Session Descriptions

We’re adding descriptions of conference sessions every day, as we receive them from presenters, so attendees can get a better sense of what each session will offer. Enjoy!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Optional Pre-Conference Workshops (Additional Fee)

The Architecture of the Historical Novel: Larry Brooks
Historical novels are driven by the same principles of structure and character arc as any other genre, yet set in a contextual arena with defined parameters. This workshop will model a strong conceptual proposition leading to a compelling premise within the context of the historical genre, using examples and story development tools.

Broadsword: David Blixt
Broadsword workshop: Learn to fight in the styles of Medieval and early Renaissance Europe. This class will cover the basics of Broadsword combat including attacks, defenses, close quarters techniques and footwork. Particular attention will be paid to the storytelling of a fight, the parts of the blade, and the history behind the blades and their use. Participants will have the opportunity to wield weapons and partner in choreographed “duels.”


Attitude & Altitude of Historical Novel: Larry Brooks
Historical novels are not textbooks, they are microcosms within which a historical context is explored. The successful historical taps into certain forces and dynamics of fiction that transcend the time and place and events of the intended arena itself. This workshop will help writers raise their novel to a higher level of effectiveness by looking at the reading experience they are creating, as empowered through tools and approaches that elevate dramatic power, emotion and meaning.

Rapier/Dagger/Smallsword workshop: David Blixt
Rapier/Dagger and Smallsword workshop: Starting with the broad strokes of the rapier, and traveling on to the deceptively simple wrist-flicks of the smallsword, David Blixt will lead participants through the basics of rapier/dagger fighting, then move on to the smallsword, including footwork and drilling exercises. Particular attention will be paid to the storytelling of a fight, the parts of the blade, and the history behind the blades and their use.

6:00 p.m. – ??

Conference Kick-Off Reception and Dinner

Saturday, June 27, 2015

8—9 a.m.
New Paths in Publishing: Vicki Berger Erwin, Phyllis T. Smith, Kristina Makansi, Daniel Willis
What path to being a published author is right for you? Learn the pros and cons of each possibility: traditional publishing, small-press, and self-publishing. You will hear from a panel made up of a combination representing self-published success stories, traditional publishers, and small-press publishers. And there will a lot of time devoted to answering your questions.

Beyond Google: Using Primary Sources to Bring Your American Characters to Life: Susan Higginbotham

Whether you’re researching a real-life character or fleshing out an imaginary one, for the writer of American-set historical fiction, there are a wealth of primary sources to call upon, such as census records, city directories, vital statistics, wills, newspapers, diaries, and correspondence. In this session, we’ll discuss these often underused records and the various ways to access them–and the surprises they can hold that may send your story and your characters in an entirely new direction.

Prepping Your Manuscript before Submission: Deni Dietz
• Queries Written Like Tweets Won’t Fly (includes examples of LOL queries)
• Self-Editing
• Do you start a new chapter halfway down the page, and if yes, why?
• Q&A

It’s Been Done Before But Not Like This: Stephanie Dray, Michelle Moran, Leslie Carroll, Vicky Alvear Shecter
So you want to write another Anne Boleyn book? When planning a commercially viable historical novel, smart authors study the marketplace and avoid over-saturation. However, as the panelists can demonstrate, three different authors can write three very different books about the same historical figure, creating a synergistic effect of interest in the time period. Learn how to spin your novel about a familiar event or historical figure into a fresh new success!

Agents and Editors I
A panel composed of six of our agent and editor guests will discuss their take on the HF market. Plenty of time for questions from the audience, so come and ask yours.

Trends in Historical Women’s Fiction: Kevan Lyon, Meg Wessell, Kate Quinn, Eliza Knight
Historical fiction is an evolving genre and that is nowhere more apparent than in the realm of historical women’s fiction. Want to learn about the latest trends? Join a prominent literary agent, a renowned blogger, and several up and coming historical fiction authors to discuss trends in covers, eras, tense, and point of view.

It’s Mysterious and Historical! Clues to Writing an Historical Mystery Series: Mary F. Burns (moderator), Anna Lee Huber, Sam Thomas, Lauren Willig, Lindsey Davis
Mystery stories are ever-popular, and an historical mystery is a double-header with a plunge into the past and murder, too! The panelists will explore how history and setting form the plots and characters in our mysteries, challenges of writing a series, and also the fun of placing a mystery in a non-CSI world.

