Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Interview with Stephanie Thornton

Yesterday I reviewed Stephanie Thornton's The Secret History, a wonderful novel of the 6th century Byzantine Empress, Theodora, who rose from the gutter to wear royal purple. I'm thrilled to share my interview with Stephanie, so read on to learn more about her, her book, and her current reads. Be sure to check out the international giveaway -- it comes with a Byzantine coin!

What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction?

The first novel I wrote was about Hatshepsut, and her rise from being Pharaoh’s pampered daughter to Daughter of the Gods.
becoming Egypt’s first successful female pharaoh, all while thwarting internal palace coups, fighting against foreign uprisings, and falling in love with a commoner. I’m was thrilled when my editor told me she loved Hatshepsut’s character as much as I did; that novel will hit the shelves next year as

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I’m a full-time history teacher and have a six-year-old to keep me hopping, so I manage to carve out writing time for about an hour each night after papers are graded and my daughter is in bed. I have a wonderful little sunroom that I typically use as my writing room. It’s still light in there at midnight in the Alaskan summers and I painted it a wonderful shade of red so it’s nice and cozy in the winter.

Was The Secret History the original title of your book?

It was! I actually borrowed the title from Procopius, the official historian of Justinian and Theodora’s reign. He wrote several official histories on Justinian’s wars and building projects, and then a “Secret History” lambasting both rulers. It’s from this work that we have the story of Theodora’s early life as a child and on stage at the Kynegion; however, Procopius makes Theodora out to be a conniving, evil demon who enjoyed selling her body both on and off the stage. I felt I had to set the record straight about this amazing woman!

As you were writing The Secret History, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

I’m so glad you asked that! I love, love, love Theodora’s friend Antonina! While Theodora’s character practically wrote herself, I often felt like Antonina was whispering crass jokes in my ear and waggling her eyebrows at every man in the story (including her strapping young godson). Based on what Procopius recorded, Antonina was just as outrageous (if not more) than Theodora, so it was fun to have a character that said whatever she thought, regardless of what people said about her.

According to your bio, you live in Alaska. Were you able to travel as you researched your novel? What helped you evoke the landscape of ancient Constantinople as you wrote?

I was incredibly fortunate to be able to travel to Istanbul as I writing the initial draft of The Secret History, and then again as I was editing. It was inspiring to be able to see the mosaics of the Sacred Palace that Theodora walked on, and imagine what she must have felt to look down from the Empress’ loge in the Hagia Sophia. I filled several notebooks jotting down all my thoughts and observations, and many of those notes made it into the novel—everything from boys playing ball with sores on their knees to the inscription on the interior of the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus. (Which extols Theodora’s greatest virtues, of course!)

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

Giveaway includes a coin!
I’d love to spend all of my free time traveling, but unfortunately, I haven’t found a way to manage that quite yet. So instead I read (of course!), run, hike, do yoga, and spend a lot of time pulling weeds in my garden.

Read any good books recently?

Of course! I just finished Stephanie Dray’s Lily of the Nile and Song of the Nile, the first two books in a trilogy on the life of Cleopatra Selene. Hearing Birds Fly: A Nomadic Year in Mongolia by Louisa Waugh was a riveting look at what it takes to survive as a nomad in Mongolia and was great research for my third novel. (For the record, I’m pretty sure I’d die after only a few months in Mongolia. That’s a tough life!)

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My thanks to Ms. Thornton for her time. You can check out her website, or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


I'm thrilled to offer one lucky reader a paperback copy of The Secret History and a Byzantine coin!

To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers, ends 8/2.


  1. I love reading author's thoughts! It's always so interesting to hear authors say that characters write themselves and surprise them!

  2. Will enter at once :D Yay for it being Intl

  3. Great interview! I really enjoyed this book!