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Q&A with mythology podcast host, creator and two-time author Liv Albert

Q&A with mythology podcast host, creator and two-time author Liv Albert

By Claudia Besant |

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Liv Albert is the host, creator, writer and producer of Let’s Talk About Myths, Baby!, a podcast telling the most entertaining and engaging stories from Greek and Roman mythology through a contemporary intersectional feminist lens, focusing where possible on amplifying the voices of women, trans and non-binary people. The podcast reaches over 15,000 listeners with every episode and is consistently growing, and it’s also ranked in the top 10–50 Apple Podcasts in the US, Canada and UK. Liv holds a degree in classical civilizations and English literature from Concordia University in Montreal. She also has a single mythological hill on which she will die: Medusa was a survivor and didn’t harm anyone.

What was it that made you want to start your podcast Let’s Talk About Myths, Baby! and how did you discover your niche?

It’s funny. I feel like it all happened quite randomly. I’ve always loved Greek mythology. And then I was at a point in my life where I just really needed something to do, I needed a hobby. I hated my job and I’d moved to a new city and didn’t know anybody and was just sad and lonely and listened to a lot of podcasts and was like, ‘I can do this. I should just do this. It’s something to do.’ And then the first thing that came to my mind was Greek myths. So it started out very much as just something to do with my time. And now it’s the only thing I do with my time!

What have you learnt since you began your podcast? And in what ways do you think it has evolved over the years?

In every way, I think. I don’t listen back to the early episodes because I just can’t, but I know enough about them to know that the ones I release now are better in every respect. I’m glad that everyone loves the early episodes, but I’m better at researching now, I’m better at speaking and recording – just everything has gotten so much better with time and practice. And it’s interesting to have this thing where you can watch the progression of me as a person, but also me as a professional. So it’s definitely evolved, a hundred per cent. Everything is different from the beginning, but I think in the best way.

What were your initial thoughts when Adams Media reached out to commission your book, Greek Mythology: The Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes Handbook? Had you been considering writing a book before this opportunity arose?

Yeah, I’ve always hoped to write a Greek myth book based on the podcast. And I still do because this one ended up being a little bit different. It’s kind of nice that I have this starting point and then I can go from there. There’s so much content and what I like about my podcast is the way I tell the myths and the things I focus on versus the things that have been traditionally focused on. So I think that’s just asking to be a book. That said, the book that was commissioned has a lot of those same aspects. It was great timing too because the commission literally came when I was laid off from work in the pandemic. It was unbelievable timing generally – I’d always wanted to do it, and they came to me when I didn’t have work.

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How did you find the transition to telling stories in a different medium? And how did the change of medium and format impact your storytelling techniques?

Well, this one specifically impacted it a lot just because what they wanted out of this book, and I think it’s exactly what it is, is a really quick introduction to Greek myths, the important characters, the important stories, a brief ‘get you started on Greek myths’. That meant a lot of structure in terms of length and word count and everything, which was really interesting for me, and definitely the hardest part, because it was a matter of either shrinking these long stories down to the right word count or stretching other ones out, because the thing about Greek myth is everything is based in fragmentary textual evidence, whatever’s left or whatever somebody thought to write down and that survives today, so it doesn’t have structure in the way that some books want structure. So it was quite interesting to try to do that, and it was also just great practice in storytelling, when you need to be brief versus when you need to lengthen it out.

As someone with previous experience in the publishing industry, having worked at Kobo and Penguin Random House, was there anything that surprised you during the creation of your book? I know you’ve mentioned the word count, but were there any other challenges you had to overcome?

I guess just deadlines; the book worked on a very quick turnaround time, which was told to me  upfront, but I think that’s specific to the way Adams Media publishes books. Because I worked at Penguin Random House, which is very much a traditional trade publisher, it was quite different for me. So it was definitely a tight timeframe to work on, and of course I have a deadline for the podcast, but it’s very much me and it’s something that I’m used to, so writing a book in a tight timeline was quite different.

As a podcaster who not only hosts, but produces, edits and conducts in-depth research for their own podcast, having complete creative control over your content must feel like the norm. What was it like to collaborate with a traditional publishing house and work with the book editors on this project?

It was interesting. They did give me pretty complete control about what went into the stories, which was really nice. So essentially their impact was on length and structure – like it being laid out character by character, and all those little details, were laid out for me. But then otherwise, in terms of the actual story, I did have pretty complete creative control, which is good because certain things for me would have been a big deal-breaker – like if a publisher wants me sugarcoating the myths about how everyone is treated, then that’s antithetical to my entire life as a podcaster. So that was something I was wary of upfront, whether they would have any issues, but the creative control was completely mine. So it was more just working with another person on it and often dealing with their surprise because I had editors who aren’t familiar with Greek myth and some Greek myths are a little weird, you know? There were a couple of times in the editing process where it was more of a note of surprise versus any kind of edit, which was entertaining.

