Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Continuing my report on...
Historical Novel Society Conference, Salt Lake City, April 2005

But I'll do some general housekeeping first, responding to yesterday's comments :-)

Kate - it's amazing what resources you can find through the FHL. Interesting, I've rarely met a writer who isn't interested in family history as well. Hmmm.

Màili - you were close, loosely translated it means "until tomorrow"

Larissa - it's great to BE back :-) Have to admit it seemed weird to be so disconnected from blogland. Wonder how I'll survive at Reno :-O

Now, on with my report.

Day 3
Up early, again *groan*, shower, dress then wait for room service. And wait. Finally call the desk to ask where it is - within five mins it arrives. Order somewhat screwed up - I got my breakfast of choice, but my roomie didn't. They just doubled mine *sigh*, then we discovered there was no milk for the cereal, but there was no time to call down for some. So we ate the fruit and toast and had coffee. Fortunately all three were pretty good - the fruit was ripe, toast made from a yummy whole grain bread (the jam they included was really good too) and the coffee hot and strong. I found out we were luckier than others - some didn't get their breakfast at all!

Then we were off downstairs for the first session, Genre vs. Literary Historical Fiction featuring Stephanie Cowell, Louise Hawes, Clyde Linsley, Sharan Newman, and Rosemary Poole-Carter. Having reviewed books by the first two (one of which I LOVED and one I found so-so), I was eager to hear the discussion. Novelist and historian Albert Bell moderated and did a great job directing the very lively discourse. All the panelists had strong feelings on the topic, yet as the discussion progressed they found points of agreement.

The second session, Medieval Fiction, was equally spirited, with authors Mary Gillgannon, Kathleen Cunningham Guler, Judith Merkle Riley, Elsa Watson and Jack Whyte debating the period, its appeal and the various forms of fiction it inspires. Moderator Alan Gordon asked pointed and intuitive questions for the first half hour, then turned things over to the audience. I was particularly happy when Mary Gilgannon tood a strong stand for the validity of historical romance as a viable sub-genre of historical fiction, and not merely an excuse for bosoms to heave and bodices to rip.

Lunch followed. Rachel Kahan (editor with Crown books) spoke about how she's living her dream of making money by indulging in her passion for reading historical fiction! And mentioned that NYC is definitely seeing the monetary advantages in publishing stories about the past.

In the afternoon I went to see Shannon Donnelly and Patricia Wynn talk about romance vs literary historical fiction. Patricia had stepped in at the last moment when the scheduled speaker had to pull out. It was a small group so instead of doing a formal presentation, the two authors spoke about their writing and research methods and took questions from attendees. I really enjoyed listening to them and their take on the genre and industry.

Next I sat in on mystery novelist Rhys Bowen's lecture on Developing Realistic Historical Characters. She spoke about putting yourself in the character's skin and, if possible, visiting places they might have lived. Primary sources also figure prominently in her research method. I sat next to Mary Gilgannon and Denee Cody, and mentioned to Mary that I'd appreciated her defense of the romance genre. She was very gracious and chatted to me a bit about writing in general (this was before the talk began).

Last, and certainly not least, I went to a fun workshop with Judith Merkle Riley, talking about using primary sources for developing characters. Instead of talking about her sources, she'd actually made copies of several different ones, including extracts from Margery Kempe's Booke, Nostradamus's letters and the Paston letters. Her emphasis was on how you can use these sources to get an idea of the mindset of those writing them, and thus a glimpse into the way people saw themselves in the past. She's a wonderful speaker and kept the audience well entertained while informing them at the same time.

Needless to say, I did rather over-indulge in the bookroom! Bought two books for my mum, two for Sean (Jack Whyte's first two in his series and asked him to sign them) and several more for myself *evil grin*, including The Legacy by Ellen Ekström, Maid Marian by Elsa Watson and The Birth of Blue Satan by Patricia Wynn. Was disappointed when I went back to get one of Kathy Lynn Emerson's books for her to sign, only to find them all gone :-(

The other highlight for me was meeting Stephanie Cowell - I reviewed her book Marrying Mozart just over a year ago. Her publisher has blurbed it on the back cover of the paperback version. Needless to say I bought another copy and Stephanie signed it for me :-)

On Saturday evening Claire and I went out to dinner with some other HNS friends. Did I mention Claire did the programme for the conference, along with all the other promotion? I don't think I did. Her programme was lovely - well laid out and with all the info attendees needed.

Day 4
Up early, shower, pack and down for breakfast. We decided not to risk room service, but headed for the restaurant and did the buffet. Aside from a dearth of that yummy whole grain bread, we did manage to find enough food to feed us :-) Also sat with another conference attendee and chatted with her. Then it was off to finish my last minute packing before catching the second half of Elizabeth Shown Mills workshop on Breathing Life into Shadowy Women of the Past. Yet again, the emphasis was on primary sources - are you detecting a theme here? *g*

Have to admit, though, I found it a tad distressing when she stated categorically that unless you've actually been where your characters were and touched what they did, you can't portray the past realistically. Easy enough to say if you're writing a story set in North America where many of the locations are easy to get to and the buildings and everyday items are easily viewed. But for me, setting stories in England and France, it's not so easy. I DO rely on primary sources - that's all I CAN do for right now and believe I'm capable of creating a fair representation of the world my characters inhabit.

After that, I collected my luggage, said goodbye to Claire and went to wait for the shuttle. Didn't get to say goodbye to many others, though I did see Sarah and Mark again, which was nice. My ride to the airport was quick and I made it through check-in with no problems (was worried I might encounter another cancelled reservation!), hung out at the gate eating TCBY vanilla frozen yogurt with raspberries (yum) and reading. Flight to O'Hare was uneventful - I finished The Lady and the Unicorn, but I confess I did get a tad lost in O'Hare trying to change terminals. Being female, I did ASK for directions *g* from a very nice flight attendant who walked with me and gave me directions when we parted.

Just as I was about to board the Ottawa plane, I noticed someone I know waiting too! A teacher at my old school. We walked out to the plane together and caught up. Customs was a breeze (not always the case) and then I got to watch the drug dogs work while waiting for my luggage. They were both ADORABLE!! The first was a little beagle and the second a chocolate lab - beautiful dogs and so well behaved (guess that's why they're going what they do). Found it hard to resist petting them when they sniffed my carry-on, but knew better than to give in to my love of dogs. But the best part was seeing Sean waiting for me when I came out of the door (those arriving on international flights are kept separate from those waiting for them till they've cleared customs and baggage claim).

We got home by about 11:30. I greeted the kitty (who had woken Sean up every two hours by purring in his face each night I was gone), poured myself a small glass of wine and cut up some cheese then followed Sean upstairs. Said cat was thrilled I was eating cheese in bed! Of course I gave him a small piece *g*. Snuggled down with my sweetie when I was finished and drifted off to sleep listening to a documentary on Ghengis Khan (we set a sleep timer on our tv most nights).

So, that was my great SLC adventure :-) I'm so happy I went, even if I didn't get the agent appointment I wanted. It was worth it just to mingle with so many people who share my love of history and writing. They're planning another conference for 2007 - likely in Albany, NY. Am already looking forward to it :-)

Now, however, I have to start focussing on my writing again. I'm still pretty jetlagged, but can't use it as an excuse much longer. Must. Finish. Revisions. In. Time. For. Reno!!

Teresa :-)


Alex Bordessa said...


Thank you so much for writing up your experiences at the conference. It's great to hear what happened. Sounds like you had a lovely time.

Tess said...


Glad you enjoyed my report :-) And yes, I did have a lovely time!!