Interview with C.W. Gortner

I fell madly in love with the first Gortner novel I ever read, The Queen's Vow, and had the pleasure of hearing him speak at the Historical Novel Society conference a few weeks ago. I'm thrilled to share my interview with him today.  Read on to learn more about him, his newest book, and what he does when he's not writing.  Be sure to enter the giveaway for The Queen's Vow!

What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction?

Wow, great question! No one’s ever asked me this before! My very first piece of full-length fiction is a fantasy novel. It’s 800 pages long and set in a Gothic-inspired world, very detailed and with a large cast of characters. I never even submitted it to an agent; I wrote it in my early twenties, just for fun. I still have it and one day I might dust it off and see if I can do something with it. My second unpublished full-length work of fiction is an equally sprawling novel about the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I write every day. I’m somewhat superstitious by nature and think that if I take too long a break between projects, I’ll realize how much easier life is without being a slave to my computer and will never write again. I get up later than most people and start to write in the early afternoon, for around three hours. I take a break toward 4 or 5 pm, and go back to work in the early evening for a few more hours. I used to write for six hours straight but now, I find I work better in smaller time increments. To ‘warm up’ the writing muscles, I always revise my previous day’s work before I start. I also have a goal of no less than 800 words daily; sometimes, I write more. Part of my routine also involves reading. I read every day for at least an hour. Reading teaches the craft of writing; you can’t really be a writer, or at least a decent one, if you don’t read.

Was The Queen's Vow the original title of your book?

No. I wanted to call it “I, Isabella.” Alas, no one else agreed.

As you were writing The Queen's Vow, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

Isabella herself constantly surprised, and challenged, me. I’d read many biographies of her, of course, and explored her extant correspondence for research, but it wasn’t until I began the actual writing that I found myself drawn into her mind and how she interpreted her world. Isabella was both extraordinary for her time and very much a product of it; she embodied that uneasy fusion between the cloistered confines of medieval thought and burgeoning freedom of the Renaissance. She surprised me with her desires; her hunger to learn and grow; and with her championing of women’s education – all of which is historically documented. I was challenged by her inordinate belief in a god of vengeance, however, and had to dig deep to discover her vulnerabilities. Her vow is also her doubt; she had such duality within herself. To the outside world, she presented a resolute, almost humorless façade, but I believe she secretly questioned her own actions, though she never went back on a decision once she made it. Her lack of foresight also surprised me. She believed in an idealistic goal that completely negated the suffering it unleashed.

Have you had the opportunity to travel to some of the places where Isabella of Castile lived? Has place shaped this novel in any way?

Yes, I always travel for research. Landscape is vital to me; no matter how much a place may have changed, the hue of the skies, the way the wind feels, the colors of the earth, the way light touches stone—these are details I can only find by being there. Fortunately, many of the places associated with Isabella still exist today and a few are relatively unchanged; the barren castle of Arévalo where she was raised and the fairytale alcazar of Segovia where she engaged in such a bitter struggle with her half-brother, as well as the palace of Medina del Campo, among others, all carry echoes of her footsteps.

But it was the alcazar of Seville that most affected the shape of my novel. I knew Isabella had traveled to that fragrant Andalusian city by herself. The official motive for her trip was to arbitrate the lawlessness that plagued the city, sparked in great part by a long-standing feud between two noble magnates of the area. While I was visiting the alcazar, I had the luck of meeting a curator who took me on a tour when he learned I was writing about the queen. The alcazar of Seville is far less famous than palaces like the Alhambra but quite beautiful, of Moorish design and origin; it has a turbulent history and this curator told me a story of why Isabella truly came to Seville, what happened while she was there, and how it transformed her. That one conversation changed my whole perspective on Isabella’s visit and helped shed light on her personal turmoil.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

I enjoy yoga and being with my pets. I also do rescue work with various animal groups. I’m a fan of great television shows – I’m addicted “Banshee” and “The Killing” – and I love to go shoe-shopping and out to eat. And browse in bookstores, naturally.

Read any good books recently?

Yes, I recently read and loved M.J. Rose’s “Seduction” and Brenda Rickman Vantrease’s “The Heretic’s Wife.”

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My thanks to Mr. Gortner for his time and responses.  You can learn more about him and his books at his website.  He's also on Twitter and Facebook.


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Queen's Vow to one lucky reader!

To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 7/19.


  1. I'd love to travel for research - too bad I can't write! Great interview!

    1. I know, right? And to Spain, too -- it's a dream of mine!

  2. I do wanna read a book about her

    1. This one is worth it -- it's the kind of historical novel that sets the bar -- all other books have to measure up to it!

  3. Great interview! I read and loved The Last Queen about Juana of Castile & I'm eager to read this one about Isabella. I like that the author explores Isabella's vulnerabilities as well as the strength she was so renowned for.

    1. Gortner really handles that well -- I found his Isabella completely believable, fallible, human -- which was wonderful and frustrating because I just want to blanket hate her! ;) I'm dying to read The Last Queen -- it's going up high on my TBR now!

  4. Great interview! I'd love for Gortner's unpublished novels to be published -- I love Gothic tales and am a sucker for anything about Anne Boleyn!

    1. I know -- whenever authors share their unpubbed work, I always find myself drooling -- such inventive, fun ideas!

  5. This is a really great interview, thanks! I just started The Queen's Vow and I'm already loving it :)

    1. Jennifer -- it gets better and better!!

  6. I loved The Last Queen and would be thrilled to win this book!


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