In addition to being the best critique partner a girl could ask for, and an amazing friend, she is one of my favorite storytellers. Readers and bookworms, Stephanie Dray.
Sorceress. Seductress. Schemer. Cleopatra’s daughter has become the emperor’s most unlikely apprentice and the one woman who can destroy his empire…
GC: Lily of the Nile takes place during Selene's teen years, though her adolescence is anything but ordinary, what was the biggest change you knew Selene would have to undergo when you began writing, and what was something about the character's metamorphosis that surprised you?
SD: Cleopatra Selene was a fourteen year old girl who was married off to a young king of a relatively undeveloped kingdom, virtually exiled both from her mother’s Egypt and her father’s Rome. Aside from her own entourage, she was likely to know no one. It must have been very isolating for her. When people are strangers in a new world, they tend to have only two choices. Pine for the past or learn to love a new home. In my novel, Cleopatra Selene does a little of both. She spends the entire novel trying to get back home to her native Egypt, but she also learns to love her new kingdom. And that is her salvation!
GC: Selene has lost a lot by book two, is this something you can relate to?
SD: I think everyone can relate to loss. If you’ve never lost anything or anyone, and never been hurt, then you probably haven’t lived. To help identify with Selene’s feelings of despair, I did draw upon the times in my life when I’ve been at my lowest. Times when I’ve thought that I was broken and destroyed and had to keep going anyway.
GC: Did Song of the Nile ever intimidate you? In what ways, and how did you press forward?
SD: Gosh, this book was the scariest thing I’ve ever written. First, I was totally haunted by the success of Lily of the Nile, which is a little more oriented towards young adults. I was terrified--heck, I’m still terrified--that readers would not like that Song of the Nile has more intensity to it. More love, more sex, more magic. I wasn’t sure I was going to get to write another book about Selene, so I needed to write this one in a way that there would be closure. (I’m pleased to announce that I just accepted an offer for the final book of the trilogy, so those fears were unfounded!) Finally, like any historical fiction writer I was sweating over the details. We don’t know a lot about the ancient Berbers, so I had to make some tough calls about how to use modern Berber culture as a stand-in for the ancients!
There were times when I had a real crisis of confidence writing this novel, but that’s when the praise of advance-readers like you really helped me cross the finish line!
GC: What differences were there in writing book one and book two as far as deadlines and people counting on you is concerned?
SD: The first novel took me at least five years to research, maybe longer. I had a long time to fine tune it and shape it into the best book I was capable of writing. For Song of the Nile, I had only a year. And maybe that sounds like a very long time, but trust me, I needed every second of it to finish the research and make final decisions about the plot structure. As you know, Selene’s brother Helios plays a large role in Song of the Nile and I was very nervous about that. I must have deleted and added his scenes about twenty times!
GC: If you couldn't write book three from Selene's perspective, whose POV would you write it from, and why?
SD: It’s funny that you ask that. For a long time now I’ve been toying with the idea of using Selene’s daughter, Isidora and her friend, the emperor’s daughter, Julia, as viewpoint characters. Isidora has the advantage of letting us see Selene’s legacy--how life was different for the little girl she raised. And Julia, well, her fresh and sassy voice has always been one of my favorites. We’re tentatively calling the third book Daughters of the Nile, so you might just get some more viewpoints!
About Stephanie Dray…
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.