The whole world has heard of Cleopatra VII of Egypt, the infamous Queen of the Nile. But did you know that she had a daughter? Stephanie Dray is the author of a projected trilogy from Berkley Books based on the true life story of the princess Selene, the daughter of Cleopatra and the famous Roman general, Mark Antony. Stephanie’s recently released debut novel, Lily of the Nile, recounts the tragic childhood of this young orphaned girl who was captured by the Romans, dragged through the streets in chains and ultimately held as a royal hostage in the household of Augustus Caesar. But Selene’s story is one of triumph over tragedy; she was a survivor and one who charmed her way back into power. The sequel, Song of the Nile is expected to release before the end of 2011 and will recount how Cleopatra’s daughter went on to charm the emperor and become the most powerful queen in his empire.
To celebrate her books, Stephanie has founded the Cleopatra Writing Contest for young women, which is co-sponsored by several New York Times bestselling authors and represents an unprecedented opportunity for young female writers. The contest requires neither fee nor purchase and is named after Cleopatra, who was an author of books about cosmetics, pharmacology and weights and measured. It’s aimed at discovering and mentoring aspiring young female writers who have an appreciation for women’s history.
And the prizes? Cash, e-readers, certificates, exposure, free books, mentorships and a critique from NY Literary Agent, Jennifer Schober of Spencerhill Associates.
Today Stephanie is here to answer a few questions about her contest and her books.
So what interested you in writing about Cleopatra’s daughter?
This was a girl who had to earn favor with the same man who destroyed her whole family. She was the last survivor of the Ptolemaic dynasty and what a survivor she was. She seems to have convinced Augustus that she would be loyal to him, and indeed she was. Though she never returned to Egypt, as Queen of Mauretania, she was instrumental to securing the century of relative peace and prosperity known as the Pax Romana. But what moved me about her story was the fact that she never forgot those she lost. Though she had to be careful about what she said and did in front of the Romans, the few relics we have of her reign tell us that she never forgot her mother or her legacy. History has denied Selene a voice and so it was an honor to try to give one back to her.
Is there a reason you decided to inject magic realism into your historical fiction?
For the ancients, magic was real. It was everywhere. The Romans feared it. The Egyptians embraced it. Because of this cultural divide, it seemed like a natural thing to include in the book. This is especially because Selene, like her mother before her, was an adherent of Isis. In Lily of the Nile, Selene’s goddess speaks to her by carving bloody hieroglyphics into her arms. It’s dramatic and frightening, but also a deeply spiritual experience for Selene. In the end, I didn’t change the historical events…I just wove female-centric mysticism through the work.
And why a contest for young women?
Women have come a long way in terms of relative equality and power since Selene’s time, but her life story is a lesson to us that the trajectory of women’s equality hasn’t always been a forward march. In some ways the ancients were more advanced than we are today; there have been setbacks before and may be more in the future. I want to do my small part in giving young women opportunities, so this contest was born.
Stephanie Dray is the author of a forthcoming trilogy of historical fiction novels set in the Augustan Age, starting with Lily of the Nile: A Novel of Cleopatra’s Daughter. 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.
She is currently sponsoring the Cleopatra Literary Contest for Young Women, the deadline for which is March 1, 2011, but join her newsletter now for updates and a chance to win a free copy of Lily of the Nile and additional prizes.