Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Author Interview: Stephanie Dray + Giveaway (US)!

Please Welcome Stephanie Dray!

Stephanie Dray is the author of the Cleopatra's Daughter series, which currently includes Lily of the Nile and Song of the Nile. I LOVED both books for so many reasons, but I especially appreciated the historical approach Stephanie Dray has taken, which she explains in a little more detail below!

 There are NO spoilers here!

Why Do You Hate Ancient Romans So Much?
(And Other Frequently Asked Questions)

Stephanie Dray

A few years ago, I was enraptured by the life story of a nine year old Egyptian princess who was taken prisoner by the Romans, dragged through the streets in chains, and yet went on to be the most powerful queen in Augustus’ empire. I decided to write some books about her, the most recent of which is Song of the Nile: A Novel of Cleopatra’s Daughter.

Because I’ve spent so long studying Cleopatra Selene, I get asked a lot of strange questions ranging from whether or not the Egyptians really had turquoise (they did) to the true location of Cleopatra’s tomb (nobody knows). But one thing that keeps cropping up again and again: why do you hate the ancient Romans so much?

Now, the heroine of my novels doesn’t think much of the Romans. She wouldn’t. She was a Hellenized princess who--although half-Roman by blood--spent her young life in Egypt. An Egypt she was almost certainly raised to believe that she would rule as queen. In writing my novels, I assumed that even the most mature teenager, no matter how nuanced to the vagaries of power, would be resentful of having her kingdom taken away from her. Perhaps she would be even more resentful of having been dragged through the streets as a chained captive. Knowing that her life and her future was at the mercy of the very man who forced her parents to suicide can’t have endeared them to her. And she was bound to have had culture shock.

So, I made Cleopatra Selene hate the Romans. That doesn’t mean I do.

As I say in the beginning of Lily of the Nile in a note to my readers, the anti-Roman bias belongs to my heroine. I’m quite an admirer of ancient Romans, from whom we’ve inherited almost all our best and worst qualities. Sure, the Romans had gladiator games. They kept slaves. They were a colonial power who conquered the lands around them and stole their wealth. They practiced infanticide and had very creative ways of executing prisoners.

But the Romans also had a genius for organization and order; with the Romans came roads, water, concrete that hardened under water, magnificent architecture, and law. In fact, even though they are primarily known for the excesses of mad emperors--the Romans believed in, and often achieved, good governance. To someone like me, whose primary focus of study in school was Government, that’s reason enough to admire them.

They were not the ancient world equivalent of the Nazis. Many of the wars they fought, they were drawn into by virtue of being a super power, in an effort to restore peace. (Not that they didn’t take advantage of such situations, but then again, when has any super power not taken advantage of it?) And even though they went around conquering people, they really wanted to bring new cultures into the fold. Slaves could achieve their freedom and their children could be citizens with full rights. There was, in fact, an astonishing amount of social mobility.

In short, I love the Romans and I love writing about them. While some of the Roman characters in my novels seem irredeemable (like the emperor’s wife, Livia), I lavished a lot of loving attention on Octavia, Agrippa, Marcella, and the Antonias...people who Selene initially loathed, but came to love. I treat Virgil with affectionate kid gloves, and Julia--the emperor’s daughter--may have been my favorite character in the book next to Selene!

So, in short, I don’t hate the Romans. I just love looking at them through Selene’s eyes and I hope my readers will too!

Stephanie Dray's bio:

Stephanie graduated 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 so much for stopping by, Stephanie!

What do you think about Stephanie Dray's approach? Do you prefer to read historical fantasy where the author embraces the emotional perspective of the main character, or do you want pure objectivity?

Personally, while I appreciate objectivity, I really like it when the author gets inside the head of the main character. If you read my reviews, you know Stephanie Dray was very effective in making me join Selene in cursing the Romans!

Stephanie Dray is generously providing a copy of Song of the Nile for giveaway!

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?

Info for the giveaway:
  • As always, you do NOT have to be a follower
  • You must have a US mailing address
  • You must be 13 years of age or older
  • One entry per person
  • Your address is not required, but including it will help with sending the book out to you sooner
  • I will contact the winner through email and the winner will have 24 hours to reply before a new winner is chosen 
  • This giveaway will close December 7th

Visit Ruby today for a guest post by one of her favorite authors and an international giveaway! Check out our Historical Fantasy Jubilee full schedule of events and giveaways!

Have you entered to win our prize pack giveaways?


  1. Yay for lawyer authors! Makes me think that I can write a successful book - simply because of the lawyer karma :-)
    I love how Stephanie said that we inherited the Romans' best and worst qualities. I can definitely see how that's true.

  2. Yayyyyyy there's a giveaway of this book!

    Anyway, haha, is true what she said. I love the Roman places, the art and such but when it comes to killing... they were cruel.

  3. There really isn't any civilization that was perfect. Each had their flaws and major accomplishments. I don't know much about Cleopatra and the relationship amongst the Egyptians and Romans so I would definitely be picking this series up. It sounds so fascinating!

  4. I love the Romans too! - one of my favorite shows ever is Engineering an Empire, Romans is like my second favorite episodes.

    Loved this posts!

  5. Alison, That part stood out to me too. I can see it (though at least we don't have the gladiator games. Yikes!)

    Aliraluna, Yes! And it's so, so good :) They were really cruel, but their arts and architecture were amazing.

    Rummanah, It is extremely fascinating! I really like how Stephanie Dray packed in so many historical facts and details, but it was so readable. Definitely a good place to start if you're curious about the relationship between Cleopatra, her daughter, and the Romans.

    Alex, Yes! I can get that through Netflix. Thanks! :D

  6. Honestly, I don't like total objectivity. I think it takes a sort of "method writing" like method acting to create profound characters. I think if there's distance between the author and the characters, than that distance translates to the pages and reflects to the readers. I notice that distance acutely, so I appreciate that she gets so into Selene's perspective. It makes feel more genuine.

    - Asher (from Paranormal Indulgence)

  7. I love the Romans, and the Egyptians!

  8. Asher, I agree! Taking the perspective of the character instead of a more objective view really sucks me into the story and the character more. Otherwise there is a certain distance.

  9. I don't think I could be objective after writing my stories against a particular culture. I'm just not that evolved emotionally. I'm still a child! But good for Stephanie Dray because who knows what other terrific stories may come from her with the Romans involved.


  10. I like a mixture of emotional perspective and objectivity. If you don't make your MC sound like a real person, then it sometimes becomes hard to get invested into the story. At the same time, I don't just want to see a culture/people as all bad or all good. For me, it often also helps when authors create a notes section telling me more about events or people, and this is often where the objectivity comes in.

  11. Heather, ha me too! Every time I look at Augustus now a little part of me curses him. :P I attach really strongly to certain characters and I hold massive grudges on their behalf!

    A Canadian Girl, I love authors' notes! Stephanie Dray has both a forward and an author's note and they're both wonderful complements to the story. Her blog is also an awesome resource for more straight up factual details.


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