Joining us today is C.W. Gortner, author of The Last Queen and a newly release titled, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici. Half-Spanish by birth, he holds an M.F.A. in writing, with an emphasis on historical studies, from the New College of California and has taught university courses on women of power in the Renaissance. He was raised in Málaga, Spain, and now lives in California.
Acclaimed for his insight into his characters, he travels extensively to research his books. He has slept in a medieval Spanish castle, danced in a Tudor great hall, and explored library archives all over Europe. He is currently at work on The Princess Isabella, his third historical novel, and The Secret Lion, the first book in his Tudor thriller series, The Spymaster Chronicles.
Welcome, C.W., we are excited to have you here. Can you please tell our readers a bit about yourself?
Thank you for inviting me. I write historical fiction about women of power in the Renaissance. My first novel The Last Queen (Ballantine Books, 2008) is about Juana of Castile, known as Juana la Loca; she was queen of Spain and sister of Catherine of Aragon. My new book is of course about the Italian-born French queen, Catherine de Medici. I was raised in Spain and live in California with my partner and our corgi, Paris.
Tell us about your latest book. What is it about and what inspired you to write it?
The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is about the controversial queen's fight to save France and secret passion for a man she must destroy. Catherine de Medici is one of history’s most notorious women: she’s been accused of some of the era’s worst crimes, including the poisoning of a fellow queen! But, of course there are always two sides to every story and in this novel, Catherine gets to tell hers. I was inspired to write this book after I’d done some preliminary research on Catherine for my thesis and realized that, while I had known about her for years, I truly knew very little about who she was and what she faced. She had a fascinating, dramatic life, full of danger, chaos, and challenge – a subject worthy of a novel! She was known to have a gift of second sight; she patronized Nostradamus; her daughter-in-law was Mary, Queen of Scots; her youngest daughter became the famous Queen Margot, immortalized by Dumas; and three of her four sons ruled as kings. She was a tough, resilient lady.
What do you like about this genre?
I write historical fiction because for me, it offers an ideal medium for bringing these long-gone women into our present, in a way that is immediate, visceral and relevant. We may know the facts—for example, Catherine de Medici spent her married life sharing her husband with his much older mistress — but what we crave is to experience their emotions, their inner lives, to share with them their trajectories and their world as they may have.
Was the road to publication challenging?
This book was sold to my editor at Ballantine Books in a two-book auction; I’d previously spent thirteen years seeking publication and had written several unpublished manuscripts, none of which sold. I’d had three prior agents and countless rejections; for a time, I turned to self-publishing simply because I felt I had run out of all other options. My Tudor suspense novel, The Secret Lion, was independently published; my agent recently sold it as part of a three-book series to St Martin’s Press. The road to publication is often challenging, I think. I know some writers who get lucky the very first time: right agent, right editor, perfect timing. But more often, most of us struggle for years to find recognition from the industry.
What is different about your book compared to other books out on the market?
I present a unique look at Catherine; in more recent works she is depicted as a desperate, occult-obsessed woman or plain evil, resorting to witchcraft to get what she wants. I re-cast her in the context of her times, taking into account her interest in the occult but without letting this one aspect of her personality dominate all the other equally fascinating and interesting things about her. In my novel, Catherine is a flesh and blood woman, not a stereotype. I also present a different look at her marriage, her relationships with her children and delve into her enigmatic alliance with the Protestant leader, Coligny— a relationship that was long-lasting and very tumultuous, and had a profound impact on her life.
What was your favorite book growing up?
As a child, my favorite book was Ferdinand the Bull. Later on, I became obsessed with the Chronicles of Narnia and books by the English author, Enid Blyton. I have always been a voracious reader, and advanced for my age; my parents had to hide books like The Exorcist from me, because I’d literally read everything and anything I could get my hands on. In my ninth year, my mom gave me my first historical novel: Murder Most Royal by Jean Plaidy and my life-long love affair with history and historical fiction began. By the time I was fourteen, I had read over 50 of Ms Plaidy’s voluminous collection.
Do you currently have a favorite author?
My favorite author is usually the one whose book has me currently mesmerized; right now, that would be M.J. Rose and her thriller The Hypnotist.
What is the most memorable book you have ever read?
Nikos Kazantakis’ Report to Greco had a profound impact on me in my adolescence. Of Greek descent, Mr Kazantakis was a gifted writer who published such masterpieces as Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ. He spent much his youth seeking spiritual meaning through various ideologies. He traveled into the Sinai desert; lived in a monastery; followed in the footsteps of Jesus. His quest echoed my own struggle in my teens and early twenties to reconcile my Catholic upbringing with my growing awareness of the incredible complexity of the world we live in, of the diversity of nature, and of mankind.
Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?
As of May 25, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici will be available in bookstores, including those online. Whenever possible, I encourage readers to purchase my books via IndieBound.
Do you have a website and/or blog where readers can find out more about you and your work?
Readers can visit me at www.cwgortner.com and at historicalboys.blogspot.com. I enjoy talking to book groups and can easily chat with groups via speaker phone or Skype; to schedule a time with me, just visit the Book Groups link on my website.
What is up next for you?
A lot! I’m writing The Princess Isabella, about the early years of Isabel of Castile, her dramatic and little-known struggle to win her throne; her forbidden marriage to Fernando of Aragon; and their controversial crusade to unite Spain. This will be the first new biographical novel on Isabella in over twenty years and relies on original research and conclusions to form a balanced approach to Isabella within the context of her time—presenting a flesh-and-blood woman of conflict and doubt, as well as resolution, rather than the stereotypical fanatic or saint. The Princess Isabella will be published in 2012 by Ballantine Books.
For St Martin’s Press, I’m editing the first book in a new series: The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles. The Tudor Secret will be released in 2011 and takes place during the final days of the reign of Edward VI, when a young squire named Brendan Prescott arrives at court to serve Robert Dudley and stumbles upon a conspiracy that threatens Princess Elizabeth. As he races against an unknown foe, he begins to unravel the secret of his own mysterious past—a deadly secret that changes everything he believes in and casts an inescapable shadow over him, Elizabeth, and the future of England itself. While this new series is set in the ever-popular Tudor era, it explores the unfamiliar underworld of espionage and the forbidden friendship between a spy and a queen.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thank you for inviting me. Bloggers have been so enthusiastic in their support of my work and I’m honored to be on virtual tour here.
Thanks for spending time with us today, C.W. I wish you continued success.