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May 3, 2012

C.W. Gortner on Being Inspired by his Spanish Mother

C.W. Gortner is the internationally acclaimed author of the historical novels THE LAST QUEEN, THE CONFESSIONS OF CATHERINE DE MEDICI, THE TUDOR SECRET, and his most recent release, THE QUEEN’S VOW. His books have been translated into fifteen languages to date. Today, he shares the story of how his Spanish mother inspired his passion for history and social service. To learn more about C.W. Gortner and his books, please visit him at:

Though I was born in Washington D.C., I grew up in Spain, my mother’s native country, and my connection with her fiery land has always been integral to my identity. I had a golden childhood, in which I grew up among the visible remnants of history: a crumbling castle by the seaside that had once been one of Queen Isabella and King Fernando’s summer residence; annual trips to the ramparts of Ronda and citadel of Granada, where the Moors lost their final grip on Spain after eight hundred years of supremacy. A passion for history was ingrained in me from an early age, encouraged by its palpable presence all around me, and by my mom. She too has an abiding love for the past and is part of a long line of women in the family who tell stories to keep the past alive --- an oral history passed from generation to generation. I remember sitting in awe as she and my aunts gathered around the table to share coffee and stories, many of which filtered into me and were distilled into traits that would later color my characters.

To this day, my mom is a voracious reader and she instilled in me and my brother a love for literature; indeed, she gave me my first historical novel after I’d raided every book in the house, including pulpy bestsellers that were hidden from me in vain. That historical novel opened an entire new world for me --- a world that evoked the past in all its vivid color and meaning, and dressed long-vanished people in flesh and blood. It changed the way I interacted with the past, and how I saw the present. It awoke in me the realization that everything we see today carries an echo from yesterday.

But my mom did more than develop me as a historical novelist; she also taught me the importance of social justice. The daughter of famous actors, she grew up in the mid-1950s under General Franco’s totalitarianism, when artistic and political expression was severely curtailed. At nineteen, she met my American-born father and moved to the United States. She was 21 when she bore me: a beautiful foreigner who reveled in the Kennedy-shaped era, discovering what would become a life-long appreciation of democracy. She campaigned for Bobby Kennedy and civil rights; for as long as I can remember, my mother championed the less fortunate. In the early 1970s, my parents moved with us to Spain. When we returned to the US, my mom became a champion for immigrants. She designed the first HIV prevention program for migrant workers in Northern California’s vineyards, coordinating testing on site and holding educational seminars for workers who arrived seasonally for work. She was lauded by the CDC for her contributions and continued fighting the epidemic until the day she retired.

I once asked her where her dedication came from. She answered, “We all know what it is to suffer. And when we do something for others, it does something for us.” My mom always believed that one day I’d be a published writer; she never lost faith in me, even as I struggled through fourteen long years of rejection. But her lesson of compassion for others is the one I most cherish.

On this Mother’s Day, I wish to salute my mom, Maravillas Blanco Gomez Gortner, for her courage, tenacity, and unswerving strength. Without her, I would not be the writer I have become. More importantly, I would not be the man I am.