Did you feel you had to adapt your podcast tone of voice for the book quite a bit?

Yeah. I mean, it was mainly just the overall type of book anyway. It was my voice, but it also was this very structured piece of work describing each of the gods specifically. So it wasn’t that hard just because of what it was, [but my podcast] is very personal, it’s just me chatting in that way that only comes across when it’s a speaking voice versus written down, so it came naturally in that way.

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When recording your audiobook, what were some of the main similarities and differences you noticed between the podcast and audiobook formats? And in what ways did your podcasting experience help when recording your audiobook?

It helped me entirely. We finished that audiobook in three sittings of just a couple of hours. They had budgeted an extra, maybe, six hours to record this thing. But it turns out that when you spend three and a half years reading from something in front of you, while speaking into a microphone, you get really good at it. And even if I messed up, I would catch myself. Whereas normally that’s why you have a producer, because if you’re not used to reading aloud like that, you don’t catch yourself. You just keep going. And so I think my editor had to catch me about twice [when] I didn’t notice a screw-up myself. My producer didn’t have a lot to do, in the greatest way. She was wonderful, and was just there on the line listening and making sure that it went okay. But my experience meant that I could do it very easily and with minimal mess-ups, minimal retakes. [It must have been very different for her] because when you’re working with an author recording their own books, the authors aren’t normally used to reading it out loud at the right pace and right tone and all of those things that I’ve just gotten used to over the years.

What have you found to be the most rewarding aspect of having written and authored a truly beautiful book? What benefits and opportunities has it created for you as a podcaster, creative and business woman?

I mean, it’s just a big deal for me generally as somebody who has an English degree and worked in publishing. [And] as somebody who wanted to write a book, having this starting point is huge – it’s sold really well so it’s going to lend itself to me writing more books. It’s been sold out twice in terms of people just trying to get it. And it’s also led to my next book that I’m doing with Adams Media, which is an even more adorable and silly book than mine. And it’s just gorgeous. If anything, it’s connecting me with the illustrator [Sara Richard], who I wouldn’t have known before, and her work is incredible. Even going back to the creative control, [illustration] was the thing I had absolutely no control over. And then they sent me the first sketches and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I would never have picked someone this good.’ She’s my dream illustrator that I didn’t know was my dream.

Yes, the illustrations are truly beautiful and her style is so unique! Is it true she has limited colours to work with as well?

Each [illustration] has I think four colours or three colours maybe, and then she just went tonally through there. It was interesting to hear that from her because I didn’t know that until she and I spoke for the podcast leading up to the book, and that was a fun thing to learn.

What has the response from your audience been like to your book? Have there been any instances of listeners finding your book before your podcast?

Yeah, I’ve heard of a couple of those now, which is fun. Or even in reviews, people have said that, which is just lovely. It has been available pretty widely and featured in some places, and that’s been really big for me. That’s been really exciting. I didn’t necessarily expect it because this type of commissioned book – often publishers just create so many of them to fill in any spots, like any holes in the market, and you’re not necessarily expecting it to be a book that gets featured or you get interviews based on it. But because of my podcast, I was able to utilise that and it became a bigger thing than it would’ve been, which was really exciting. But the listeners’ response has been really great. People are always tagging me in Instagram posts of it, and that makes me very happy. And just generally it’s been nice to have my name on a book out there.

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Your upcoming book Nectar of the Gods: From Hera’s Hurricane to The Appletini of Discord, 75 Mythical Cocktails to Drink Like a Deity enters into the food & drink genre. Was this book also commissioned by Adams Media in a similar manner to the last book? How was the writing process different from your first book?

So it definitely was commissioned. I mean, I never would’ve seen myself getting into food and drink ever, that’s not my interest point. But, that said, I do enjoy cocktails. I enjoy other people making them for me, though. But one day my editor came to me a couple of months after the [first] book came out and was like, ‘What do you think about Greek myth tying with cocktails?’ And I was like, ‘That could be very fun, like just even thinking about it. That could be super-dorky and fun.’ So it just basically went from there. They knew my background, so it was less stressful in terms of whether I was going to be the one to write it – it was very much whether they were going to go for it at all. And then obviously they did [and] it’s gorgeous. But writing it was very different; they were working with a mixologist, so she got to do all the recipes, thankfully, and I just got to provide a list of really dorky cocktail names and some ideas for what the cocktails could be, or themes or colours or whatever. And then the recipes were made from there and I wrote around them. So it was a very weird process because I gave the names and then I got the recipes and then I had to turn that into something describing Greek myth. 

It was also harder [to write] because the Greek myths just live in my head, so putting them onto paper was a very easy thing, but connecting them with a cocktail in an entertaining and fun way was definitely a different process in terms of how my brain works when it comes to Greek myth. So it was an interesting one, but overall, and again with the creative control, it was very much that I provided them with a list of names, and some of them are really weird and dark because that’s Greek myth, and there was no pushback at all. And then Sara Richard has gotten to illustrate even more – there’s a lot more illustrations in this one than in my [first] book. And they’ve decided to go with a theme that was thankfully my idea, of using the ancient drinking vessels, because they had such beautiful pottery and interesting shapes, and so we’ve taken that and put it into this modern book in a really entertaining way.

