Why Cleopatra?

Death of an Eye, the first Eye of Isis novel, publishes in paperback on September 5.
Click here to pre-order your copy now.

All right, all you people who think I should only and ever
write Kate Shugak novels*, here’s why I wrote this instead.Eye of Isis1

The commonly accepted story arc for Cleopatra is:

  1. Caesar.
  2. Antony.
  3. Dead.

Shakespeare even cut her arc by a third in his Antony and Cleopatra. At least the film managed to get all three plot points in.


I was a freshman in Seldovia High when Mr. Winklebleck walked us through Julius Caesar and made us (well, me, anyway) like it. I was babysitting for Darlene Kashevarof at the time and she had recordings of Shakespeare’s plays on vinyl. I’d put the kids to bed early so I could listen because Mr. Winklebleck said Shakespeare was meant to be performed, not read, and this was as close as I could get. He was right, and I listened to every recording Darlene had, including Antony and Cleopatra, which I thought was sooooo romantic and so very heartbreaking. (Remember fourteen? Yeah, me, too. Hormones have a lot to answer for.) I’m pretty sure this was the recording.

AaC Shakespeare recording.jpg

Click through the image, scroll down and look at the credits. Yep, that’s Ian Holm, Diana Rigg, Ian McKellen —I was listening to their voices before they hit the big time.

I was in London in 1987 when the Royal Shakespeare Company staged a production of Antony and Cleopatra with Judi Dench and Anthony Hopkins. You haven’t truly lived until you’ve seen Judi Dench writhing in sexual longing across the stage of the Old Vic. We’re talking ssssssizzle, here.


In 2001 the British Museum had a traveling exhibition called Cleopatra of Egypt: from History to Myth, which would appear in London, Rome and Chicago. Right about that same time Alaska Airlines started flying direct from Anchorage to Chicago. So I went. In December. There for the first time (along with Garrett’s Popcorn) I was introduced to the notion that Cleopatra’s contemporaneous history was written almost entirely by historians in Augustus Caesar’s pay and that there might be, well, a bit of bias shading those narratives. I still have the book from the exhibit

IMG_0883 copy.jpeg

and my favorite chapter is still “Anything truth can do, we can do better: the Cleopatra Legend” by Christopher Felling.

…she swiftly became the stuff of Roman drama. Octavian worked sedulously on Italian misogyny and xenophobia: Antony became caricatured as the man sinking into Eastern excess, while Octavian himself was champion of the traditional values of home…Octavian needed to have defeated a genuinely formidable enemy.

It was necessary to Octavian’s legend that Cleopatra seduced poor, helpless Antony and bent him to her vile, anti-Roman purposes. The woman tempted me and I ate it is an old, old story.

Then in 2011 I made my book club read Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra.


I won’t go on and on (you can read my Goodreads review here, where I do) but I found it to be a companion piece to the British Museum’s exhibit in revelations. Remember that three-point story arc? Just throw that out. Among other interesting items, Cleopatra

  1. ruled for twenty years.
  2. spoke at least seven languages.
  3. was the only Ptolemy in 3 centuries against whom her Egyptian subjects did not revolt.

In addition, the status of women in Alexandria then was staggering to me, as I tend to write off everything prior to the 19th Amendment as medieval. The women of Alexandria could marry where they chose, divorce if they wanted to, be paid alimony, keep the kids, have jobs, own and operate their own businesses. That’s Alexandria BCE, folks. Hell, that’s not even Alexandria today, as the Muslim Brotherhood will be happy to attest.

I then read other biographies of Cleopatra, of which there are many because I am not the only writer in her thrall. Turns out she was also a gifted chemist and there is a good chance she died not from the bite of an asp but from ingesting a poison of her own making. Schiff also says Octavian looted Alexandria following Cleopatra’s death to help buy himself a throne, giving him even more reason to demonize her. Enemies deserve to be looted, not to mention paraded in shame in Octavian’s triumph back in Rome, although Cleopatra outwitted him in that at the end (see poison above).

Well, I ask you, if you’ve actually made it all the way down to the bottom of this post. After all that encouragement, what was I to do but write a book set in Alexandria in the time of Cleopatra, featuring a woman in that time and place? A series of books, I hope, because twenty years is a long time and that time in particular was fraught with event.

Click here to pre-order your copy in paperback.

And forever available in e:



*Relax. I’m working on Kate22 as we speak. It’s called No Fixed Line and it will publish on January 9th.


Chatter Eye of Isis Uncategorized

Dana View All →

Author and founder of Storyknife.org.

36 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I LOVE you! And I will READ your Cleopatra books and the ones you recommend about her life 😉 Thanks! We love Kate, but actually we just LOVE anything your write!

  2. I was just about to write exactly the same as Shannon Means: I do so miss Kate and Mutt. Please work your pen vertime.

  3. It sounds fantastic for All of your reasons, obviously!! But, you’re working on Kate #22!!! Yea!!! Snoopy Happy Dance happening in my head right Now!! (because, strokes. not lazy!) <3 <3 <3 8*)

  4. I’ve always wanted to know more about Cleopatra than Liz Taylor’s eye makeup. Now I will read about her. Thanks.
    And keep working on Kate because we are also getting restless.
    Thank you, Dana.

  5. Me and Mrs E (Una) also love Kate Shugak, but we also loved the Silk Road books and will no doubt love the Cleo books too. (Here in Blighty we have been watching the Ab Fab Joanna Lumley’s Silk Road travelogue on TV – Venice to China; hope it gets to US TV. Finally, we recently discovered Nevada Barr’s Shugak-ish Anna Pigeon novels – good reads whilst we await 22. Love from Yorkshire.

