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Interview with Stephanie Dray

Submitted by on November 1, 2011 – 2:28 pm4 Comments

Stephanie Dray 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.


Thank you for taking time to interview with Paperback Dolls. Could you tell us a little about how you began writing novels?
When I was a little girl, my grandmother used to lock me in the back of the car with my little cousins while she went on errands, and it was my job to keep them entertained. I started telling them stories to make them stay put!

What was it about Cleopatra Selene that inspired you to write about her?
This is a little girl who lost her whole family–who was humiliated by the Romans and taken prisoner–and yet, somehow managed to become a very powerful queen. For most of her life, she had to suck up to her enemies and keep quiet about her true feelings. She was without a voice. I’m very honored to try to give her a voice now.

There is so much in the book about the worship of Isis, was there anything interesting you learned about Isis while researching the book?
I had no idea how instrumental the worship of Isis was in the transition between orthodoxy and orthopraxy–that is to say, the transition between correct ritual and having a personal relationship with the divine realm. The worship of Isis was a great forerunner of Christianity and modern faith. It’s too important to ignore and I believe that Selene helped foster that religion, which is still a living faith.

I sensed this book was about Selene growing up and finding herself; was there a particular thought or meaning you were hoping the reader would walk away with after finishing this book?
I’d like readers to feel as if they need not be haunted by the expectations of others. You only get one life. You have to live it doing the things that are of most importance to you. Selene spends most of the novel trying to live up to what she believes her mother wanted for her. At some point, she has to become her own woman…

I love the strength and presence that Cleopatra Selene exudes; do you feel we need more strong female characters in media?
Goodness, yes. (And thank you for your kind words. Selene must have been a very strong person to be able to thrive in the environment in which she was raised.)

Let’s talk about Augustus, at times it seems Selene actually admires him. Do you think he is admirable, tell us a little about him.
This is such a great question because I have a love and hate relationship with Augustus. In so many ways, he was admirable. He was clever and cunning. He really did help to usher in a period of peace and prosperity. He was a marvelous administrator and a shrewd judge of character. His legacy is around us everywhere today; unfortunately it’s not always a good legacy. He single-handedly did more to set back the progress of women’s equality than any other figure I can think of in history. And some of the despicable and divisive politics that he used to reach the pinnacle of power are still being used to divide us today.

I am curious about the nature of research that goes into writing a historical novel such as Song of the Nile; can you tell us a little about the research process?
I started out this process by reading everything I possibly could about the life of Cleopatra Selene. Then I started studying Juba and Augustus and the figures around her. The hardest part was trying to reconstruct what ancient Berbers may have been like. But, truly, even when I think I know everything, I find myself stopping mid-sentence every ten minutes to hunt down what color the hibiscus flowers in Algeria may have been when Selene lived there, and that really wears on me.

Is there anything you wished readers would ask you about Song of the Nile that you haven’t been asked?
I haven’t been asked much about Julia, which surprises me, because she was such a vibrant and colorful woman!

At the end of Song of the Nile it seems that Selene may have grown up. Can you tell us anything about what’s in store for her in the next book?
Selene is definitely a woman now and far more in possession of herself. If she was the personification of Persephone in Song of the Nile, she will be more like Demeter in the next book. She has to face the fears of a mother whose children are being pulled towards Rome, and all her enemies there…

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions Stephanie, we really appreciate it and look forward to reading more of your books!
Thank you so much for having me. These were fantastic questions! Now I have one for you and your readers. What makes you love a historical fiction novel? Is it the vivid detail that makes you feel like you’re traveling in time? Is it the dramatic lives? Is it something that surprises you or shocks you or makes you all twisted up inside?

Song of the Nile

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?

Want to know more? Check out our review on SONG OF THE NILE and download a FREE Excerpt!

Paperback Dolls is made up of women from different parts of the world, with different backgrounds, different tastes and beliefs that were brought together through a love of reading. We like to think of ourselves as a cyber version of "The View" that focuses on books, authors, and reading. We are proof positive that one common love can unite the most opposite of people and form lasting friendships that introduce other ways of life and perspectives to each other.
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  • Doll Day says:

    Great interview! I love historical fiction if it inspires me to learn more about the era and the people. I think that a good historical novel has the ability to pull you into the time but encourage you to discover the truth behind the fiction. Sometimes the truth is even more outrageous than the fiction:)

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  • Stephanie Vignal says:

    I agree that I like to be pulled in and love when I am longing to learn more about the character and have a desire to research further. I also love history and in this case the history behind a strong woman.

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