(Re)creating the Past: Historical Fiction Without the Famous: Mary Tod, Beatriz Williams, Jenny Quinlan
Historical Fiction is well loved for putting readers in the world of the past—and it takes writers a great deal of work to bring the past alive. What happens when a writer crafts a story that does not have a famous historical personage at its center? In this panel we’ll explore the challenges of not only re-creating the past, but creating original characters to populate it as well. We’ll also discuss the unique joys of reading historical fiction about regular people—both in quotidian daily life and using extraordinary historical events as a backdrop. We’ll also discuss the reasons why writing about daily life and regular people is an important—and engaging—contribution to historical fiction.

The Gender Divide: CW Gortner, Sherry Jones, CC Humphreys, Stephanie Dray, David Blixt
You’ve heard the saying, it’s a man’s world–but is historical fiction actually more of a woman’s world? Bookstore shelves tend to be divided into books about women for women and books meant to appeal strictly to men. Can this gender divide be conquered? And is it even advisable to try? Enjoy a spirited battle of the sexes between authors who straddle the gender line or land squarely on one side or the other.

The Brass Tacks of Self-Publishing: Daniel Willis, Helen Hollick, Anna Belfrage, Geri Clouston, Alison Morton
Considering self-publishing your work? Before you embark on that campaign, you need to know what you’re getting into. It’s is much more than just writing a story, and posting it on Amazon. This panel, made up of successful self-published authors, will cover the details of what it takes to make it as a self-pub. Here’s a hint: it’s a lot like work!

Characters in Corsets: How to Write Fashion into Your Fiction: Kim Aulerich-Mahone
Is it necessary for an author to understand fashion for the time period they are writing? Is historical accuracy in fashion important? Does a writer’s knowledge and portrayal of fashion impact their credibility? How can a writer successfully show fashion to develop character, set the tone, indicate time period and “turn up the heat” without telling? In this workshop we will answer these questions by studying various examples how authors of historical fiction have effectively, and sometimes ineffectively, incorporated historic fashion into their writing.

Elizabeth Peters, Egyptology, and Historical Fiction Today: Libbie Hawker, Bill Cherf, Janis Susan May Patterson, Lindsey Davis
For the first half of our discussion, we will share information about the author Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters), the field of Egyptology (and Mertz’s role in the field), and how the work of Barbara Mertz/Elizabeth Peters continues to influence contemporary writers of historical fiction.
Bill Cherf explains who Barbara Mertz was, sharing her education and dissertation subject, and her two popular histories. Bill explains how Mertz’s approach to Egyptology was unique and refreshing. Janis Susan Patterson discusses how Barbara Mertz “became” Elizabeth Peters, the pen name beloved by historical fiction and mystery readers around the world. How did this author leverage her considerable experience in Egyptology to become one of the best-known names in her secondary field, that of the novelist? Libbie Hawker shares how the influence of Mertz/Peters still impacts ancient Egyptian and archaeological fiction today—how this author paved the way for two flourishing subgenres that have consistently enthralled readers from the publication of Elizabeth Peters’s first novel through 2015 (and beyond!)

Just the facts, Ma’am (or not?): Transforming Biography into Compelling Historical Fiction: Irene Goodman, Maryka Biaggio, Leslie Carroll, Margaret George, Diane Haeger
Novels that feature historical figures as protagonists are staples of our genre, from tomes and trilogies about famous monarchs to stories about celebrated artists and their scintillating muses to tales of local heroes (or villains). But how do you distill a wealth of biographical information on your subject into an exciting 400-page novel, without the story reading like a work of nonfiction? The panelists will discuss their own experiences (and share research and writing tips) on:
• Tackling too much of a good thing: when you have an overwhelming amount of biographical detail to distill: what do you use and what do you jettison or ignore?
• Making a little go a long way: when there’s only a minimal amount of information available on your protagonist.
• He said/she said: What to do when your research sources conflict with each other.
• Interviewing eyewitnesses to history: primary sources who knew your subject personally.
• Skirting the law: avoiding potential legal issues when your protagonist is a more “contemporary” subject with surviving children or other descendants who might take issue with your fictional interpretations.
• Biography v. Fiction: Objective reality versus emotional truth.

