
The myth of Hades and Persephone is one of the most popular to retell. Are there any myths or stories that just don't appeal to you in that way? Why?
There are a lot of Greek myths, in particular, that are brutal. Happily ever afters are in short supply. I wouldn’t say there are ones that I would shy away from retelling, but I’d retell them my way and give them the endings I craved when I was a teenager. If I had to retell them faithfully, I would definitely avoid most of the hero stories (Jason, Theseus, etc.) because those guys were AWFUL people.
I have to ask or I'll never live with myself: Did you always know that your version of Hades and Persephone would feature some very public (and very hot) sex scenes? When did that element of the story click for you, and why do you think that becomes such an important part of their relationship?
I write very high heat naturally, and both Hades’ and Persephone’s character arcs surround the images they project to the public and also how their public image conflicts with how they view themselves. From there, it seemed a natural extension to bring that conflict and growth out through sex scenes.
A world-building detail I really enjoyed in Neon Gods is that the gods aren’t immortal beings, and they are actually titles bestowed upon people. How did you come up with this way of translating Greek mythology into a more modern setting? And how did you decide which positions would be elected, like Demeter, and which would be inherited titles, like Zeus?
I kind of went back to my roots when I formed my version of Olympus. I am garbage for mob-type of division of territories and responsibilities. I like the number 13, so that’s how many gods I chose out of the pantheon to bring into modern day life. I knew Zeus, Poseidon and Hades would be legacy roles with inherited titles going to the firstborn. From there, I used the various gods’ specialties to inform both their responsibilities and how the title is passed on. (For example: Demeter is elected, Aphrodite chooses their successor, Ares is chosen via a tournament in the arena, and Hera is Zeus’ spouse.) Also, none of the titles are gender specific.
How did you choose what other myths to incorporate into Neon Gods? How did you pick which mythological women would make up Persphone's family? Why do their stories fascinate you?
When it comes to family lineage, the Greek pantheon is messy, to say the least, and there are so many random kingdoms in the myths. I decided to condense things where I could. I knew I wanted to tell Persephone’s, Psyche’s and Eurydice’s stories, so it was simplest to combine them into sisters instead of princesses/nymphs, to give them those foundational sister relationships to pull readers through the series. I love writing women who are strong in very different ways, and Persephone and her sisters fit the bill.
Many of the characters of Neon Gods are between socialites and politicians, due to their prominent and powerful places in society. Were there any real-life public figures or media narratives that inspired you?
Not particularly. My fictional worlds are reality-adjacent, so I try not to delve too much into real-life events or people. The themes often circle back to that old saying about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. Examining how different characters react to power (Demeter versus Persephone in Neon Gods, for example) is really interesting to me, so I circle back to that theme again and again.
I was delighted by Hermes and Dionysus' ride-or-die friendship/alliance. Were you inspired by a mythological story in which those two figures team up? What about them made that pairing work for you?
I have a deep and abiding weakness for trickster-type characters who just chaotically move through the world, especially the world of the powerful. Hermes gets boiled down to the Messenger in a lot of myths, but I was really inspired by a few different retellings in recent years that touched on different perceptions of him (Hadestown, Lore Olympus and Circe). Dionysus feels like a natural pairing for friendship there because of his area of influence in the myths.
Most of the characters in the Dark Olympus series take themselves exceedingly seriously, so throwing into th emix two chaotic characters who are too powerful to stomp on or curtail has been a lot of fun.
What's next for you?
I have a bunch of indie stuff going on, but Dark Olympus will continue with Psyche and Eros’s story in Electric Idol. I’m writing the third book right now, which is a ménage with Helen, Achilles and Patroclus. Suffice to say that book will divert from the tragic fates of both Achilles and Patroclus in the Trojan War.
Author photo by Bethany Chamberlin