Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Historical Novel Society Conference- 2011

Advance warning – This post is longer than my usual. It’s a report on the conference and an advertisement for the one to be held in 2013.

I’ve been to three of the four North American Historical Novel Society conferences, and I hope to be able to attend many more. What a treat!

First, San Diego had gorgeous weather. How lovely it was to escape the heat and humidity of Louisville, emerging into the warm, sunny Southern California climate. The hotel was less than ten minutes from the airport by shuttle. Exhausted as I am by my recent traveling, I was thrilled with the convenience. The organizers did a fantastic job.

We jumped right into a cocktail reception followed by a dinner banquet. Harry Turtledove was our entertaining Keynote speaker. Afterward, C.C. Humphreys moderated a panel of readers who entertained the audience with fight scenes from their novels. I confess I slipped out before that started. The three hour time zone difference hit me. And my panel was going to be early the next morning.

First thing Saturday morning, I spoke on a panel "Adult versus Young Adult Fiction" moderated by Gina Iorio. My fellow panelists were C.C. Humphreys, Pamela Bauer Mueller, and Dori Jones Yang. We covered topics such as why write young adult fiction and who is reading it, censorship, marketing to young adults and pitching to agents. It was a lot of fun and we had great questions and feedback from the audience.

Still, I was a bit relieved when my speaking part was over. Now I could relax and soak in the rest of the conference!

There were so many great panels, I wish I could have gone to them all. But there were generally four different panels running at once, so I had to choose.

I attended a talk on Historical Fiction and the Fantastic. Mary Sharratt, Cecelia Holland, C.C. Humphreys, and Shauna Roberts discussed the incorporation of fantasy elements into historical fiction. How does an author make it work? Does it add or take away from historical fiction? (While my personal preference is straight H.F., one of my favorite books of all time is Mists of Avalon – filled with fantasy. So sometimes it does add to the book and work very well!) And I couldn’t pass up the chance to hear Cecelia Holland speak.

Next I listened to Mary Sharratt, Susanne Dunlap, Margaret George, C.W. Gortner, and Vanitha Sankaran discussing the pros and cons of writing historical fiction about Marquee Names. Are they really necessary for launching a book and attracting an audience?

Our lunchtime keynote speaker was Jennifer Weltz from the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. It’s always fascinating to hear an agent’s take on the industry. It’s also nice when an agent expresses her love for historical fiction. After her address, an editors’ panel (Jennifer Weltz, Deni Dietz, Shana Drehs, Heather Lazare, and Charles Spicer) talked to the crowd about selling historical fiction. Unfortunately, there is no magical secret key. But it was interesting to get their various takes on what they are interested in seeing and what is easiest to sell. I was particularly heartened to hear one editor suggest that male protagonists might be making a comeback. I love women’s fiction, but I do miss those sweeping epics centered on the men who made history.

Saturday night, Cecelia Holland gave the keynote address at dinner. She gave a short but inspiring talk. Since she is one of my writing idols, I was thrilled just to be in the same room. I’m not normally a celebrity-hound, but I do stand in awe of this writer.

After dinner, we were treated to a historical costume fashion show, narrated by Valerie Sokol. The costumes were stunning.

The Saturday Night Sex Scene Readings closed the evening, moderated by Diana Gabaldon. This has become one of the favorite events at the HNS conference. But, once again, I was too wiped out to stay for the whole thing. If the next conference is in the east, I’ll be less of a wimp.

Only two more panels on Sunday morning. The first was on how to use internet resources to do historical research– and how to incorporate the research into your novel. (As well as how to leave research out of it.) This panel was presented by Jay Dixon, Sarah Mallory, and Barbara Sedlock. They gave us a wealth of information. It was a beautiful presentation.

And finally, Frederick Ramsey, Margaret George, Cecelia Holland, Joyce Elson Moore, and Susan Vreeland spoke on Writing Biographical Fiction: How Much Fiction, How Much Fact? Since my own book is biographical fiction, I wanted to hear the different viewpoints from the speakers and from the audience. Again, the speakers did a great job and generated a lively audience discussion.

More than just the panels, the conference provided an opportunity to socialize with other HF writers, both published authors and aspiring authors. I had a wonderful time getting to know my fellow historical fiction devotees.

The next conference will be in 2013. Here are some tips if you decide to join us:

1. Bring a bigger suitcase than you think you’ll need. The goody bag was chock-full of books. And there is a bookseller on site so you can purchase books to be signed by all those authors present whose books sound too interesting to pass up. There were a few books I just could not buy because I’d have no way to get them home. I bought them when I got home. I’m not much of an autograph collector, but it still would have been nice to have them signed while I was there.

2. Bring a camera. Unless your cell phone camera is decent. Mine isn’t. And now I have no photo documentation of that wonderful weekend!

3. Go to the social functions. Meet people. Everyone is approachable, friendly, and eager to talk about their books and yours.

4. Relax and have fun. It isn't all about pitching your book. If that's all you're there for, you'll be stressed and disappointed. There are so many great books out there. Drink them in!


  1. What a great time you had. It's a shame that these sorts of things are only on every two years, but perhaps that makes it more special too.

  2. Thank you for linking this on my blog (Bloggerverse) I had never heard of this convention before.
    Sounds like everyone had a wonderful time!