Saturday, May 11, 2013

Historical Novel Society 2013 Conference Panelist: Meet Stephanie Dray

This year, I'm going to be attending the Historical Novel Society's annual conference -- a first for me -- and I'm going as a panelist! (So surreal!) 

For the next few weeks, I'm going to be sharing some short interviews with a few of the panelists planning to come to the conference. I hope, even if you aren't attending, you'll find some new authors to add to your TBR!

I'm particularly excited to be hosting Stephanie Dray here -- as some of you may know, I kind of have a thing for her writing. (Good luck to me if I have a chance to meet her; there will be much gasping and swooning.)

Here are some questions Ms. Dray answered for HNS about her writing and books.

Stephanie Dray
How do you find the people and topics of your books?

I'm fascinated by the bad girls of history, not to mention the under-appreciated heroines of our past. When I learn about a woman that I feel I should know about, and don't, it's almost as if she's calling out to me to bring her to life. It's a miraculous thing.

For you, what is the line between fiction and fact?

I can be obsessive about getting the facts right. My agent and my husband once staged an intervention to stop me from fermenting crustacean shells in my back yard to see if I could recreate the ancient process of making purple dye. That said, I try not to be a pretentious person. I know what my job is. I am a novelist, not a biographer. My responsibility is to the story, first and foremost. I try to remember that history is written by the victors and that, especially when it comes to the ancient world, facts are fragmentary and a small piece of the puzzle. So I treat the facts respectfully, but I try never to be tyrannized by them.

What book was the most fun for you to write?

Let me tell you, instead, which was the least fun to write, and that was Song of the Nile. I knew that the book was going to touch on very problematic themes. I write about the Ptolemies, which means incest was going to come up for sure. I write about goddess worship when it was at its strongest and when it was imperiled. I write about the Romans, and rape was as embedded in their culture as it appears to still be in ours. I knew it was going to be a dark book and an over-the-top dramatic one. I kept pulling back the throttle, I kept avoiding writing the hard scenes, and when I did write them, I sometimes sniffled my way through them. In the end, it was my award-winningest book and I think, my most beautiful. But it hurt to write it and sometimes that's okay.

Do you have a most interesting question or crazy anecdote related to your writing you would like to share?

This is a very nerdy anecdote, but one that tickles me. I have been very fortunate to be able to consult with a professor of antiquities on the life of Cleopatra Selene. Because the date of her death is disputed, I wanted to get his opinion. I said, "Professor, I am quite certain that your theory about her death in 5 BC is correct, but that is very inconvenient for my story. Can I justify a later death date since most scholars, up until recently, believed she died in 17 AD?" He was quite firm in his opinion that I should adopt his theory because he was confident in its accuracy and worried that "if there is a cataclysm, and all books about Cleopatra Selene are destroyed about yours, don't you want it to be accurate?" I wondered what kind of person goes around worrying about such things! Then I realized that professors of antiquities do...and must...because so much in the ancient world is lost to us. In the end, I chose 5 BC...just in case there's a cataclysm.

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Learn more about Stephanie Dray: sign up for her newsletter, follow her on Twitter and check out her website. You can also see her speaker bio at the HNS Conference website on this page (just scroll down).


  1. have a wonderful time at the conference! how exciting!

  2. I really wanted to attend this conference! I'm looking forward to your updates and interviews to give me a peek inside the events and the authors that are attending. Enjoy!

    1. Joanne, I'm sooooooooooooooooooooooooo desperately excited! I will offer blow-by-blow accounts, no worries! :)

  3. Great interview! What a personality she has! I've got Lily of the Nile on my to-read shelf. Must get to it sooner rather than later!

  4. Have a great time at the conference, and I look forward to more of these interviews.