The End of the Conference

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.

However, Friday afternoon, I did meet with a semi-famous writer of historical fiction mysteries who’d agreed to mentor writers. That was demoralizing and confusing. All he had to say was:
  • 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.

Overall, I had a great time and I think even though I spent $300 for a conference I didn’t attend, I got my money’s worth — and I sold one book. Not much but 100% more than I would have sold otherwise.

11 thoughts on “The End of the Conference

    • No, Catherine. I might have met her if I’d actually gone, which I hope to do next time it occurs if it’s not too far away. There were more than 300 people there and about 140 at the book signing.

  1. Hooray- you sold one book. That’s a beginning for sure. I think the $300 was well spent as you have noted since you made a wonderful reconnection with a friend from the past. Aside from becoming ill, perhaps you didn’t miss much by not meeting the agent. I’m glad that you had a good time. That’s all that really matters-maybe.

  2. I’m really glad you went. I was startled when I saw this post because that campus photo looks like SUNY New Paltz here; every American campus of a certain era has those three towers spaced just so.

    It reminded Mr. Published Fictionalist of Tolstoy because it is a family story with each character’s inner life presented, for one thing (at least Savior is; I want to read Martin of Gfenn). Like you said, “This is an insult?” Or a complaint? He missed out on a good book.

    • That’s a park near downtown Denver. 🙂 Thanks for what you’ve written here, Mark. I admit to being a little demoralized. My editor (with whom I just chatted) said, “His (meaning the semi-famous writer) comments were superficial and unenlightened.” My response at the time was that he hadn’t taken me seriously.

  3. There’s an extremely talented (in my unexpert opinion, that is!) short-story/fiction writer I follow on PigspittleOhio.com who just did an interesting piece on consultants that you might like. It’s a little kafkaesque in a way and your guy who volunteered to mentor reminded me of the story.

    What synchronicity, the fascinating man and the bodice-ripper young woman! The dress-up part would have done me in. Glad you got to have a wander around Denver and see old friends!

    • Thanks for the heads up about something I may like reading! Kafkaesque is a description I would NOW apply to the whole process of submitting stories for publication and seeking true and useful criticism for one’s work. Yeah, I’m afraid if I’d gone to the costume parade I’d have lost it completely. 🙂

  4. Getting published is easy. Getting distributed, reviews, and read is hard. I’m always amazed when anyone is able to break the wall and get into the published world. I admire your persistence. Everything is made much worse by the reduced number of books being published, purchased, and read.

    You write really well and you are determined and tenacious, so maybe you’ll encounter that person you need to meet. I finally got a meeting with an editor who promised to read my book.

    Two days before the meeting, he died. Really died. I took that as a sign.

    • I think it’s a crapshoot. I don’t think good writing, persistence or tenacity has anything to do with it. Honestly, I think it’s complete bullshit and over the weekend I revisited my personal attitude toward writing which is that I write because I like to. I don’t believe there is any other pay off I can be sure of. My friends like my books and that’s not something I view with contempt. I think it’s great.

      In our so-called “bag of goodies” was a HUGE novel (300+ pages). It weighed a ton. I considered that disrespectful to people who might have come from another continent to attend the conference, but it was a conventionally published novel and the publisher had clearly made that decision. I left mine in my hotel room.

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