Just noticed this is my 800th post!
I returned late Tuesday night from the 5th North American HNS conference in St. Petersburg, Florida. The weather was sunny and beautiful (if very muggy) every day, the Vinoy Renaissance hotel was absolutely gorgeous, my room was large and quiet, the hotel staff were attentive and helpful, and the panels I attended were all professionally run and informative. My sparkly sandals even cooperated; I made it through without bandaids. This was my first time there as a regular attendee rather than an organizer (many people came up to me so say how relaxed I looked!) so I had time to catch up with old friends and meet up with many others I'd only communicated with online. These conferences really are all about the people, after all -- making connections with fellow HF nerds that endure long after we're all back home.
Because I find it hard to keep up with online stuff while the conference is on, I didn't tweet or FB very much and also didn't take many photos (the one above is a scene of the ocean inlet across the street from the Vinoy). For a great compilation of photos that also tells a story of conference happenings, let me refer you over to the Storify site put together by Audra of Unabridged Chick.
I leave tomorrow for ALA in Chicago and am working the late shift tonight, so things are kind of crazy around here, but I thought I'd post some info on the panels I attended and some other highlights of the conference:
- Anne Perry's inspirational Friday night guest of honor speech emphasized the role of story in historical fiction and the need to make these works emotionally resonant. And she spoke for over half an hour without any notes! Wow. A wonderful way to start off the event.
- Early on Saturday morning, I attended the first agent/editor panel session, which turned out to be a Q&A for aspiring writers. This may seem an unusual choice for someone like me who doesn't write fiction, but I like hearing what things are like on the other side of the table.Advice from agent Stephanie Cabot: Each book in a series should stand alone, and in the case of a trilogy, don't end book 1 with a cliffhanger. Agent Helen Heller mentioned "the Tudors have been overfished" although this depends on the quality of the work in question; she also advised authors writing query letters not to start with a provocative question about the plot, but simply to say what the book is about and about themselves. Agent Diana Fox said that trends can make a novel easier to sell, but the writing is what matters most. From agent Greg Johnson: a series can benefit both authors and readers and save authors time in creating backstory. Small press editor Jean Huets focuses on American settings and is looking for new voices in this area. This was the only panel where I took notes, so this is rather long!
- Susan Spann ably moderated a panel of historical mystery writers with settings as diverse as 19th and 20th-c South America (Annamaria Alfieri), Victorian England (Anne Perry), 1st-c Jerusalem (Frederick Ramsay), and Judith Rock (17th-c France). Susan's debut, Claws of the Cat, comes out next month and features a ninja detective and a Jesuit solving mysteries in 16th-c Japan. I loved the variety showcased here.
- Christopher (C.W.) Gortner's lunch speech, focusing on community and how HNS had helped him along his publishing journey, set the perfect tone for the conference.
- "To Trump or Trumpet the History Police" - Will historical purists come out to get you if you fudge the facts? The conclusion was: sometimes they will! The authors (Stephanie Cowell, Christy English, Margaret George, Anne Easter Smith, with CW Gortner moderating) had a lively discussion/debate about historical accuracy vs. the importance of creating a good story. Each has condensed a timeline to some degree or eliminated unneeded characters for the sake of the story they wanted to tell.
- "Virtual Salon: The Historical Fiction Blog" - a great intro to the many purposes for a blog in the historical fiction world, whether they're written by authors or reviewers/readers. There was a lot of positive buzz surrounding this panel. Speakers were Deborah Swift, Amy Bruno, Heather Rieseck, and Heather Webb, moderated by Julianne Douglas.
- The "Off the Beaten Path" workshop with bloggers & authors Julie Rose, Heather Domin, Audra Friend, and Andrea Connell was a treat for readers (like me) who seek out less common settings and types of characters in their historical novels. Check out their page of info with publishing & reviewing trends as well as their lengthy reading list.
- Gillian Bagwell did a smashing job in her role as Joan, Lady Rivers emceeing the costume pageant, and Teralyn Pilgrim, as a pregnant vestal virgin, was an obvious choice for winning "most authentic historical costume." I hope her on-stage interview with Lady Rivers was taped! I was very tired by that point and didn't stay for most of the late-night sex scene readings, but was entertained by Margaret George's reading from her Autobiography of Henry VIII.
- On Sunday morning I went to just two sessions, one author presentation and another with "cold reads" of unpublished manuscripts. In the former, Susanna Kearsley gave advice on how to flesh out historical characters' backstories and discover new connections between them using genealogical research. As a sidenote, I last saw Susanna at the last ever BookExpo Canada in 2008, when I was probably the only American in attendance. After she signed a copy of The Winter Sea for me, I asked her if her new books would be published in the US at some point. At the time, US publishers felt the stories were "too quiet" and weren't interested. Now her novels, out from Sourcebooks, are bestsellers, which is great. Goes to show that sometimes the industry has no clue.
And so another HNS conference has wrapped up. Congrats to Vanitha Sankaran and the rest of the board of directors for a job well done. I'm already looking forward to London in September 2014.