Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Rebuilt Ruins and Emptied Tombs: An Interview with Author C.W. Gornter

C.W. Gortner will be the featured speaker at the Saturday luncheon of the 2013 Historical Novel Society Conference, which will take place in St. Petersburg, Florida, on June 21-23. Gortner is the author of four historical novels, the most recent being THE QUEEN'S VOW, a novel about Isabella of Castile, published by Ballantine Books in 2012. THE TUDOR CONSPIRACY, Book 2 of his Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles from St. Martin's Press, hits the shelves on July 16. C.W. has been a frequent guest here at Writing the Renaissance. Today he addresses questions about his interests and his writing process.

1. What got you first interested in historical fiction?

I grew up in southern Spain, surrounded by history. Castles, battlefields, tombs in cathedrals: These were right outside my door. History was a part of my youth and it never intimidated me. I loved the sense that the past could permeate the present. I became interested in historical fiction when I read my first historical novel, MURDER MOST ROYAL by Jean Plaidy. It ignited my imagination; all of sudden the ghosts were clothed, the ruins rebuilt, the tombs emptied. I realized the past could be as exciting, as robust and real as the present, in the hands of a talented novelist. I was eleven years old and my life was never the same. To this day, I still have that battered edition of Ms Plaidy's book.

2. How do you find the people and topics of your books?

I'm usually attracted to the hidden history, the secret stories. The characters I choose may be famous, but they usually have a controversial legend that sets them apart. I'm most interested in people who did something extraordinary, whose became more than was expected, for better and for worse. I'm not that drawn to easy characters. Give me a bad girl or boy any day.

3. Do you follow a specific writing and/or research process?

I write every day except Sundays, which is when I catch up on my reading. For me, writing is like playing an instrument. I need to keep the muscles flexible and disciplined. I'm superstitious, too, that if I take too long a break, I may never want to go back. Writing can be demanding; it requires passion and perseverance, and a willingness to be alone a lot. I'm quite social, so I can be easily distracted if I don't stay focused. Writing daily helps keep me in that zone.

4. For you, what is the line between fiction and fact?

It often depends on the story. I've read plenty of popular history that would qualify as fiction. For example, does anyone actually believe Anne Boleyn had six fingers? But, as a general rule, for me facts are: X was born on this day. X did this. Fiction, on the other hand, involves unraveling motivations, thoughts, emotions. We can research cultural and social history, read journals and letters, when available, to get a sense of how people felt and how they perceived their era and lives, but to recreate their experiences so that readers can feel them, too: That is the art of fiction.

5. What book was the most fun for you to write?

The one I'm currently working on is always the most fun - and most challenging!

You can learn more about C.W. Gortner and his books at his website. He also blogs at Historical Boys.


Jessica Brockmole said...

"Writing can be demanding; it requires passion and perseverance, and a willingness to be alone a lot."

This. Because you absolutely have to be alone much of the time.

I'm another who is suspicious of writing breaks. I'm a confessed unfinisher when it comes to non-writing projects and am always fearful that that willingness to set things aside may bleed over into the writing someday.

Vicki Kondelik said...

Great interview! I loved The Queen's Vow, The Last Queen, and C.W. Gortner's novel about Catherine de Medici. Jean Plaidy was one of the authors who got me interested in historical fiction, too.

Erika M said...

How lovely is this?!: "all of sudden the ghosts were clothed, the ruins rebuilt, the tombs emptied"
Great interview.

Julianne Douglas said...

I know, Erika! That's why I borrowed it for the title. So evocative.