Monday, October 19, 2009

CW Gortner Interview


The wonder C.W. Gortner, author of The Last Queen, based on Juana of Castile, was kind enough to conduct an interview with me where I was able to ask him some questions about his The Last Queen as well as his future book based on Catherine Medici. I was honored that the talented Gortner was kind enough to take the time to converse with me and take the time to answers my many questions. If you have not read The Last Queen I highly recommend it. You can find my review here

1) Why do you think Juana was betrayed by those she trusted, who let the world think she was mad?

I think Juana was betrayed for the same reasons so many women of the time were: misogyny and power. Her husband Philip wanted her throne so badly, he longed to prove himself so desperately, he just got caught up in his own ambition to such an extent he ceased to see Juana as a human being. Women in particular in those days were still regarded as subservient to men, and though women had ruled countries and would continue to do so very successfully, it still was enough of a rarity for men to challenge it. We must remember that virulent anti-women tracts such as John Knox's, which he published in the 16th century against Mary of Scots and Elizabeth I, reflected a prevailing sentiment; a woman's place was to bear her husband children and care for his hall, not sitting on the throne. It's barbaric but it's one of the distasteful and unavoidable aspects of the era, and Juana was victimized by it as were thousands of other women. Calling a woman mad because she challenged a man's right was, unfortunately, something all too easy to use.


2) How do you think Isabella her mother would have reacted if she had know what was done to her daughter?

I would hope she'd have been horrified. Though Isabella herself did some very questionable things in her lifetime, she believed absolutely in the right of the monarchy and she would have wanted her daughter to rule. Isabella bequeathed her throne to Juana in her will, with the stipulation that if Juana proved unable or unwilling to be queen, a regency would be set up until Juana's son Charles came of age. It is very unfortunate that while on her deathbed, Isabella was so divided by the rumors she'd heard of Juana's alleged instability; it probably tormented her, as she was unsure as to what would happen to Spain once she was gone. But I do not believe Isabella thought her daughter was mad or incapable of ruling: I think she tried to prepare Spain for every possible scenario, in case something happened to Juana.


3) What did you discover about Juana during your research that didn't make it to the book?

Like her mother, Juana was deeply religious. Her faith was strong and it sustained her; unfortunately, during the editing process this aspect of her personality was deleted, to better emphasize her own internal strength and courage. She also had a passionate love of music and always kept a company of hired musicians in her employ.


4) Do you think Philip loved Juana or the titles and lands she brought into their marriage? If he did love her what caused him to treat her so monstrously after such a short time of marriage?


I think Philip was incapable of truly loving anyone. He had such a dysfunctional childhood, with his mother dying while he was a baby and his father being so aloof and physically distant. He was raised by servants and governors, taught to be a Habsburg prince first, before all else. Emotional maturity was secondary, if it was ever considered at all. Power, wealth, and titles: these are what mattered. I think his sense of self was warped by everything expected of him. I believe he probably cared for Juana at first, as much as he could, but when things became difficult he lashed out because he was frustrated by his own inadequacies. While Juana had a truly honest heart, Philip did not. He was horrifying to her, but I do try to understand all of my characters, good and bad, to get a sense of where they come from and what makes them who they are.

5) How do you think Juana would have fared as Queen?

Interesting question. I like to think, with the right Council and advisors at her side, that she would have done well. It's not inconceivable that she could have ruled, but she was under so much pressure from her opponents, had been physically and emotionally abused to such an extent, it's difficult to judge 500 years later how she might have fared. However, judging by how she stood up to everything and never backed down, and looking at her longevity, even while imprisoned, she was undoubtedly a very strong woman, who may well have made a strong queen.

6) I read somewhere that Juana was so in love with Philip that she became mad with her obsessions and this why she is called Juana the Mad. Where do you think this idea came from?

