Thursday, December 17, 2015

Interview with Stephanie Thornton, author of The Conqueror's Wife

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Stephanie Thornton back to Flashlight Commentary to discuss The Conqueror's Wife.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Stephanie. It’s great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about The Conqueror’s Wife. 
Thanks so much for having me back at Flashlight Commentary! My latest novel, The Conqueror’s Wife, is the story of the women behind Alexander the Great, his conniving wife Roxana, younger sister-turned-warrior Thessalonike, and Drypetis, the daughter of the vanquished king of Persia. I didn’t plan it when I started writing, but the book also ended up including Hephaestion, Alexander’s boyhood companion and soul mate. In fact, I think Hephaestion kind of ended up stealing the show. 

As a novelist, what drew you to Alexander the Great?
Coming fresh on the heels of The Tiger Queens, I think Alexander was a natural subject for my next novel. My editor suggested I look into writing about a Persian queen and I happened to stumble upon Roxana. One thing led to another and soon was I having to weed out which of Alexander’s I really wanted to write about. He was surrounded by a whole cadre of incredibly powerful women! 

When I hosted you during the promotion of The Tiger Queens, we talked about your penchant for writing about strong and oft overlooked women. The Conqueror’s Wife continues this trend. Who are these women, what are their strengths, and what do they represent for Alexander? 
Thessalonike is Alexander’s kid sister who wants to wield a sword and travel the world. I think of her as a female version of Alex, but without his penchant for wanton destruction. Roxana is the daughter of a minor (and not very nice) Persian noble and she becomes Alexander’s first wife. She’s pretty scrappy, but has a hard time finding the line between what’s morally right and what’s very, very wrong. And then there’s Drypetis, the overlooked daughter of Persia’s king, who is taken captive by Alexander and plans to give him a run for his money! 

The Conqueror’s Wife marks new territory for you as one of your narrators is male. Was writing Hephaestion a challenge in any way? Or was it freeing? 
Hephaestion is indeed the first male point of view I’ve ever written that has been published, but I originally wrote Daughter of the Gods as a dual narrative between Hatshepsut and her love interest, Senenmut. I was worried that my editor wouldn’t approve of including Hephaestion’s POV, but I really think he stole the limelight from Alexander and seems to have won over most readers too. His scenes were the easiest and most fun to write and I have plans to include more male POV’s in future novels! 

Alexander the Great
What sort of research went into The Conqueror’s Wife? What sources did find most valuable? How did you sort through the wealth of material? 
I started my research with Robin Lane Fox’s biography on Alexander and then moved onto the various ancient Roman sources on Alex’s life. (Alexander had his court historian killed, which is one reason why we don’t have any histories about him from his contemporaries.) Then I got to delve into the fun stuff, which for me means perusing ancient cookbooks and finding out the nitty gritty details about daily life in ancient Greece and Persia. 

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly enjoyed writing?
There’s a scene between Hephaestion and Drypetis in the Tower of Silence about midway through that had me cackling with glee. I won’t give any spoilers, but let’s just say that it was fun to write, especially after burning several cities and killing off thousands of Alexander’s enemies!

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author? Why was it troublesome and how did you work through it?  
I actually brainstormed about ten different ways to get Thessalonike to Persia, including having her as a stowaway locked in a giant crate. (Or for a while I think it was a barrel.) The problem was in how to get a gently-raised Macedonian girl halfway around the known world to rendezvous with her brother, given that Greek girls pretty much only left their father’s house to move to their husband’s house. Then I remember that Olympias, Alexander’s ruthless and unconventional mother, raised Thessalonike. If Olympias wanted Thessalonike to go to halfway around the world, then that’s what was going to happen, conventions be damned! 

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character or concept you wish you could have spent more time on?
I’d have loved to make Cynnane, Alexander’s half-sister who history records as a battle-hardened warrior, into a point of view character. However, given her real-life story and the fact that I already had four necessary characters, Cynanne ended up sharing many of her traits with Thessalonike, whose early life remains shrouded in historical murkiness. However, I hope I still managed to do Cynnane’s story justice—she was one tough woman!

Historical novelists frequently have to adjust facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing The Conqueror’s Wife and if so, what did you alter? 
I had to change or embellish a few minor things, such as Thessalonike’s role as a warrior and moving Hephaestion to witness a battle at Alexander’s side. However, I did my best to tell a story that could have happened, even if there are a few things that likely didn’t unfold precisely as I imagined them. 

