Interview with Michelle Moran

Michelle Moran

Michelle Moran

INTERVIEW WITH MICHELLE MORAN

I am delighted to have a special guest for this blog–Michelle Moran, the best-selling author of Nefertiti, The Heretic Queen, and her latest, Cleopatra’s Daughter.   Michelle’s background as almost as interesting as her novels.  She has a BA in English, followed by an MA, and has spent six years in the trenches as a high school English teacher.  She is almost as well traveled as Marco Polo, often venturing off the beaten path.   She is definitely a child of the Computer Age, with one of the most impressive websites I’ve seen, and she is very generous in encouraging and promoting the works of other writers.   Oh, yes, and she also writes wonderful novels.

Welcome, Michelle. I appreciate your taking the time to visit with us, for I am sure your publisher is keeping you very busy now that the Pub. Date for Cleopatra’s Daughter is approaching—September 15th.    It is off to a very good start, too; I saw that you got a starred review in Library Journal and it is already selling briskly on Amazon.    Let’s begin with Selene, a girl with bedazzling bloodlines, daughter of Cleopatra and Marc Antony.  I found her to be very sympathetic, a child forced to grow up almost overnight.

1)    What drew you to her? She is certainly not as well known as her famous mother; what made you want to tell her story?

Actually, it all began with a dive. Not the kind of dive that people take into swimming pools, 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 exactly 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 and do a dive to see the remains of Cleopatra’s underwater city. Let it be known that I had never done an underwater dive before, so 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 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. You can see the rocks which once formed Marc Antony’s summer palace, come face to face with Cleopatra’s towering sphinx, and take your time floating above ten thousand ancient artifacts, including obelisks, statues, and countless amphorae. By the time we had 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? What about her four children?

It was this last question which surprised me the most. I had always believed that all of Cleopatra’s children had been murdered. But the Roman conqueror Octavian had 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 for his Triumph in Rome, I knew at once I had my next book. This is how all of my novels seem to begin – with a journey, then an adventure, and finally, enormous amounts of research for what I hope is an exciting story.

2)     Selene is surrounded by a colorful cast, including Julius Caesar’s bloodless, brilliant nephew, Octavian, Marc Antony’s long-suffering Roman wife, Octavia, who agrees to raise her husband’s children by his Egyptian “concubine,” Octavian’s wife, Livia, whose name will send chills up the spine of anyone who saw I, Claudius, and her disgruntled, dangerous son, Tiberius.  And then there is Juba, son of the King of Numidia, which encompassed present-day Algeria, I believe?  After his father’s defeat, he was brought to Rome as a prize of war, but was then educated as a Roman, even being granted Roman citizenship.  How unusual was that?   I knew nothing about Juba before reading Cleopatra’s Daughter, but he sounds like a remarkable man.  Did Selene lead you to his story or vice versa?

I discovered Juba’s story only after beginning my research into Selene. It wasn’t unheard of for Romans to take the children of conquered kings, bring them to Rome, and raise them as Roman citizens. It had happened before, and it happened again when Octavian brought Selene and her twin brother to Rome. However, this only occurred in the case of respected enemies. If Selene and her brother had been the children of a “barbaric” Gaul, they would have been either killed or enslaved.

3)  Your first two novels were set in Egypt.  Was it easier to research Cleopatra’s Daughter in light of the wealth of information that has survived about the Roman Empire?   Or was it more challenging to strike out into new and uncharted territory after spending so many years in the shadows of the pyramids?

Actually, it was far less intimidating to write about ancient Rome than it was to write about Egypt. There is such a wealth of information about Rome, not to mention the fact that the language remains intact. Also, I feel as though a part of me has always been in Rome. My father’s degree was in ancient Roman history. That’s what he taught, what he read about, and what we grew up learning about as children.

4)  I am often asked about the role of women in the MA.   I think we are equally fascinated by the lives of women in Rome and Egypt.  Can you tell us what you found most surprising about the differences between those two cultures in their treatment of women?

To me, the greatest difference between women’s lives in ancient Egypt and ancient Rome had to do with marriage. In Egypt, a marriage wasn’t easily dissolved (although both men and women could demand a divorce). Amongst the Roman ruling classes, however, it was both easy and common for a patriarch to have his daughter’s or sister’s marriage annulled, even (or especially) if she had children by her husband. Male relatives might do this for several reasons, the most common being when they wished to marry off their sister or daughter to someone else for a more advantageous alliance. And this could happen two, even three times in a woman’s life.