Selling Historical Fiction: The Good, the Bad, and the Dangerous: C.W. Gortner, Heather Webb, Donna Russo Morin
Selling historical fiction is tough. To succeed, writers must know the business of publishing to maximize their opportunities and avoid misconceptions. In Selling Historical Fiction: The Good, the Bad and the Dangerous, three experienced authors will share insights about the secrets of the business through topics that include dealing with challenging subject matter; potential pitfalls no one tells you about; the differences between marketing and publicity; and film and foreign rights.

The Art of Book Cover Design for Historical Fiction: Sarah Johnson, Jennifer Quinlan, Kris Waldherr, Emily Victorson, Anna Michels
A panel made up of a book cover designer, an author/designer, a publisher, an editor, and a book reviewer will discuss various aspects of “The Art of Book Cover Design for Historical Fiction.” Topics to be covered will include:
• Trends in historical fiction book covers
• Elements of a quality book cover design
• How a book cover designer creates a design
• Historical anachronisms found in covers
• How authors can work with their publisher’s creative staff
• How self-published authors can find affordable, quality images to use on their covers
The discussion will be accompanied by a slideshow of examples illustrating the above topics.
Finding (and Keeping) Critique Partners for Your Historical Fiction: Margaret Rodenberg, Lorelei Brush, Kathryn Johnson
Most writers want feedback on their works-in-process, but where do you find those alpha and beta readers who can push your writing to the next level? What is and what is not unique about critique for Historical Fiction writers? And how do you keep a writing group active year after year? This panel will explore the benefits of writing groups, how to find critique partners, and ways to structure a successful critique meeting. We’ll discuss group versus individual, free versus paid, and toxic versus useful criticism. Last, we’ll provide a tool to connect attendees with others in the room to form their own critique groups.

Shakespeare and Me: A novelist explores his greatest influence: C. C. Humphreys
Join author and actor C. C. Humphreys as he takes his time machine to London 1600 AD. Enjoy a sensory tour of the city and a trip to the Globe Playhouse while exploring how research is both the anchor to our writing and the springboard to our imagination.


Dancing with the Darcys–Regency Dance Workshop
Local Coloradan Chris Kermiet, from a family that includes famed folk singer Jean Ritchie, has been dancing since he could walk. He’s been calling for thirty-five years, everything from Appalachian big circle dances to Celtic ceilidhs. Bring your dancing shoes–but no partner needed–for this two-hour session that will trace English dance traditions from the middle of the eighteenth century, through the regency to the middle of the nineteenth with a practical feet-on experience.

Social Media: A Help or a Hindrance? Ann Parker, Jan Morrill, Priscilla Royal
Join authors Ann Parker, Priscilla Royal and Jan Morrill for an informative discussion on using social media to promote your book, including how to keep it from getting in the way of what you really want to be doing—writing that next book! Topics will include:

  • Do you need a blog?
  • Group blogging
  • Blog tours
  • Which social media outlets have been the most effective?
  • Promote to readers, not to other writers
  • Bring your questions and join in the discussion!

Art and Artists in Historical Fiction: The special challenges of writing about art and artists in HF: Stephanie Renée dos Santos, Stephanie Cowell, Alana White, Donna Russo Morin, Mary F. Burns
In this hour-long talk we’ll highlight and share the special challenges we’ve encounter when writing about and/or incorporating art and artists into historical novels. For, in the world of art and artists, characters see, act, and think differently than “everyday” people. How does one begin to look through the artist’s eyes and from the soul of the creative? Each art medium has its own unique processes. How much of it to reveal? These are just a few examples of the specifics we’ll be exploring, while elucidating our points with direct quotes from our various art tie-in historical novels.

Midwifery: Magic or Medicine? Sam Thomas, Lisa Yarde, Kim Rendfeld, Judith Starkston
Whatever era, midwives have held a special place in society, at the intersection of medicine, magic, and religion. The panelists will discuss the practice of midwifery as a reflection of individual societies during the ancient world, the early and late medieval periods, and the mid-seventeenth century. Perceptions of women in the public sphere and the influence of the magical and spiritual elements over knowledge of the physical influenced the status accorded to midwives throughout history. The panelists will address their approaches to research and the challenges of mining written sources from varying periods.

Agents and Editors II
A panel composed of six of our agent and editor guests will discuss their take on the HF market. Plenty of time for questions from the audience, so come and ask yours.