Do you have any favourite cocktails from your book’s collection?

There’s one that I’m always deciding when I want to announce it, because it’s my favourite. So I might hold back on that one, but it’s bloody in the best and most ridiculous way. But the puns have been fun, and the one thing about this that has been really fun compared to my [first] book is just that I’ve been able to go deeper into the myths because we’re not looking for an overview, we’re not looking for the stories you need to know; it’s just generally Greek myths. So I’ve been able to focus more on women – I think at least half of the cocktails are based around women characters versus men, which is rare in Greek myth. And I’ve been able to pull out some characters that have almost no myths associated with them, so they don’t get talked about a lot – like Poseidon’s wife, the queen of the sea basically, is Amphitrite, a nymph, and she’s never talked about, but she has a drink. And so does Thalassa, who is the more overarching goddess of the sea. I’ve just been able to have fun with lesser-known characters and even some things based in history, or debunking history – there’s a whole cocktail devoted to just reminding everyone that the idea of Atlantis is not a Greek myth. It is not remotely based in Greek myth or history. It is entirely nonsense, and that gets forgotten a lot. And so I basically have a cocktail devoted to being like, ‘Hey, guess what, you shouldn’t look for Atlantis because literally nothing about it is remotely suggestive of anything real.’ It’s been fun to have almost an agenda in cocktails.

There have been quite a few books inspired or based on popular podcasts published in recent years, such as Deborah Frances-White’s Guilty Feminist and Jessie Ware’s Table Manners. Do you think we will see more podcasters harness the opportunity to turn their content into successful books in the not-too-distant future?

Definitely. I think a lot of podcasts are doing it because they should; it’s another medium, it’s more accessible sometimes. For my podcast, I’m working on having transcriptions and everything, but I don’t have them yet, and so it’s harder for people with hearing disabilities, and a book kind of solves those problems. So it’s the perfect transition for a podcast because it fits so similarly, but also accesses this totally different field and is more visual, and there are just so many things you can do.

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What would be your advice to podcasters looking to write and publish their own book or who have just been approached by a traditional publisher looking to commission a book?

Oh, advice. That’s always so hard. I still feel very much like I’m not remotely qualified to give advice on anything. But especially with a podcast looking to have their own book,  just go for it! So much podcast content, depending on what you do, as obviously conversational podcasts are going to be different, but if your podcast isn’t conversational, it isn’t off the cuff, then it’s just sort of asking to be a book. […] If it’s a podcast that isn’t taking up your whole life, I think it’s perfect to try to turn it into a book with the content you already have. You’re just repurposing what you’ve already done and making it more accessible to other people, opening up this whole other medium where so many people don’t listen to podcasts, but they do read books, so you’re just making yourself more accessible to everybody.

What are a few of your favourite podcasts that you believe would make great books?

Unfortunately, these days, I don’t have so much time to listen to podcasts because I don’t commute, I work at home, and I’m constantly writing my own podcast or editing my own podcast. But my favourite podcast is My Favorite Murder, [who] already have their own book and a second one coming out, so they’re a great example of being able to do that. Obviously they’re enormous, so they’re not on a level like mine or shows that are smaller. But I have so many friends that are podcasters that surely could make a book of their own as well. There are so many podcasts, especially ones that are historical or focusing on this niche idea that doesn’t get a lot of talk – like I’m in a big group of feminist podcasters, women focusing on women in history versus the much talked-about men. And so any of those are just asking to be books because they are important, and the thing about books is you can be professional, you can be an academic or a specialist or whatever, but you can also just be a hobbyist, or you can just be passionate about a subject and write a book. There’s really no harm in that. So certainly I think any podcasts that are putting out all this content in general, that they put all their work into, should or can consider turning it into books as well.

Do you have plans to publish any more books in the future? If so, what genres would you like to explore and would you consider publishing independently?

Basically, yes. Huge yes. My entire career in classics started because I began writing a novel twelve years ago about Greek myth. And then my passion grew from there and developed into what it is now, so one day I will finish that novel. It’s an entirely different version now after so long, but I’m going to try to finish it next month. Actually, I’m going on holiday to try to write the whole thing and be done so that I can finally look into getting it published in whatever way. But novels and then more on Greek myths definitely are the goal. Also a book that is more in the voice of the podcast and longer and more detailed and so many things. But definitely, both of those are the goals. I would absolutely consider independent publishing. I feel like I come from the very traditional background, both in school and in my work, so I tend to jump towards that idea, but obviously there are huge perks to publishing independently that don’t come from traditional ones, the freedom and the speed, so many things when you’re not bound by a traditional publisher. So I think there’s definitely very appealing aspects to publishing independently.

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