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.
1) Most of the time, synopses of books are written by someone other than the author. What is your synopsis of Lily of the Nile?
I have to admit that my editor--Cindy Hwang of Berkley Books--has always included me as a collaborator on the back cover copy for my novels. Because of that, I end up combining my work with the copywriter’s and coming up with a bunch of different blurbs. Then Cindy picks the one that she likes best, and truthfully, I think she’s got a great eye for that kind of thing. I thoroughly approve of the official blurb for my debut novel. However, I can show you one of the rejected alternatives. You can probably guess why it was axed!
Forty years before the birth of Christ, a different child is heralded the savior. Her name is Selene, daughter of the famous lovers, Cleopatra and Antony…
To the Isiac faith sweeping the ancient world, 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. Heir to one empire and prisoner of another, the young princess struggles for survival in a Roman court of intrigue. She cannot hide the hieroglyphic messages 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 sets out to reclaim what's rightfully hers, even if it means playing a political game in which the only rule is win or die.
2) You've written some Harlequin imprints previously. Do you feel that writing those books influenced the writing of Lily of the Nile and in what way?
Lily of the Nile was actually written years before I took on a pen name for HQN, it’s just that in the crazy world of publishing, my romances were published first. However, what I learned writing romance probably has changed me as a writer overall. I’m far more efficient, much more methodical about structure. Writing romance also taught me to figure out what the reader’s literary fetish is and to exploit it. In romance, it’s the happy ending. In a book like Lily of the Nile or its sequel, Song of the Nile, the reader wants to see the journey of a woman. She wants to catch glimpses of her own struggles all while being inspired by a woman who is also extraordinary. The reader wants to be transported to another place, another time, and to learn something while being immersed in an emotional story. Before I wrote romance, I would have been coy about giving the reader what she wants. Now, I know better.
3) Why did you decide to write under a slightly different pen name for this series?
Actually, Stephanie Dray is my real name. It’s the romances that I write under a pen name! The expectations that historical fiction readers have vary greatly from those of romance readers and I wanted to make sure that there wasn’t any confusion.
4) From the extensive bibliography for Lily of the Nile, you must have spent a lot of time researching. How did you feel about doing that much research and what tips would you offer others trying to write historical fiction?
I loved doing the research. It felt like I was uncovering a mystery and I wanted to completely immerse myself. That kind of thing was deliciously indulgent and I loved it. Unfortunately, when it came time for the sequel, Song of the Nile, I was under deadline which meant that there were only so many days I could devote to research and if I missed something, well, too bad. That was enormously stressful and will probably cause my editor to want to kill me when I start changing things at the copy-editing stage.
As for tips, I would say don’t depend on your own smarts. My own training was in the law, not in antiquities, so while my bull-dog like quality for getting at the truth or coming up with “a theory of the case” was useful, I knew I needed help. My advice is to forge a good relationship with experts in the field. I worked with a few, but I cannot thank Professor Duane Roller enough for answering my questions--some of which must have made him choke.
5) In your bio, you mention that you were previously a game designer, which intrigues me because I enjoy playing PC games. What games did you design for? Do you enjoy writing more and why do you enjoy writing more/less?
Along with my husband, I designed and ran the text-based internet game FiranMUX. It’s set in an original Greco-Roman fantasy world and simulates a society in which players can create interactive stories. Over the years we’ve had thousands and thousands of players and it’s still going strong. I no longer run it because I spend all my waking hours writing books, but I really miss it! I really enjoyed the instant feedback from players when I would present them with fun twists and turns. Writing books is a much more solitary kind of storytelling which is probably why I’m always so thrilled to hear from readers and why I’m working hard to contribute to the writing community. To celebrate the launch of Lily of the Nile, I’m hosting a giveaway on my site and I’m also sponsoring the Cleopatra Literary Contest for Young Women, which has some fantastic prizes for aspiring young writers.
Thanks for having me!
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?
A BIG Thank You to Stephanie for stopping by here for her blog tour!