Dancing with the Darcys–Regency Dance Workshop
See above

The Who, Why, and What Answers to Reader Satisfaction: Darlene Elizabeth Williams, Stephanie Moore Hopkins, Andrea Connell, Amy Phillips Bruno
Generation Y historical fiction readers are following in the footsteps of Baby Boomer fans, with the additional boon that they are receptive to emerging subgenres of historical fiction. This “outside-the-box” view is resulting in an increased appetite for historical fiction. “Traditional” historical fiction will always be the backbone of the genre, but authors also now have an audience and the freedom to write gender-blending historical fiction. Readers are saying they like print books and are willing to pay a higher price tag.

Primary Sources and “Touch and Try”: The Next-Best Thing to Time Travel: Jennifer Delamere, Jessica Brockmole, Anna Lee Huber, Heather Webb
This workshop covers practical methods for acquiring the specific, detailed information you need to immerse yourself—and ultimately your reader—in the time and place of your novel. Includes ways to locate primary sources (newspapers, diaries, letters, maps, etc.) and how to mine them for description and dialogue and even plot generation. Next, “touch and try” engages all the senses through personal interaction: working with the tools, wearing the clothing, making authentic recipes, etc. This is great for all eras, especially those for which written resources are not available. We’ll describe ways anyone can do this, no matter where they live.

Making It Relevant & Making It Real: Writing historical fiction that speaks to 21st century readers: C.W. Gortner, Margaret George, Patricia Bracewell, Gillian Bagwell
How do authors invent believable stories, faithfully portraying the lives and events of an earlier time and place, while at the same time reflecting the concerns and interests of today? Three authors whose novels range from Bronze Age Greece to the Early 20th Century will address the important issue of making a historical novel relevant to modern readers. They will discuss the role that historical fiction plays in our culture, and how authors can recreate stories from the past that speak to readers today – stories that appeal to agents, editors and readers.

Diversity in Publishing: Charlene Porter (moderator), Jamie La Rue, Cathy Langer, Angelique Acevedo-Barron, Greg Johnson

Although the diversity of genres, writers, outlets, and readers is evolving, there is still a canyon between what publishers are acquiring and the range and variety of voices being overlooked.
• Publishers’ Weekly panel from October 21, 2014 warns, “Lack of Diversity Threatens Publishing.”
• Book Expo event director Steven Rosato, stated, “Clearly, there is a gap between the industry and what’s representative of the country.”
• Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz told the Associated Press, “You only need to look at the abysmally low number of books by people of color to (see) that the problem is deeper than Book Expo.”
• The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (superintendents, principals, teachers, professors, and advocates) declares, “As diversity grows, so must we.”
Hear from and ask questions of Industry leaders and related professionals who are on the forefront of developing a more diverse publishing universe.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

8—9 a.m.
Out Loud and Proud in Front of a Crowd: Reading Your Work for an Audience: Leslie Carroll
A poor reading during a presentation can change a potential reader’s mind about buying the author’s book. Why risk self-sabotage? There’s no reason your reading shouldn’t be as thrilling, and as emotionally charged, as your writing! Reading aloud is an art unto itself, which requires a unique set of performance skills. This workshop will teach participants how to beat their stage fright and learn how to transform their written words into an exciting public performance. Note to participants: please bring a couple of pages (even 1 page is ok) of your writing. It can be from one of your published manuscripts, or printed page(s) of a work in progress to read aloud in front of the group, so that your reading can be constructively critiqued and you can learn the techniques to improve it, when necessary.

The Red Pen and Historical Fiction: an Editor’s Perspective: Linda Hale and Jennifer Quinlan
Editing one’s work is daunting in itself, but writers of historical fiction face a whole other set of challenges! In this panel, we’ll focus on the nuances particular to editing historical fiction including writing historical figures for readers with modern viewpoints, working with historical language and dialogue, the art of not letting historical detail get in the way of telling the story, those pesky anachronisms, and the dos and don’ts of using historical figures in fiction. We’ll also discuss working with a professional editor and cover such topics as choosing an editor, the author/editor relationship, and how to handle feedback.

Writing the American West: Ferocious Women, Boomtowns, Battlefields, and Bordellos: Erika Mailman, Gabrielle Burton, Laird Hunt, Ann Weisgarber, Pamela Tartarglio
Nice females did not always make history, and it was often the “bad girls”–women who fell outside of restrictive societal norms, who bucked tradition, who braved the unknown landscape and unforgiving elements–who helped to shape the American West. Whether donning a soldier’s uniform, struggling to settle untamed wilderness, or engaging in prostitution, rebellious females played an important role in frontier history. The focus of the panel is to discuss and illuminate these non-stereotypical characterizations and narratives in Western-themed fiction.

