Stephanie Dray is the author of the soon-to-be-released Historical Fantasy novel Lily of the Nile, a novel about Princess Selene of Egypt. From the moment I saw the beautiful cover of this book, and read the excerpt on Goodreads, I've wanted to read Selene's story, so I am thrilled to have the opportunity to find out more about the book from Stephanie herself in preparation for its release in January 2011. Read on!
Q: Both you and author Michelle Moran have written books about Cleopatra's daughter, Selene. What inspired you to write about her?
A: I've always been interested in Cleopatra VII. When I found out that she had a daughter--one who survived to become Queen of Mauretania--I had to know more. Imagine the life of a child whose parents both commit suicide, a child who is taken prisoner and dragged through Rome in chains, only to charm her way into power. That was an irresistible story for me. What made it more interesting is that Selene lived through a period of great social and religious transition. I wanted to know how her life fit into that context and I was moved by every new thing I discovered about her.
Q: Lily of the Nile is a historical fantasy - Did you know from the start that this was the type of book you wanted to write? If not, how did it change from what you had intended?
A: Originally, the story I planned was more historical fantasy than historical fiction. I wanted to write an alternate history where things turned out differently. But the more I researched Selene's life, the more her actual circumstances touched me. For example, though she was only ten years old when her parents died, she never forgot them, or any of the family that she lost. The relics found from her reign in Mauretania show frequent references to her mother and to lost loved ones. This is a little girl who grew up to be the last Ptolemaic queen, and her desperation to hold onto her heritage resonated with me and seemed like its own little bit of magic.
Q: What was the most difficult aspect of researching for a book like Lily of the Nile?
A: I can't read or write Latin or Greek and that was a huge limitation for me in my research. Having to rely upon English translations frustrated me. Also, there's a great deal that we know about the Augustan Age, but references to Selene are brief and tantalizing. For example, both of her brothers simply disappear from the historical record. Some historians suggested that they went on to live obscure lives with their sister but modern historians theorize that they must have died young or they'd be mentioned. There's a danger in making assumptions when we have so few surviving historical accounts, and those that we do have were often written hundreds of years after the fact. I try to approach historical mysteries without any hubris and am willing to admit that there are things we just don't know and might never know.
Q: I am very much a character reader; for me to enjoy a story, it has to have realistic characters that I can identify with and care about. What is the one "make or break" aspect a book must have for you to love it?
A: I'm with you. It's all about character. I can't get into a book, no matter how well written or clever, no matter how fast the plot moves, if I don't have a reason to care. Selene speaks to me as a character, and as a historical figure, and that's what makes the book for me.
Q: Can you talk about one aspect of writing and/or publishing that surprised you, either positively or negatively, and what you would do differently if you had the chance?
A: If I had the chance to go back and write Selene's story as one giant novel instead of three smaller books, I think I would have done that. I didn't understand the women's fiction market very well when I started writing, and I thought, nobody will buy a book that big!
Q: Have you ever been surprised by the reactions of readers? For example, readers loving a character that you disliked or vice versa?
A: Every now and then a reader will surprise me by wishing that Selene was a sweeter, more innocent girl, who never feels rage. A lot of fiction out there revolves around heroines who never lose their temper, who always do the right thing, who never struggle. I'm not very interested in those kinds of heroines and I rarely write them. What's more, I don't know any real women who are like that. Selene had a very difficult life and she has plenty to be angry about. She loves some of the people she's supposed to hate and she hates some of the people she's supposed to love. She tries, she fails, she changes, she becomes. I love her for that.
Q: I know that there is a sequel in the works - are there more books in the series planned?
A: The next book in the series will follow Selene on her journey to Mauretania as its young queen. It's in this book that she becomes the emperor’s most unlikely apprentice, and the one woman who can destroy his empire…
Q: Do you have any "quirks" regarding your writing habits? Like writing longhand and then typing it up, or using only a "lucky" font, or needing absolute quiet or loud music or background noise?
A: I like to have my kitties sleeping beside me when I write ;)
Q: Who or what is your favorite mythological figure or creature?
A: I have to go with nymphs because they are a primal expression of the mystery that women represented to the ancients. They lived outside of civilization and social norms. They were wild and alluring and even dangerous. They were the original bad girls of the ancient world and I love them for it.
Q: I'm sure you get the same types of questions all the time, so what is the one question you wish someone would ask you, and the answer you'd give?
A: I'd like someone to ask me if I really hate the ancient Romans. Selene's perspective in the book is very slanted. She hates the Romans and thinks everything they do is bad whereas everything about her mother's Egypt is good. This is a biased point of view and one that I intentionally adopted for her. Unfortunately, people think it's my point of view. I have enormous respect for the ancient Romans and I'm well aware of the influence they've had over our own culture. In fact, don't tell Selene, but I even have quite a soft spot for Augustus!
Thank you so much, Stephanie! I am extremely excited to read this one, and I can't wait to get my hands on it! :)