Friday, January 14, 2011

I’d like to welcome our guest today, Stephanie Dray. It’s a pleasure having you come visit us at Much Cheaper Than Therapy, where chocolate is plentiful and advice is free. So grab some chocolate and a lounge chair. Your therapy session has begun.

I understand you have a new release out called Lily of the Nile. Can you tell us a little bit about your fabulous new book?

With her parents dead, the daughter of Cleopatra and Mark Antony is left at the mercy of her Roman captors. Heir to one empire and prisoner of another, it falls to Princess Selene to save her brothers and reclaim what is rightfully hers…

In the aftermath of Alexandria’s tragic fall, Princess Selene is taken from Egypt, the only home she’s ever known. Along with her two surviving brothers, she’s put on display as a war trophy in Rome. Selene’s captors mock her royalty and drag her through the streets in chains, but on the brink of death, the children are spared as a favor to the emperor’s sister, who takes them to live as hostages in the so-called lamentable embassy of royal orphans…

Now trapped in a Roman court of intrigue that reviles her heritage and suspects her faith, Selene can’t hide the hieroglyphics that carve themselves into her flesh. Nor can she stop the emperor from using her for his own political ends. But faced with a new and ruthless Caesar who is obsessed with having a Cleopatra of his very own, Selene is determined honor her mother’s lost legacy. The magic of Egypt and Isis remain within her. But 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?

Lily of the Nile is a very interesting title. How did you arrive at that name?

The Egyptian lotus isn’t a true lotus; it’s actually a water lily. What’s more, there’s a whole mythology surrounding blue water lilies, which were very important to the Egyptians. Because the flowers were said to bloom only at night and sink beneath the water during the day, it seemed like an apt comparison for my heroine, Selene, whose namesake is the moon.
Selene spent much of her childhood as a hostage in Rome, having to curry favor with the very people who destroyed her family. My book is about her inner journey, having to hide her deepest feelings in the murky depths of her heart by day…it reminded me of that lily!

What made you decide to write in this genre?

I love history because it can tell us so much about the human condition without all the baggage of modern political disagreements. I find great inspiration from the women of history--most of whom had a much harder time of it than we do today.

Are you a plotter or a pantser and how did it affect the writing of this book?

When I started writing this book, I was a pantser. I’ve long since changed my ways, but I still remember the startling sense of shock when, in the midst of my book, Selene’s brother Helios runs away. I hadn’t planned that, but once it was down on paper, it set the stage for Selene’s transformation.

Did you have to do a lot of research for the book? What are your favorite research books or sites?

I did a tremendous amount of research for Lily of the Nile, because even though it is filled with magic and speculation, I want to be very aware of when I’m departing from the historical record. Most of the information about Selene was not actually on the internet--I’m trying to change that--but some of my favorite books are listed here in my extensive bibliography.

Where did you get your idea for this particular book?

I’ve always thought that the death of Cleopatra’s son Caesarion was a great loss of potential. Octavian made sure that the world would never know what this child of two famous lovers might have become. But the more I learned about Caesarion, the more interested I became in his sister…who survived to become the greatest queen in Augustus’ empire.

Selene’s story is one of triumph over enormous tragedy and it moved me deeply.

Which character did you like writing about the most, and why?

I admit that I thoroughly enjoyed writing Augustus as a depraved monster with an inferiority complex. I imagine it’s like those who write about Henry VIII. It’s hard not to both love and hate him at the same time. Augustus served as a marvelous villain, and a good foil for Selene to become a strong woman we can root for.

Tell us about how you develop your characters. Do you create character sheets, do interviews, that sort of thing? How does your research affect your character development?

In other books I’ve written, I do character outlines and build a character around a concept, but for Lily of the Nile, the process was totally organic. Selene just started speaking to me, and once I understood her motivations, her fears, her deepest pains, I never had to resort to a character sheet when writing about her. She is my favorite little schemer!

Do you have any authors that inspired you?

So many that I would be afraid to mention just one here. With regard to this book though, I’m going to name Beatrice Chanler whose book about Cleopatra Selene was published in the 1930s. It’s a very old and uncelebrated book filled with fascinating theories about Cleopatra’s daughter as a religious figure; I wanted to update those theories for a modern commercial audience and I am enormously indebted to her!

What do you feel is the most effective promotion you have done for your book?

Wow, now that’s a great question. It’s probably too early to tell!

What do we have to look forward next?

Lily of the Nile is just the first of the series; it will be followed later in 2011 by Song of the Nile, a book about Selene’s life as a young queen and her struggle to find herself amidst the crushing expectations of her mother’s legacy and the emperor’s obsession.

Thanks, Stephanie!

Stephanie Dray is the author of a forthcoming trilogy of historical fiction novels set in the Augustan Age, starting with Lily of the Nile: A Novel of Cleopatra's Daughter. Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has–to the consternation of her devoted husband–collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.
She is currently sponsoring the Cleopatra Literary Contest for Young Women, the deadline for which is March 1, 2011, but join her newsletter now for updates and a chance to win a free copy of Lily of the Nile and additional prizes.


Anonymous said...

Good morning Stephanie. Thanks for joining us today. Before we get started, what type of chocolate do you prefer? Wow. I always loved stories of Cleo and Mark when I was growing up. After all these years, I forgot they had children. Now I get to read about their daughter, too? How sweet is that. If you could go back in time and ask Selene one question, what would it be? Enjoy your day with us.

Stephanie Dray said...

Hi! I have been on a white hot chocolate kick lately so I'll go with that. As for a question to ask Selene? I'd want to know how many children she had. We only know about one of them and speculate about the other.

Linda Andrews said...

Hi Stephanie,

Great interview and subject for you book. How old is Selene in your story?

Donna Hatch said...

I love stories that are based on true people and true events. This one sounds like a winner!

Estella said...

I don't think I have ever read a book set in this era.

I would like to ask Selene how she managed to stay sane as a hostage.

Cara Marsi said...

I absolutely love books set in Ancient Rome. Your trilogy sounds fascinating. You have quite an imagination. I've read a lot of books about ancient times, but somehow I missed that Cleopatra had a daughter. Now I want to learn more about her.

Stephanie Dray said...

Linda -- when my trilogy starts, Selene is only ten years old and it follows her into her teens when she has her moment of triumph over Augustus and is betrothed. The second book will follow her as a young woman coming into her own, and I just saw the cover for it, which blew me away. Selene becomes a force to be reckoned with!

Stephanie Dray said...

Donna, thank you for the warm remarks!

Estella, that's such a great question; its one I explore in detail in my book. I think the answer I came up with is that she doesn't really stay totally sane, but she has excellent coping mechanisms, she has her faith, and she has a strength of character that allow her to triumph over the tragedies in her life. I wish we all had that kind of inner strength.

Stephanie Dray said...

Cara -- I think the Augustan Age is one of the most fascinating in history. It's very accessible--the Romans weren't that different than we are. It's also filled with scandal and the kind of politics that we would recognize.

Author Kathryne Kennedy said...

What a fascinating book, Stephanie! Thank you so much for sharing.