Monthly Archives: June 2013

Historic Novel Society Conference 2013

After being disappointed by the past couple of sci-fi media conventions I went to (or tried to go to in the case of Comic-Con), I was nervous about the amount of money I had already spent to go to the HNS Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida. But it turned out to be a wonderful investment!

First, the venue was one of the best I have been to for any kind of conference. It was held at the Vinoy Hotel. The staff here was super friendly and even the event organizers commented on how they bent over backwards to make sure everything ran smoothly here. This hotel is a Renaissance property, and the reputation the chain has been developing for their outgoing demeanor is well-earned. When I told the front desk that my flight was not until hours after checkout, they said no problem, they stored my luggage and allowed me to continue to have full use of facilities even though I am technically checked out. I found a quiet corner out of everyone’s way to do a little writing while I wait for time to go to the airport, and here I sit.

Next comes the absolutely fabulous organizers of the conference itself. They have found the perfect balance between purely fun events and the more class-like sessions. The topics on which they offered sessions were not terribly numerous, but they adequately covered the topics the people attending the conference really needed.

Most attendees are authors who are either unpublished or just getting started on their literary career. Although I have several non-fiction titles to my name, having only one novel thus far puts me squarely in the latter category. The topics here ranged from character development to editing and everything in between. Some examples of the sessions include how to write a good query letter, pros and cons of self-publishing/small press, and using different themes in your historical fiction.

A lot of emphasis was placed, and quite correctly so, on editing. One the more popular events was the “Blue-Pencil Café,” where authors could submit up to 5 pages of their text for editing by professionals. This was developmental editing, and not just proofreading. The difference is that developmental editing helps with things like storyline, tone, characterizations, and style. I wish I could have taken advantage of this, but my flight got in too late on Friday.

There were also the agent pitch sessions, which I called “speed-dating for authors.” You were scheduled a specific time and had 10 minutes to pitch your book one-on-one to an agent or publisher, who was assigned somewhat randomly to you. Because I’m already under contract for the Mage series, I pitched an alternative history which I am planning to write when Mage is done. Even though the publisher I was assigned does not publish the type of book I was pitching, she did take the time to offer pointers on making the pitch. Her name was Jean Huets and I have to give her kudos for going further than she needed to in a harried situation.

The last element I want to bring up was a brilliant idea the conference planners had: offer cold reads. There were two sessions, one on Sat. and one on Sun. Prior to each session we were instructed to anonymously submit 3 copies of the first 2 pages of our manuscript. There would be two professional editors who would read these and tell the “class” what needed to be improved. Nearly every submission needed a little something. Mine got a “great concept, good strong start, wording is a little awkward in places.” Yeah, that’s what my own editor says on a rather regular basis. Given that they were reading something that had not been thru even the first edit, I was pretty happy. But even more importantly, I gained valuable insight into what editors/agents/publishers are looking for when they ask for the first few pages of a manuscript.

I was so happy with this conference, I got together with another Coloradan who was there, and we are going to put together a bid for Denver to host the next one in 2015.



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I write the same way I go to a baseball game.

The temperature was near 100 degrees today on the way home from work so I was drifting off to sleep on the train. In this half-awake/half-asleep state I pondered the paths I take when I write.

First off, writing non-fiction and fiction are very different and I approach them equally differently. Non-fiction is a matter of having a list of facts I need to include and working my way through a narrative that covers them all. It’s more mechanical and requires little thought if after the research is all done. Fiction writing is much more nebulous, kind of like my interest in baseball.

I am not a baseball fan but any stretch of the imagination. I quickly get bored watching a game. I have been to two Colorado Rockies games in my life and both were part of a company-sponsored outing, so I was part of a big group, and mostly for the free beer. I could not even tell you now who we played nor who won, but I went to the games and let the crowd I was with lead me along through all the details like getting to the stadium, getting in, finding seats, etc. I write much the same way.

With both novels I have written so far (I’m in the 9th inning of #2 right now), I have started with some vague notion of the time periods I wanted to write about, the ultimate goal where the series is going, and who the main character was (it’s different in each book of the series). From there, I just start writing and see where the story takes me. Where I am at this moment is a place I had no plan to visit, but the story lead me there. With this book, I already knew the time and place of the climax (give to take a couple of years), but getting there has been as entertaining for me as I hope it will be for the reader.

By “making it up as I go,” I have met some of the most interesting people in my own pages. These are people I had not planned on, but they suddenly showed up. The most recent of these was a very minor character from book 1. I now know he is actually going to have a very big role in the final chapters of book 2.

So, for those of you who have suffered through the writing classes where the instructor insisted on outlines, synopses, etc. before you even started telling the story, take heart. We don’t all work that way.

Some of us just go to game for the beer, and find our own adventure when we get there.

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