The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner

Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1 edition (July 29, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0345501845
ISBN-13: 978-0345501844

About the book:

Daughter of Isabel of Castile and sister of Catherine of Aragon. Married at sixteen and a queen at twenty-five. Declared mad by history. Juana of Castile, the last true queen of Spain. Ruled by her passions, Juana’s arranged marriage to Philip the Fair of Flanders begins as a fairytale romance when despite never having met before their betrothal, they fall violently in love. Juana is never meant to be more than his consort and mother to his heirs until she finds herself heiress to the throne of Spain after tragedy decimates her family. Suddenly she is plunged into a ruthless battle of ambition and treachery, with the future of Spain and her own freedom at stake. Told in Juana's voice, The Last Queen is a powerful and moving portrait of a woman ahead of her time, a queen fought fiercely for her birthright in the face of an unimaginable betrayal. Juana's story is one of history's darkest secrets, brought vividly to life in this exhilarating novel.

This is an excellent book, and I was fortunate enough to be able to ask the author some questions.

Did you ever speak to your Grandmother about her portrayal of Juana onstage? If so, what were her feelings on the subject and did they influence this book in any way?

My grandmother played Juana on stage years before I was born; and unfortunately she died long before I began writing this book, so I never got her impressions on Juana. But she was a storyteller, as well, as are most of the women in my family; and when I was growing up she used to tell stories about our family past. My maternal bloodline goes all the way back to the 13th century, which is rather amazing when you think about! History was therefore a big part of storytelling in my house; in many ways, I believe this intimate connection to the past helped to forge my interest in history and in historical characters. The ways my grandmother, and my mother, talked about family members who’d literally lived hundreds of years before us made the past seem quite accessible to me. I was never intimidated by it. And of course Juana was known to me even then; she’s quite a legendary figure in Spain.

What kind of research was involved in writing this book, and was there conflicting reports you had to sift through in order to reach a point where you could describe things accurately?

It took six years to research and write THE LAST QUEEN, including several trips to Spain, Flanders and England, where I visited most of the extant sites associated with Juana’s life. I read every document from the period that I could find, as well as over fifty books and biographies. The challenge after so much research was to sort through a variety of reports, none of which were flattering to Juana either as a person or a queen. As Juana herself left almost nothing in her own hand, much of what she said and did was recorded by men whose prejudices reflect the era and the version they were hired to tell (most historians were paid by the current ruler). Therefore, I had to always keep in mind that what I read was, in essence, an interpretation of Juana by someone who was not her confidante or even friend, and may have made her look worse than she was. In addition, while today we understand the effects of prolonged stress on the human psyche, in Juana’s era no one would have considered this as a possible cause for her alleged erratic behavior. When I carefully examined each of those erratic events within the context of her circumstances at the time, her behavior became not only reasonable but often justifiable. Juana fought against the role thrust upon her as a woman and refused to surrender her rights. Put simply, she was a threat to the men who above all else sought to depose her from her throne.

What drove you to write a book about Juana, and to write it giving a different point of view?

I’ve always been fascinated by Juana’s legend. In Spain, I grew up hearing about her, and was never fully convinced by the official story of the bereft widow dragging her husband’s coffin with her all over the country. Still, I initially approached her as an unbalanced woman thrust into a role she should never have faced. It wasn’t until I started researching that I was struck by the impression that almost no one seemed to challenge the myth that she was insane. That sent up a red flag for me. It seemed conspiratorial that there was no reasonable explanation for how such a well-educated, lively princess chosen by her mother Queen Isabel to fulfill a vital dynastic union should have descended into such pathos, other than a supposed obsessive sexual desire for her husband. This sounded misogynistic and set me on a six-year long path of discovery. In the end, I found a woman of passion, courage and complexity, one who is actually quite contemporary in her struggle to balance life and duty, love and betrayal. Juana speaks to the drama of her times but she also speaks to each of us in her humanity.

Was it hard to write this book from the vantage point of a woman?

