Michelle, welcome to Reading With Monie and thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.
1. Please tell us a little about your background and your book, Cleopatra’s Daughter.
When I began my career, I never intended to write about ancient Rome. My previous novels were set in Egypt, and I always assumed that my books would remain in the land of desert palaces and tombs. All of that changed with a dive. It wasn’t 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. How much research did you do for this book?
All of my three novels thus far have taken between six months and a year to research and plan, with a field trip or two for each. It’s by far the lengthiest part of the process, but easily the most entertaining!
3. Being that there are history books that tell the general story do you feel it’s easier or harder to write historical fiction because of that?
I find that they are an invaluable part of the research process. They can speculate as to motives or feelings, and in some cases we have actual historical dialogue transcribed. But what pure historical books can’t do is to transport a reader behind closed doors, into a character’s most intimate feelings, thoughts and experiences. To me, being able to do that is the joy of writing historical fiction.
4. Do you schedule your writing time daily or do you just write when the ideas come?
Given the length of the research process, I have a great deal planned out before hitting Chapter One. As for my daily routine, I wake up, check email for half an hour, attend to my blog for twenty minutes, spend another half hour surfing other people’s blogs, and then at about 10am I get down to business. I open a diet coke (my mother says that when I’m fifty and have no teeth I’ll know why), check my outline for the day, and begin to write. Writing sessions are punctuated by visits to my hotmail account more frequently than I’d like to admit. But I don’t stop until I get my 2000 words, even if that’s at nine o’clock at night.
5. What's the biggest obstacle you face when writing and how do you overcome it?
One snag in every novel is that there is always material that has to be left behind in the research drawer. Alas, you can never include every single twist and detour in the finished novels. Sometimes the demands of a story’s arc, or an editor’s pen, mean that a treasured piece must be kept for another time.
6. Do you have someone you share your work with as you go along or do you wait to the end to reveal it?
My husband gets to see the finished product first, but only when I am done! There’s a reason that computers have passwords- I am very protective!
7. Who are your favorite authors and is there a book that has most influenced your writing?
I love the work of Diana Gabaldon, Robin Maxwell, CW Gortner, Anita Diamant, and on and on… I would say that some of their works were the inspiration behind my switch from science-fiction/fantasy to historical fiction.
8. What is your best reader or fan story?
Well, more strange than “best”, but several stick in the memory: the man who came up to me at a signing, and asked me if I would like to be the subject of his nude painting. Errrm. No! Also, you have no idea how many offers for past life regression I get. (The past life when I was Nefertiti, of course!) 99.9% percent of my fan experiences are just wonderful, and always cheer and reinvigorate me.
9. What book are you currently reading?
I’ve just finished the fabulous novel by CW Gortner, The Last Queen.
10. What books do you have in the pipeline?
I’m halfway through my fourth novel, entitled Madame Tussaud. When you add together my love of France, as well as her incredible story, it’s proving to be a joy to write!
There are plenty of books and movies documenting the love of Marc Antony and Cleopatra but little is known about their three children, Alexander Helios, Kleopatra Selene and Ptolemy.
When Antony’s rival, the Roman leader Octavian, defeats Antony and takes over the Egyptian city of Alexandria, Cleopatra makes the ill-fated decision to send word to Antony that she and the children were killed, hoping that Antony will flee Egypt. Instead he takes his own life and after being captured by Octavian, Cleopatra does the same.
Fearing death the three children are surprised when Octavian decides to take them back to Rome. Sadly only Alexander and Selene survive the journey and in Rome they are sent to live with Octavian’s sister Octavia. For the next five years the children are raised along with Octavian and Octavia’s children. Reaching the critical age of fifteen, Alexander and Selene’s lives will be changed forever.
New to the genre of historical fiction I question why I haven’t been reading them sooner every time I read something as great as Cleopatra’s Daughter. My husband laughs at me because I hated the movie The Perfect Storm, staring George Clooney. I couldn’t understand how it was based on a true story because no one survived. I was mad that the whole storyline and dialogue was made up. Now I understand how history and shared experiences are chronicled to make up historical fiction and I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT!
Cleopatra’s Daughter is an incredible tale of coping with the hand your dealt and striving for greatness while every thing around you seems doomed. For such young children they had remarkable maturity and intelligence. I admired the way Selene was always thinking of others before herself.
You can definitely see how much time and effort Moran put into researching Cleopatra’s Daughter. There is a time line and glossary that puts everything into perspective. I could easily picture the lands, buildings, clothing and art that are described in the book. Since finishing the book I’ve found myself Googleing all about Marc Antony, Cleopatra, Octavian and the kids. I’ve found a new fascination and I highly recommend this read if you love historical fiction or haven’t read any but are willing to get sucked into loving a new genre.
- To enter to win your own copy of this incredible book just visit the book's website, come back here and comment on one thing you learned about Michelle or her books by visiting. Be sure to leave me your email address in the comment so I can contact you if you win.
- For an extra entry, tweet about this giveaway using the ShareThis button at the end of this post or your own message just be sure to leave me a separate comment with the Tweet link or your Twitter user name.
- As Michelle herself is hosting this giveaway it is open to US residents only.
- The giveaway ends September 7th and the winner will have 48 hours to respond to the winning email or a new winner will be selected. GOOD LUCK!