Monday, December 19, 2011
FEATURED AUTHOR: Vicky Alvear Shecter
How did you start out your writing career?
First, let me say thank you, LaShaunda, for having me here! It’s an honor. To answer your question, I had always been a writer, but because I worked in business marketing, I approached writing as a trade rather than an art. When my second child was born, I took a break from writing. During the period she was in grade school, I reconnected with my passion for ancient history and so I began writing about that. I got trained as a docent at our archaeology museum here in Atlanta (at Emory University) and went from there.
What did you learn while writing this book?
It’s not enough to just “report” what was happening in a story, but to dig deeper into the emotional experiences of my characters.
What did you hope to accomplish with this book?
I hoped that people would learn about two fascinating figures in ancient history—Cleopatra Selene (the daughter of Cleopatra and Mark Antony) and Juba II, a king of North Africa. Both have fallen into obscurity, which needs to be fixed!
Which character did you have the most fun writing about?
Oh, that one’s hard because there were so many characters in this book. But I’d say, Selene’s little brother, Ptolemy Philadelphus, known as “Ptolly” in the book. I loved that little guy!
What has surprised you most about becoming a published author?
How vulnerable I would feel about people’s response to my characters. Would they like them? Hate them? Suddenly, they were like my children and I hadn’t expected that.
What aspect of writing do you love the best, and which do you hate the most?
I love the imagining process (for me I have to imagine scenes before I write them down) because that’s when it’s the most fun. What I hate the most is the endless waiting. Once I’ve written something, I need to give myself some space from it, which requires waiting. Then there’s the waiting from an agent. Then the endless waiting to see if the book will sell. Then the waiting for edits from the editor. Then the waiting for it to come out! Nobody warned me how LONG the process takes and how much waiting is actually involved.
What are three things you wish you’d known before you reached where you are now?
1. (Your book) is only a story and there are many, many stories in this world.
2. But it is YOUR story, and so has a right to be heard.
3. Trust your instincts.
Can you give us one do and one don’t for those aspiring to be a writer?
1. DO search/dig deeper for the emotional core of the story. It’s too easy to focus on plot or “what happens.” For example, when Cleopatra Selene faced some devastating losses, I pulled up the feelings I remembered from childhood when I faced a family member’s unexpected death. I don’t have a thing in common with an ancient Princess of Egypt—except our shared humanity.
2. DON’T give up on yourself. When I first started on this novel, I discovered that a famous writer was about to release a novel on a similar subject. I was devastated and figured I’d quit. No point, right? But a friend insisted I keep writing because my story would be different. She was right. I’m glad I listened.
What one thing about writing do you wish other non-writers would understand?
For years, I’d been told to stop “living in my head” or to “get my nose out of books.” But these are the ways I cultivate my stories. And reading books—lots of them—are critical for writers! After getting published, it’s a little easier to do these things.
If you could be a character from any book you've read, who would you be?
I’d have to say Janie Crawford from Their Eyes Were Watching God. Her confidence, her capacity for deep love, and even her acceptance of pain and sorrow are a wonder to behold.
When you're not writing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
What do you do to interact with your readers?
I have a blog (http://historywithatwist.blogspot.com) and am on Facebook and Twitter. I also love to do school visits and book clubs.
Our theme for this month is CHILDREN BOOKS. What inspired you to make children’s literature the focus of your career?
I’m not sure I set out to write for children per se, it just ended up that way. I have been accused (complimented?) of having a childlike curiosity and enthusiasm, so maybe that’s why it made the most sense.
Oprah always asks, What do you know for sure?
I know that I love my family. Beyond that, I know that what fascinates me so much about ancient history is that it shows us that no matter how much time has passed, no matter who we are or where we’re from or when we’re from, we are all the same inside.
Can you give us a sneak peek of your next book?
I haven’t sold it yet, so I can’t. But I will say it will also be set in the ancient world.
How can readers get in contact with you? (mail, email, website)
I love to hear from readers. My email is email@example.com and my website is www.vickyalvearshecter.com. And, as mentioned above, my blog is: http://historywithatwist.blogspot.com.
Cleopatra’s Moon is the story of Cleopatra’s daughter, Selene (Mark Antony was her father), the only one of the queen’s four children to survive into adulthood. Cleopatra Selene was taken from Egypt and reared in the home of her parent’s conqueror in Rome. She and her brothers were marched through the streets of Rome in chains in place of their mother. When nearly sixteen, Cleopatra Selene was married off to a North African king, where she ruled for decades. This is her story of survival and eventual triumph.
The LA Times called the book, “Magical.” PW said it was “fascinating” and “atmospheric.”
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