Friday, February 26, 2016

HFVBT Interview: C.W. Gortner, Author of "The Vatican Princess"

I am very excited to have C.W. Gortner, author of the fantastic "The Vatican Princess," on A Bookish Affair today!

1. What inspired you to write about Lucrezia Borgia?
Growing up in southern Spain, I was always fascinated by history. The Borgias were of Spanish descent yet ruled over Rome, and so I read about them. I was particularly intrigued by Lucrezia, who’s been so maligned in history. I remember the very first historical novel I read about her. It was titled “The Loves of Lucrezia Borgia”—a very lurid account of her dastardly seductions and poisonings. I don’t recall who the author was, it was a paperback original with a 1970s illustration on the cover, a woman draped in veils and reclining on a bed with a goblet, as a man in an unlaced doublet groveled at her feet. Clearly, it must have impressed me. I was a boy and I devoured lurid historical novels. Years later, after I got published, I realized that Lucrezia fit into my repertoire of bad girls in history, who are often not quite so bad after all. She fit into other subjects I’d already written about and there were coincidences, such as the fact that her father Rodrigo Borgia became pope in 1492, the year Isabella of Castile, the subject of my novel “The Queen’s Vow”, conquered Granada. Lucrezia seemed a perfect subject for me, as I knew by then she wasn’t like she’s been portrayed, no matter how exciting poisonous seductions might be. Her youth was spent embroiled in a ruthless game of family ambition, and she bore the brunt of the calumny for it.
2. Why do you think that people are still so interested in the Borgia family?
In great part, I think it’s because of their reputation. They are the quintessential Mafia family – which is interesting, as they weren’t Italian by descent— and their brief but tumultuous reign was one of upheaval and scandal. The rumors of murders, both actual and those attributed to them, as well as their intimacy, fueled endless speculation. They were the Kardashians of the late 15th century without the vapidity or reality show; mix in the papacy and a generous hint of incest, and you’ve got a potent brew. I don’t think most people know much about them in reality, but just say their name and it evokes fascination. While researching and writing “The Vatican Princess,” I came to realize that in some measure, they deserve their reputation. You didn’t want to make an enemy of these people. But they didn’t behave any worse than most dynasties in Italy at that time. The Renaissance was an avaricious, dangerous era, and the Borgias knew how to play the game. Ironically, for all their unity as a family, which epitomizes la cosa nostra, they were undone from within. They became their own worst enemies.
3. Who is your favorite character in "The Vatican Princess?"
Oh, that’s a tough one. I liked them all – to write about, not necessarily have dinner with. After Lucrezia, of course, I think Cesare most captures my imagination. He was enigmatic, almost feral, and brilliant. He conceived of uniting Italy under the Borgia banner but had to deal with an ineffective and envious older brother, the pope’s favorite; and the expectation that he’d follow in their father’s footsteps and build his career in the Church. Cesare defied the odds by becoming someone unexpected and he paid a heavy price for it. But he undoubtedly loved his sister, as much as he could love anyone, and his relationship with Lucrezia drives my novel to some extent. After him, I like their mother, Vanozza. Again, not necessarily a nice person, but a survivor in a time when women like her had few options. She took no prisoners.
4. You've written many books now. Has your writing process changed at all?
I’m much better at it, I hope? The process itself is more streamlined. Before, I’d plunge into mountains of research and everything I learned ended up in the manuscript until, of course, during revisions, I had to cut and all that painstaking research about how to ride sidesaddle on a Renaissance horse ended up on the editing room floor. I still do tons of research, because it’s my job, but I’ve become more precise; I figure out what I must know to start writing and proceed. When I hit a block, I pause and research to continue. It’s easier for me as a writer to flesh out my characters and develop the arc of my story, then fill in historical details. I get less confused about what happened to whom and when. I do write chronologically; in other words, from beginning to end. I’m not good at jumping here and there, as I get lost in a parking lot. And writing chronologically helps me maintain the pacing. Most importantly to me, I don’t want my historical novels to be mired in “Look how much I know!” I want to entertain my readers by immersing them in the character’s mind and emotions; I want them to see her world through her eyes. That’s crucial to me as a novelist. In the final say, I’m not imparting a history lesson. I’m writing fictional interpretations of historical figures.
5. If you could bring three fictional characters or historical figures with you to a deserted island, who would you bring and why?
Coco Chanel, because she has fabulous wit, so we’d never be bored. Brendan Prescott, from my Tudor spymaster series, because he knows how to survive perilous situations. And Ferdinand Magellan, because he’s an expert navigator, and who wants to be stuck on a deserted island?

Thank you so much for hosting me on my blog tour. To learn more about me and my work, please visit me at:


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