Thank you so much, C.W., for taking the time to stop by A Literary Vacation! One of my favorite aspects of interacting with authors is finding out what inspires them to write the novels that they do. Every author seems to have their own unique approach to their craft and learning that process really helps me, as a reader, get a better appreciation for the end result. So I can’t wait to learn more about your process!
Like a lot of people I can’t help but be drawn to the drama, scandal, and sacrifice that seems to surround actors, artists, and other creative-minded people all around the world and throughout history. What initially drew you to research and share Marlene Dietrich’s fascinating story?
She came to me by accident, which is unusual for me. I’m an old movie aficionado, so I’d known about her, mostly by her films, and I became more interested in her when I was writing Mademoiselle Chanel. In that book, Chanel goes to Hollywood to design costumes for movies – a brief visit, for which she was paid a lot of money— and at a party for her held by the studio, I read that Marlene attended. I thought it would be exciting if they met, as I knew Marlene was a later client of Chanel’s. But during the editing process, my editor thought the Hollywood portion of the novel could be shortened, so the scene where Marlene meets Coco ended up on the cutting room floor. After Mademoiselle Chanel was published, I suggested an idea for a new book that my editor didn’t think would make a great follow-up; during our discussions about possible characters, she mentioned Marlene, saying she’d loved how I’d captured her in that now-deleted scene. Her remark piqued my interest. I did some preliminary research and discovered Marlene was, as they say, right up my alley. A feisty, independent lady who had to strive for success and whose attitude toward the Nazis was quite different from Chanel’s, I thought she’d make a terrific subject. It was happenstance; had that scene not been cut and my editor not remembered it, who knows if she would have occurred to me? Movie stars, by and large, are tough to fictionalize. Unless their personal lives are fascinating, as Marlene’s was, their toils on a set can be tedious for those not intimately involved or interested in the nuts-and-bolts of film making. But Marlene had such an exciting trajectory to stardom and was so unconventional, coming out of the Weimar Berlin cabaret scene – an epoch I’ve always loved – once I started researching her in depth, I was hooked.
Marlene is such a unique character, not only being a queen amongst the Hollywood elite during its golden era, but having this connection and conflict with Nazi Germany. What sort of research went into not only Marlene’s life but the overall themes of Hollywood and WWII? Did you do any traveling as part of the research?
I didn’t do much traveling for this book, at least not in a physical sense. I usually do travel to all the places I write about, but the Berlin that Marlene knew was destroyed by the war, so what I had to find out was how that pre-war Berlin felt and looked like; how the cabarets and other places which Marlene frequented influenced her. It took me down all sorts of fascinating byways; I had to locate videos of her early movies, watch old newsreels from 1920s Berlin, find magazines from the era that promoted its hedonism, and read a lot of books on the subject. For Hollywood, I had to research how the studios ran their business, and what movie stars like Marlene were up against in their careers – they were assigned scripts by the studio, under strict contracts—and the kind of effort that went into launching a new star. I also wanted to find anecdotes from the sets of Marlene’s movies and her private life, so I could show how Marlene’s on-screen persona came into being and how that persona contrasted or complimented her reality. I researched the gay underworld of Berlin and Hollywood, as Marlene was familiar with both, as well as how her non-conformist attitudes may have affected her, given her profile. My full bibliography for this novel included over 100 volumes, everything from books about pre-WWII Berlin to biographies of Marlene, her friends, rivals, and co-stars, accounts about Hollywood, the Nazi rise to power, the war and its aftermath. I had to immerse myself in a world that has been vanquished, which wasn’t easy, but I’ve done it before in my Renaissance-themed novels, and had librarians and other sources to assist me. It was painstaking to research, and exhilarating. We forget that before Hitler, Germany was a vibrant, if deeply impoverished, country; and much of what we now think of as iconic from the 1920s—the louche, stool-straddling, tattered-stocking free-for-all ambiance—was born in Berlin. Marlene personified it, even after Hollywood glamourized her. She was never fully content with the confines of her movie image, given her complexity.
Historical fiction happens to be my all-time favorite genre and I find myself going back and forth between what periods of history are my favorite to read about. Your novels have tackled quite a few fascinating people throughout history and from a variety of countries. Do you have a favorite time period or location to write and/or read about, or do you enjoy jumping around as I do?
I’m obsessed by the Renaissance, or 15th-16th century Europe. I thought that was where I wanted to stay as a writer, but writing about Chanel opened a new window for me. That book was such a delight to research; I’ve always loved the 1920s—40s, and Chanel lived such a tumultuous life, both a fashion designer and a woman. She did things, as did Marlene, which would have been unacceptable for a Renaissance woman. I like the freedom that these 20th century characters give me, to explore more contemporary themes. But I’m promiscuous in my passions; I tend to jump around, both as a reader and a writer, and I find that suits me best. I’m interested in history in all its facets and eras, so I hope I can continue to be eclectic in my choice of subject matter.
