Song of the Nile, Berkley Books, Historical Fiction, October 2011
Sorceress. Seductress. Schemer. Cleopatra's daughter is the one woman with the power to destroy an 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.
The magic of Isis flowing through her veins is what 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?
What main genre do you write in?
Please tell us your latest news!
I just accepted an offer from Berkley Books for the third and final novel in the series about Cleopatra's daughter. While each of the books, including Song of the Nile, stand on their own, I think they'll make a powerful trilogy in imagining the world of Cleopatra Selene. Certainly, I will be the first modern historical fiction novelist to tackle Selene's inspirational life from start to finish. I'm very proud about that.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
It's hard for me to choose just one favorite author. I have many favorites. However, I'm going to go with Philippa Gregory. I haven't loved every single book she's ever written, but I'm always floored by the beauty of her prose. It can be breathtaking. More importantly, she wrote a book that made me cry. It's not her most famous book, but it's called Wideacre, and it's the most demented thing I've ever read. It's so dark and desperate, a fable of the most destructive things inside us. The heroine is so horrible, so wicked, so evil...that it physically hurt me to still feel for her. When an author can do that, that's something special. In writing about Selene, I've tried to write about a young woman who was forced to some awful choices and who stood witness to great tragedies that warped her. I'm certainly not comparing myself to Gregory, but I had a little bit of Beatrice Lacey in mind.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Learn to write quickly. I spent years and years honing my craft, only to find that once you're writing under deadline, you don't always have the luxury of toiling over every word.
Please describe your writing environment.
I don't dare send you a picture of my writing environment because it's currently a complete mess as I try to re-envision my office for the next project. Let it suffice to say that it's probably time to replace the old desks from Ikea and try to live like a grown up.
What's been the most challenging part of writing for you?
The sheer physicality of it. Sitting in a chair, hour after hour, can be quite taxing on your back, your body, and your mental health. I've pledged to take a more balanced approach
Do you have any other author names? If so, what are they and what's different about what you write under each name.
I also write paranormal romance and various other kinds of commercial fiction under the pen name Stephanie Draven. I like to write about women who don't fit into the norms of society. (I often do a presentation called 'Bad Girls of the Ancient World.) Well, that desire to talk about how women's uniqueness has changed the world is the same whether I'm writing about Cleopatra, her daughter or gorgons in love. I joke that I write very smart books for very bad girls...maybe I will make it my tagline.
Do you have any animals? Do they influence your writing?
I have three cats, two of whom love me with an all-consuming jealous passion, and one of whom hates me with the fire of a thousand suns. My cats have definitely wormed their way into my books. Cleopatra Selene's cat, Bast, is modeled after my grey striped tabby.
If you had to choose one person to have dinner with, who would it be? And why?
Cleopatra Selene, of course. I'd like to have her opinion on whether or not I managed to capture her life in a way that was respectful to what she stood for. She lived at a time of enormous transition--a girl born with a high expectation of power who was thrust into a world in which men dominated. Her life is always a reminder to me that the progress of women's liberation has not been a straight line. There have been setbacks in the past and there will be again in the future.
Who's your agent? Please tell us about them.
My agent is Jennifer Schober of Spencerhill Associates. She's enthusiastic, supportive, and has talked me down off the ledge more than once. We share an enduring love of all things Cleopatra and a respect for the journey of the heroine. I know it's self-serving to say it, but Jenn has extremely good taste. I've met her other clients and they're uniformly smart, talented, really strong women. I think that is a reflection on what Jenn looks for when representing new writers.
Author of the critically acclaimed Lily of the Nile