1. What drew you to tell Selene’s story and move into ancient Rome?
Actually, it all began with a dive. Not the kind of dive you take into a swimming pool, but the kind where you squeeze yourself into a wetsuit and wonder just how tasty your rump must appear to passing sharks now that it looks like an elephant seal. My husband and I had taken a trip to Egypt, and at the suggestion of a friend, we decided to go to Alexandria to see the remains of Cleopatra’s underwater city. Let it be known that I had never gone scuba diving before, but after four days with an instructor (and countless questions like, “Will there be sharks? How about jellyfish? If there is an earthquake, what happens underwater?”) we were ready for the real thing.
We drove one morning to the Eastern Harbor in Alexandria. Dozens of other divers were already there, waiting to see what sort of magic lay beneath the waves. I wondered if the real thing could possibly live up to all of the guides and brochures selling this underwater city, lost for thousands of years until now. Then we did the dive, and it was every bit as magical as everyone had promised. We saw the blocks that once formed Marc Antony’s summer palace, came face to face with Cleopatra’s enigmatic sphinx, and floated above ten thousand ancient artifacts, including obelisks, statues, and countless amphorae. By the time we surfaced, I was Cleopatra-obsessed. I wanted to know what had happened to her city once she and Marc Antony had committed suicide. Where did all of its people go? Were they allowed to remain or were they killed by the Romans? And what about her four children?
It was this last question that surprised me the most. I had always assumed that Cleopatra’s children had all been murdered. But the Roman conqueror, Octavian, actually spared the three she bore to Marc Antony: her six-year-old son, Ptolemy, and her ten-year-old twins, Alexander and Selene. As soon as I learned that Octavian had taken the three of them to Rome for his Triumph, I knew at once I had my next book. And when I discovered what Cleopatra’s daughter lived through while in exile – rebellion, loss, triumph, love – I absolutely couldn’t wait to start writing. I can only hope that the novel is as exciting and intriguing as the research proved to be. It may be two thousand years in the past, but a great love story, as they say, is timeless.
2. Is there a little known fact about ancient Rome or Egypt that you think everyone should know?
I’m not sure I could pick out just one fact! Perhaps I’d simply like people to know how similar ancient Romans and Egyptians were to us today. In ancient Egypt, Nefertiti’s daughter had her own perfume line, and in ancient Rome, women used curling irons and had an ancient form of bras. These two incredible civilizations really paved the way for how we live life today.
3. Do you have an absolute favorite period in history?
I wish I did! It would make choosing my next book so much easier! No. But I have particular periods I’m drawn to, such as the ancient world, the Middle Ages, the 18th century, and the Victorian era.
4. Why did you choose to write historical fiction?
It all began on an archaeological dig. During my sophomore year in college, I found myself sitting in Anthropology 101, and when the professor mentioned that she was looking for volunteers who would like to join a dig in Israel, I was one of the first students to sign up. When I got to Israel, however, all of my archaeological dreams were dashed (probably because they centered around Indiana Jones). There were no fedora wearing men, no cities carved into rock, and certainly no Ark of the Covenant. I was very disappointed. Not only would a fedora have seemed out of place, but I couldn’t even use the tiny brushes I had packed. Apparently, archaeology is more about digging big ditches with pickaxes rather than dusting off artifacts. And it had never occurred to me until then that in order to get to those artifacts, one had to dig deep into the earth. Volunteering on an archaeological dig was hot, it was sweaty, it was incredibly dirty, and when I look back on the experience through the rose-tinged glasses of time, I think, Wow, was it fantastic! Especially when our team discovered an Egyptian scarab that proved the ancient Israelites had once traded with the Egyptians. Looking at that scarab in the dirt, I began to wonder who had owned it, and what had possessed them to undertake the long journey from their homeland to the fledgling country of Israel.
On my flight back to America I stopped in Berlin, and with a newfound appreciation for Egyptology, I visited the museum where Nefertiti’s limestone bust was being housed. The graceful curve of Nefertiti’s neck, her arched brows, and the faintest hint of a smile were captivating to me. Who was this woman with her self-possessed gaze and stunning features? I wanted to know more about Nefertiti’s story, but when I began the research into her life, it proved incredibly difficult. She’d been a woman who’d inspired powerful emotions when she lived over three thousand years ago, and those who had despised her had attempted to erase her name from history. Yet even in the face of such ancient vengeance, some clues remained.
As a young girl Nefertiti had married a Pharaoh who was determined to erase the gods of Egypt and replace them with a sun-god he called Aten. It seemed that Nefertiti’s family allowed her to marry this impetuous king in the hopes that she would tame his wild ambitions. What happened instead, however, was that Nefertiti joined him in building his own capital of Amarna where they ruled together as god and goddess. But the alluring Nefertiti had a sister who seemed to keep her grounded, and in an image of her found in Amarna, the sister is standing off to one side, her arms down while everyone else is enthusiastically praising the royal couple. From this image, and a wealth of other evidence, I tried to recreate the epic life of an Egyptian queen whose husband was to become known as the Heretic King.
5. Since I know you go on amazing research trips, can you give us a hint of where you might be going next? Anywhere you would love to go but haven’t managed yet?
My next trip will be through Scandinavia. I’m very interested in the history of the Vikings and I’ve been intending to make this trip for quite some time. I would love to go to Mongolia, and it’s possible that my husband and I (my traveling partner) will add this on to our Scandinavian trip. It’s always been a goal of mine to see the Genghis Khan Festival there.
6. What’s ahead for your next book? Do you plan on returning to the ancient world soon?
For my fourth novel, I will be departing from the ancient world to write about the French Revolution. This book will be about the life of Madame Tussaud, in which young Marie Tussaud joins the gilded but troubled court of Marie Antoinette, and survives the French Revolution by creating death masks of the beheaded aristocracy.
7. Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers of Medieval Bookworm?
Just that it is a pleasure to be here, and that I hope your readers enjoy my very first adult/YA crossover in the historical fiction genre!
Thanks Michelle! To learn more, you can visit her website and blog, and check out the awesome contest she’s holding in independent bookstores across the USA! Please also note that yesterday, I reviewed Cleopatra’s Daughter, and today is the last day to enter my contest for a signed copy.