Before Stephanie Dray wrote novels, she 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.
What age group is your Lily of the Nile geared towards?Lily of the Nile is one of those unusual books that straddles a few genres and age groups. Though I wrote it as an adult women’s fiction book, but was surprised by the level of interest from high school girls. I believe this is because it’s the story of a young princess who has to grow up very quickly to become a teenaged queen.
Into which genre would you say it book falls?It is historical women’s fiction accented with bouts of magical realism.
Tell us more?Lily of the Nile is the story of Cleopatra’s daughter. Selene came to Rome as a chained prisoner and left Rome a queen. That kind of journey, especially in such turbulent political times, is something that I felt deeply about.
What is your favourite scene in your book? Can we have a snippet?Wow, it’d be difficult for me to choose just one favorite scene. However, I’d love to give you a snippet!
The emperor seized me roughly by both shoulders. “And where shall I have my retort, Cleopatra? Shall I point out that you descend from an inbred line of fat kin murderers, most of whom squandered Alexander’s legacy until Egypt was an indebted skeleton for you to inherit at Caesar’s sufferance!”http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=wiswor0a-21&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0425238555&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrHe shook me until my teeth rattled. Still, I knew it wasn’t me he was screaming at. No, he was speaking to my mother. Perhaps he didn’t want to think that he had defied a goddess, or perhaps some part of him needed to grapple with my mother still.
We stared at one another, both of us aware of every sound in the room, of every breath. I’d brought this on myself to strike at him, and I felt both satisfied and unnerved by the effects. Though he had held my life in his hands since before I had even met him, he had never laid hands on me like this. He was a cool-tempered man who rarely spoke an unintended word, but now his fingers dug into my shoulders like talons. “You’re hurting me,” I whispered.
He looked right through me, trembling with rage. And his eyes—oh, his eyes. “Who are you?”“Selene,” I murmured.“No. You think like her. You talk like her,” he accused. Then his hand went to the nape of my neck, where he bunched my hair in his fist. My arms went limp at my sides, and droplets of blood splashed the woven carpet beneath us.
Have your characters or writing been inspired by friends/ family or by real-life experiences? I certainly never experienced the difficulties in my life that Selene faced. I’ve never been taken prisoner, I’ve never been orphaned and I grew up safe and loved. But I think every writer delves into their personal experiences and tragedies to write authentic emotions!
Can you sum the Lily of the Nile in one sentence?Heir to one empire and prisoner of another, it falls to Princess Selene to save her brothers and reclaim what is rightfully hers.
Who is your favourite character in your book and why?Selene is my favorite character because her life story moves me, but I admit that I have a soft spot for Augustus, who was Rome’s first emperor. He’s definitely the villain of my story but in trying to get into his head and come up with a consistent psychological profile that would explain his actions, I came to delight in his horrid behavior.
Which comes first for you – characters or plot?When I’m writing historical fiction, much of the plot already exists in the historical record, so it’s up to me to weave an additional sub-story through that timeline. It’s my job to fill in the blanks. But in creating my characters and getting to know them helps me to figure out how they might behave. For example, once I conceived of Augustus as a man who was obsessed with Cleopatra–a woman who killed herself before she could appreciate his genius–the story flowed naturally from there.
Who is your publisher and where are your books available? Are there e-books and hard copies available?Lily of the Nile will be published by Berkley Books, available wherever books are sold, and I’m told it will be available in both print and electronic form.
Are there any upcoming signings or appearances you’d like to mention?I just turned in the manuscript for the sequel and I’m taking a little break but I expect to have some events and signings in the coming months. I’ve been thinking about a toga party to celebrate the book launch!
Do you have an agent, or have you gone alone?My agent is the fabulous Jennifer Schober of Spencerhill Associates. Jenn was one of the very first agents I contacted about representing Lily of the Nile and I was shocked when she got back to me so quickly. All in all, I would say that my agent hunt took about a week. I realize that this isn’t normal, but Jenn is also a “Cleophile” and no one could have worked harder to make this book a reality for me.
What marketing have you been doing to help sales?Because Lily of the Nile is the first of a series, I’ve tried to give it the strongest push that I can. First, I’ve planned a long three-month blog tour. I’ve put up a giveaway on Goodreads and I’ve tried to be an active presence on twitter. I’ve also invested in bookmarks and scheduled appearances. For example, I spoke in front of four high school classes yesterday. I loved that!