It's part of her legend, the traditional explanation, and an excuse that her opponents used, I think, for why she had to be locked up. I don't believe it; I believe Juana did fall in love with him, yes, but she also did not react to his infidelities in the way she was expected to, and this sowed the legend. In Juana's era, it was expected that a prince would be unfaithful to his wife; she was supposed to deal with it and not make a fuss, much as Catherine of Aragon did with her husband Henry VIII's numerous infidelities, at least until Anne Boleyn came along! But Juana did not act conventionally. On the contrary, she took strong offense to Philip's deceit and even publicly confronted his mistress. To many of those around her, her behavior looked neurotic, almost obsessive. To us today, her reactions seem justifiable, but this is how legends start, with a kernel of fact. Later, when Juana was accused of being mad, her previous reactions to her husband's philandering dovetailed rather neatly into the entire scenario that she'd gone "mad of love" for Philip.


7) And of course I must know more about your next book. I read that you found Catherine to be one of the most fascinating woman in history. What drew you to her story?

Catherine at first for the same reasons that I was drawn to Juana; Catherine de Medici is maligned by history, and I’m always attracted to dark historical legends. I figure, if the person had a strong enough personality to garner a legend, then the truth has to be even more spectacular. And as in Juana’s case, Catherine de Medici’s legend – while certainly lurid, even heinous—doesn’t begin to do justice to her incredible strength and complexity. Catherine rose from obscurity as a neglected queen-consort to dominate France during one of the 16th century’s most savage religious conflicts; she was mother-in-law to Mary, Queen of Scots, and mother of the last Valois kings; she ruled at the same time as Elizabeth I, who seriously considered marrying one of Catherine’s own sons. She led an intensely dramatic, tumultuous life; she made many mistakes, one of them so violent and bloody it blackened her name forever; but she also showed remarkable tolerance in an age infamous for its bigotry, and her fight to save France from destruction forestalled the fall of the French monarchy for 200 years, until the Revolution. I like to say that just as Juana is far more than the stereotypical passionate woman who went mad out of love, Catherine is much more than the clich├ęd evil queen, with her poisons and hidden daggers. I hope readers will find her as fascinating as I have, for she has become one of my favorite historical characters.

8) Also what are you going to work on next after Catherine?

Hopefully, I am returning to Spain. I recently submitted the proposal and sample chapters of my new novel to my editor, so I've got my fingers crossed!


Jasmine, thank you so much for your generosity and for taking this time with me. I hope your readers enjoy THE LAST QUEEN. Readers can always visit me at http://www.cwgortner.com to learn more about my work and upcoming books, as well as special offers such as a virtual tour of Juana’s world.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Booking Through Thursday

I was wanting to try a certain author and wished I knew someone who had read her works so I could get a recommendation when it occurred to me that having a “YOU ask the question” Booking Through Thursday might be fun. Each participant could ask a question they’ve wanted to discuss with other readers. Perhaps, like me, you’d like a recommendation of a certain author’s best work, or perhaps you LOVE a certain genre or series but no one else you know does and you’d just like to discuss it with someone. Or perhaps you want to try a new genre and would like recommendations from seasoned readers.

I'm not sure what to make of this question so I thought I would just talk about a few books I loved . I would love to discuss both of them but have yet to find many poeple who have read them.

The first book I love is Courtesan by Diane Haeger. I know I have posted about it in the past but not many people know of this book or the characters in the story, Diane de Poiters and King Henri the II of France. Haeger herself has said that when she discovered this fascinating love story between Henri and Diane it prompted her to want to write a book about them letting others know about one of France's most poignant and beautiful love story. The writing in Courtesan is wonderfully fluid but truly the magnificence is the tender and real love between Henri and Diane. I simply could not put the book down and loved every lovely moment I was in their world. It inspired me so much that for the first time after reading a historicla fiction book I went looking for other books about these two amazing people. I read the non-fiction book The Serpant and the Moon writen by a descendant of Diane's and still look for glimpses of them in other books. While i doubt Ill ever find anything as wonderful as Courtesan I can't stop craving and yearning to find more about this real life Romeo and Juliet. I do not like travel much but if I ever find myself in France one day my only wish is to visit Chateau de Chenonceau and stand in the same place these two once did.

