Interview with Historical Novelist C.W. Gortner, Author of The Confessions of Catherine de Medici (Giveaway
Today, we welcome back C.W. Gortner. Last May, Christopher was our guest when we reviewed his historical novel, The Last Queen, and interviewed him. You can find those posts here and here.
Christopher is back with a new historical release, a new queen, and another moving story to tell. We’re going to talk with Christopher about his new book, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici: A Novel, the inspiration behind it, and we’ll touch upon his new series, the first book of which, is due to be released in January 2011.
Welcome back to The Book Connection, Christopher. It is wonderful to have the chance to catch up with you. Can you please take a short moment to refresh our readers’ memories about you and your work?
I write historical fiction about women of power in the Renaissance. My first book The Last Queen is about Juana of Castile, known as Juana la Loca; she was a 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 now live in California with my partner and our corgi, Paris.
You’ve now written two books about controversial women in history. What is your fascination with these women and why do you choose to share their stories in a fictional setting?
Popular history is often one-sided when it comes to women, particularly women who challenged the prevailing male-dominated system. What we hear about these complex ladies are clichés: Elizabeth I is the Virgin; Anne Boleyn is the Whore; Catherine de Medici is the Crone; Jane Grey is the Victim. These types of monikers do not even begin to do justice to the incredible depth of these women’s lives, which is why I think we are seeing a current fascination with historical women. They had glamorous, tumultuous, and sometimes tragic destinies; they are, in many ways, our celebrities of the past; but they also lived in a time of more danger, when life was not as valued. I write historical fiction because for me, it offers an ideal medium for bringing these long-gone women into the present. 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.
What does popular history have to say about Catherine de Medici?
Popular history has been especially unkind to Catherine. Though I’d known about her for years, I soon discovered during my research how little I really knew her. Few queens are as notorious as this woman who ruled France in the 16th century, renowned for her ruthlessness and mastery of poison; Catherine de Medici has been accused of heinous crimes, including the massacre of 6,000 people in Paris. She lurks in the shadows of history as the perennial black widow, weaving intrigue in her Louvre apartments.
Why did you decide her story had to be told?
Because when someone lives such an eventful life, there’s always more to her story than history tells us. Catherine de Medici was a person, before she became a figure of lurid speculation. She had dreams and aspirations; hopes and disillusions, yet unlike her contemporaries Elizabeth I, who commands our respect with her splendor; or Mary, Queen of Scots, who elicits sympathy with her martyrdom, history has not been compassionate to Catherine. I wanted to depict the flesh-and-blood Catherine de Medici which history has forgotten: the teenage heiress sent to France to marry a prince she did not love; the wife who endured years of neglect in the shadow of her husband’s mistress; the regent fighting for a realm torn by conflict; the mother with children to protect; and the woman whose alliance with an enigmatic leader plunges her into a tortured maze of passion, betrayal, and murder.
You spend a great deal of time researching for your books: six years for The Last Queen and three years for The Confessions of Catherine de Medici. Having read The Last Queen, I can tell you one of the things that captured me right away was your attention to detail. But how much is too much? How do you decide between what to include and what is better left out?
It’s always a tough call. I usually make those decisions after I finish the first draft and have begun the process of polishing and revising. For me, the ‘real’ writing happens after I’ve written the last word of that first draft. At that point, I have the entire story before me—rough and messy, yes, but there. I can now start to work on honing it and that’s where the details come into play. I think you want enough to immerse the reader in this new world; you want them to smell, see, and touch the physicality of the places where your characters live but you don’t want it to become a recitation of everything you found out while researching. I learn far more in my research than I ever show on the page; details should heighten a reader’s experience, not deluge them in long paragraphs of description that go nowhere and serve only to display how much the writer knows.
Like Juana from The Last Queen, Catherine de Medici was not raised to be a queen. How do think this impacts how she ruled and the stories that have been passed down about her through the years?
Absolutely, it had an impact. No one expected Elizabeth I to rule, either, but she was in the line of succession and educated accordingly. But Catherine was expected to just be the wife of the king’s second son, the pawn in an alliance with the papal Medici, a broodmare for the Valois. That she was suddenly thrust into this position of power challenged everything she’d known; she had to re-invent herself, acquire a whole new set of skills. In many aspects, she did astonishingly well. She kept a crumbling country afloat during years of chaos that might have destroyed a less-skilled ruler. But she made mistakes, serious mistakes—and these, more than her triumphs, have defined her in popular history. She’s not the queen who saved France during one of the most savage religious conflicts of the 16th century, who kept Spain at bay and protected the throne, but rather the Machiavellian monster, who masterminded a massacre.
While I didn’t mention this in the introduction, you’re also working on a new historical novel about another queen. Would you like to share a bit about this project?
I’m currently writing a novel called THE PRINCESS ISABELLA. It’s about the early years of Isabel of Castile, her dramatic and little-known youthful struggle to win her throne; her forbidden marriage to Fernando of Aragon; and her controversial crusade to unite Spain. Isabella has also suffered from the one-sided clichés of popular history; to some, she’s a fanatic who let the Inquisition loose on the world and destroyed centuries of enlightenment in Spain; to others, she’s quite literally a candidate for sainthood, the Catholic queen who defeated the infidels and financed the expedition by Columbus that discovered the New World. As with every story, there are of course more sides to hers. She’s a fascinating woman, more complex and dynamic than even I had imagined. I’m having a wonderful time re-discovering her and hope readers will, too.
Can you tell us about your new series, The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles?
Set during the Tudor era, the Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles feature a young man named Brendan Prescott who becomes a spy for Elizabeth I. The first novel, The Tudor Secret, is set during the final days of the reign of Edward VI, when Brendan arrives at court as a squire and stumbles upon a conspiracy that threatens Princess Elizabeth. As he races against an unknown foe to save her, 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 very popular Tudor era, it explores the unfamiliar underworld of espionage and the bond of forbidden friendship between a spy and a queen.
Does this new series have any tie-ins to your previous books?
It’s set in the 16th century, which is where I’ve so far focused my other novels, but otherwise it is a stand-alone series. While I’ve not specifically written about the Tudors before, Henry VII did appear in The Last Queen and Elizabeth was a contemporary of Catherine de Medici’s.
Where can readers purchase The Confessions of Catherine de Medici?
As of May 25, in bookstores everywhere, as well as online. Whenever possible, I encourage readers to purchase my books via IndieBound.
I know you have a website and a blog. Can you share those links with our readers?
Based upon the sheer number of requests I had from reviewers for this book, I'm thinking everyone would appreciate a chance to win a copy. I usually run giveaways until the end of the month, but since we are leaving on vacation for two weeks at the beginning of July, I am going to cut this giveaway a bit short. The deadline to enter is going to be 11:59 PM Eastern on June 25th. I'll select a winner on June 28th.
Here are the rules:
1) Mandatory: You must be a follower of this blog to be eligible to win. Leave a comment letting us know you're a follower. Comment must include a working email address so that we can contact you if you win. If there is no email address included, the entry won't count.
2) Get three additional entries for blogging about this contest. Leave a comment (with link) here telling us where you blogged about it.
3) Get two additional entries for tweeting about this contest. Don't forget to let us know here that you tweeted and leave us a link.*
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5) Get two additional entries for following Book Tours and More and leaving a comment on any post. Leave a comment here letting us know which post from Book Tours and More you commented on.
As mentioned above, the deadline to enter is 11:59 PM Eastern on June 25th. This contest is open to residents of the United States and Canada only.
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