Please welcome Stephanie Dray, author of Song of the Nile, who took the time to answer our interview questions!
Stephanie: Thanks for having me here today!
Every writer has a different process or schedule they follow when writing. What is your process like? Is there any specific place you like to go to write, or can you write anywhere? Do you have any rituals or foods/drinks that you simply must have in order to write?
Stephanie: Apparently, the only thing I need to write is a deadline. Then I will work myself to the edge of death, night and day, until I meet it. My process though, such as it is, begins with a very detailed outline and some structural decisions. I need to know what the journey of the heroine is…
How much time did you devote to researching your historical novels? Do you do all of your research before you start writing? Do you sometimes stop to research something while you are in the process of writing a draft?
Stephanie: Every time I start one of my historical novels, I tell myself that this time I will do it smarter. I will make a list of all the things I need to research and do it first. Then I won’t have to research in the middle of writing. That never works out. I’m always stopping every ten minutes to find something out. The other day, it was the color of hibiscus in Algeria during the spring. Today I had to stop writing so that I could read a book about shipping in the ancient world, so as to better understand the problems Cleopatra Selene would have ruling over a major port city. And I can tell you what those problems were in one word: pirates.
Stephanie: You know, I was actually consulted on both of those covers and yet, still stunned by each of them. My editor, Cindy Hwang, has given me a lot of input on the covers. But what you see in your mind–even what you convey–all changes in the artist’s hands. For example, I knew that Lily of the Nile was going to have a scene in a temple or by a lily pond. I just didn’t expect it to be an oil painting. And I didn’t expect it to look so serene. There are crocodiles in that water! When it came to Song of the Nile, I expected to see a woman in the water and I was breathless with joy that she’s facing the reader straight on. But the lightning bolt? I think I laughed out loud at just how spectacular that was. I was afraid of that lightning bolt–for a while we even toyed with the idea of taking it out. But then I went with my gut instinct, which was, it’s fantastic.
Stephanie: I have one more book to write about Cleopatra Selene and then I’m on to new projects. I’m kind of torn at the moment as to what I’ll tackle next. I’m interested in Alexander the Great’s mother, Olympias. I’m also a big fan of Dido. What do you think? Could I become the queen of ancient world women’s historical fiction?
What other periods of history or historical people fascinate you?
Stephanie: The Revolutionary War has always held a very special place in my heart and I’m fascinated by all the founding fathers…and mothers!
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Stephanie: Be persistent. This is a very difficult business that will grind you down and spit you out if you don’t hold on with the jaws of a pit bull.
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.
About 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?