Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Interview: Stephanie Dray, Lily of the Nile

We are pleased to welcome Stephanie Dray, author of the upcoming Lily of the Nile.

Please tell readers about yourself and your background.

If you walked in my front door, the first thing you'd see is a pair of pillars. Then you might notice some Roman paintings on my walls. Downstairs there’s a room dominated by an Egyptian carpet and a statue of Isis. In short, I’m serious about my passions and immerse myself in them. I’m a feminist, a lover of history, and a collector of cats. I think all that shows through in my writing.

What inspired your interest in Egypt’s Ptolemaic period?

The Ptolemaic period was a time of transition, a period in which women reached unprecedented levels of power. While Cleopatra is the best known example, her ancestresses were extraordinary, too. In fact, recent research suggests that Arsinoe II may have been a female pharaoh in her own right. I think it's important for women to remember how far we've come, but also, that there have been setbacks in the past and there may be again.

Lily of the Nile is your most recent release. Please tell us about the story.

Cleopatra is the most famous woman in the history of the world so it baffled me to learn that almost no one had ever heard of her daughter, Selene. At the age of ten, when Selene’s famous parents committed suicide, she was taken prisoner in her mother’s stead. She was marched through the streets of Rome in chains. Her life was spared by Rome’s first emperor, Augustus and she soon became his favorite, surviving on her charms in a dangerous political world. My story imagines the inner life of this little orphaned girl, brought up in the household of her enemies, a worshipper of Isis in a time when the cult was banned. This novel attempts to answer the question of how she became the most powerful client queen in the empire.

How long did it take you to research and write Lily of the Nile?

I wrote and researched for about three years. Then I spent the next two years editing and refining. However, I admit that I wasn’t writing full-time back then and I drew out the pleasure for myself because I really loved learning about this fascinating princess of Egypt.

With a setting in the ancient world, how did you go about re-creating that past for your readers?

Fortunately, we know quite a bit about Augustan Age Rome. Because Augustus was a master propagandist, much of the poetry he commissioned for his regime survives. We have fairly detailed historical accounts of his life, and because Selene was constantly in the emperor’s orbit, I could recreate her past by recreating his. On the other hand, I didn’t want my novel to get bogged down in long descriptions of historical detail and superfluous use of foreign words, so I think modern readers will find it quite accessible!

Have you been able to travel to any of the locations in Lily of the Nile?

I visited Rome when I was eleven years old--the same age Selene was when she arrived on the shores of the Tiber. Even though I was young, I have very vivid memories of Rome! I’d love to go back and walk where Selene walked.

Do you have a favorite character in the story?

The novel is about Selene because her story truly moved me. I’m not sure how many people would have the strength of character to survive what she did. However, my favorite character to write was Augustus. Though he is the villain of my work, I have a soft spot for him, and it was a guilty pleasure to try to unravel his ruthless psyche.

How do you develop your plots and characters?

With historical fiction, people say that most of the plot is already written for you. This is true, but only to an extent. With antiquity especially, the records have gaps in them. Things happen with no clear explanation. Plotting comes into play as an author tries to explain how the puzzle pieces fit together in a coherent narrative, and I did that with a little bit of magic and by simply imagining Augustus’ obsessions.

A common complaint among aspiring writers is about the struggle to find an agent. What challenges did you find in pursuing an agent? What lessons have you learned?

Actually, I had an embarrassingly easy time of finding an agent for Lily of the Nile once I decided that I needed one. I accepted an offer of representation from my dream agent about a week or two after I queried her.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Enter my contest. I am currently sponsoring the Cleopatra Literary Award for Young Women and it’s an extraordinary opportunity for writers.

What are your future writing plans?

Lily of the Nile will be followed by its sequel in the coming year, Song of the Nile, which will follow Selene into womanhood as Queen of Mauretania and her struggle for independence from Augustus and from her husband.

Please provide your website and blogs where readers can learn more about you.

I love for folks to visit my website because I have a lot of great little tidbits and FAQs for Cleophiles: www.stephaniedray.com
Any closing thoughts you would like to share.

If you’d like to win a free copy of Lily of the Nile, there’s a quick and easy way on my website.

Thanks for your time, Stephanie, and best of luck with Lily of the Nile.

Don't forget; leave a comment on our review of Lily of the Nile this week. Tell Stephanie Dray what fascinates you about Cleopatra and ancient Egypt to win a FREE signed copy of the book.

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