Q&A With Stephanie Dray

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Q&A With Stephanie Dray 

Today’s Q&A is with New York Times Bestselling author of historical fiction Stephanie Dray. Some of Stephanie’s many novels include, My Dear Hamilton, The Women of Château Lafayette, America’s First Daughter, Song of the Nile, & Ribbons of Scarlett which Stephanie co-wrote with Kate Quinn, Laura Kamoie, Sophie Perinot, Heather Webb, & Eliza Knight. I previously did two Q&As with Webb and Knight. 


Q: Stephanie when you started writing what made you want to write historical fiction novels?


A: I really give the credit here to Margaret George. On my honeymoon I picked up a copy of her book “Memoirs of Cleopatra.” And at the end of that book there was mention that Cleopatra had a daughter who went on to become one of the most successful Queens in the ancient world. It got me to wondering how I had never heard about her, which is, of course, the case about most women in history. Even very important ones. My aggravation with that inspired me to write about Cleopatra’s daughter, but also, to start exploring the lives of many other important women and unsung historical heroines.


Q: When in your life did you discover your calling to be an author?


A:  From the time I was a kid at school, I would entertain everybody at the lunch table by telling them wild tales. I really got most of my training in the back of my grandmother’s green Ford Fairlane, where she put me in charge of my sister and all my cousins and it was my job to keep them entertained, which I did, by weaving stories for them. But I wasn’t sure that I could make a career of it until much later in life, after I had already been the lawyer for at least 10 minutes. then I spent the next 10 years practicing my craft and trying to get good enough to be published.


Q: What was your favorite era or eras to cover when writing historical fiction and why?


A: I was a government major in college and this led me to have a fascination with the rise and fall of republics. So it might seem strange, or unconnected, to write about the fall of the Roman Empire in the time of Cleopatra’s daughter, or the rise of the American Republic at the time of the revolution, or even the rebuilding of the American Republic during the Great Depression by way of the New Deal. But those things are all connected to me. And I’m blessed that readers have come along for the ride.


Q: What would you tell anyone wanting to write historical fiction on how to write excellent historical fiction?  What’s your advice to anyone on how to deal with writers block?


A: I’m not sure that I know any great tricks to writing historical fiction, but I do advise that new authors write with both their heads and their hearts. It’s important that you feel passionately about your subject matter. But you also have to find a Nexus between what you’re passionate about and what the public wants to read. That is, if you want to make your living as a writer. If you’re writing for yourself then all you need is your heart. 

As for writer’s block, the best advice about this I ever got was from my friend and teacher Maureen McHugh who advised, “Allow yourself to write crap.” I think we always feel paralyzed when we know what we’re writing isn’t very good. But the art, for me anyway, is in the editing. not the drafting. So let yourself write crap, and fix it later.


Q: If you’re writing a new novel now, are you allowed to reveal any details?


A:  Yes! I am working on a novel right now about the fabulous Frances Perkins, the most important woman in American history hands down. I will fight anyone on this. She was Roosevelt’s right-hand woman during the Great Depression, she was the architect of the New Deal, and there is not a single American life today that is untouched by her work. I cannot wait for readers to learn more about this extraordinary woman who became our very first female cabinet secretary. Truly, I can’t think of any cabinet secretary America has ever had of more consequence with the possible exception of Alexander Hamilton. And boy would it have been fun to hear a debate between those two if they’d lived in the same time period.


Q: What advice do you give a new author on how to deal with negative criticism whether it comes from reviews, online trolls and family and friends who aren’t supportive of their writing goals?


A: It’s important to learn to distinguish between useful criticism that is constructive, and ridiculous criticism that you can ignore. The former may really sting, but it will also improve you as a writer if you listen to it and find ways to address it. The latter can also sting, but you can take the sting out of it by laughing. By sharing the Ridiculousness with your friends, or by learning to find subtle ways in which to amuse yourself with it. For example, my co-author Laura Kamoie and I got some criticism about a lack of Barbary Pirates in America’s First Daughter. Now this was a book about Jefferson’s daughter, who had very little to do with the Barbary Pirates beyond knowing they existed and being present in Washington when her father’s administration was negotiating about them. So, mostly to amuse ourselves, we made sure to mention Barbary Pirates in our next book together.


Q: You collaborated with authors Kate Quinn, Laura Kamoie, Sophie Perinot, Heather Webb, & Eliza Knight to write Ribbons of Scarlett. What was co-writing with these ladies like? Would you co-write a novel or short stories with these ladies again? Also what is your advice to anyone wanting to co-write with a friend or a family member?


A: I really love collaborating with author friends, because it teaches me so much! I learn to tackle problems from new directions. I critique them, and they critique me, and we come out with a better product. This is one of the reasons that I collaborate so often with fellow authors because it always forces me to up my game.  My best advice for people who want to co-write a book is to find a partner who shares your vision, a partner who speaks the same writer language that you do, and, finally, someone who can take the ego out of the process. 


Q: Does Hollywood have the rights or interests in any of your novels?


A: Yes, but I don’t get too excited about that anymore because it very often goes nowhere. So you just hope for the best and put it out of your mind until a movie is made.