This author interview with Stephanie Dray is conducted by Zarabeth.
Zarabeth: What was it about Cleopatra Selene’s story that inspired you?
Stephanie: This was a little girl who lost both her parents and her older brothers–who was ripped away from Egypt, the only home she’d ever known. A little girl who was held hostage in a dangerous Roman world, having to listen to people condemn her mother as a whore. That this same little girl managed to triumph over all these tragedies to become the greatest queen in the empire is an inspirational story. It would inspire anyone!
But what really moved me about Selene’s story is how she held on to all these memories of her mother and her legacy. Given the fact that Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, was now her benefactor and the ruler of the world, it would have been easier for Selene to denounce her mother, but she didn’t. When she was finally ruling a kingdom of her own, she found ways to honor her legacy. The relics of her reign tell a tale of a woman who struggled, perhaps a woman who had to hide her true feelings most of her life. To be able to give Selene a voice to express the things she may not have been able to express during her lifetime is something that I’m honored to do.
Zarabeth: Do you have any special connection to Egypt or Rome that keeps you in the time period?
Stephanie: My great-grandmother came from the hills of Rome. She was a goat-herder, and never ceased to amuse us with stories of Italy. I also had the chance to visit Rome when I was eleven years old–just the same age as Selene was when she first stepped foot in her father’s native city. But as for my connection to the time period, I think it’s simply that Late Republic Rome was such an incredible period of transition in the world, filled with fascinating characters and powerful women, so I’m drawn like a moth to a flame.
Zarabeth: Your website says you were a lawyer, game designer, and teacher- rather diverse history. Has writing always been what you dreamed of doing?
Stephanie: I always wanted to be a writer, even from the time I was a little girl. I was a natural born storyteller and used to gather kids around the lunch table to tell them tales…of course, these were also known as big fat lies back then, but I’ve since learned to label my stories as fiction!
Zarabeth: I like the way you mainstreamed the eccentricities of Roman and Egyptian language for the modern reader. How did you decide to make the changes you did?
Stephanie: This is a great question. There are a number of authors who write for Roman history fans, and they make great use of Latin words. I enjoy that fiction and it tickles me to learn new words and concepts; but not all readers fetishize this kind of thing. I wanted this book to be as accessible to a mainstream audience as possible, so I took the practical course. I like to think that the Romans would be proud of me, because they were very practical people.
Zarabeth: Who do you think is your ideal audience?
Stephanie: I like to think that my book is enjoyable by everyone, but it is, at heart, the story of a young woman’s journey in coming of age. Consequently, I think women are going to identify with it most strongly. My ideal audience are feminist women who respect history and are interested in the deliciously wicked world of the Augustan Age. I also think it helps if my readers aren’t looking for a sweet-as-pie Mary Sue character. Selene is dark and complicated; she’s a little schemer and I love that about her.
Zarabeth: What do you want modern women to take from Selene’s story? Are you making a political statement in any way?
Stephanie: I suppose I am–though that political statement comes naturally from the circumstances of Selene’s life. Selene’s story is a lesson to us that the trajectory of women’s equality hasn’t always been a forward march. In some ways the ancients were more advanced than we are today; there have been setbacks before and there may be more in the future, so I’d like modern women to be vigilant. This is especially the case when the three most powerful religions in the world are male-centric monotheistic religions that don’t always speak to female spirituality.
Zarabeth: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about? What’s next for you?
Stephanie: I’m very excited that Song of the Nile will be out late in 2011. That book takes an intimate look at Selene’s life as a young queen as she struggles to balance her loyalties to Augustus with her loyalty to her dead family and to Egypt.
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.
Buy: Lily of the Nile