"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Backward Glance

A week ago to today I arrived in Schaumburg IL (outside Chicago) for the Historical Novel Society's North American conference. I intended to blog about it on my return, but the death in our family the day after I got back home and other factors prevented me. In fact, the delay in writing about the event is no big deal, because a retrospective view allows for a fuller assessment.

The North American conference occurs every 2 years, alternating with a UK conference. I always sort of thought I might attend the UK one before the NA one...but I believe it usually takes place in July. And in recent years I've been loathe to uproot myself from the lake cottage at that time of year. (This July being an exception to that rule, which will soon become evident.)

My flight from MHT was at 6:50 and the plane arrived at O'Hare early, not long after 8--normally I'm not out of bed at that time. Travelled to the Hyatt Regency Woodfield via shuttle, found myself in a huge-normous corner room with the longest sofa I've ever seen and a view of the front gardens (workers were planting things) and the massive shopping mall across the street.

My friend and conference buddy Susan Holloway Scott and I met for a chatty lunch. In the evening there was a reception and banquet (see my photo op with Margaret George in a previous post.) Saw lots of friends, real life and online.

On Saturday morning I had to step out of the first workshop for an appointment with an editor. After 21 years as a published author, 11 novels, a novella, articles, columns, nonfiction book, and poetry under my belt, I finally had my very first ever editorial appointment. The sign of an excellent conference is having difficulty choosing which workshop to attend, and that was certainly true for this conference! Enjoyed some Saturday afternoon schmoozing with pals in the lobby. There was another reception and banquet, with Sharon Kay Penman as keynoter. Her speech was followed by a costume pageant/competition and the Late Night Sex Scene Reading, which seems to be a tradition.

Sunday was much the same, I left the first workshop for my second ever editorial appointment. By the time it was over I needed to finish my packing and check out and be ready for my scheduled shuttle, so the conference pretty much ended for me with my editor meeting. All my travel to and from went amazingly smoothly, not a single hitch, and I felt amazingly fortunate.

Others have blogged about the conference and took more photos than I (unusual, I know!). If you're interested in other accounts, go here and here and here (a comprehensive link list from one of the organisers.)

Mind you, throughout all this my father-in-law's condition was wavering between somewhat hopeful to quite dire. So I was regualarly nipping up to my room to check in with the Chap via phone or email for updates.

I came home from the conference with some solid information on the state of the mainstream historical fiction market. I interacted with people who do what I do, which is always refreshing. Both editors requested my manuscript when it's finished, so I had good news to pass along to my agent. Additional proof of how excellent the conference was: I came home energised, not exhausted. I commend the "Historical Novel Society for sponsoring the very best writers' conference I've ever attended. And after 21 years in the biz, I've attended more than my share.

My time away has already borne fruit. From Wednesday afternoon till late last night, I wrote an astonishing (unprecedented) 5000 words. That's five times my normal daily output. I can't credit this solely to the HNS, however. It was constantly raining, and I was stuck indoors. And now I'm close enough to the end that it feels like I'm on a rollercoaster zooming down that last sharp slope, and gravity is pulling me fast. The story is there, I just follow my outline and listen to the voices in my head, and hope my fingers on the keyboard can keep up! And yet, even when I felt sure there's nothing more to learn about my characters' history...last night, after forcing (yes, forcing!) myself to stop creating, I did a little bit of "just for fun" research in some primary source material. Lo and behold, I stumbled on a nugget of factual information about my male protagonist that a) I didn't know, and b) is extremely useful, and c) will fit beautifully into my very next chapter.

This morning, after our walk in the rain, the dogs and I returned to the Lodge. I phoned the auto dealer to make a deposit on a vehicle to hold it. Then I went to the State House to give some visitors a quick tour. Not much going on there--except in Reps Hall, which had been taken over by CityYear. My guests got to see the Speaker's Office (she was out) and the Executive Council chamber and the Senate chamber and my cool parking space.

It has been a very strange and challenging week. Sad (death in our family) and insanely productive (5000 words in just over 24 hours! finishing the cookbook project--final galley proofing this weekend, off to the printer on Monday!) and exciting (found out a friend is visiting in August) and has presented me with big decisions (car purchase, next week's state budget vote) and fascinating (spawning fish!)

The sun is out--for only the second time in over a week. Hope it sticks around.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

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