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"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Jun 27, 2019

Historical Novel Society Conference 2019

The benefits of attending a writers' conference are numerous. It's a chance to reconnect with longtime friends and colleagues, to make new friends, to pitch book ideas--informally or formally--to editors from publishing houses familiar and not, to absorb the collective wisdom of writers at all stages of their careers, to hear the latest market news. Oh--and of course, to eat, drink, and be merry...for tomorrow, we must return to that manuscript!

HNS is an international organisation, with conference alternating between the US and the UK, and there's an Australasia one as well. I've attended UK as well as US conferences. This year we gathered at the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center in Maryland, across the Potomac River from Alexandria, Virginia, and quite close to Washington, D.C. Some members took advantage of the location to go sightseeing in our nation's capital. With  lifelong connections to the region, and relatives and friends in the vicinity, I didn't stray from the hotel until the conference ended.

My room's view of the ferris wheel & Potomac River

In the hotel's Atrium, replica of Old Alexandria--and massive window

There were extra pre-conference workshops on the Thursday. That evening was devoted to an opening cocktail reception and costume contest. As usual, those who came in period attire looked wonderful. I attended as Hedy Lamarr, costumed for her role in the film Ziegfeld Girl, which she was shooting at the time she co-invented spread-spectrum technology and frequency-hopping. Her experience making the film, and her reaction to her costume, are included in Beautiful Invention: A Novel of Hedy LamarrMy efforts to recreate that gown couldn't match the exquisite Adrian design, or the excellence of the MGM seamstresses, but I did my best.

Hedy wore it better--of course!

Ladies in white: with debut author Finola Austin
Opening reception in the Pose Lounge atop the hotel

Having served on the Program Committee--no easy task--the line up of panels, workshops, skills demonstrations (sword fighting! wool spinning! period dancing!) and group discussions was no secret to me. I was frustratingly aware that whatever choice I made in a given hour, I was missing several amazing other options. I was involved with two panels myself, Silk Stocking Rebels: Writing STEAM-Powered Women (women of Science, Tech, Engineering, Arts, and Math), and Women of Washington. And I was co-leader for a Koffee  Klatch group chat Call off the Revolution! What-Ifs? that Would have Changed the Course of History. [Program Committee members weren't allowed to assess or approve the panels that they proposed, so I had no insider advantage to becoming a panellist!]

Nicky Pentilla, Mary Sharratt, Kate Quinn, Me

Stephanie Dray, Stephanie Thornton, Me

I attended as many panels as I could, when not otherwise occupied. Most were on topics of interest, rather than craft, and all were well presented. Of particular usefulness, now that I'm writing another 20th century novel: You Mean it Didn't Rain that Day? The Perils & Pitfalls of Writing Modern History with Chanel Cleeton, Camille Di Maio, Renee Rosen, Stephanie Thornton, and Kate Quinn. My research incorporates so many primary and secondary sources, and all the newspaper and magazine articles about my characters.

The Friday night Hooch Through History is always a highlight, and this year was no exception--the theme was Revolution. And alcohol definitely fueled or consoled revolutionaries! Isobel Carr proceeded through her slides, and the hotel wait staff delivered the highly potent beverages in sequence, with an occasional amuse bouche.

Our lunchtime speakers, Dolen Perkins-Valez (Friday) and Jeff Shaara (Saturday), were eloquent and inspiring. I also attended the afternoon tea at which both responded to an interviewer's questions, and took questions from the audience.

M.K. (Mary) Todd has a terrific wrap-up on the agents and editors panel, and their views on the current market for historical fiction:  The State of Historical Fiction #HNS 2019. As I become aware of more, I'll add them here. Using the hashtag #hns2019 will bring up social media posts, and some great live-tweeting from the various panels. I've got so many pictures on my phone--the ones I took and ones shared or sent to me. I haven't yet  had a chance to review them all.

Along with 100 or so other authors, I participated in the Readers Festival booksigning event, and thoroughly enjoyed meeting the public and conference attendees who came.

At the Readers' Festival Booksigning, with Hedy

After the closing banquet, I was one of the professional actor/authors performing a staged reading of works by several revolutionary female playwrights, compiled by Program Chair Leslie Carroll and directed by Gillian Bagwell. At the conclusion, we were joined by banjo maestro Curt Locklear, and led the crowd in a rousing rendition of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land."

With Leslie Carroll before the banquet

Scene from Mae West's play SEX, as prostitutes in a brothel

Me, Gillian Bagwell, Leslie Carroll, Leanna Renee Hieber

The full company: Teel James Glenn, Elizabeth Kerri Mahon,
Anne Easter Smith, Me, Gillian, Leslie, Leanna
The next event was Lady Baltimore's Ball, an after-party with period dances--reels and quadrilles--led by an expert in costume. And then there was an after-after party with my fellow performers and others who stayed up late because they couldn't bear for all the fun and fabulousness to end!

My adventures weren't yet over...a dear friend collected me and I spent a few days with her and her husband, whose marriage ceremony nine years ago took place at our lake house, and their darling dog Jasper (whom I hadn't yet met).

At the same time, my own darling dog Dot was completing her final session of Level Two Obedience, with my husband as handler. She and her classmates were working on their Downtown Dog skills, and walked along Main Street to our city's fantastic Independent Bookstore. Once there, I'm told, Dot walked right over to the "P" section in fiction--perhaps looking for my books? Good Girl!

After discussing my work-in-progress with editors, I intend to spend the summer working towards its completion. For discipline and self-imposed deadline I'll possibly rely on Camp NaNo. It's the July program sponsored by National Novel Writing Month/NaNoWriMo, which I successfully completed last November, writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Camp NaNo has a "set your own goal" feature that's more compatible with my life right now.

I came home to an abundantly blooming rose garden, and after a hosting an Open Garden for friends and locals, I plan to hide away at the lake and write. I have a few more author events scheduled, including a radio presentation, so I can't be a complete hermit!

Happy summer to you....