5)   It is obvious that you do extensive research.  Do you have difficulty finding translations of the works you need?

Actually, no! And luckily for me, the preeminent scholar on Kleopatra Selene wrote his work in English and was kind enough to answer any questions I had.

6)    One of the things I really enjoy about your novels are the comprehensive Author’s Notes, in which you conscientiously inform the readers about those occasions when you are forced to “fill in the blanks,” explaining when you took dramatic license and why.  For example, you tell us that you made some minor name changes to avoid too many Claudias and Antonias; as someone who has to deal with the frustrating medieval habit of recycling the same family names over and over, I could definitely empathize with this.   As much as I liked the ANs for your two earlier novels, I think you outdid yourself with this one, for you include a fascinating discussion of ancient Rome and why we are still so enthralled so many centuries later.  And it was an inspired idea to provide quotes from prominent Romans to show how little human nature has changed; Marc Antony’s snarky, r-rated letter to Octavian is both hilarious and amazingly contemporary.  Is it difficult to decide what to include in an AN?   Do you feel that authors of historical fiction need to include ANs?   Do you feel cheated as a reader when you finish a book and find there is no AN?   Or is that too leading a question, one that would have a defense attorney crying “Objection”?

Thank you so much! I have to admit, the Author’s Note is one of my favorite sections of a book to write. Whenever I finish reading an historical fiction novel, I do expect there to be an author’s note explaining what was fact and what was fiction. I think it’s only fair to the reader. Also, it saves the author many, many emails down the road from readers who want to know if such-and-such really happened and whether so-and-so actually existed. But isn’t that R-Rated letter just great?!

7)    You are doing something very clever with Cleopatra’s Daughter, holding a Treasure Hunt that is launched on the September 15th publication date.   Can you tell us how it works and what gave you the idea?

Absolutely! On September 15th, literary clues (quotations from famous books) will be posted on MichelleMoran.com/treasurehunt.htm, leading to one of 60 independent bookstores scattered across 27 states. All readers need to do is figure out where the quotation comes from (each quotation is paired up with a different bookstore). This quotation will lead them to a particular book, and in this book they will find a red and gold “Literary Archaeologist” ribbon hidden inside. The ribbon will instruct them to go to the counter to claim their prize, which includes a signed copy of “Cleopatra’s Daughter,” Cleopatra earrings and an authentic Roman artifact!

8)   I was not surprised by the Treasure Hunt, for anyone browsing your website can see at once that you are computer-savvy and very knowledgeable about book promotion.  Did you learn these skills by trial and error or did you just have an instinctive feel for the brave new world of cyberspace publicity? Can you tell our readers a little about what book promotion nowadays entails? For example, you provide questions for book clubs on your website, another great idea. Do you feel, though, that writers can be swallowed up in these on-line activities to the detriment of the writing itself? How do you manage to strike a balance?

I grew up on computers, so using the internet as a promotional tool is really second nature to me. I think that for most authors who wish to participate in their own marketing and publicity, it’s vital to understand and make use of the internet. One of the most important things an author can do, in my opinion, is provide a place on their website where Bloggers and Book Clubs can go. There is always the possibility, however, of adding so many features to your website or blog that the website starts running you. I’m not sure how I strike a balance, or even whether I do. I can tell you that at least thirty percent of my day is spent doing marketing or publicity.

9)    I was very excited to find out that your next novel will be set during the French Revolution.   Why did you select this time period?   Can you tell us about the story line?  Are you at all apprehensive about making such a vast leap through time, no fears of suffering from cultural shock?    Do you speak French?   Since you didn’t speak the language of Nefertiti, obviously that is not a prerequisite for writing a highly successful and accurate novel; I am just curious!   Aside from the pleasure of making extended trips to France that are also tax-deductible, what made you decide to write of the French Revolution?    Do you have a working title?

Ha-ha! Yes, the tax-deductible trips are a big incentive ;] But truthfully, I chose to write on Tussaud because I found her life utterly compelling. She joined the gilded but troubled court of Marie Antoinette, then survived the French Revolution only by creating death masks of the beheaded aristocracy. And Marie (the first name of Madame Tussaud) met absolutely everyone, from Franklin and Jefferson to Empress Josephine and Voltaire.

