Strange how the Historical Novel Society Conference weekend turned out. My name was in the local paper (Aurora, a suburb of Denver) and my best friend from my 20s saw it, got in touch with me and we had dinner together so I missed the banquet. It was worth it. Then, the next morning, Saturday, I was supposed to meet with the only agent I ended up scheduled to meet, a man I didn’t feel much enthusiasm about meeting, but… As it happened, I got sick in the night (an evil confluence of blood pressure medicine and a single martini, I think) and ended up awake until 6 am, so I slept through the agent meeting.
Essentially, I figure, I paid $300 so my old friend — whom I was THRILLED to hear from and see — could see my name in the paper.
At that point, I decided the best use of my time was to go into Denver and revisit the city I loved so much 30 years ago so that’s what I did. Saturday evening I did the book signing for Martin of Gfenn and Savior and happened to be seated next to two women who collaborate on historical fiction mysteries AND (Yay!) who live in the San Luis Valley. As this is a remote area and very unpopulated, that was amazing. Some old friends (high school!) showed up for the book signing (with their books!) and we went out for dinner.
- The names and number of characters were confusing
- It reminded him of Tolstoy (this is an insult?)
- The boys’ mother would have had a child every year so there was too big a gap between Andreas (age 19) and the baby.
- I need to avoid using words like “get” “very” and “too”
- I need to identify which version of the Bible I’m using.
He made a potentially useful comment about POV (that from the POV I’ve chosen I cannot “get in my character’s heads”) but as my editor didn’t mention that and it hasn’t bothered anyone else who’s read it (like my cousin who’s a medievalist, an English major and a PhD) it confuses me whether that is a problem or not.
Since I based the family EXACTLY (including years of separation between the births of the brothers) on my OWN family tree, his comment annoyed me. I know well that just because one has sex one does not necessarily get pregnant. The bit about the Biblical source was off target, too, because the first chapter of a novel is not the place for that.
I left that experience wondering what he had actually said — so I sat down and wrote down what he DIDN’T say and decided that his silence on matters of flow, characterization and dialogue might have come about because he saw no problems with it OR because he didn’t care. But I also thought that — having sent Martin of Gfenn out long before I should have — that maybe I should go through the manuscript again with an eye to the POV problems before I approach an agent, face-to-face or via email or paper.
Otherwise, the conference was surreal, fun and cute. It was mostly women 40+ years old with a few in their twenties and a few men, most 60+. The majority were either there to learn how to write or were, like me, self-published authors. There were girls/women who were so into it that they had elaborate costumes which were featured at an event I missed, but I saw many of them. I began to see that for many writing historical fiction is an elaborate, verbal role-play. The majority of dress-ups were Jane Austenesque and Scarlett O’Haraesque with one or two dipping their toes into ancient Greece or the dark streets of Elizabethan England.
I sat next to a fascinating man at the book-signing (historical thriller) who had a career in the NSA in the middle east, and when he looked at my books he said, “Your books are as unusual for this place as my book is.” That was an interesting comment because looking at the program I’d felt like I’d landed on the wrong planet. His book was a Philip K. Dickian futuristic thriller with a plot that depended on ancient (i.e. Biblical) history. I asked him why and he said, “Most of these writers write bodice rippers.” Just then a young (30ish) woman came by wearing a corset that was designed as underwear, but she had it over her white blouse and plaid skirt and, as she was a person on the verge of exceeding plump, it was mildly horrifying and amusing at the same time.The two women from nearby towns and I formed a writers’ “group” which will probably be beneficial for us and we’re going to have lunch tomorrow.