What does a typical day (if there is one) look like for you? How do you balance writing and the rest of your life?
Well, I write and read a lot, as you can imagine. I’m now a full-time writer, so I can be a bit of a recluse, in truth. I break up my writing time with daily walks and yoga, but overall, I’m home alone during the day, as my husband works at an office, so I just sort of bask in my solitude, my cats, my work, and, yes, daily naps. Naps are my luxury; they help me to re-charge and restore. Typically, I get up, check e-mail and do routine tasks, go out to exercise, then return and write for several hours. After a late lunch, I read and nap; in early evening, I either revise what I wrote earlier, or if I’m really immersed in a project, write for a few more hours. I’ve had to accept that there is life beyond writing – what a concept!— so we travel at least twice a year and reserve weekends for outings. When I become obsessed by a work-in-progress, it can be hard for me to disconnect, plus authors are now expected to sustain a social media presence, in addition to the myriad tasks of being a working writer, so I’ve trained myself to be consistent, but not to the point that I forget to exist without my keyboard. I’m not always successful at it, but I try. Perhaps because I kept a day job for years after being published, I treat my writing as if it were 9-to-5. Like any job, I have to show up for it, and like every job, I also need to take breaks from it. Writing is consuming, so you need to pause and replenish the well.
I have a love/ hate relationship with social media, as I’m sure many people do. I do enjoy interacting with my readers and other people on my Facebook pages; I think social media can be a godsend to writers, for we tend to be somewhat isolated, as we must be to pull stories out of our imaginations. I like being in online writer groups and co-ops with other writers, sharing information, promoting each other’s books, and discussing issues about our business because it helps me realize I’m not alone in my authorial struggles. But, on the reverse side, social media can also be a black hole. I’m as guilty as anyone else of finding myself drawn into heated arguments over issues that mean a lot to me, with people who are, in essence, strangers, and then realizing how pointless it is. I think the trick with social media is to be yourself, but not all of yourself. I rarely post private stuff or offer personal information about my life or loved ones. I think a certain genuineness and sincerity are essential to navigating social media, but it’s important to not upload everything that pops into your mind. I’m a paradox: I can be gregarious and outspoken, but also private. I also believe that as wonderful as social media can be to facilitate connections with readers, it’s also erased some of the “mystique” that authors used to have. Now, people can join your page, comment, win a giveaway, and don’t feel the need or interest to show up at your in-person event to promote your book. That’s very tough on authors and on the bookstores that host them; we want to fill the store, sell and sign books, and meet you in-person. The trade off, for me, is an uneasy one. I welcome readers on social media, and I’m also really delighted when I see them at my in-person events. That said, touring authors these days has become costly for publishers, and social media can fill that gap. I rarely tour outside my local area, so readers can find me online. I also always do virtual blog tours like this one for that reason, so readers anywhere can hear about my work.
I’ve noticed that a lot of authors are also big readers. When you have time for leisure reading what sorts of books do you gravitate towards? Have you read anything good lately?
I believe that if you don’t read, you can’t write. Writing is reading; through reading, you learn your craft. I never “formally” trained to be a writer. I hold an MFA in Writing, but I earned it in my early thirties, and by then, I’d written three manuscripts and was trying to get published. Writing is a vocation and reading is your training ground. I read across genres; I love historical fiction, of course, but I also like contemporary fiction, fantasy, horror, literary, and suspense. I recently read Julie Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge and fell completely in awe of her immense talent. I’m about to start Justin Cronin’s The City of Mirrors, after having been mesmerized by the previous two in his apocalyptic trilogy. Mostly, I gravitate to beautiful prose; I’m in love with words, coupled with great story-telling, and my choices tend to be eclectic. From Robert Hicks (The Widow of the South) to Kate Morton (The Distant Hours), M.J. Rose (Seduction), Michelle Moran (Rebel Queen), R. Scott Bakker (The Darkness that Comes Before), Alan Furst’s WWII spy thrillers, the bewilderingly underappreciated Jude Morgan (Passion) or Ellis Avery (The Last Nude) and many others, I crave getting lost in a world that is new to me, or if not new, portrayed in some unique way. If the writing and story appeal, genre means little to me. The only books I don’t normally read are pure erotica or romance; while I like these elements in a book, I’m not drawn to the genres, in of themselves. But then, if I come across one of these books and am attracted by the concept, who knows? There was a time when I devoured Laurel Hamilton’s sexy Anita Blake series, and I thoroughly enjoyed them. I try to stay open-minded. I’ve been surprised in the past by a book I thought wasn’t for me, and vice versa. In the end, if the writing or story grab me, I’m pretty much yours.
Finally, can you tell us anything about the book(s) you’re working on now?
