Friday, June 3, 2011

Author Interview with C.W. Gortner... and Giveaway!!!

As a part of the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour for The Confessions of Catherine de Medici (my review), I am once again thrilled to welcome C.W. Gortner here on Muse in the Fog! Bellow is my latest interview with this fantastic author and a chance for you to win a brand new copy of The Confessions of Catherine de Medici...

Thank you, C.W., for stopping by Muse in the Fog, your visits are always such a highlight!

What inspired you to give Catherine de Medici a voice?

I'd known about Catherine for many years; she was always a part of the history surrounding characters I loved, such as Elizabeth I and Mary of Scots. She was in fact Mary's mother-in-law and the popular story is that she hated Mary so much that the moment Mary's husband Francois II died, Catherine kicked her out of France and made her go back to Scotland. And there's that lurid black legend surrounding Catherine; she's the perennial evil widow, plotting mayhem and bloodshed. Of course, no one can be that one-dimensional and so I decided it would be interesting to see how she would fare if she had the chance to tell her side of the story. Originally, my idea was to write the point-of-view of a villainess. I wanted to do a book with an unreliable narrator. But as I started to research Catherine in depth, I found myself being continually surprised by how misleading her legend, and popular historical accounts of her, were. She never "kicked" Mary out of France; Mary wanted to leave and she continued to correspond with Catherine for years, asking for advice and detailing her trials, always on affectionate terms, until her own life imploded and she ended up captive in England. As for the black widow, well, yes, Catherine did wear black - but that's about the extent of her evil legend. On the contrary, she was both tolerant and humane, and devoted to safeguarding her dynasty and her realm from one of the most savage conflicts of the era. She has suffered tremendously from both xenophobic biographers and a dominant Anglo Saxon viewpoint of women in history, which pigeonholes these famous women into archetypes, i.e., Catherine as the crone; Elizabeth I as the virgin; and Mary of Scots as the martyr. The more I discovered of Catherine's life and circumstances, the more her complexity entranced me. Villainesses are fun to write, but never as much as a flesh-and-blood human being.

Catherine fought for France with such great passion and lived there the majority of her life, do you believe she had any Italian loyalties as time went on or did she completely embrace her new country?

Catherine always remained loyal to Italy and to those Italians who came to France seeking her patronage. Though I believe she knew in her heart there was nothing left for her in her homeland - her immediate family was dead and the Medici had lost most of their influence - she was always proud of being an Italian. Many of the servants who served her her entire life, such as Birago, who became chancellor of France, were Italian; her devoted ladies and intimates were Italians, too. It was one of the charges leveled against her during the struggles she faced in France; many accused her of being a treacherous Italian with no true loyalty to her adopted homeland, though nothing could be further from the truth. Catherine embraced France with all her heart but she never turned her back on her roots. However, the French court of her time was extremely prejudiced against her countrymen; while the arts and lands of Italy were coveted, Italians were considered born conspirators with a penchant for poison, untrustworthy and deviant. It is actually sad to realize that to this day, Catherine is rarely seen as a French queen; she remains an Italian who ruled in France and there are few monuments to her memory, though she fought for France for most of her life and was the mother of the last Valois. It's ironic, because she preserved the realm as best as she could for the man who turned out to be one of France's most beloved monarchs: Henri IV.

Can you give us a brief history of the power and influence the Medicis had?

The Medicis were one of Italy's premier noble families, who rose to power in Florence and became one of that city's governing forces. For most of history, Italy did not have a centralized government; each city instead had its own ruling faction, or families, with the papal states of Rome overseen by the Vatican. The Medici rose from relatively humble origins as physicians or apothecaries - hence, the palle of their emblem - to gain prominence under Cosimo de Medici when he founded their famous banking dynasty. Medici money financed the ventures of popes and kings; branches of the bank existed in London, Paris and Madrid, and for a time the Medici were the wealthiest family in Europe. Several Medici were named pope; the family also entered Florentine politics and became very powerful under Lorenzo Il Magnifico, Catherine's great grand-father, a devout humanist and patron of the arts under whose guidance some of the world's most famous artists thrived, such as Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci. By the time of Catherine's birth, the apogee of Medici power had diminished; several scion branches of the house were derived from illegitimate children, and Catherine was the last direct descendant of Il Magnifico's bloodline. However, the Medici influence in Florence persevered, even if it never reclaimed the heights it experienced in the Renaissance. Today, there are still Medicis in Italy and elsewhere who continue the family's exalted lineage.