The other book I loved and wish to discuss with others is Queen of Camelot by Nancy McKenzie. Queen of Camelot was the first book I ever read dealing with Arthurian times and it has left an indelible mark on how I see these characters. Queen of Camelot is Arthur's story told through the eyes of Guinevere. The book chronicles her life as she grows up in the Northern part of Wales. By the time she is in her teens the name Arthur has spread through all of Britain as a magnificent fighter and keepr of the peace in Britain. Through a series of events she is chosen to be his bride and she journeys to a fledgling Camelot and meets the man behind the legend. All of the characters associated with Arthur's legends are there: Lancelot, Merlin, the round table knights, etc. McKenzie weaves an enchanting story showing us the love that can be had both romantically as well as the mark of brotherhood and loyalty. Without spoiling the book too much I have to say that Lancelot, Arthur, and Guinevere are beautifully written and their relationship so multi faceted its hard not to fall in love with them all.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Last Queen



I read The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner this summer while I was on vacation. I had been introduced to the world of book blogging at that time and had wonderful things about this book all over the book blog world and just had to have it for my cruise. I brought it and one other book with me but admit that I spent every minute of my vacation (well every minute my husband would let me) reading this book. I was intrigued at the character of Juana who previously the only information I had about her was that she was mad and crazy over her husband Philip the Fair. I was delighted to learn that Juana was part of the powerful family of Isabel and Ferdinand (the very same who funded Columbus) as well as the older sister of the wronged Queen Katherine of Aragon. As soon as I started reading I was swept into Gortner's Spain. I was especially taken in with the description of the Moorish city Alhambra where Juana spent much of her youth. I enjoyed a glimpse Juana's childhood, especially her relationship with her sisters, as she developed from a strong willed girl to a determined and dogged woman.

Before reading Gortner's book I simply knew Juana as what history has painted her, mad. As I read The Last Queen and saw the circumstances and position that Juana was put in time and time again, by those closets to her and the ones who she trusted the most only to be betrayed and hurt by, it made her seem human. I feel like anyone put in her position time and time again the way she was would break and act out against those who hurt them. Many times when we read historical fiction we fail to realize that these people and events really happened. That life in courts at the time were filled with manipulation, betrayal, political maneuvering, and at times even death. To live among this day and in and day out sometimes without any knowledge of who to turn to or what the next day might unfold can be very frightening and overwhelming. In Juana's case as a woman surrounded by men who take advantage of her position it is not hard to see why her passions and indignation at her treatment would cause her to act out in a way that protocol at the time would dictate as crazy.
Gortner's ability to transform situations and take these real events and show us the workings behind them that cause Juana to act out is the beauty of this book and of her story. Combined with masterful storytelling and historical facts Gortner's Last Queen is a book I simply couldn't put down, at times to the dismay of my husband. I felt when i was finished reading that I understood Juana more as well as learned a great deal about Spanish history which I did not know before. One of the most amazing things I also discovered about this book was that the author C.W. Gortner is a man! I never thought a man would be able to convey a story through a woman's eyes and understand a woman's needs, fears, hopes, etc, as well as Gortner made Juana's.

And whats even more wonderful is that Gortner will be releasing a new book next year about Catherine Medici a woman that history has tainted so black as to call her Serpent Queen. I myself have a biased view on her being that I read a book about her husband and mistress that captivated me to no end. Still I feel that if anyone can change the way people view a character Gortner would be that author. In the same way he showed us that madness is not always what it seems I feel he can turn our views on the queen known to be the mastermind behind The Bartholomew Massacre. Needless to say i am dying to read his next book as well as anything else he might put out.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Updates

I have been MIA for a bit and the reason is I'm pregnant! I found out last week and its been consuming a lot of time and thoughts if you can imagine. Its our first so there will probably be a lot of baby books being read in the near future heehee. Anyways I am currently reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel and have a huge backlog of TBR books especially since I was gifted quite a few more of for my birthday. I will be reviewing a few books hopefully this weekend and next week starting with The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner which I read this summer. I have been in contact with C. Gortner as I anxiously await his new book about Catherine coming out next year. Anyways thats whats been going on with me and I hope to be back reading and blogging real soon.