C. W. Gortner, half-Spanish by birth, 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.
His new novel is The Queen’s Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile.
From his Q & A with Sarah Bower at the Historical Novel Society website:
SB: You are known as a writer with a deep and sympathetic interest in Renaissance women. What draws you to the particular women you’ve chosen to write about? How do you – an American man – set about empathising with these women?Visit C. W. Gortner's website.
CWG: I’m attracted invariably to dark horses in history, people with controversial legends. It’s not just women; there are several men I find fascinating, as well. But of the women I have written, controversy is their initial attraction. Juana of Castile is known as la Loca, or the Mad—now, how’s that for a sobriquet? And of course my first question is: Why? Why did they call her that? What did she do? What happened to her? Same with Catherine de Medici: she’s the reptilian queen-mother, orchestrator of massacres and all kinds of sordid goings-on. She’s even called a monster. Why? People are not born monsters. Something happens to them, or several somethings, that change them. I’m fascinated by it; I love searching for those elusive secrets in the crevices of history.
As to how I empathise with them, it’s probably a combination of elements. I was raised in Spain and most of my childhood was spent among strong women—my mother, grandmother, aunts—so I absorbed their language, the ways they communicated. More broadly, our emotions are not bound by our gender: how we communicate our emotions is. Remove the societal constrictions on what men and women can do, or more importantly, what they should not do, and it’s simpler than we imagine. I realize this isn’t as straight-forward as it sounds; empathy is one of the most challenging emotions in the human repertoire because it requires us to step outside our own selves and literally “feel” someone else’s experience. Actors train for years to develop their empathic selves, so they can fully inhabit characters, even those whose very psychology is alien to them. As writers, we must do the same. In discovering why our chosen characters behave as they do, we get inside their skin and view them through their eyes. If done right, you can become either gender, even another species. Otherwise, we...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: The Last Queen.
The Page 69 Test: The Queen's Vow.