I am happy to announce that the talented C.W. Gortner has graciously agreed to answer some questions about his wonderful novel The Last Queen, which you can read my review for here. Thank you Mr. Gortner for taking the time to honor the Muse in the Fog blog with your presence.
What was the most exciting/touching thing you found while researching?
I found it exciting to discover that Juana of Castile was so well traveled for a woman of her era. In the 16th century, most people lived and died without ever setting foot outside their country; even royalty did not travel if it could was not absolutely necessary. Elizabeth I, for example, never set foot outside of England. Juana, on the other hand, traveled to Flanders, France, and England; she crossed the Pyrenees to Spain (on mule!) and sailed on the sea to England (though this was unintentional, as a storm blew the fleet of course.) She therefore saw a much larger part of her world than most of her contemporaries.
How did your opinion of Juana change throughout the course of these 6 years?
I started out with the legend of the mad queen, bereft and unable to deal with her grief; as I researched Juana's life, however, I discovered that she was far more than her legend. Few people, for example, stopped to consider that she was a mother with several children, from whom she was separated for long stretches of time, or that she was the sister of Catherine of Aragon, whom she tried to help during Catherine's time of penury in England. I also had never heard before of Juana's bold defiance of the French king and her valiant struggle to preserve the inheritance left to her by her mother, Queen Isabella. Over time, she evolved for me from a dark and bewildered character to one of immense fortitude and perseverance, as well as personal integrity even when faced with heart-breaking situations. In short, I went from pitying her to admiration.
Portrait of Joanna
done in Flanders, ca 1500
My goal was to allow her to tell her side of the story; after everything I read, all the letters and biographies and essays, few of which seemed to have much sympathy for Juana, I thought it would be interesting to hear her version. All stories have two sides, as we know, and history is no different. History is often written by the victors, not the vanquished, and women's history in particular has been distorted by the male point of view. Juana has always been neglected by Western history, portrayed as either the helpless pawn or demented victim. My challenge was to "allow" Juana to speak through me. So I used an actor's method: by suppressing the ego, you find the essence of someone else’s emotions, even if you’ve never experienced them. There were of course aspects of being a sixteenth century woman I needed to learn about, so I spoke with my women friends about pregnancy and giving birth; tried on a period gown to get a feeling for the weight of the clothing and how to move in it; and of course paid close attention to the psychology of life in an era vastly different from ours. In the end, I do feel I accomplished what I set out to do; I hope readers feel the same.
Did you have any strong emotions towards some of the characters while writing the novel? e.g. Phillip when he becomes cruel, Juana when she is trapped at La Mota etc.
Yes, of course. I tend to feel strongly for all my characters; as a novelist, you spend a lot of time living with these people in your head and you develop attachments to them, grow to love them as you do friends. I know men like Philip; he was desperate to prove his worthiness, to become something other than a petty prince who owed everything to his father, but I did not like his cruelty, his ambition or his arrogance in the least, and writing the scenes where Juana undergoes his abuse were not easy. But they were important to understand the dynamic between him and Juana, to see her growing hatred for him and her determination to thwart him. It was quite an experience, to realize that this woman who was allegedly driven to madness for love of a faithless husband was in fact a queen hell bent on keeping her throne from him.
Any advise/suggestions for aspiring authors about writing?
Write what you most deeply care about and pay as little attention as possible to market trends. A book takes time, patience; the real writing is often in the re-writing. You cannot write something you don't feel passionate about, because you have to live with your story day in and day out, and resist boredom and distraction when you hit those inevitable rough patches. Writing is a vocation. It requires practice and focus, as well as sacrifice. Persistence is everything. It’s not just talent that is required to succeed in today’s extremely competitive publishing environment: you need tenacity and an unshakable belief in your own work.
Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog, Svea. I'm honored to spend this time with your readers and hope they'll enjoy The Last Queen, as well as my forthcoming novel The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, which will be in bookstores on May 25, 2010. To learn more about me and my work, please visit me at www.cwgortner.com