I didn’t start out writing Juana’s story in first person. My first drafts were all in third person but I kept feeling something elusive was missing. I did several revisions before I cautiously approached the idea of changing to first person. It wasn’t something I undertook lightly, first because I am a man and second, because parts of Juana’s personality are very different from my own. Still, once I started writing in first person the struggles I’d been experiencing went away and I began to understand her emotional complexity. My challenge was to allow Juana to speak through me. It’s an acting method: by suppressing your ego, you find the essence of someone else’s emotions, even if you’ve never experienced them. There were of course aspects of being a sixteenth century woman I needed to learn about, so I spoke with my women friends about pregnancy and giving birth; tried on a period gown to get a feeling for the weight of the clothing and how to move in it, and of course paid close attention to the psychology of life in an era vastly different from ours. Still, the writing itself proved instinctual and in the end I found it far easier to write from Juana’s point of view. As for capturing the perspective of a woman, I guess it’s up to readers to decide how successful I’ve been.

Do you have any other historical fiction books in the works?

Yes. I’ve just completed a novel about Catherine de Medici, slated for publication by Ballantine Books in 2009. Catherine is another maligned historical woman, whose life was both tumultuous and dramatic.

Was writing something you always wanted to pursue, or were you passionate about something else growing up?

I’ve been writing for most of my life; even as a child I wrote stories and illustrated them. But I’ve also had a strong attraction to the world of the theater, as both my maternal grandparents were actors. I considered training to be an actor but found I didn’t have the passion for acting that is required for such a demanding profession. In my early twenties, I pursued a career in fashion marketing; to this day, I have an abiding fascination with clothing and haute couture. I’m also an amateur painter; like writing, I’ve drawn and painted most of my life. Painting in particular gives me space to both relax and reflect; but in truth writing has been my most abiding passion, and one I’ve never strayed from.

Who is your biggest supporter?

My partner of seventeen years, who has stood by me through the highs and lows of being a working writer and has never stopped encouraging me, though I’ve spent many, many hours of our life together immersed in another century!

Who do you go to when you want the truth about what you have written, good or bad?

My writing group of eleven years, a marvelous group led by Jean Taggart, who at more than eighty years of age has given me invaluable feedback and criticism. I also have a core group of readers I turn to when I’m done with a manuscript. Also, I now often rely on my marvelous agent, who has an uncanny ability to ferret out the weaknesses in my work.

What are you currently working on?

A novel set in 15th century Italy, in the time of the Borgias. It hasn’t been bought yet, so I’m embargoed by my agent from saying more, but it features a fascinating, little-known woman who went to war to protect her domains.

Do you have a favorite book or author?

There are many, many books and writers I revere, but if I had to pick one it would be Cry to Heaven by Anne Rice. I recently re-read it for the third time; the richness of her language and astonishing honesty of her story-telling are never more evident than in this dark, powerful novel about the pain and triumph of a 17th century castrato.

What words of wisdom do you offer to aspiring authors?

Learn your craft and persevere! This means being honest with yourself about what you do and don’t do well, and remembering that more than any other art-form writing can almost be improved. Also, it’s not just talent that is required to succeed in today’s extremely crowded and competitive publishing environment: you need tenacity and an unshakeable belief in your own work. Years ago, an editor told me, “Don’t give up. You have what it takes.” I never forgot those words, though in the thirteen years it took me to get published there were plenty of times when I doubted them. Write what you believe in, revise, edit, and revise some more; and most importantly, never give up, no matter where the journey might take you.

Thank you so much for taking this time with me. I hope you enjoy THE LAST QUEEN as much as I enjoyed writing it. You can find out more about me and my writing by visiting me at:

About the author:

C.W. Gortner’s fascination with history is a lifetime pursuit. He holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Writing with an emphasis on Renaissance Studies from the New College of California and often travels to research his books. He has experienced life in a medieval Spanish castle and danced a galliard in a Tudor great hall; dug through library archives all over Europe; and tried to see and touch — or, at least, gaze at through impenetrable museum glass — as many artifacts of the era as he can find.

Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, will release his historical novel THE LAST QUEEN about Juana the Mad of Castile in June, 2008.

He lives in Northern California. Please visit him at:

THE LAST QUEEN VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR '08 will officially begin on September 2 and ends on September 26. You can visit C.W.'s tour stops at in September to find out more about his latest book!As a special promotion for all our authors, Pump Up Your Book Promotion is giving away a FREE virtual book tour to a published author with a recent release or a $50 Amazon gift certificate to those not published who comments on our authors' blog stops. More prizes will be announced as they become available. The winner will be announced on our main blog at on September 30!