Thursday, November 18, 2010

Interview with Stephanie Dray - November 18, 2010

Please welcome author Stephanie Dray to The Qwillery.

TQ:  What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

Stephanie:  I suppose it’s that endings are difficult to me. I hate writing them. Maybe it’s because I don’t ever want to say goodbye to the characters that I love so much or maybe it’s because I want to make certain that my ending has resonance with my beginning. But I’m always happiest at the beginning of a novel than at the end!

TQ:  Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?

Stephanie:  Some of my favorite writers from the fantasy world are George R. R. Martin and Robin Hobb. Some of my favorites from the historical fiction side are Margaret George, Philippa Gregory, and Susan Fraser King. Truthfully, I’ve been influenced by all these writers. With respect to writing Lily of the Nile, however, I was heavily influenced by Beatrice Chanler, whose book about Cleopatra Selene led me to re-imagine the religious side of her story in a more modern way.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a panster?

Stephanie:  I’ve increasingly become a plotter, both because I get paid for turning in outlines and proposals and because the planning of a story is quite a bit of fun! With Lily of the Nile, I spent a lot of time re-writing because the work evolved from an alternative history into something that hewed close to history and injected magic realism into the mix.

TQ: Lily of the Nile is the story of Princess Selene, the daughter of Cleopatra and Marc Antony. Why did you choose Princess Selene for your debut historical fantasy?

Stephanie:  I think she chose me. I’m not normally one of those writers who ramble about their muse or talk about how their characters speak to them. However, when it comes to Selene, I truly was inspired. I was trying to write a different book--an alternative history about how the world might have been different if Selene’s brother Caesarion had lived. But Selene kept interrupting my thoughts in first person narrative--something that’s never happened to me before or since.

The more I learned about her life as an orphan, a prisoner of Rome, and a queen in her own right, the more her story touched me, and the more I wanted to memorialize her. Selene isn’t one of the bad girls of history, but she deserves to be remembered.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Lily of the Nile?

Stephanie:  First, I read every fictional account of her life that I could find. Then I went back and studied all the ancient sources and scholarly books about Selene’s life, the most important of these being Duane W. Roller’s The World of Juba II and Kleopatra Selene. After that, it was clear that Selene’s story was indistinguishable from the story of Augustus and I set out to learn everything I could about Rome’s first emperor, his family, and his fate. I’m always looking for an opportunity to visit Rome, Algeria, Morocco and Egypt, so I guess I’ve never stopped researching this period.

TQ:  How important is historical accuracy when melding history and fantasy?

Stephanie:  History matters a great deal to me. For the sequel to Lily of the Nile, I considered fermented rotting shellfish in my backyard to reproduce the recipe for imperial purple dye. But as a novelist, I acknowledge that my first duty is always to the novel. Magic was real for the Egyptians and the Romans, so it is real in my book. If I must slip the timeline a bit so that my protagonist is at the center of documented events, I’ll do it and note it in my Author’s Note at the end of the book. I’m acutely aware that I am not a biographer and I would be happier if other authors were similarly honest about their work.

TQ:  If you could dine with three people from the past who would they be and why?

Stephanie:  Oh, what a delicious question. I’d certainly choose to dine with Cleopatra Selene and Juba II and learn all about their life together; all the things that were never recorded. I’m also fascinated by Thomas Jefferson. I’d be quite honored to just listen to him ramble on about anything he chose, though I might be frightened to tell him what’s happened to the country he helped build.

TQ:  What's next?

Stephanie:  This year will start out with the release of LILY OF THE NILE and the sequel, SONG OF THE NILE will follow in the autumn. I’m really excited about having these books come out one right after the other because I think they tell an inspiring tale about Selene’s journey from the helpless captive of Rome to the most powerful client queen in the empire.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Stephanie:  Thank you so much for having me!

About Stephanie's Book

Lily of the Nile
A Novel of Cleopatra's Daughter

Publication Date: January 2011
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Format: Paperback , 368pp
ISBN-13: 9780425238554
ISBN: 0425238555

Heiress of one empire and prisoner of another, it is up to the daughter of Cleopatra to save her brothers and reclaim what is rightfully hers...
To Isis worshippers, Princess Selene and her twin brother Helios embody the divine celestial pair who will bring about a Golden Age. But when Selene's parents are vanquished by Rome, her auspicious birth becomes a curse. Trapped in an empire that reviles her heritage and suspects her faith, the young messianic princess struggles for survival in a Roman court of intrigue. She can't hide the hieroglyphics that carve themselves into her hands, nor can she stop the emperor from using her powers for his own ends. But faced with a new and ruthless Caesar who is obsessed with having a Cleopatra of his very own, Selene is determined to resurrect her mother's dreams. Can she succeed where her mother failed? And what will it cost her in a political game where the only rule is win-or die?
From Penguin Group (USA)

About Stephanie
After graduating from law school, Stephanie Dray came to her senses and returned to her first love: storytelling. Using the transformative power of magic realism, she tells the stories of women in history so as to inspire the young women of today. Stephanie remains fascinated by all things ancient and has--to the consternation of her devoted husband--collected a house full of cats and Egyptian artifacts.

Stephanie's Links:




  1. I honestly don't remember ever learning that Cleopatra had a daughter, nor anything about her. But now? I think I must(!) get this book about Selene. Sounds like a good read!
    (And that reminds me I need to add it *to* my GoodReads! :p)

  2. Hi :)
    Thank you very much for the excellent interview.
    Thanks for introducing me to Stephanie Dray & her novel.
    I've added it to my ToBeRead list!
    All the best,

  3. Rissatoo, I was shocked to learn of the existence of Cleopatra Selene as well. I thought she must have come to nothing for us never to have heard of her. Imagine my surprise to learn she became one of the greatest queens in the Augustan Age!

  4. Also, I love Goodreads. It's become one of my favorite sites.

  5. +JMJ+

    I didn't remember Cleopatra having a daughter at all! And she became a great queen, too? How fascinating!

    Now I'm wondering about Cleopatra's suicide. I can see why it was the noble thing to do in that age: she didn't want to be a pawn in the empire of Augustus and she wanted to die in a manner befitting a goddess. So I suppose I'm just being modern and bourgeois when I say I wish she had been more concerned about the fate of her children? Surely she knew that what she escaped would target Selene next--and that politically, it would be just as bad for Egypt.

    (All the above spoken like someone who admits she knows none of the details at all!)

  6. I, too, was wondering about the bad-girl suicides of the ancient world. How certain can we be that they were suicides? And if they were, what untold horrors did they face that forced them to that decision? Some of the logic behind a suicide seemed flimsy, like, she would be forced to wed a man for political alignment.

    Was he going to be raping her on a regular basis? Is that the unspoken horror?

  7. Regarding Cleopatra's suicide, there are a few thoughts on this. Many historians now believe that she may have been forced to commit suicide as she represented an inconvenience to Octavian. I've argued that the evidence doesn't support that conclusion and it's more likely she killed herself both to avoid the humiliation of a triumph and because she believed her children might be safer with her out of the way. Rome had a history of elevating the children of their dead foes, so she probably believed this was the best way of insuring that Egypt would fall into the hands of her children...though I'm not sure that would have been of much consolation to a young princess Selene.

  8. Jamie, I think we're pretty certain about Dido's suicide because she went out in a fiery blaze of glory in front of everybody. We can be less certain about Sophonisba and Cleopatra, but the preponderance of the evidence suggests that Cleopatra's suicide was a nasty shock to Octavian, but we may never know the truth.