Monday, June 20, 2011

The Historical Novel Society Conference

This weekend I had the great fortune to attend the 4th Historical Novel Society conference in North America. The Historical Novel Society has been alternating having the conference in England and North America over the past few years.  I had only just found out about the society 4 years ago when they had their Albany conference, and I couldn't attend the conference 2 years ago when it was held just outside Chicago. However, since this year SCANDALOUS WOMEN came out, and there was a nice review in the Historical Novel Review, I decided to attend.  Over the years, I've attended various RWA (Romance Writers of America) conferences which have been wonderful, but my writing has gone in a different direction over the years, so I felt it was important to attend a conference that was close to the genre that I want to write. Plus, it was nice to be amongst my people for a weekend, authors and readers who love history as much as I do, who talk about historical figures like Eleanor of Aquitaine as if they were still living.

The conference was held at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in San Diego.  This was only my second trip to San Diego, but the city is lovely and I wish that I had had more of a chance to explore the city.  Alas, my new day job means that I have limited vacation time, the downside to getting a regular paycheck.  The conference was inspiring to say the least.  Not only did I get to meet some of my favorite authors such as Michelle Moran (author of MADAME TUSSAUD) but I also discovered some great new authors (Michelle Cameron, DeAnna Cameron, Kate Quinn, Mitchell James Kaplan) who I can't wait to read.  I also finally got a chance to meet the wonderful Kris Waldherr who gave me a lovely blurb for SCANDALOUS WOMEN.  There were so many fabulous authors there that I can't name them all. However, the highlight was meeting Christy English, who I consider my sister by another mother.  We just go on like a house on fire.

I was lucky enough to be a moderator for a panel entitled "Turning History's Antagonists into Sympathetic Protagonists" on Saturday with an incredibly distinguished group of authors including C.W. Gortner (author of the CONFESSIONS OF CATHERINE DE MEDICI), Emma Campion (author of THE KING'S MISTRESS), Anne Easter Smith, and Susan Higginbotham. I have read the works of all of these wonderful authors, so it was a thrill to be in the same room with them, let alone be moderating a panel. I'm pretty sure that I was chosen to moderate this panel, because the women in SCANDALOUS WOMEN haven't been treated sympathetically by their biographers over the years.  We had a lively discussion on the panel and it was very interesting to hear the different points of view.

One of the more interesting panels was whether or not you need a Marquee Name as your main character in historical fiction.  The general consensus of the panel was that it does help if your main character is someone well known like Mary, Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, or Anne Boleyn, but another way to get around that is to have a Marquee name as a secondary character which I have seen done successfully by Christine Trent and D.L. Bogdan, or even a marquee setting such as Tudor or Elizabethan England. This is something that I've often wondered about.  I adore Anne Boleyn, but how many stories are there left to tell about her? I met an author over the weekend who had written a book from the POV of her French executioner, there have been countless books from the POV's of her maids of honor, a confectioner at court, her sister-in-law Jane Rochford, Cromwell.  The only two people who don't seem to have a book from their POV is George Boleyn or Thomas Boleyn (now that might be interesting!).  Anne has even been written as a vampire. I'd like to also mention the Jewish Historical fiction panel that I attended which was fascinating and provocative. What I love about historical fiction is that it is so wide open in terms of subjects and settings.  There is something for everyone.

A few books were sold at the bookfair on Saturday.  Since I'm a relatively unknown author, I really didn't expect to push a lot of books, but it was great to see them in the bookstore at the conference. I feel like a real author now!  Saturday night's banquet was great fun, not only was there a fashion parade but something called "Saturday Night Sex Scenes,' the highlight being C.C. Humphreys (the author of THE FRENCH EXECUTIONER about Anne Boleyn's executioner) looking like a sexy Victorian crypt keeper along with Gillian Bagwell reading a scene from her novel THE DARLING STRUMPET wherein the Earl of Rochester teaches Nell Gwyn a particular skill.  I'll leave it to your imagination what that skill is. I wasn't quite sure whether or not to take notes, and I'm still reeling over hearing the great Diana Gabaldon do the narration. The fact that C.C. is actually English added to the whole event.

At the end of the day, I came back with at least 10 ideas for historical fiction projects.  As much as I love writing non-fiction and want to continue to do so, I started out writing fiction and there is a part of me that would like to see if I can actually write a novel that someone wants to buy! I was also very gratified that I actually stuck to my goal of working out in the gym all 3 days of the conference, although it was tempting to be a bit of a slacker.

My only quibble with the conference is that the panels were not recorded, so if you missed one, there is no opportunity to listen to it later.  I would suggest that perhaps the organizers of the next conference explore that option. From my informal survery, quite a few people would be willing to buy the audio DVD's of sessions that they missed.

Just a few quick additions to this post:  I just want to thank all the hard working volunteers and the staff at HNS, especially Sarah Johnson and Richard Scott for ensuring that the entire conference ran like butter. I have never been to such a well-organized conference before in my life.  I know it is a great deal of hard work, but the work never showed.

Also, the Holiday Inn on the Bay.  What a lovely hotel! And the food was great at the conference as well. I've had enough bad vegetarian meals at conferences to last a lifetime.  Don't even get me started on the time that they served me a barely nuked baked potato as my entree! However, the food was fresh, tasty and plentiful.  Not once did I have to go and eat at the Elephant and Castle pub because my food at the conference was inedible.


kriswaldherr said...

Elizabeth, it was so great to meet you too at last! I wish they'd recorded sessions too. There were so many great sessions that it was hard to choose which one to attend. I'm relying on others' notes to bring me up to speed on the sessions I missed.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Hi Kris,

Yes, I agree. I wish I could have cloned myself so that I could have gone to all the workshops! We'll have to get together and compare notes on the workshops we missed.

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Wow, this makes me really, really want to go! Recently received your book and am about to dive in...