Cold Reads
Bring three copies of the first two pages of your work in progress for a chance to have it read aloud anonymously for comments. Would the panel composed of two of our agents or editors pursue the project or send a rejection and why?

9:15—10:15 a.m.
Speak the speech, I Pray You: How Well Does Your Dialogue Work? Gillian Bagwell, Leslie Carroll, CC Humphreys
What characters say is vitally important to the flavor and quality of a novel, but many writers struggle to write dialogue. Hearing characters’ words spoken aloud rather than reading them on the page vividly illustrates the many vital functions dialogue serves, and helps writers evaluate whether their dialogue successfully:
• Brings their characters to life
• Moves the story along
• Is believable as speech
• Gives the flavor of the period without being distracting
• Has the intended emotional effect
The actors will read previously submitted scenes from a selected number of participants. Actors and participants will discuss the effectiveness of the dialogue, techniques for writing effective dialogue, and how writers can put what they’ve learned to work as they write.
Pressed for Time: Writing and Researching Historical Fiction When Life Gets in the Way: Susanne Dunlap, Stephanie Cowell, Sam Thomas
It’s a fact that very few writers can live on the proceeds of their novels. This panel discusses different strategies and approaches to keeping the writing and research process going when time is limited because of real-life obligations.

The Past is…Where? Mark Beaulieu, Delaney Green
Writers of historical novels must do research, and one tool in our arsenal should be maps. Delaney Green will show how maps lend the ring of truth to fiction, especially for readers who may know as much about the period as the writer. Green shares period maps of London she used to write Jem, a Girl of London, set in the 18th century. Mark Richard Beaulieu shows how 12th century Roman marching, Mediterranean sailing, and City maps, which underlie his six-novel series on the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine, help readers understand the world as his characters do.

Writing Historicals for Children and Teens: Karen Cushman, Erika Mailman (Lynn Carthage), Robert Jay, Meghan Christian, Alison McMahan (moderator)
YA historicals have always been with us: “The Midwife’s Apprentice” by Karen Cushman, “The Book Thief” by Marcus Zusak and “Code Name Verity” by Elizabeth Wein. This panel will address the challenges and rewards of writing for children and teens. How accurate does the history have to be? How do you write in a way that appeals to teens but stays true to your historical period? How do you handle differences between then and now, such as how marriages were arranged or how children in the past interacted with adults? Finally, what’s the best way to get your historical children’s novel published?
10:30—11:30 a.m.
Ye Hielands and Ye Lawlands: Susan McDuffie, Jody Allen
Scotland is a favorite setting for historical novels. Although myth speaks of an Egyptian princess, Scota, who gave her name to the country, Scotland’s true history is far more complex. Researcher Jody Allen and historical mystery writer Susan McDuffie explore the Highlands, Lowlands, and Borders, comparing, contrasting and highlighting these regions and their unique histories, languages, cultures, and contributions to Scottish identity. A must for those writing about Scotland and lovers of Scottish historical fiction, “Ye Hielands and Ye Lawlands” brings this fascinating land to life. A wee treat at the end will be provided.
Starting a Chapter of the Historical Novel Society: Marci Jefferson, Anna Lee Huber, Rebecca Palmer
Want to start a branch of the Historical Novel Society but don’t know where to start? Three authors share how they started the Great Lakes Chapter, one of the largest regions within North America’s HNS with about ninety members. Learn how these leaders organized it, how they plan successful events, how they help each other, and how much fun it can be to start your own!


Damsels to the Rescue: Reviving the Male Protagonist: Margaret George, Sharon Kay Penman, Anne Easter Smith
Margaret George, Sharon Kay Penman, and Anne Easter Smith discuss why they have chosen to turn the spotlight back onto male protagonists, so popular in earlier historical fiction. Recently, our genre has been female dominated: females writing about females. Do publishers consider women writing about men in history less compelling? Why has Anne Boleyn’s life trumped Henry VIII’s, Elizabeth Woodville’s her charismatic husband Edward IV’s, or Zelda’s the passionate F. Scott Fitzgerald’s? These men made history; they deserve the spotlight, too. We believe that character is key, not gender. Sharon has traveled along Richard the Lionheart’s crusade recently with Lionheart and A King’s Ransom; Margaret is exploring the extraordinary saga of Nero for her next opus; and Anne is retelling the little-known but dramatic story of Pedro 1 of Portugal.