Catherine spoke of Machiavelli towards the beginning of the book, what influence do you think his work had upon Catherine's opinions and actions? 

This very topic has been debated by most of her biographers; some believe she was very influenced by his writings, others less so. It's to be noted that her more recent biographers are in the latter camp. Machiavelli acted as the Florentine ambassador and was close to the Medici family; his most famous book The Prince was in fact dedicated to Catherine's father, written while he was in disgrace and seeking to regain his standing. It therefore stands to reason Catherine would have, at some point, become familiar with The Prince's precepts on how to be a successful ruler. However, the extent of this controversial book's influence on her cannot be ascertained. I believe she was familiar with it but I don't think she consulted it as her 'Bible', as her enemies claimed, nor did she employ its dictates as justification for murder. The very fact that Machiavelli dedicated the book to her family became a weapon leveled against her; the book's passages were often quoted out of context by detractors to prove her immorality. Legends sprang up that she had given copies of the book to each of her children and ordered them to memorize it; that she believed Machiavelli had developed the only proven stratagem to overcome one's opponents. But all this calumny came after the Massacre of St Bartholomew, when anything and everything was being thrown at her by her foes. A woman who'd allowed or instigated the slaughter of so many must be evil; thus did the word Machiavellian become associated with deviousness, and his work, which was more reflective of Renaissance policies in general than anything Catherine did in particular, became a byword for treachery.

Each time you've written a novel, has there been something you've learned about the writing process? If so, please share what writing The Confessions of Catherine de Medici taught you.

More than any other novel I've worked on, this one taught me to never rely on any given account. History, by its very nature, is written by the victors. Rarely do we hear the side of those who lost. Women are also obscured by stereotypes and it can be quite challenging to peel back the patina of hundreds of years of misogyny and legend to find the actual person underneath. Catherine is the perfect example of both of these lessons: because she ultimately lost her fight to preserve her dynasty and France was claimed by a king she'd alternately befriended or seen as a foe, her reputation has suffered as a consequence. Years after her death and his accession, Henri IV himself defended her when he overheard someone criticize her, but the legend only continued to grow. It was far easier to cast Catherine in the role of the unloved, cruel, and calculating queen-mother, than see her as she was: a person, with flaws and strengths, and her own way of seeing the world. From her perspective, the nobility's rapacious ambition and the Protestant rebellion threatened her children and the stability of their throne. She fought because she had to. I learned as I wrote about her that in order to be true to the character I seek to portray, I must step into her shoes. Only then can I hope to be true to who she was. It doesn't matter if I agree or not with how she behaved or what she thought, because it's not about me. It's about her.

What might your readers enjoy from you next?

My next stand-alone historical will be published in 2012 by Ballantine Books and is titled I, ISABELLA OF CASTILE. Set in fifteenth century Spain, it’s about Isabella's dramatic, little-known 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 the saintly Catholic queen who defeated the infidels and financed the expedition by Columbus that discovered the New World. As with every story, there is of course another untold side to hers. She’s a fascinating woman, complex and dynamic. I’ve had a wonderful time discovering her and hope readers will, too.

I'm currently writing the next book in my Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles, the first of which was The Tudor Secret. Set during the Tudor era, the 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 menaces Princess Elizabeth. This second book brings Brendan back to court during Mary I's reign; hired by the Imperial ambassador to find evidence against Elizabeth, Brendan embarks on a dangerous double quest to thwart the ambassador and save Elizabeth, even as the secrets of his own past threaten to destroy him. 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, and I'm loving the freedom of entwining purely fictional events and characters with factual ones.

Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog, Svea. It's always a pleasure to visit and I hope you readers enjoy my work. To find out more, please visit me at:



Publish Date: May 24th 2011
Format: Paperback 432pp

Synopsis: (From the Publisher):
"The truth is, not one of us is innocent. We all have sins to confess. So reveals Catherine de Medici, the last legitimate descendant of her family’s illustrious line. Expelled from her native Florence, Catherine is betrothed to Henri, son of François I of France. In an unfamiliar realm, Catherine strives to create a role for herself through her patronage of the famous clairvoyant Nostradamus and her own innate gift as a seer. But in her fortieth year, Catherine is widowed, left alone with six young children in a kingdom torn apart by the ambitions of a treacherous nobility. Relying on her tenacity, wit, and uncanny gift for compromise, Catherine seizes power, intent on securing the throne for her sons, unaware that if she is to save France, she may have to sacrifice her ideals, her reputation, and the secret of her embattled heart."

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