MAKING A FIRST-TIMER FEEL AT HOME
By Colleen Fliedner
Arriving early at the Historical Novel Society’s conference in Schaumburg, Illinois, I headed into “Fresh 1800,” a restaurant at the Hyatt Regency, for a quick bite. This was my first HNS conference, and I didn’t know a soul. I couldn’t help but overhear several groups at nearby tables having intense discussions. Writers’ discussions. Make that, historical writers’ discussions. They talked about plot, periods of history, using real versus fictional characters, and so forth. Okay, I was eavesdropping. I couldn’t help myself! I was in writers’ heaven!
Unable to hold back my excitement, I introduced myself to numerous fellow HNS members. Everyone was friendly and open, in spite of the fact that I was the “new kid on the block.” Judy Ridgley and Winifred Halsey talked about how wonderful the past two conferences had been and how much they were looking forward to this year’s speakers. I met sisters Karen Lee and Judith E. Davis, both writers. Judith had come all the way from her home on the Island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean. When I joked that she should receive an award for traveling the furthest distance, she laughed and said, “I wouldn’t have missed this conference for anything.” Boy, I thought, this is really going to be good.
Ann Chamberlin introduced herself a few minutes later. Chatting for a while, I discovered we share an interest in Turkey. Ann has written numerous books set there. Although I spent a month in Turkey and plotted two historical novels, I never wrote the books. Why?
I became disenchanted with the genre in the late 1990s, after completing my first novel at the time historicals died. My agent advised me to wait for the “pendulum to swing back in a few years.” Frustrated, I packed my manuscript and piles of story ideas in boxes, stacked them in the closet, and returned to nonfiction writing.
So, there I was on Friday evening…in a room bulging with hundreds of people who shared my passion for history and writing. This was precisely why I decided to spend money I don’t have right now to attend the conference. I felt completely and utterly comfortable.
Saturday was packed with so many outstanding panels, it was difficult to choose which ones to attend. I filled an entire composition book with notes covering everything from breaking into historical fiction, to publishing with small presses, to using appropriate dialogue. The banquet speakers were wonderful, and although everyone was disappointed that Edward Rutherfurd had to cancel, Sharon Penman seamlessly stepped in as keynote speaker on Saturday night.
We writers often work in a bubble; alone with our computers, notes, rough drafts, and reference books. By coming together at the conference, I believe a special, infectious synergy was created. Somewhere between meeting the HNS members in the restaurant, and the last workshop on Sunday, my determination to write historicals was rekindled. I came home energized by the speakers, encouraged by the other writers, and very grateful to the people who put the conference together.