Book sale day at the local library, and even though my bookshelves are overflowing with unread books, I couldn't resist lugging home a few more. I found five historical novels I've long wanted to read:
Mary by Janis Cooke Newman (2006). The story of the wife of Abraham Lincoln, narrated by herself from the insane asylum where she ended her life.
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan (2007). The story of Mamah Borthwicke Cheney, who carried on a clandestine love affair with Frank Lloyd Wright.
The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan (2009). A historical love story that entwines the trials of the couple with the history of the exploitation of Niagara Falls. I'm currently enjoying Buchanan's The Painted Girls and look forward to reading more of her work. This was her debut novel.
The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie (2008). West meets East during the Renaissance as a European appears at the court of the Mughal emperor, claiming to be a long-lost relative born of an exiled Indian princess and a Florentine man.
The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks (2005). A novel that recreates the life of Carrie McGavock, whose Tennessee home became a Confederate hospital and later a massive cemetery where she grieved the soldiers lost in the war.
So many good books, so little time! Have you read any of these? What did you think?
I don't get out much. I'll admit it. I'm a writer, right? A writer who's paying two college tuitions, parochial school tuition, California sales tax, etc., etc. But I wouldn't miss this bi-annual North American conference for anything, even if I had eat to franks and beans every day for a year in order to get there. If you're a writer or reader of historical fiction, this three-day gathering (remarkably low-priced for all that it includes) is worth every penny. You'll come home with a suitcase full of books, a head full of knowledge, an abundance of eagerness, a roster of new friends and colleagues--and maybe even an agent or editor request to submit your novel!
The HNS Conference is unique in that it draws, and caters to, both readers and writers of historical fiction. Readers adore the conference because they get to mingle with some of the biggest names in historical fiction today--Diana Gabaldon, Margaret George, Susan Vreeland, Michelle Moran, C.W. Gortner, among others, have all attended previous conferences. And when I say "mingle," I mean "chat with," "stand next to," "rub elbows with," "stutter in front of," "spill drinks on," "photograph"--for the authors mix freely with the attendees the entire weekend. They are more than happy to discuss the weather, laugh at your favorite joke and look at photos of your dog, as well as answer questions and sign books. You arrive at the conference a bit star-struck; by the time you leave, you realize that authors are regular people, too, and often incredibly gracious ones at that.
Benefits to writers of historical fiction are too numerous to count, but include:
Timely and engaging content. The conference offers a wide array of workshops and panel discussions aimed at helping authors become better writers, understand the genre, and navigate the challenging world of publishing. Three sessions run concurrently throughout the day Saturday and on Sunday morning. The difficulty lies in deciding which of these wonderful sessions to attend! Doors always remain open so attendees can slip in and out of sessions that overlap. Click for this year's session schedule.
Agent and editor contacts. Each attendee may request a free pitch session--a private, ten-minute interview--with two of the twelve agents and editors in attendance. These sessions often lead to invitations to submit partial or full manuscripts for consideration after the conference. If an author does not yet have material ready to pitch, opportunities exist to chat with agents at group events to find out what they're interested in, as well as to get a feel for what it would be like to work with them. Click for this year's list of agents and editors.
Increased confidence. Being around other writers, from complete novices to best-selling authors, can be a huge confidence builder. Not in the sense of comparing your skills or sales numbers to theirs, but in realizing that every author starts out from the same spot and through persistence and hard work realizes her dreams. Learning how one writer got an agent/multi-book contract/huge publicity budget on her first try proves it can happen, lighting the flame of hope; discovering that another author had five rejected novels in her drawer before she made a sale inspires the courage to continue, despite setbacks. Hearing these different stories and seeing the various paths to publication is both encouraging and reassuring.
Inspiration. Historical fiction authors love to discuss history and share facts they have unearthed during their research. In this seething broth of historical lore, seasoned by stimulating discussion and chance acquaintance, new ideas continually bob to the surface. Browsing the conference bookstore will reveal unfamiliar settings, events and eras that might tempt you to future exploration; a comment from a fellow participant at breakfast could spark an idea for a mystery series; hashing out an tangled subplot with a colleague over a glass of wine might lead to the breakthrough you've been waiting for. Listening to other writers describe their work habits and methods can provide you the means and enthusiasm to revitalize your own.
Connections. Networking, in the best sense of the term, is the primary value of the conference. In a group of three hundred people who share the same passion for history and books, it is easy to make new friends and find knowledgeable new colleagues. Name tags list participants' specialties and preferred eras, facilitating the discovery of other Tudormaniacs or classical buffs! Getting to know other authors, published or not, can lead to blurbs for future novels, introductions to editors or agents, guest posts on blogs, critique partner pairings and the formation of writing groups. But don't be mercenary about it--these connections can lead to friendships that enrich your life beyond the realm of publishing. You'll have wonderful memories to share and new adventures to look forward to as you support your writing friends and become part of each other's lives.
I've attended four of the five North American Conferences and have had a wonderful experience every time. My first conference, in Albany, NY, proved to me that hey, I could do this writing thing; the second, in Schaumberg, IL, allowed me to meet with my fabulous agent, Stephanie Cabot, in person; at my third conference, in San Diego, CA, I clicked with an amazing group of fellow writers who have not only formed a critique group but have grown to become the dearest of friends. Who knows what the 2013 conference might bring?
This year I will be leading a panel discussion entitled "Virtual Salon: The Historical Fiction Blog." Bloggers extraordinaire Heather Webb, Amy Bruno, Deborah Swift, and Heather Rieseck will join me to share tips on creating and maintaining a successful blog and to discuss the future of historical fiction blogging. We hope you'll join us--if not at the discussion, then at the bar, the banquet, the bookshop, or the corridor! Introduce yourself and join the fun--you'll be so glad you did, and we will, too.
I write historical fiction set in sixteenth century France. An avid reader who fell in love with all things French as a teen, I went on to earn a Ph.D in French literature from Princeton. My stories grow from my research and my desire to make Renaissance Europe come alive for modern readers. Explore my blog and immerse yourself in this fascinating era!