Stephanie graduated with a degree in Government 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.
1) I was completely sucked in by Song of the Nile, and I wonder how hard of a book this was to write? And/or in what ways was it the same or different from the other books you have written?
I have to tell you, this book almost killed me to write. I didn’t think it would be hard because I had almost fifty thousand words already written when it sold. But I soon realized that most of that had to be tossed away--that the real story was still about Selene’s twisted relationship with the emperor. I was also suffering from a serious crisis of confidence because I knew that this book was going to be darker and more controversial. In the end though, it made me cry, and I think that’s always a good thing.
2) In your afterword of Song of the Nile, you talk about the historical facts versus what changes and spaces you filled in. How did you balance the real versus storyteller's freedom?
My first duty is as a storyteller. I’m not a biographer. And frankly, historians would have a difficult time writing a biography about Cleopatra Selene because the evidence of her life is so fragmentary. However, the implications of those little historical snippets were too delicious to deny Selene her day in the sun. She spent most of her life without being able to voice her true feelings. I hoped to honor her by giving her a voice with which to speak to women today. I do a lot of research to make sure that if I am deviating from history, I’m doing so with a very clear purpose. For example, we don’t know what happened to Selene’s twin brother Helios, but he’s a very important character in my novels because of what he represents to her.
3) What happened to Helios after his disappearance in Lily of the Nile? I'm curious because while there are mentions of Helios in Song of the Nile, his story isn't anywhere near as fleshed out as Selene's. Basically, can there be a story of his journeys?
Assuming that Helios is actually alive, and not a spiritual manifestation of Selene’s darkest needs, I would love to do a story on his journeys during this time period. Can you imagine the exotic travels through Arabia and Kush? I can! Not to mention the fact that the Mediterranean was a wild and wooly place of piracy in those days and Helios would have been in the thick of all of that. I think you should talk to my agent; she would like to hear this idea you have for some side projects for me!
Sniffly Kitty: I would totally tell her that I want to see this story written. HEY STEPHANIE'S AGENT HELIOS' STORY = AWESOME SIDE PROJECT!!!
4) What was it like to do some tough things to your characters? The last book definitely saw some of that, but I feel there are definitely rougher moments in this book?
Some very bad things happen to my characters in this book and they hurt me to write them. What made it harder is that Selene is so overwhelmed with loss at some point that she can’t even cry anymore. And I thought about that--what it might feel like to lose someone you love and not even be able to cry at their funeral. For those periods of depression, I had to draw from a very dark place. The saving grace is that Cleopatra Selene triumphed over these tragedies in her life and I think we can all take inspiration from that.
5) Will there be more books in this vein from you? And any details you are allowed to share would be appreciated.
I have just accepted an offer for the third and final book in the trilogy, so I’d better get to work on writing it! This last one will cover Selene’s life as a mother, and the legacy she will leave behind in her children and in her kingdom. And of course, throughout the empire...
Sniffly Kitty: OOh, I didn't realize there would be a third book! I'm super excited ^.^
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?
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