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.
And boy, do I need it.
I understand you have a new release out called Song of the Nile. Can you tell us a little bit about your fabulous new book?
Song of the Nile is about Cleopatra’s daughter, who was taken prisoner at the age of nine when her parents committed suicide, then dragged through the streets of Rome in chains. Somehow, she managed to persuade Rome’s first emperor that he should spare her life and make her a queen--which he did. This novel imagines and dramatizes the extraordinary relationship between this teenaged queen and the man who held her life in his hands.
Song of the Nile is a very interesting title. How did you arrive at that name?
Originally, we wanted to call it Sorceress of the Nile, but that sounded a bit too much like fantasy. And while there is magical realism in this novel, it’s firmly grounded in historical fact. Ultimately, I chose Song of the Nile because Selene wants to go home to her mother’s Egypt. It’s always calling her, luring her away from making a happy life for herself.
What made you decide to write in this genre?
Selene made me want to write her story! The moment I learned about her history and the tragedy and the triumphs, I thought, “Why isn’t this woman famous?” I wanted to bring her world to life and honor her in a way she hadn’t been honored before.
Where did you get your idea for this particular book?
Several authors have tackled Selene’s early childhood--her years as a captive of Rome. I wanted to move beyond that to imagine her life as a young Queen of Mauretania. It was, for her, a new and untamed land, an outpost of the empire and she’d been sent there to help shape it up. She’d also been sent into a kind of exile where she couldn’t cause political mischief. Or so the emperor probably believed...
What are your favorite historical research books and why?
Naturally, I’m in love with Duane Roller’s “The World of Juba II and Kleopatra Selene” because it helped me enormously with my fiction. At the moment, I’m reading Cato the Elder’s treatise on Agriculture and it’s amusing me to no end. He’s so cranky!
Which character did you like writing about the most, and why?
As much as I loved writing about Selene, there were two secondary characters that I really enjoyed writing. The first was the emperor’s daughter, Julia, who was a vibrant and colorful character in real life, whose story ended in tragedy. The second character was the emperor himself whom I both admire and loathe. In the end, his own misogyny would be the undoing to his best laid plans. I enjoyed writing him as complex, sometimes evil, sometimes compassionate, both repulsed and obsessed with Cleopatra and covetous of her daughter.
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?
With Cleopatra Selene, the research suggested that she was a woman who forgot nothing. She memorialized her dead and seems to always have believed that she was the rightful Queen of Egypt. I let her personality flow from those facts. However, in constructing the personalities of the characters around her, I both considered history and how Selene would see them, since it was from her POV. For example, the emperor’s wife, Livia, was probably a much nicer woman than the history books give her credit for, but for story reasons, I made her utterly wicked. In the third and final book of the trilogy, I hope to offer her character a little bit of rounding.
What are some common speech terms, dress modes, transportation or housing facts that you found interesting for your time period?
I was surprised to learn that Rome’s first emperor was such a meddler that he had to institute a dress code that required Roman men to appear in public in a traditional toga--which is a damnably uncomfortable garment.
Do you have any authors that inspired you?
So very many! I’m always inspired by the prose and daring of Philippa Gregory. By the wise soul of Margaret George. By the effortless storytelling of Michelle Moran, by the sense of fun that Kate Quinn brings to ancient history and the deep thoughts that Jo Graham injects into her stories. I could go on all day.
What do you feel is the most effective promotion you have done for your book?
Probably getting my books into the hands of readers. Goodreads is a great place to give away books and talk to readers and get reviews. It’s a great little community!
What do we have to look forward next?
I’m now working on the third and final novel of the Nile trilogy--and it’s gonna be a doozy. I have a lot of loose ends to tie up and there’s so many characters that I love and don’t want to say goodbye to!
To celebrate her book release, Stephanie Dray is offering a free copy of Song of the Nile to one lucky commenter on today's blog. (please check the blog Monday night to see if you won. Chances of winning determined by the number of entries. Print giveaway copy available only to residents in US & Canada.)
Stephanie graduated from Smith, a small women’s college in Massachusetts where–to the consternation of her devoted professors–she was unable to master Latin. However, her focus on Middle Eastern Studies gave her a deeper understanding of the consequences of Egypt’s ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion.
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.
Sorceress. Seductress. Schemer. Cleopatra’s daughter has become the emperor’s most unlikely apprentice and the one woman who can destroy his empire…
Having survived her perilous childhood as a royal captive of Rome, Selene pledged her loyalty to Augustus and swore she would become his very own Cleopatra. Now the young queen faces an uncertain destiny in a foreign land.
Forced to marry a man of the emperor’s choosing, Selene will not allow her new husband to rule in her name. She quickly establishes herself as a capable leader in her own right and as a religious icon. Beginning the hard work of building a new nation, she wins the love of her new subjects and makes herself vital to Rome by bringing forth bountiful harvests.
But it’s the magic of Isis flowing through her veins that makes her indispensable to the emperor. Against a backdrop of imperial politics and religious persecution, Cleopatra’s daughter beguiles her way to the very precipice of power. She has never forgotten her birthright, but will the price of her mother’s throne be more than she’s willing to pay?
Berkley Trade October 2011 (Trade Paperback)
# ISBN-10: 0425243044
# ISBN-13: 9780425243046