We’re so excited to have C. W. Gortner with us today. He’s the international best-selling author of seven historical novels based on the lives of maligned women in history, as well as The Elizabeth I Spymaster Trilogy. A former fashion executive, he has an MFA in Writing with an emphasis on History from the New College of San Francisco. His most recent novel is MADEMOISELLE CHANEL, (William Morrow, HarperCollins), about the ambitious, gifted woman who revolutionized fashion, built an international empire, and become one of the most influential and controversial figures of the twentieth century. His books have been translated in over twenty languages.
Booklist has this to say:
Gortner brings history to life in a fascinating study of one woman’s unstoppable ambition.
Making the Jump: From Reigning Queens to the Queen of Fashion
Taking a chance is always nerve-wracking for a writer. We spend so much time perfecting our craft and banging on publisher doors that when we’re finally let inside, we’re so relieved and elated we’ll do just about anything to stay. Once our book hits the stores, harsh reality sets in. However, those of us who succeed in overcoming reader attrition, chain-store extinction, and myriad of other woes can find ourselves in an enviable position. We’re being paid to write. Now, how do we keep doing it?
We’re often told to write what we know. I also believe we must write what we feel. You can research what you need to know, but if you don’t feel it, there is no point. Published writers are also increasingly told to write within their brand, which basically means our houses want us to stay in our comfort zone. If you write thrillers and your books are selling, keep doing it. Or, as in my case, if you write about 16th century queens, don’t stop. Why mess with what works? Your readers expect a certain type of book from you. Do you want to jeopardize all the sacrifice, the missed meals, the parties and outings you didn’t attend because you were on deadline? Unless sales decline or your editor moves or some other catastrophe obliges you to reconsider your trajectory, stay the course.
I believed that. And fortunately, for me, writing about 16th century queens was—and still is—my passion. So, why did I mess with the formula? Why take a career risk by leaping out of my comfort zone into the 20th century and the life of an iconic fashion designer?
Writers can hit a wall. Sometimes it builds over the course of several books, as you deliver on your last contract, sign the next one, and start to feel a nagging sensation that warns you: You need a change. You have that idea you’re dying to explore, but it’s not in your brand. It’s not your comfort zone. It’s not even in the same zip code. But it haunts you, even as you write the next contracted book and worry if you’ve started to lose your mojo. When this happens, it is definitely time to change, to take that risk which will no doubt raise agent hackles and send your editor into a tailspin.
But that didn’t happen to me. I was excited about my contacted works and had new ideas on the horizon that fit my brand. Then, one Christmas, I found myself at home while my husband was abroad, with my most recent contracted manuscript finished. As I hit send to my agent, I realized the holidays lay ahead with nothing for me to do but read and relax. Since I’m the type of writer who gets very grumpy when I’m not working, I decided to see how it would feel to write something for me, without outside input, deadline or contract. Just, for fun. I’d wanted to try my hand on a novel about Coco Chanel for years and had done the research; but, as with other projects, I’d set it aside to write what was selling. Now, I plunged in.
It was . . . sublime. There’s no other way to describe it. I wrote as I had before my career began, for the sheer joy and with no concern over what my agent, editor, or readers might think. I always love writing my books, but the truth is, being published changed how I approach it. I have others to please and their preferences shaped my manuscripts. Now, I tossed it all aside with gusto. I didn’t even think about submitting the manuscript until I was halfway done and realized I was so happy working on it, I didn’t want to submit. I wanted to keep it for me, as a reminder of why my career shouldn’t always punctuate my decisions. But being a writer who also needs to pay bills, I did submit it to my agent, who thought it was one of the best books I’d ever done. Go figure.
This book changed a lot for me. I ended up with a new editor at a new house, with a new contract and new obstacles and opportunities to navigate. I even had my doubts, the obligatory author freak-out that can beset us when we think we’ve just made a huge mistake and plunged into the abyss. I got over it. Because in the end, I had no regrets. I wrote a book I loved, which reminded me of why I write.
I also learned a lesson that I believe can apply to all of us, published or unpublished, mid-list or bestseller: Take a chance. You never know where it might lead you.
Have you taken a chance with your writing? Where has it led you?