If you could sit down and talk with one of the characters in The Conqueror’s Wife, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why? I’d personally be torn between Hephaestion or Roxana, but that’s just me. 
Hephaestion, a million times Hephaestion! I’d want to see what exactly it was about him that drew Alexander to him, and whether he was at all how I wrote him. I don’t know if I’d claim to have a writing muse, but every single one of Hephaestion’s scenes just seemed to flow as I was writing The Conqueror’s Wife, so much so that I could hardly write the scenes fast enough for fear of losing some of his dialogue. I guess that’s definitely worth my buying him a nice glass of Greek wine!

Just because I’m curious, if you could pick a fantasy cast to play the leads in a screen adaptation of The Conqueror’s Wife, who would you hire? 
Sam Claflin has the perfect hair to play Alexander the Great and he’s already got experience playing a an arrogant warrior as Finnick Odair of The Hunger Games. As I was writing the novel I pictured Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth of Game of Thrones fame) as Alexander's kid sister Thessalonike. (However, Christie would need a long blond braid to complete the ensemble.) Penelope Cruz would make a lovely Roxana, but she'd have to perfect an evil scowl and the accompanying diabolical laugh. A Gladiator-era Russell Crowe would round off the cast as Alexander's boyhood companion, Hephaestion. 

Finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works? 
I’m continuing the trend of writing history’s forgotten women, but have made the jump to more recent history, as in 20th century America. I’ve taught American History on and off for eleven years and there’s one woman from a presidential family who has always intrigued me. Once I started doing some serious research I realized there was definitely a novel waiting to be written! 

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“Through the eyes of the fascinating and fierce women in Alexander's life, Thornton enchants the reader with a fresh new look at an ancient hero. Her accessible and energetic writing brings the ancient world to life while giving voice to the voiceless in this vivid tale of the women in the shadow of Alexander's glory. What a talent!”—Stephanie Dray, bestselling author of Lily on the Nile

"Stephanie Thornton boldly goes where other historical novelists might fear to tread. In her recounting of Alexander the Great's epic quest of conquest, as told through the eyes of the shrewd, ambitious and dangerous women surrounding him, she brings to life the treachery, glory, and intrigue of a fascinating ancient world."—C.W. Gortner, bestselling author of Mademoiselle Chanel

“A conqueror slices through the ancient world on pages that writhe with ambition and danger, yet the reader is swept in by unexpected heroines. This gritty epic is voiced by the tenacious women who surrounded Alexander the Great, proving he would’ve been nothing of the sort without them.”—Marci Jefferson, author of Girl on the Golden Coin

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Stephanie Thornton is a writer and history teacher who has been obsessed with infamous women from ancient history since she was twelve. She lives with her husband and daughter in Alaska, where she is at work on her next novel.

“The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora,” “Daughter of the Gods: A Novel of Ancient Egypt,” and “The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan” are available now. “The Conqueror’s Wife: A Novel of Alexander the Great” will hit the shelves in December 2015.

Website ❧  Facebook ❧  Twitter ❧  Goodreads

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Format: Print & eBook
Publication Date: December 1, 2015
Released by: NAL
ISBN-13: 978-0451472007
Length: 512 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

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Check Out All the Stops on The Conqueror's Wife Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, November 23
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, November 24
Review at Layered Pages
Interview & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Spotlight & Excerpt at What Is That Book About
Wednesday, November 25
Review at A Bookish Affair
Thursday, November 26
Friday, November 27
Spotlight & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More
Monday, November 30
Review & Giveaway at 100 Pages a Day
Tuesday, December 1
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Wednesday, December 2
Review & Giveaway at A Literary Vacation
Thursday, December 3
Review, Excerpt, & Giveaway at Just One More Chapter
Review, Excerpt, & Giveaway at Unshelfish
Excerpt at A Literary Vacation
Spotlight at The Reading Queen
Friday, December 4
Review & Giveaway at The True Book Addict
Guest Post at Book Lovers Paradise
Monday, December 7
Review at
Tuesday, December 8
Review at Reading the Past
Wednesday, December 9
Thursday, December 10
Review at The Lit Bitch
Interview & Giveaway at Reading Lark
Friday, December 11
Saturday, December 12
Review & Giveaway at Genre Queen
Monday, December 14
Review at Book Babe
Reivew, Excerpt, & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, December 15
Review at Bookramblings
Wednesday, December 16
Review at Book Nerd
Thursday, December 17
Friday, December 18
Interview at Flashlight Commentary

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