I’ve recently signed a new contract with Ballantine Books, Penguin Random House, to write a novel about Maria Feodorovna, the Danish princess who married into the Romanov dynasty, gave birth to Tsar Nicholas II, and witnessed the opulence of Imperial Russia and its cataclysmic fall in the 1917 Revolution. I’ve always wanted to write a book set in Russia, and Empress Maria, or Minnie, as she was known, is a wonderful, vibrant character who’s not often depicted. I’m currently – again – in love.
Thank you for spending this time with me! I hope you enjoy MARLENE. To find out more about my books or connect with me on social media, please visit me at: www.cwgortner.com.
Thank you so much, C.W., for stopping by and answering my questions! I've read an really enjoyed a number of your novels and am really excited to read Marlene.
Everyone, be sure to continue below for more information about Marlene, the blog tour, and how you can enter the fabulous tour-wide giveaway!
Publication Date: May 24, 2016
Hardcover & eBook; 384 Pages
Hardcover & eBook; 384 Pages
Genre: Historical/Biographical/Women’s Fiction
A lush, dramatic biographical novel of one of the most glamorous and alluring legends of Hollywood’s golden age, Marlene Dietrich—from the gender-bending cabarets of Weimar Berlin to the lush film studios of Hollywood, a sweeping story of passion, glamour, ambition, art, and war from the author of Mademoiselle Chanel.
Raised in genteel poverty after the First World War, Maria Magdalena Dietrich dreams of a life on the stage. When a budding career as a violinist is cut short, the willful teenager vows to become a singer, trading her family’s proper, middle-class society for the free-spirited, louche world of Weimar Berlin’s cabarets and drag balls. With her sultry beauty, smoky voice, seductive silk cocktail dresses, and androgynous tailored suits, Marlene performs to packed houses and becomes entangled in a series of stormy love affairs that push the boundaries of social convention.
For the beautiful, desirous Marlene, neither fame nor marriage and motherhood can cure her wanderlust. As Hitler and the Nazis rise to power, she sets sail for America. Rivaling the success of another European import, Greta Garbo, Marlene quickly becomes one of Hollywood’s leading ladies, starring with legends such as Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Cary Grant. Desperate for her return, Hitler tries to lure her with dazzling promises. Marlene instead chooses to become an American citizen, and after her new nation is forced into World War II, she tours with the USO, performing for thousands of Allied troops in Europe and Africa.
But one day she returns to Germany. Escorted by General George Patton himself, Marlene is heartbroken by the war’s devastation and the evil legacy of the Third Reich that has transformed her homeland and the family she loved.
An enthralling and insightful account of this extraordinary legend, Marlene reveals the inner life of a woman of grit, glamour, and ambition who defied convention, seduced the world, and forged her own path on her own terms.
Buy the Book
About the Author
After an eleven year-long career in fashion, during which he worked as a vintage retail buyer,
In his extensive travels to research his books, he has danced a galliard at Hampton Court, learned about organic gardening at Chenoceaux, and spent a chilly night in a ruined Spanish castle. His books have garnered widespread acclaim and been translated into twenty-one languages to date, with over 400,000 copies sold. A sought-after public speaker. C.W. has given keynote addresses at writer conferences in the US and abroad. He is also a dedicated advocate for animal rights, in particular companion animal rescue to reduce shelter overcrowding.
Half-Spanish by birth and raised in southern Spain, C.W. now lives in Northern California with his partner and two very spoiled rescue cats.
For more information visit C.W. Gortner’s website and blog. You can also find him on Facebook, Twittter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and YouTube. Sign up for C.W. Gortner’s Newsletter for updates.
To enter the Marlene Blog Tour Giveaway please see the GLEAM form HERE. There will be 2 winners:
Winner #1 will receive a copy of Marlene by C.W. Gortner.
Winner #2 will receive a copy of Marlene by C.W. Gortner & a Marlene-inspired necklace and matching bracelet. Hand-beaded in Guatemala, lime-green and purple beads. Necklace is Egyptian-style drape, and bracelet has centerpiece purple floral gemstone design.
Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on June 7th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
Giveaway is open to US residents only.
Only one entry per household.
All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion
Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.
Marlene Blog Tour Schedule
Review at A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, May 25
Review at Broken Teepee
Thursday, May 26
Review at To Read, or Not to Read
Friday, May 27
Spotlight at Passages to the Past
Monday, May 30
Review at Peeking Between the Pages
Interview at A Literary Vacation
Tuesday, May 31
Review at Creating Herstory
Wednesday, June 1
Review at One Book Shy of a Full Shelf
Review at Books Without Any Pictures
Thursday, June 2
Interview at One Book Shy of a Full Shelf
Friday, June 3
Review at Just One More Chapter
Sunday, June 5
Review at Carole’s Ramblings
Monday, June 6
Review at Girls Just Reading
Tuesday, June 7
Review at The Lit Bitch