Author Interview with C.W. Gortner, author of The Last Queen

Passages to the Past is so very honored to bring you C.W. Gortner, author of The Last Queen!

If given the chance, what kind of Queen do you think Juana would have made?

Honestly, it’s impossible to know. If she was like the woman I depicted in my novel, then with loyal advisors and support, she probably could have ruled well. She certainly had a precedent in her mother and judging from the evidence she was intelligent and educated enough to assume the throne; she was also kind and loyal. So much distortion accompanies her legend it’s quite difficult at moments to separate fact from fiction. But I like to think that she would have been a good queen.

Why was Philip’s coffin not interred in all that time?

Juana probably intended to convey the coffin to its interment all along, as Philip had specified in his will that he wanted to be entombed in Granada. But in the chaos of her imprisonment his coffin ended up just being brought along with her other belongings and set aside in the castle chapel, where it’s said Juana often went to sit with it. Following her death, she and Philip were entombed in the Cathedral of Granada, beside Isabel and Ferdinand’s sepulcher.

What was life like for Juana during her 46 year imprisonment? Was she allowed to see her children, have her ladies with her?

She had a dignified, if not overly opulent, household, with ladies and servants, and her youngest daughter Catalina lived with her for years. At first, it was a benign captivity, as far as such things go. She wasn’t allowed to leave the castle precincts, and I would think life eventually became quite monotonous and stifling. A series of custodians left records of her daily life; there’s significant evidence that later on, after the Spanish people’s revolt against her son Charles V, during which she was briefly released, her captivity was more strictly enforced. But it was the removal of her daughter at her son’s command (Catalina was sent to Portugal to wed) that truly shattered Juana. From then on, she began to display the erratic behavior that cemented her myth as the mad queen. I do not cover her years of imprisonment in the novel mainly because it was a truly heartbreaking end for such a bold and courageous woman.

While reading The Last Queen, I was fascinated by Juana’s mother, Queen Isabel, she was such a strong and complex character. Have you ever considered writing her story?

Absolutely! In fact, I have a synopsis of a novel about her ready to go, as well as a few opening chapters. But I like to wander, too, and I’m currently caught up in a different era. Still, after telling Juana’s story, it’s inevitable that I must tell Isabel’s. She influenced Juana greatly and is another historical woman obscured by her own legend.

I became a fan of HF about 5 years ago and has since witnessed the increased popularity of the genre. What do you think draws readers to this genre and why are you drawn?

Like everything else, I think it’s both cyclical and a sign of the times, as well as a testament to its undeniable power to immerse us into the past. When I was growing up in the late 1960s and 1970s, historical fiction became very popular, fueled by the success of the BBC series “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” and “Elizabeth R.” I got hooked on historical fiction for life during this time. It’s very interesting to gauge what was going on in the world at the same time: like now, there was war, civil unrest, a lot of doubt about we’re headed as a culture. We often look to the past not only for comfort in what we mistakenly see as a simpler time, but also to seek answers to our current situation. Historical fiction is a time-honored genre: it’s been around for a long time. Dumas wrote historical fiction; his novels “Queen Margot” and “The Three Musketeers” were immensely popular and serialized in the newspapers of his time. Later on, such classic authors as Daphne Du Maurier also wrote historical fiction masterpieces, like “The Glassblowers” and “Frenchman’s Creek.” The truth is though the literary establishment tends to marginalize the genre and minimize its contributions, historical fiction has a venerable tradition and has endured much longer than most other forms of fiction.

I read on your website that you’ve taught university classes on Women of Power in the Renaissance. Other than Juana and Catherine de Medici, what other woman do you think you would like to write about?

There are so many! Isabel of Castile is definitely high on my list of women I’d like to write about. I’m also very interested in the ancient world, the early Renaissance, as well as medieval Spain. I’m currently researching a very exciting and dramatic story about a marvelous figure in ancient history but unfortunately I can’t say more until I’ve sold it! Suffice to say, I’m fascinated with the ways in which women have been mythologized and distorted by historical record, and my ideas usually stem from the desire to explore a different side to their stories.

What are you reading at the moment?

I'm reading a series of books on the Italian Renaissance for research on my next novel. Among them are Christopher Hibbert's The Borgias and their Enemies; Renaissance Rome: Portrait of a Society and The Life of Lorenzo de Medici.

For my own entertainment, I'm currently reading Vanora Bennett's excellent Figures in Silk.

Who are your top five authors?

Oh, that's a tough one for me; I like so many, too many to pick! If I had to, my favorites among the classic writers are: Daphne DuMaurier, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Nikos Kazantakis, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Book that changed your life?

Report to Greco by Nikos Kazantakis. His youth's quest to discover his spirituality, coupled with his travels to many of the world's most revered places, is a masterpiece.

Favorite line from a book?

"But a lonely man is an unnatural man and soon comes to perplexity." - Daphne DuMaurier, My Cousin Rachel

Book that you most want to read again for the first time?

The Twelfth Transforming by Pauline Gedge

Bio: C.W. GORTNER’s novel THE LAST QUEEN was a Marin Independent Journal bestseller and is being translated into eight languages. He holds a MFA in Writing with an emphasis on Renaissance Studies from the New College of California and has taught university seminars on the 16th century. He is half-Spanish by birth and now lives in California. Ballantine Books will publish his next novel, THE CONFESSIONS OF CATHERINE DE MEDICI, in 2010.

C.W.'s blog - Historical Boys. C.W.'s website.

I would like to thank C.W. for stopping by and answering some questions! He is a super nice guy and fantastic author - if you haven't read The Last Queen yet, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy!



  1. I really enjoy reading posts which contain interviews with an author.

    I enjoyed this post. I must read this book - The Last Queen.

  2. Another Awesome post for CW Gortner's tour!
    Thanks for answering these questions, Christopher, and Thanks for asking such great questions, Amy! It is fun to know he has a lot of the same favorite authors as we do. And so excited that he has plans for more books! Sign me up for all of them!

    See All the Tour stops links and another Guest Post at The Burton Review.

  3. This was soo good! I love these posts, Amy:)

  4. This was a great interview Amy! I am reading this now and just loving it.

  5. Fantastic interview and a fantastic book. Thanks Amy!

  6. Great interview :)
    The book sounds lovely, and her fate was so sad.

  7. Great interview! The Last Queen is on top of my TBR now pile. I love his favorite authors! I wonder if he's read A World Lit Only by Fire which is about the medieval world. What a fascinating time period. Thanks for the interview!

  8. Thank you Amy.. this was my "morning paper" with my coffee this am. Outstanding interview... The author is charming and interesting.

  9. Thank you so much for your comments and a big hug of thanks to Amy, who's just been great! I really enjoy her blog so it was a treat to visit as an author.

    In answer to Amanda's question, yes, I have read A World Lit Only by Fire: it's one of my standard research books. Quite a look at the times!

    I'll be stopping by throughout the month to answer any reader questions or comments, and of course you can always visit my website to write to me directly.

    Thank you again, Amy. I just wish I had more copies to give away :)

  10. Super interview. I love HF and this one is on my wish list. It always adds to the enjoyment of a book when I know something about the author. Thanks to you both.

  11. Wonderful interview! I can hardly wait to read this book! I can tell that I will really enjoy it.

  12. Great interview Amy.
    If he ever writes the Queen Isabella book, I'm on it!

  13. Thanks for another great interview! I'm really enjoying this blog tour.



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