Monday, December 14, 2015

Blog Tour Q&A with Eileen Stephenson, Author of Tales of Byzantium

I am so thrilled to have Eileen Stephenson here today with her debut short story collection, Takes of Byzantium! I was honored to work on this book with Eileen in an editorial capacity, and I designed the cover too. Eileen is touring the blogosphere with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, and I had the chance to ask her a few questions about her favorite Byzantines. Read on and enter for your chance to win a paperback copy of Tales of Byzantium!

A young empress defies her powerful father for love and her rightful place on the throne.

A charismatic commander takes the gamble of a lifetime to save the lives of thousands of innocents.

An exiled princess finds a new sense of purpose and creates a legacy that will stand through the ages.

These stories provide a glimpse of the dynamic and proud Byzantines who lived during the height of the empire’s splendor.

“Through elegantly described details, sharply observed characters, and especially crisp, modern-sounding dialogue, Stephenson takes these vignettes from the thousand years of Byzantine history, mixes them liberally with such excellent modern narrative histories as John Julius Norwich’s A Short History of Byzantium, and manages to create three very intriguing windows into a part of history largely unknown to many readers.” -Anne McNulty, Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews

Hi Eileen! Thank you so much for taking the time to visit Let Them Read Books! What sparked your interest in the Byzantines?

It was one book – A Short History of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich. I was at the library looking for something to read and borrowed it when I couldn’t find anything more interesting. Little did I realize that this small book, which Norwich considers the “lite” version of his comprehensive three-volume history, would lead me down a path I never expected to be on.

How did you determine who to write about for this collection?

There are so many fascinating stories of the Byzantines, but it is the middle period that inspires me. The first story, about the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus and his wife, Helena Lecapena, is an improbable love story of two people who had no reason to like each other, until they did. I recognized the great story potential they had when I first read about them in Norwich’s book.

I first read about Manuel Comnenus and his defense of Nicaea in one of my research books, a translation of John Skylitzes’ history. His descendants would establish a great dynasty and bring the empire back from the brink of collapse. I found his ingenious way out of his predicament in Nicaea both daring and amusing and thought he deserved a story.

The story of Anna Comnena, although the last in the book, was the first I wrote. She was also the great granddaughter of Manuel Comnenus in the second story and the earliest female historian. She was thwarted in her attempts to reach the throne, but found purpose and redemption in writing a history of her father’s reign instead. A story about the strange course our lives can take on our way to our destiny.

Have you had a chance to visit any of the places featured in these stories?

Aside from in YouTube videos, not yet. But I have tickets to visit Istanbul (aka, Constantinople or Byzantium) in March. I am so excited!

From where do you draw the bulk of your research? Have you learned anything during your research that surprised you?

I have a huge library of research books, but my starting points are translations of four Byzantine historians of that period – Michael Psellus, John Skylitzes, Michael Attaleiates, and Anna Comnena (of course!). Their contemporary accounts often include great details on weather conditions, personalities, and perceived motivations. Plenty of things have surprised – brutal cruelties in wartime, the surprising frankness of some of these writers. One time the surprise annoyed me – when the history told me that my character had to be one place when I had planned to put her somewhere else.

What are you working on now?

I am working on the first of a two volume series on Anna Dalassena, the wife of one of Manuel Comnenus’s sons and the mother of Alexios Comnenus, emperor and the father of Anna Comnena. Anna’s life was a heroine’s journey through years of exile, imprisonment, and loss, before reaching the pinnacle of Byzantine society. She was the cornerstone of the Comnene dynasty, and every subsequent Greek Byzantine emperor was a descendant of hers. I hope to have the first volume finished soon!

About the Author

Eileen Stephenson was born in Fort Worth, Texas but spent most of her life in the Washington, DC area. She has degrees from both Georgetown University and George Washington University (neither involving the Byzantines) and is married with three daughters. Her interest in Byzantine history all started one fateful day when every other book in the library looked boring except for John Julius Norwich’s A Short History of Byzantium.


To win a Paperback copy of Tales of Byzantium by Eileen Stephenson please enter the giveaway via the GLEAM form below.


– Giveaway starts at 12:01am EST on December 14th and ends at 11:59pm EST on December 22nd. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open internationally.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Tales of Byzantium is on a blog tour!


  1. I read Norwich's book, too, many years ago, and it was fascinating. I'd love to read this!

    1. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who found it fascinating. He has such an easy writing style and is so knowledgeable about history, politics, and art that I find it difficult to put down even his longer works (i.e., his history of the Normans in Sicily at about 800 pages).


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