I'm pleased to welcome Stephanie Thornton today to answer a few questions about her recent release, The Secret History. Don't forget about the giveaway at the end!
I actually started out writing historical fiction at a site called Panhistoria, where writers contribute to a variety of serial novels. I wrote characters from ancient Egypt, Renaissance Venice, and futuristic worlds. The site went down temporarily in 2008, but I still needed my writing fix so I started writing the initial chapters of what would become my upcoming novel about Pharaoh Hatshepsut. I haven’t stopped writing since!
As the writer of historical fiction you must have an interest in history. Was there something in particular that sparked that interest?
I’m probably one of the world’s biggest history nerds, which is a good thing since I teach it by day, and write about it by night. My very first history memory was watching a video of the discovery of the Titanic in 1st grade, and seeing the chandeliers illuminated in the murky waters. I was totally hooked!
The Secret History is set in 6th century Constantinople , a period that seems to be largely neglected in historical fiction. What drew you to write about this particular period of history?
It was Theodora herself that drew me to the time period, but then I discovered that the Byzantine Empire was an incredibly diverse era set at the crossroads of the old Roman empire and the beginning of the Middle Ages. (I call it Rome Part II, although I’m sure some historians would quibble with that.) Unfortunately, the Byzantine Empire is a mostly neglected era when it comes to both fiction and what we learn about in school, but what could be more interesting than a time when a prostitute could become empress? I simply couldn’t resist Theodora’s story; discovering a fabulous new era to write about was an added bonus!
During your research did you discover anything unusual or unexpected?
All sorts of things! It’s the little things in history that are often so intriguing: the workings of the mechanical golden animals in the throne room of Constantinople’s Sacred Palace, the recipe for garum, the fermented fish sauce that Romans put on almost everything (which I managed to look up, but was never daring enough to brew myself), and even the process for making the priceless purple dye used to color the imperial family’s robes. (Made from crushed sea snails, in case you’re wondering.) So much about the ancient world is totally foreign to us, and it makes writing historical fiction seem like writing fantasy sometimes, except all this stuff really happened!
I have a fascination for book covers. What do you think of the cover for The Secret History?
I love the cover! I adore that it features not only Theodora, but also the Hagia Sophia. The mosaics at the bottom are also inspired by the famous Ravenna mosaics with their portrayal of Theodora as empress. As a history nut, I enjoy all those extra references, kind a behind-the-scenes on what really happened roughly fifteen hundred years ago!
Have you had the opportunity to travel to the places you write about and if so, what has been your favorite place to visit? If not, where would you most like to visit?
I’ve been fortunate to visit both Istanbul for THE SECRET HISTORY, and also Egypt for my upcoming novel, DAUGHTER OF THE GODS. My favorite ancient site in Istanbul was probably the Basilica Cistern, or as Theodora referred to it, the Sunken Palace. It’s a creepy sort of giant cistern filled with columns filched from all over the Byzantine Empire, including two with giant Medusa-heads. It’s dark and there’s about a foot or so of water on the ground with carp swimming all around—a perfect setting for something bad to happen!
If you could be one person in history for a day, who would it be and why?
Ack! Only one?! As much as I love Theodora, I’ll have to go with Pharaoh Hatshepsut for this one. We know so much about Theodora—both her early life and her time as empress—but we don’t know what made Hatshepsut seize the throne from her stepson Tutmose III after ruling as co-regent for seven years. I’d want to know what prompted that daring move, and also whether she really had a steamy affair with Senenmut, her commoner-turned-advisor that everyone (including me) thinks might have had a thing for her.
What do you like to read for “fun”?
I read everything from the classics to Young Adult, but my favorite is historical fiction, especially from the ancient world. There’s nothing better than curling up with a bowl of ice cream and a good book about ancient Egypt, Rome, or some other intriguing civilization.
When you aren’t writing or doing research, what else do you like to do?
I love to travel, run, do yoga, and read. I recently discovered on a research trip that I don’t like riding horses, (mostly because one of the four-legged demons bucked me off), but at least travel and research make me try new things!
Who is your favorite character from The Secret History? Your least favorite?
I obviously love Theodora, and would totally stalk her if she was still alive, but my favorite character to write was Theodora’s friend Antonina. She’s absolutely hilarious and truly doesn’t care what anyone thinks about her, which was so fun to work with as a writer. My least favorite is probably John the Cappadocian, simply because he made life for Theodora pretty rough.
Can you tell us what you are working on next?
I have one round of edits left for my editor on DAUGHTER OF THE GODS: A NOVEL OF ANCIENT EGYPT, and am currently revising THE TIGER QUEENS, the story of Genghis Khan’s wife and daughters. Then it looks like I’m probably headed to ancient Jerusalem for my next novel!
Thank you Stephanie!
And now, it's giveaway time! One winner will receive a copy of The Secret History and a Byzantine coin.
To enter, please complete the below form by midnight, July 26, 2013. Open worldwide.