When looking for a subject to write on, I search for someone whose story is simply unbelievable. Someone who has lived through events that will have the reader saying, “Now there’s no way that could have happened!” Right now, the book is entitled Madame Tussaud: A Novel (straight, and to the point!).

As for language skills, while my French isn’t good enough to hold a conversation about Impressionist Art, I can certainly get by, and my husband (and his family) can speak fluently. But I don’t feel that knowing a country’s language is a prerequisite for writing historical fiction set in that country. As you pointed out, one knows what Nefertiti’s language sounded like, especially as the ancient Egyptians recorded no vowels! What I do think is a prerequisite is good, solid research. As we discussed concerning the AN, there are times when names or situations will have to be changed for the sake of storytelling, but the mise-en-scène should always be correct (or as close as an author 2000 years later can come).

10)  Lastly and most importantly, when can we buy Cleopatra’s Daughter?

Cleopatra’s Daughter will be in bookstores all across the U.S. from September 15th! And thank you, Sharon, for taking the time out of your incredibly busy schedule to have me appear on your blog.

September 14, 2009

Cleopatra's Daughter

CleopatraMichelle Moran

33 Responses to “Interview with Michelle Moran”

  1. Brenna Says:

    Sharon,

    Thank you for sharing this interview with us. Not only was it very gracious of you to interview another author on your blog, but the questions you asked for were insightful. I haven’t had the opportunity to read any of Michelle Moran’s books, but they have now been added to my reading list. Thanks again!

  2. Linda B. Says:

    I wanted to comment on Ms. Moran’s generosity and her thoughtfulness. On two different occasions, when I had entered a book giveaway, and had not won, Michelle took to time to email me to say “sorry you didn’t win” and offer to send me a bookmark. How great is that?

  3. Michelle Moran Says:

    Once again, thank you so much Sharon for having me here!

    Brenna, weren’t Sharon’s questions great? And Linda, thank you for the kind words :]

  4. Christy English Says:

    Michelle and Sharon, thank you for the wonderful interview! Amazon is bringing your book to me, Michelle, even as we speak. I have loved NEFERTITI and THE HERETIC QUEEN, and I can’t wait to start CLEOPATRA’S DAUGHTER.

  5. Richard Wise Says:

    Well after that, guess I will have to order the book

  6. Jenny Says:

    Great interview-thanks for sharing! That dive in Egypt sounds amazing! I have read Nefertiti and I really enjoyed getting that glimpse of what life in ancient Egypt was like.

  7. Elizabeth Chadwick Says:

    Great interview Sharon and Michelle, thank you. I loved The Heretic Queen and Cleopatra’s Daughter is on my TBR. I will also be very interested to read the novel about Madame Tussaud.

  8. Paula Says:

    Great blog post. Have just placed an order over the internet for the book. While I was there I also ordered another 3 Elizabeth Chadwick novels. 2 by Brian Wainwright and the book about the Templars by Sharan Newman. It will be a great birthday present to myself!

  9. Celia Says:

    Sharon and Michelle thanks for the interview. What a fascinating way to find a subject to write about - learn to dive. Imagine not looking at coral reefs but at a lost city.
    More books to add to the to be read list, and another author to keep track of new releases from.

  10. Gabriele Says:

    Thank you, Michelle and Sharon, for an interesting interview. That book looks like something this Roman geek should get her hands on. ;)

    Though I have to partly disagree with the following statement:

    However, this only occurred in the case of respected enemies. If Selene and her brother had been the children of a “barbaric” Gaul, they would have been either killed or enslaved.

    Rome considered the Germans as much barbarian as the Gauls, but there are several cases during the Germanic wars of Drusus and Tiberius pre-Varus Battle where peace agreements with Germanic leaders included child hostages who were educated in Rome and received the citizenship upon coming of age. Sometimes members of the tribal aristocracy were granted citizenship as well (this seems to have been the case with Segestes of the Cherusci). We don’t know exactly during which of the Germanic wars between 16 BC and 4 AD the peace treaty with Arminius’ father Segimer was concluded, but it is possible that Arminius was one of those child hostages. What we do know is that he not only was granted the citizenship, but that Augustus promoted him into the equestrian order, probably because of his conduct in the Pannonian war where he led the Cheruscian auxiliaries, and this is an honour that seems to have been unique - I haven’t found another example for that time.