What is the most productive time of the day for you to write?Honestly, it’s late at night after everyone has gone to bed or early in the morning before everyone has awakened. Twitter, email and phone calls distract me quite a bit with the business of the day.
Do you start your projects writing with paper and pen or is it all on the computer?I do all my work on the computer or a laptop. When I was suffering from tailbone pain last year I tried writing in long hand, but it was a misery. That’s just not how I compose.
What do you draw inspiration from?I draw inspiration from the lives of women in history who have faced worse obstacles than we face now. I draw inspiration from trailblazers who have made our lives easier, happier, and more fulfilling. I also draw inspiration from the unconditional love my husband gives me and the strength of my family.
Do you set yourself goals when you sit down to write such as word count?Absolutely. Because I work on deadline, I try very hard to do a fast draft and then edit it later. To that end, I try to write about 2,000 words a day during writing sprint months. If I’m taking it easier on myself, I will drop it to 1,000 words a day. However, that pace isn’t sustainable for me every day. After about nine months of doing that, I’m taking a vacation in which the only thing I write is blog posts!
What drives you to choose the career of being a writer?I love to entertain people and enthrall them with stories. This is something I’ve always loved to do, even when it seemed utterly impractical.
What are you working on now that you can talk about?I’m starting to think about my proposal for the third book in the series, which will tell the last part of Selene’s life, follow the fate of her daughter, and of course, explore the end of the Augustan Age.
What is your writing process like? Do you do a lot of background research? Do you plot every detail or do you prefer the characters to move the story in new directions, or a combination of both?I try to do all my research upfront. I immerse myself in history books and compile a list of research questions and things to include in the novel. When I’m finished with that I start plotting out the major scenes in the book. It’s the minor scenes and the subplots where I allow my imagination to run wild.
How long does it take you to write a book? Have your written other books?I’ve written romances that take me about a month, but with historical fiction, it’s a long slog. Lily of the Nile took me five years to complete, though I did take some time off in between. The sequel, Song of the Nile, took me less than a year to complete but only because I was really pushing myself.
How did you get into writing? Did you always want to become a writer?I always wanted to be a writer but my mother very sensibly suggested that this was a foolish career option and encouraged me to be a lawyer instead, but it didn’t take.
Are you working on another book? Possible to have a preview snippet or blurb of that?I’ll be happy to show you a snippet from the prologue of Song of the Nile which is narrated from the perspective of the goddess Isis:
I am nature. I am the mother of everything that has ever been or will ever be. I am all goddesses. And you know me, for I live inside of you. I am in the part of you that feels magic when the wheat is harvested and cleansing wind separates the golden grains from the chaff. I am in the part of you that sees a woman dance by the firelight and understands the sacred power of her body. I am in the part of you that has suffered dark winters of the soul and survived to see the dawn.
You know me, because I am every strong hand that has ever stretched out to help you up. I am every soft kiss that has soothed your tears. I am every warm meal that has ever filled your hungry belly. I have a thousand names, and yet, you know me.
I am the good goddess. Bona Dea. Call me Hecate or Cybele, Venus or Inanna, Tanit or Kore or Demeter. I will answer to them all. But I am properly known as Isis, for it is by this name that the world has best worshipped me.
They tell stories of how my husband was murdered, and how I raised up my son to avenge his father. This story is true, but it is a son’s story. A daughter’s journey is different. She is the keeper of my legacy. That is why there are other stories they tell about me. Stories of how my daughter was taken, pulled down into the underworld, and how I refused to work my magic until my beloved daughter returned.
This is one of those stories.
What advice would you give aspiring authors?Learn the market, learn the market, learn the market. If you’re writing for yourself, then you don’t need any advice, but if you’re writing to be read, then you really want to make sure you know who your target audience is and how to reach them.
What mistakes do you see new writers make?New writers tend to frontload their books with exposition and info dumps. Or, going to the opposite extreme, they withhold information from the reader for no compelling reason whatsoever.
What is your website and/or blog where readers can learn more? Can they friend you on Facebook or Twitter?I love when folks visit my website. Come see me at http://www.stephaniedray.com/ and contact me at www.twitter.com/stephaniehdray!
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=wiswor0a-21&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=B0041KLF9K&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrAlso writing paranormal romance as Stephanie Draven