Please welcome C.W. Gortner who graciously agreed to answer a few questions regarding THE QUEEN'S VOW: A Novel of Isabella of Castile, which releases TODAY!!
For your newest novel, The Queen's Vow, what is the biggest message about Isabella that you are trying to convey?
As with my previous novels, my original intent was to uncover the flesh-and-blood woman behind the legend. Isabella of Castile is most often known as the queen who sent Columbus to America and the fanatic who unleashed the Inquisition. But few of us know the tumultuous, fascinating story of her rise to the throne or understand the complex choices she had to make as a woman in power in a time when women rarely ruled. So, for THE QUEEN’S VOW, I decided to explore how Isabella became the woman and queen we think we know. My biggest message is that, like all of us, she was first and foremost a human being. She had both extraordinary qualities and terrible ones; she was an exceptional woman and a fallible one, molded by her particular circumstances and the era in which she lived. Perhaps more so than any of my other characters, Isabella’s contradictions ultimately define her.
Is there something you came across in your research for this novel that took you by surprise? Interesting facts about the characters?
I was very surprised to discover how passionate Isabella was. When we think of her, we get this mental picture of a staid, unyielding queen; certainly, the trajectory of her later years, which I cover in my first novel about her daughter, The Last Queen, shows a woman dedicated to protecting Spain and stoic in her faith and personal tragedies. However, the young Isabella sparked a civil war in her determination to marry Fernando of Aragón! I also had had no idea she was so forward-thinking in terms of women’s education. Isabella was born into a Spain fragmented by discord; bitter antagonism and private feuds had sowed near-total disorder. Even the most noble men were barely literate, and women scarcely at all. Isabella herself had no formal education, save for basics. Comparing her schooling, as it were, with that of Elizabeth Tudor, born eighty-two years later, offers startling contrast. Here we have two of history’s most famous queens, each of whom became a symbolic personification of her particular land, yet while Elizabeth enjoyed an impressive training that prepared her, even if accidentally, to rule, Isabella had none. She lamented her lack of education and in her early thirties, dedicated herself to mastering Latin. She also championed a decree that facilitated women’s entry into universities. She was the first queen of her country to allow women to earn degrees and become professors; she also brought the first printing presses to Castile, thereby sowing the seed of Spain’s golden era of letters in the 17th century.
What was the hardest scene to write?
Definitely, the scenes related to the Inquisition. I write about people who lived in the past and thus I strive to stay true to their way of viewing the world, but I rarely share their beliefs. Religious intolerance, cruelty to animals, any kind of human-phobia: these are hot-button topics for me, and yet the 16th century is defined as much by its injustice as its glamour. You can’t really write about a Renaissance person without touching on these unsavory traits, and it was challenging for me personally to get into Isabella’s skin and see the world as she did, when she was contemplating these deeds. But, part of being a writer is being able to disappear into your character, so I had to find that dark place inside me that we all have, though few of us admit it—that cellar in our minds, where anything different from what we find familiar frightens us and can lead us to condemn it. Hell and Heaven were not abstract concepts to the 16th century mind: most people genuinely believed in a retributive God and an afterlife of glory or eternal damnation, dependent on what, and who, you were in life. Saving your soul was therefore paramount to a woman of Isabella’s deep convictions.
Was there a scene that your editors made you cut that you wish could have stayed?
No, not really. I mean, there are always those scenes that we are fond of that our editors don’t particularly love and therefore must be sacrificed, but in the end editing is part of creating a final product that is accessible to readers. With my other books, yes, there were scenes I’d have loved to retain but with this novel, very little was actually cut. It came together in unexpected ways but never overflowed the perimeters that I had defined for it. It was orderly, much like Isabella herself.
Your historical novels have featured strong female figures. Is there a male monarch who's story you would consider writing someday?
Absolutely, but the market is defined by readers and publishers, and so far, male lead characters have not proven as successful within the area that I’m currently writing in. With my Tudor spy series, I’m very fortunate to have a male lead and it makes for an exciting change for me as a writer. And of course, there are several kings I’d love to write about; perhaps, I’ll be able to one day. Certainly, I am always exploring ways to tell different stories that will appeal to my readers and my publishers.
Tell us about what you’re working on now. What is the time-table for your Spymaster Chronicles books?
The second book in the Spymaster Chronicles is titled The Tudor Conspiracy. It is finished and currently with my US and UK editors. Publication will be in 2013; I know these things always take longer than we like, but books have to be edited and covers designed; the text has to be set, and then there’s the daunting process of scheduling and marketing. However, I think the wait will be worth it: Brendan’s next adventure is a dark quest set in the winter of Bloody Mary’s reign, shortly before the Wyatt Revolt.
Now, I’m writing my next historical novel about Lucrezia Borgia, tracing her so-called Vatican years, from her youth as the illegitimate child of an ambitious Spanish churchman to her thrust into notoriety as the pope’s daughter and savage struggle to define herself as a woman even as she battles her family’s lethal ambitions and her own dark heart. Lucrezia is my first ‘non-queen’, so to speak, though it could be argued she was regarded as royalty in her era. Once again, I’ve found myself drawn to a woman who has been vilified by history. I am enthralled by Lucrezia and her world, as I hope you will be.
Thank you so much for having me. I sincerely hope readers enjoy THE QUEEN’S VOW. I’m always available to chat with book groups via Skype or speaker phone; to learn more about me and my work, please visit me at: www.cwgortner.com
Also, join us at HF-Connection where we will have a Read-Along of this novel, begining July 7, 2012. See the announcement here.