The History of the HNS Conference


Many, many years ago, in ancient times, two friends of mine, writers of historical novels, traveled from distant corners of North America to meet me at the conference of a genre that shall remain nameless. We had a decent time learning about plotting and character, marketing and promotion, socializing with other writers. The only thing missing, we mused, was the historical aspect. In fact, we were told over the pulpit at a number of presentations that “historical novels are dead; switch to contemporary and save your writing souls.”Ann Chamberlin cropped

Dyed-in-the-wool heretics that we were, worthy of the pyre, and taking strength from each other, we begged to differ. Walking between presentations, sitting at meals in the vast ballroom, lounging over a bottle of wine in our room at night, we daydreamed. “Can’t we have a conference just for us?”

By the end of that conference, we had the whole fantasy worked out. Of course, it would require more than just a weekend. A whole week, minimum. Monday should be devoted to Classical Times, to Mary Renault, our favorite author. We should have gladiators. At the evening banquet we must serve lark’s tongue and peacock. We would lounge on couches and visit the vomitorium between courses.

Tuesday, of course, would require mead tasting and a joust. . .

Resigned to having these experiences only as we read or wrote them, we parted. However, we had taken baby steps. Shortly thereafter I came upon the Historical Novel Society started by Richard Lee out of the UK. I walked down to my bank and purchased an international money order so I could join. This was ancient times, remember. HNS took neither credit cards nor checks in foreign currencies.

I joined an HNS web loop. In the pages of the magazine, I read with envy of the first UK conference. And attended other, more local, conferences featuring other genres.

“Who shall make us a North American HNS conference?” came across the loop one day. When all the others stepped back, the eternal backbone of HNS, Sarah Johnson, and I looked across the internet at each other and decided to make it happen.

It had to be in Salt Lake, where I live. Even though my home town was 500 miles in any direction from any other HNS member, we needed an organizer on the ground. “Maybe we’ll get twenty attendees,” we told each other, and budgeted for that.

gibson girlHistory in the form of September 11 intervened and our first date had to be postponed. So April 2005 was our first conference. I had the pleasure of meeting first-class agent Irene Goodman—a great supporter to this day—who had approached us, not the other way around. That evening, I looked out over 200 plus attendees, ten times the number of banqueters we had originally planned for.

Historic Albany, NY, came two years later. I moderated Diana Gabaldon and Chris Humphries on a Writing Sex Scenes Panel. Clearly, there was no moderation, because the panel overflowed into the late-night sex scenes readings that became an HNS tradition.

In Schaumburg, IL, 2009, I ran the agent and editor appointments, a regular offering since the beginning. Although it seemed at the time that sitting in a quiet hall watching nervous authors prepare to pitch (some may consider this our medieval period, a dungeon of torture) took me away from other action, I learned that there’s no such thing as a backwater post in HNS.

I met Richard Scott volunteering there. Richard, retired naval officer, brought us to San Diego in 2011. Do you remember looking out of your hotel room at the tall ship that starred in Master and Commander?  Do you remember the Saturday afternoon broadside firings?  Did you know that was the first year we tried out what’s now another long-settled tradition, Blue Pencil Café, where established authors mentor the aspiring?

2013 saw us at the other end of the continent in beautiful St. Petersburg—Florida, not Russia. We held our first Cold Reads there, as well as our first pre-conference à la carte workshop. The beautiful beach-front vintage hotel lobby invited intimate conversations with editors and friends, old and new.

denver-skylineMile-high Denver hosted us in 2015, where we initiated Koffee Klatches, a way to maintain cozy interactions as our numbers continued to grow. One panel celebrated the life’s work of one of our dearest and recently departed writers, Barbara Mertz, aka Elizabeth Peters. We are a conference that remembers our past.

Please join us in Portland, Oregon June 22-24, 2017. We’re planning a vibrant program that honors our roots. Make your own mark on history at the conference with a history of its own.

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