Hard to believe that the 2015 Historical Novel Society Conference (in Denver) started a week ago today. Talk about a jam-packed four days! I learned so much and met so many wonderful authors. This was my first one and I will forever treasure it.
Here’s a rough idea of how the conference went and my personal highlights:
Thursday – Travel day and dinner at the fabulous Oceanaire restaurant (foie gras, stuffed sole and Prosecco). Went to see the one-man play Defending the Caveman. So hilarious! I recommend it to anyone!
Friday – Eight hours of pre-conference workshops with Larry Brooks on story structure. It didn’t occur to me until the workshop started that he’s one of the authors whose books I’m reading as part of my DIY MFA program. This man is amazing. His theories, along with those of Michael Hauge, have finally gotten me to understand the craft part of writing. I can’t wait to apply what I’ve learned to my next book!
The highlight of the evening was getting to hear Shakespearean actor/writer C.C. Humphreys read his poem “We Are Historical Novelists.” I’m going to frame a copy of it and may even get part of it tattooed on me eventually.
Saturday – The day of many workshops began at 7 a.m. These are the ones I attended:
- A special session on how to build an audience before you get published, which had some great marketing ideas.
- Primary sources beyond Google for American histfic, where I learned about census records, city directories, newspapers, databases and archives and how to access them. Very cool! I know I will use this for my next American novel (which will be the novel after this one)
How to write historical fiction without the famous. I won’t be doing a lot of this because I don’t use many fictional historical characters, but it was still interesting to learn what readers want vs. what writers want to write. After this one entered the Q&A stage, I popped into the agent/editors panel where they all talked about how much they want WWI and WWII era books, hence I’m focusing on my WWII book next. (Wait until I can give you the synopsis. I don’t think this angle has been done before.)
- Taking biography and turning it into historical fiction. This was one of my most highly anticipated sessions, as this is how I write my histfic. I didn’t take many notes, which must mean I’m doing something right, but the big highlight was hearing Margaret George speak.
Selling historical fiction: the good, the bad and the ugly – This was by far my favorite panel, mainly because the panelists were so honest. C.W. Gortner, whom I love, talked about how it took him five agents and 15 years to get published. Donna Russo Morin, whom I fell in love with, talked about her agent/publisher horror stories. These all made me feel my better about my own bumpy journey. My biggest takeaway was that there are no “overnight” or “out of the blue” success stories. Those books have $100,000 marketing budgets behind them that the houses keep quiet about.
- Midwifery – this panel was really cool. Got to hear how it evolved (or not) from the 15th century BCE to the 17th century CE. This was the most factual and the one I took the most notes on that day. Diana Gabaldon moderated the panel. I didn’t meet her, but she seemed very nice and was gracious with everyone.
- Keeping historical fiction real and relevant – I finally got to meet Patricia Bracewell before this panel! We’ve been friends on twitter for ages, but to finally meet her was a dream come true. She is so kind and supportive! The panel was great. Key takeaway: do your best to get rid of your hindsight and live the story as your characters do, biases, worldview and all.
After this was the author signing, were over 50 authors gathered and you could buy their books and talk with them. I bought about 10 books, plus the three I had with me to get signed. Highlights were hanging out with Patricia Bracewell (she asked me to!), meeting CW Gortner and finally getting to meet online friends JF Ridgley, Helen Hollick and Allison Morton in person.
We had a formal dinner with an awards ceremony, period costume pageant and sex scene readings that night. One of my fellow speakers at a St. Louis festival was one of the finalist for the awards! The highlight of my evening was meeting author Stephanie Carroll when she sat next to me at dinner. She taught me a lot about self-publishing and made it seem really doable. I’m not ready yet, but I’m more open to it than I’ve ever been. I hope she and I can stay in touch!
Sunday – I attended only one workshop, Writing Women in the West, as my next book (after the WWII one) will be a quasi-western. One of the speakers was really good, giving lots of detail on the different types of boomtowns and gamblers in the west. Next, I attended a Q&A session with an agent, which was not as helpful as I would have liked.
After that, my introverted self was done. I had to take a nap and get some alone time. Then my roomate, Tessa, and I went into downtown Denver to hang out. We visited the famous bookstore Tattered Cover, and of course, bought more books. Then on our way to a wine bar, I tripped over the sidewalk and came down hard on my already bruised knees (did a faceplant at work the week before). So we ended up eating at a local Italian place that was amazing.
I had to leave at 6 a.m. the next morning. I honestly haven’t really downloaded all the information I acquired at this conference yet. It was well worth the time and money and I will definitely be attending next year’s conference in Oxford, England. I already have my first $50 put away!
I have handouts from most of the workshops, so if you want any of them, just let me know.
What conferences have you been to as a writer or reader that you particularly enjoyed? How do you maximize your time there? What’s your favorite part?