23 January 2011

Guest Author: Stephanie Dray

This week on Unusual Historicals we're happy to help contributor Stephanie Dray celebrate the release of her historical fiction debut, LILY OF THE NILE, in which Cleopatra's daughter struggles to survive in the treacherous Roman court. Check out below how you can win a copy!

With her parents dead, the daughter of Cleopatra and Mark
Antony is left at the mercy of her Roman captors. Heir to one empire and prisoner of another, it falls to Princess Selene to save her brothers and reclaim what is rightfully hers...In the aftermath of Alexandria's tragic fall, Princess Selene is taken from Egypt, the only home she's ever known. Along with her two surviving brothers, she's put on display as a war trophy in Rome. Selene's captors mock her royalty and drag her through the streets in chains, but on the brink of death, the children are spared as a favor to the emperor's sister, who takes them to live as hostages in the so-called lamentable embassy of royal orphans...
Now trapped in a Roman court of intrigue that reviles her heritage and suspects her
faith, Selene can't hide the hieroglyphics that carve themselves into her flesh. Nor can she stop the em
peror from using her for his own political ends. But faced with a new and ruthless Caesar who is obsessed with having a Cleopatra of his very own, Selene is determined honor her mother's lost legacy. The magic of Egypt and Isis remain within
her. But can she succeed where her mother failed? And what will it cost her in a political game where the only rule is win or die?

If you had to compare your novel to a movie or television series, what would it be?

LILY OF THE NILE is based on the true life story of Cleopatra's daughter,who was taken prisoner by the Romans at the age of ten and marched through the streets in chains, only to be pardoned by the emperor who would eventually make her the most powerfulqueen in his empire. Because of this, it's almost like a continuation of HBO's hit series, "Rome".The characters are all the same, the sex, greed, scandal and ambition is theretoo. And of course, the great food of ancient Roman banquets.

What kind of readers does your novel appeal to?

Fans of historical fiction will find lots to love in LILY OF THE NILE, but because the story is also infused with magic realism and explores the transition from female-centric religion to a world in which god is exclusively male, I think my writing will very much appeal to fans of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon series. (I was so very honored to get a blurb recommendation from her collaborator, the fabulous Diana Paxson.)

If historical fiction writers come up with solutions to history's mysteries, what puzzles did you attempt to solve?

Historical sources tell us that Rome's first emperor, Augustus, could be cold and ruthless with a long memory for grudges. That he actively promoted Cleopatra's image as a great queen was in his interest--he wanted to be seen as having made an important conquest. But his strange fascination with her iconography has remained a mystery for thousands of years and the fact that he was willing to make Cleopatra's daughter the most powerful queen in his empire is nothing short of astonishing. For me, the solution was simple: Augustus simply transferred his fascination with the dead queen to her living daughter. When I made that decision the rest of the historical pieces fell into place in a strangely consistent order...I loved that!

What books inspired you while writing your novel?

I owe everything to Beatrice Chanler's 1932 book entitled Cleopatra's Daughter: Queen of Mauretania. Her writing is beautiful but old-fashioned, and most of her ideas have been lost as her book went out of print. I wanted to modernize her most controversial theories. I owe a debt of gratitude to also to Margaret George, whose book The Memoirs of Cleopatra made me obsessed with the Queen of the Nile!

Is there anything else you'd like for us to know?

Yes! I'd like people to know that I tweet and there's nothing I would rather do than chat with readers and fellow authors. I also give away goodies and free content to subscribers of my very infrequent newsletter, so please join and I'll keep you up to date on the sequel, SONG OF THE NILE.


"Dray deftly mixes magic and history in her debut... Selene discovers hidden powers within herself to fight for her Egyptian beliefs and proves an active, vibrant take-charge protagonist as she goes toe to toe with Octavian and staunchly defends her people. Readers will eagerly look forward to the next installment." ~ Publishers Weekly

"With clear prose, careful research, vivid detail and a dash of magic, Stephanie Dray brings true life to one of Egypt's most intriguing princesses." ~ Susan Fraser King, bestselling and award winning author of Queen Hereafter and Lady MacBeth

"Graceful history infused with subtle magic and veiled ancient mysteries... Meticulously researched, thoroughly believable, this is a different kind of book, and a true achievement." ~ Vera Nazarian, two-time Nebula Award nominated author of Lords of Rainbow and Mansfield Park and Mummies

"The glimpses of the cult of Isis leave one wanting to know more, and the story keeps you turning the pages until the end." Diana Paxson, bestselling author and collaborator on the Mists of Avalon series


Sounds fabulous! Thanks for being with us today, Stephanie. Readers, if you'd like the chance to win a copy of LILY OF THE NILE, answer this: Do you enjoy magical realism, those little touches of the unexplained in your history? Why or why not? I'll draw a winner at random on Sunday. Void where prohibited. Best of luck!


Caroline said...

Wow Stephanie your book sounds wonderful! As a "Roman" addict it looks like this will be on the TBR pile! I love the way authors can use real historical facts and then weave a fictional story out of it without compromising what really happened. Caroline x

Stephanie Dray said...

Thanks Caroline! There are two tiny tweaks that I had to do to the timeline to keep my protagonist at the center of documented events--I hate when you have to relay information third hand--but they're explained in the Author's Note.

librarypat said...

I like my historical novels to be as accurate as possible. However, there are things that can't be explained by what we can see and prove. I believe there is magic around us and that forces we can not explain often affect what happens in our lives.
I have heard really good things about this book and look forward to reading it. It is an era I would like to find our more about.

M. said...

The art in this post is beautiful and intriguing. I'm dying to know what the figure bending over the edge of river and looking down is gazing at - a crocodile? A body? Lunch that fell down by accident? And how fascinating that it means deliberately looking away from the woman behind him (her?) who is so clearly seeking to be the centre of attention.

Do I like magical realism in historical fiction? Like anything else, depends on how well it's written.

Laura H. said...

I have heard so many great things about this book and can't wait to get my hands on it! I enjoy historical fiction and people's interpretation of the facts and if you combine that with a little romance all the better. But I also read to be entertained so if the story is made more entertaining by "magical realism", I have no complaints!


Danielle Gorman said...

I think as long as I can believe the story then it does not matter if it is acurate or not. Just make me believe that it is.
I can't wait to read this book. It looks really good and I have heard nothing but good things about it.


Jessica M said...

I'm so excited to read Lily of the Nile, it's set in absolutely one of my favorite time periods in history to learn about and I've heard a lot of good things about it. I don't mind magical realism at all in historical fiction, as long as it doesn't make the story just completely unbelievable. I actually think it's pretty interesting when authors can be incredibly historically accurate and yet weave fictional elements through in such a way that it's hardly noticeable.

Thanks for the giveaway opportunity!

jmartinez0415 [at] gmail [dot] com

Stephanie Dray said...

Thanks everyone. M really cracked me up. The figure bending over the edge of the river is probably watching a crocodile. Haha.

The magical realism in this book is based on the idea that the ancients believed in it!

Stephanie Dray said...

I recently received an interesting review in which the reviewer said that my novel about Selene had only three or four events in common with Michelle Moran's novel on the same woman, b/c we're covering the same historical events, but that the interpretations and consequences were all different. I thought that was a great example of what historical fiction can do.