Reisterstown: Fiction writer aiming for gold with 'Song of the Nile'

Ah, the lazy days of summer. There is nothing like grabbing a good read and heading for the nearest beach or pool to while away the hours.

That might be a better-than-great idea if you are among those without electricity or water, or both following the unexpected storm late on the evening of Friday, June 29.

On your way out, roll by Constellation Books, and pick up the latest by local nationally renowned historical fiction and fantasy novelist Stephanie Dray entitled "Song of the Nile," her second in what will be a trilogy chronicling the life and rise to power of Cleopatra's daughter, Selene, the queen of Mauretania. Store owner Lauretta Nagel likes nothing better than to promote local writers, particularly those who have partnered with her in the past, as has Dray in running a writer's group.

Dray is a graduate of Smith College in Northampton, Mass., where she earned a degree in government. She joins the ranks of Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan, and Yolanda King who also walked the hallowed halls of that private, independent, women-only liberal arts college.

Dray went on to become a lawyer, which in her own words she said "lasted all of 10 minutes." "I figured if I have to lie for a living, then I may as well be a fiction writer."

It should also be noted that Dray wrote feature and lifestyle pieces for Patuxent Publishing, the owner of this newspaper, until 2005.

Writing under the nome de plume of Stephanie Draven, Dray first published a series of what are referred to as paranormal romance novels — speculative fiction sauced with mythically or historically inspired romantic interludes. "After all," Dray said, "well- behaved woman seldom make history."

Published by the leader in romance novels, Toronto-based Harlequin Enterprises, there are six books in Draven's Mythica series.

Dray defended the much pooh-poohed romance novelist: "There are a lot of them who write cutting edge and actually impart some information. Further, they engage woman in relationships in nonthreatening ways." And perhaps there is more than just a little truth in that assessment.

Unlike today's popular perusal of websites, which have brought about some rather high-profile instances of bodily harm, romance novels provide entertainment safely bound to hold and share, or not.

But it was in 2009 that Dray "attained her majority" with the publishing of the first in her historical fiction series "Lily of the Nile." Noted romance novelist Nora Roberts invited her to sign at her store, Turn the Page Books in Boonsboro. Roberts herself is Silver Spring born and bred, and has been called a master of the romance-novel form, with all of her works making the New York Times Best Sellers List since 1999.

Great things are happening in the life of Dray, who has been nominated by the Romance Writers of America for a RITA award, the highest awards accorded in the romance genre.

"Song of the Nile," her second historical fiction and fantasy novel, is competing as one of nine finalists in the Novel with Romantic Elements category.

The 2012 RWA Conference will be held July 25-28 at the Anaheim Marriott, in Anaheim, Ca., with more than 2,100 published and aspiring romance writers attending. Like other conferences, it offers its chapter members the opportunity to schmooze and network, and recognize each other's accomplishments.

We're rooting for you, Stephanie Dray, and hope you come away with that golden statue.

We'll also be on the lookout for "Daughters of the Nile," the third and final book in the saga of Selene, queen of Mauretania.

And we're eagerly anticipating your next book, "Mistress of Monticello." If you thought Thomas Jefferson was a fascinating man and found his home Monticello equally intriguing, then wait until you read what Dray has to say about his little known daughter, Patsy Jefferson!

Look for my next column on Aug. 9.

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