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Friday, July 26, 2013

"The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora" by Stephanie Thornton ~ Author Interview!


Where Theodora went, trouble followed….
In sixth-century Constantinople, one woman, Theodora, defied every convention and all the odds and rose from common theater tart to empress of a great kingdom, the most powerful woman the Roman Empire would ever know. The woman whose image was later immortalized in glittering mosaic was a scrappy, clever, conniving, flesh-and-blood woman full of sensuality and spirit whose real story is as surprising as any ever told….

After her father dies suddenly, Theodora and her sisters face starvation and a life on the streets. Determined to survive, Theodora makes a living any way she can—first on her back with every man who will have her, then on the stage in a scandalous dramatization of her own invention. When her daring performance grants her a backdoor entry into the halls of power, she seizes the chance to win a wealthy protector—only to face heartbreak and betrayal.

Ever resilient, Theodora rises above such trials and, by a twist of fate, meets her most passionate admirer yet: the emperor’s nephew. She thrives as his confidant and courtesan, but many challenges lie ahead. For one day this man will hand her a crown. And all the empire will wonder—is she bold enough, shrewd enough, and strong enough to keep it?

Publication Date: July 2, 2013
NAL Trade
Paperback; 448p
ISBN-10: 045141778X


 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.

For more information, please visit Stephanie Thornton's website.  You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Interview with the author!!

A Bookish Libraria is happy to bring our readers this personal interview with Stephanie Thornton.  So thrilled to have you with us, Stephanie!  Let's start the interview...

1)Please tell us if there was a special person in your life who drew attention to the fact that you could write.


I remember my mom giving me notebooks when I was in third grade so I could fill them with stories. I only wish I still had them!


2) You chose a specific place and time to write about, what made you choose it?


I actually chose Theodora as my subject, so the Byzantine Empire came along for the ride. Most of my prior research was on ancient Egypt for my novel about Hatshepsut, so I really enjoyed learning about an era that I knew relatively little about.


3) Does the concept for your story come to you first or the characters?


I write biographical fiction—Empress Theodora, Pharaoh Hatshepsut, and the wife and daughters of Genghis Khan so far—so the characters definitely come first. That said, I only choose characters that have lived colorful lives, and who most modern people know relatively little about.


4) In your opinion, what makes a book a great one?


I’ve always loved historical fiction, so for me, a book has to have it all: a page-turning plot, unforgettable characters, and a unique setting in both time and place. Throw in a little humor and romance and you have a winner!


5) If you were able to have dinner with one other author of any time period, who would it be?  Why?


Voltaire, hands-down. Have you read Candide? It’s seriously an Enlightenment soap opera, coming from a Frence philosophe who was incredibly concerned with human rights and dignity. That said, Voltaire is incredibly thought-provoking, but also downright hilarious. Anyone who said, “Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats,” can share a glass of wine and pasta with me anytime.


6) Read any good books in the past 6 months?  And, please name one favorite contemporary woman author. (I know, it’s unfair to ask you to name only one)


Only one?! The inhumanity! I’m currently reading The Spanish Bow by Andromeda Romano-Lax and am absolutely loving the rich depiction of pre-WWII Spain as told through the eyes of a young cello player. Lily of the Nile and Song of the Nile by Stephanie Dray both kept me up until the wee hours of many mornings. Dray’s novels remind me very much of Kate Quinn’s series on ancient Rome, which are among my all-time favorite historical novels.


7) Please share with us the underlying message of your book.  What would you like your readers to take away after having read the book?


Theodora’s story is a real life rags-to-riches story. Through all of her setbacks, she kept her chin high and never gave up. I hope readers appreciate her incredible story, and take heart that even when life doesn’t go your way, there’s always hope that things will get better so long as you don’t give up.


8) Were you able to keep your original title?  What was it, if not?


The Secret History is the original title I chose for Theodora’s story, borrowed from the historian Procopius, who maligned Theodora terribly. I like to think of this as the secret, secret history of Theodora’s life.


9) Is there a song or music in general that might best represent your book as a theme song?


Funny you should ask! A Kiss With a Fist by Florence + The Machine is Theodora’s theme song. In fact, the lyrics inspired a scene in the book. (I’ll leave it to you to guess which one—it’s one of my favorites.)  


10)  If you could write your book again, what would you change?


One idea I toyed with was having Theodora visit the Holy Lands after she left Pentapolis, but I wasn’t able to fit it in. I wouldn’t mind seeing her traipse around the religious sites there and write her reactions as she did some sight-seeing.


11) Did you have to do any research you hadn’t expected?


I was lucky to be able to travel to Istanbul not once, but twice, to research the history of Theodora’s city. The first time I was in the process of writing the novel’s first draft, but the second time I was in the process of polishing the finished book. It was wonderful to be able to go to places like the Basilica Cistern and the Hagia Sophia with a specific scene in mind, and then be able to search out the setting details I needed.


12) Tell us about your cover.  How did you determine what it would look like?


Actually, the wonderful artists and designers at New American Library designed that stunning cover. I think they captured Theodora perfectly, and I was thrilled that they included the Hagia Sophia front and center!


13)  What does your book have to say about today’s women?


Theodora lived in 6th century Constantinople and overcame many hurdles: the death of close family members, lack of access to formal education, an almost total dependence on men to provide for her, and being abandoned in a foreign country. Women today face other challenges: balancing careers and families, being single mothers (which Theodora was for a time), and inequality in the workplace. But women have always faced challenges, and we overcome them with our strength and resilience. Theodora was tough, and today’s women are tough. We can do anything when we put our minds to it!
Love, love, loved this interview with you, Stephanie.  Your wit and wisdom here is just a snapshot of the riches everyone will find reading "The Secret History..."   I'm encouraging all my readers to get a copy soon!

Praise for The Secret History

“Stephanie Thornton’s Theodora is tough and intelligent, spitting defiance against the cruel world of the Byzantine Empire. Her rise from street urchin to emperor’s consort made me want to stand up and cheer. Her later years as empress are great fun to read, but it was her early struggle as actress and courtesan that really had me roaring: either with rage at the misfortunes heaped on this poor girl, or with delight as she once more picked herself up with a steely glint in her eye and kept on going.”—Kate Quinn, author of Empress of the Seven Hills

“Loss, ambition and lust keep this rich story moving at top speed. Stephanie Thornton writes a remarkable first novel that brings a little known woman to full, vibrant life…A sprawling and irresistible story.”—Jeane Westin, author of The Spymaster’s Daughter

“A fascinating and vivid account; in The Secret History, the life of Empress Theodora leaps from the page, as colorful and complex as the woman herself.”—Michelle Diener, author of The Emperor’s Conspiracy

*Note:  This interview and short review was brought to you in cooperation with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.
Please click on the link below to find more reviews, interviews and guest posts on this book:

5 star book                Deborah/TheBookishDame



Thank you for sharing your interview with Stephanie Thornton--how fun! I have now added her to my list of authors to check out and her new book to my list of must reads.

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