  6. I had the Marlowe Society records, too! I wish that performance was available now digitally. You’ve reawakened my interest in Cleopatra and I will be reading several of the books you mentioned. Sigh. There aren’t enough hours in the day . . . .

  7. Heck, I’m still sorry you didn’t do more Coast Guard books, even though I was dancing around with glee after the following Kate came out. The truth is you write and we will come, das’right.

  8. I do not at all fall into the category of you can only write Kate, even though I have all of your Kate books. Of course, I still read your entire post (as I do with all of them) and fully agree with you… you had me hooked with your Silk Road series…it has always enchanted me. Your description of Cleopatra has me eagerly awaiting this book also. I will really try to be there in December…I have tickets for Michael Connelly just a few days earlier…

  9. I love all your books, Kate because she’s a warrior woman who survives on her terms, and the silk road series because it destroys the traditional marco polo fairy tales. But a writer needs to write what her heart tells her to so go ahead…rewrite the alphabet for all i care, i’d buy it and read it, just because it means something to you and you’re generous enough to share with us.

  10. I will definitely be reading Death Of An Eye, looking very much forward to it! I also really enjoyed reading the Silk Road trilogy, of course I am also very excited and looking forward to Kate 22. So enjoyed reading your post! ☺️

  11. Thank you, Dana. If you were not a fierce woman, fascinated by another fierce woman, Cleopatra, I probably wouldn’t be so devoted to your writing. So stretch your mind in new directions, and give us a new series. If I really like an author, I will read anything they write. And if you birth another Kate in the future, I’ll read that, too. Please, just keep those creative juices flowing in whatever direction they take you.

    Thank you for the hours if reading pleasure,

    Susan Wolkow
    Columbus, Ohio

  12. Loved Silk and Song, and I’m sure I’ll love this. And yes, I saw what you did there with burying the next Kate title at the end. Sneaky.

  13. I don’t really mind you branching out. Just more books for me to read by one of my favorite writers. I loved Silk & Song trilogy. But I also love Kate Shugak. And fallen in love with Liam Campbell. Are you writing any more of that series?

  14. I have always been interested in Cleopatra. Then I got one of her coins, a lot like the one in the British Museum collection. I wanted to learn more beyond the movies. I read Stacy Schiff’s book and a couple of others. I am glad you are writing about her and her time period. I have a whole bookshelf dedicated to your work, as you know. I hope you find out, through all of your research, where her body is. There are a lot of theories.
    Also, an update on my progress on the project. I am starting on A Grave Denied tomorrow. I can say one thing, I would love to go to Bobby and Dinah’s for dinner, coffee and dessert.
    I also just learned I have an ancestor or two that migrated to the US from Yorkshire. Still working on where in that area of England. Where I just learned I have 78% DNA from.
    One thing I love about all of your books is they teach us lots of things. Write as much about as many things as you want.

  15. I do so love Kate, and Mutt, of course, but will be patient. Read to the bottom about Cleopatra; am already more ‘edicated’, and look forward to reading the whole book.

  16. Believe it or not, I still have a box containing that original print out! Tom won’t part with it for anything! I just finished re-reading your Science Fiction trilogy and it stands the test of time! Looking forward to many mor happy reading hours! Love you, dear friend.

  17. Thank you for pulling a Mr. Winklebleck move and piquing my interest in learning about the real Cleopatra! (Although Liz Taylor looked so beautiful, didn’t she?). The men who wrote history frequently dismissed women or worse, co-opted their accomplishments. I’m looking forward to your book and will preorder on Amazon

  18. Dani can’t wait to read the new book. As far as I am concerned I love all your books and please write whatever you want. I don’t care just as long as you don’t stop writing. I have pre ordered Death of An Eye. I wish I could be back in AZ for the signing.

  19. Looking forward to reading your book about Cleopatra. I have always been fascinated by her story. Thanks for the info on Kate22. I love Kate and Mutt. As seems to be the theme, I would read a grocery list if you wrote it. Thank you for many hours of reading pleasure.

  20. I very much enjoyed Death of an Eye. Strong women are appealing to me. I am excited that you are contemplating more books about Cleopatra and Tetisheri. Everything you write is lyrical.

  21. I love your books, your writing style, your character development. You and Diana Gabaldon are the best authors around. I’ve read all your books. One of the things I like best about the Kate series is the large community of fully fleshed out characters. It assists to fulfill the need for community I believe we humans have. I think that’s one of the draws. I know when I open a Kate book I will be in the land of the aunties, of deep Alaskan culture.

    I hope you don’t mind if I tell you I missed that in Death of an Eye. I liked the characters you had very much. I just missed a richer, wider community. I hope you mean to develop this. I think that goes a long way to bonding us to a series.

    I really appreciate you.

  22. Thank you so much, Cheri. Yes, Death of an Eye is planned to be the first in the series. I hope I love long enough to write many more because I’m really enjoying it.

  23. I read Death of an Eye as soon as it was available from my library. I loved it so much that I found your website and pleaded for a sequel. Please! Never mind book 1 in paperback, we wait breathlessly for book 2! This is a remarkable set of characters within a fascinatingly reawakened setting. More!

  24. Sedulously. A new word to me, and I have already thought of so many times I might use it, if I remember. Thank you!

  25. I love everything Cleopatra. She was the first woman in power coin I collected. I want to know where she is entombed. And the world you built around her brings that time period and Cleopatra to life. I can’t wait for the next one. Plus they are good mystery books as well.

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