    Of course, after the Varus Battle, the Romans were pretty mad at the Germans ;) so when in 14 AD Germanicus managed to capture Arminius’ pregenant wife, her son would later be trained as gladiator and not be treated like a noble hostage. He died in the arena in Ravenna when he was in his 20ies.

  11. Gabriele Says:

    I should add that Arminius’ brother Flavus did not get into trouble after Arminius’ rebellion, because he is an officer in Germanicus army at the battle of Idistaviso in 16 AD. Tacitus records a nice shouting match of the brothers across the Visurgis river (Weser) pre-battle. :) We can’t say if any sort of contact between the brothers took place, but Flavus’ position in the Roman army is confirmed.

  12. Michelle Moran Says:

    Great point, Gabriele. Yes, Augustus had a soft spot for the children of foreign leaders. Possibly because he was raised with Juba and was so close to him.

  13. Gabriele Says:

    That’s a good point, Michelle.

    When Arminius’ son was born in captivity, the emperor was Tiberius, not Augustus. Tiberius had fought the Germans more than once and probably lost all illusions about peace treaties at that point. Though there is no mention in the sources that he ever tried to use the boy as pawn, either.

    In 16 AD, he ordered Germanicus to withdraw from the lands east of the Rhine and leave the Germans to themselves. A few years later the alliance between the tribes which Arminius had forged, broke and Arminius was assassinated by some relatives. Shortly before, Germanicus had died under somewhat mysterious circumstances.

    Arninius’ brother Flavus married and had children; the only one of that family who got a HEA. :)

  14. Beth Says:

    Whenever I’ve seen anything to do with Michelle Moran, there is always an accompanying photograph of her smiling away near an artefact or dig landscape and, though I LOVE history, I always find myself somewhat mesmerised by her hair! Beautiful!

    Right, hair worship out of the way - what a fabulous interview! MM has her books firmly wedged into my need to read pile and I am looking forward to them muchly as my best friend has filled my head with Egyptian love of late, thanks to her archaeology degree!

    I am now looking forward to munching through these books if only to get to the now famous author’s notes!!

    Thank you, ladies, for an excellent interview!

  15. Michelle Moran Says:

    Beth, you are now my favorite person. I don’t know you, but you are welcome to lunch at my house any time ;] Someone asked if I’d be cutting my hair on a few weeks ago, and as I wrote on FaceBook, ever since the Great Trauma of ‘86 when said hair was lopped off by one well-meaning mom who liked pixie cuts (in her defense, I’m sure she could never have predicted just HOW many people would mistake me for a boy), there has been no major cutting/changing of the hair.

    I hope you enjoy the books! I’m off now to explore your beautiful blog!

  16. Ken Says:

    Hi Sharon,

    I enjoyed your interview with MM whom I know from HF online.

    Suzanne has asked me about my response to questions on the children of Llywelyn and Joanna and I told her I had sent you my latest offering a week ago.

    I also told her you were very busy with deadlines, blogging and facebook, etc, but that you would post my paper with your next blog.

  17. Sharon K Penman Says:

    Hi, Ken,
    I am working on it now–much to Lionheart’s displeasure–and hope to have both blogs up by tomorrow.

  18. Beth Says:

    Michelle,

    Wow - lunch is ever my favourite meal - people tend to look at me oddly for eating sandwiches at other times of day (alas, this is truthful). I always wanted long lovely hair, but mine gets to past my shoulders, I get bored, and I generally find a “good” reason to hack it all off and hope the curls pop out and make it not look too horrific. I suppose it helps that hair grows super fast and I love hats. Yes.

    Let me munch through your books, then I can teach my baby boy to walk like an Egyptian and he can be the entertainment in exchange for strawberry milkshake. :)

    Am now looking forward to more Sharon/Ken family tree collaborations!

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  21. Marbella Says:

    I totally enjoyed this interview Ladies–Thank You Sharon and Michelle for very interesting and insightful questions as well as Michelle’s lively answers. It has been a busy month for me and just about last week I finally was able to enjoy this awesome blog thoroughly.

    MICHELLE–I have to agree with most of the comments here about your beautiful hair and your enchanting SMILE. You truly inspire me to keep smiling–LOL. A friend just gave me Cleopatra’s Daughter’s as a birthday gift so I am really looking forward to read my very first novel by MM. I just know I’m in for a wonderful journey!

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