My First HNS Conference

My plan was to arrive early on Friday and sneak into the hotel without being noticed by anyone so that I would have time to dress and accessorize for a slightly more highbrow locale than the cattle-car experience of the airport. (Sadly, I am old enough to remember when crocs and flip-flops were not appropriate for travel.)

In the end, my willingness to surrender sleep for vanity was all for naught. My flight was delayed and when I finally landed in Florida, I immediately ran into members of the Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the Historical Novel Society.

Now, Sophie Perinot (she of the sister queens), Kate Quinn (she of the irreverent gladiator romp) and I get along like a house on fire back home in Baltimore. Put us together in Florida and we’re likely to burn something down. Nevertheless, we took the risk of spontaneous combustion and hooked up with Hope Stewart and Barbara Beck. I believe the tall, willowy, and cheeky Kris Waldherr (she of the doomed queens) was there too.

Once at the beautiful Renaissance Vinoy Hotel–which afforded amazing views of the water–we made a lunch of it with Adelaida Lucena-Lower and the soft-spoken and delightful Stephanie Cowell (she of the Mozart and Monet tributes).

Our waiter bragged to us that we were lucky to have him and that the food would be excellent. Being historical fiction fans, what we appreciated most about our lunch turned out to be the throne-like chairs we were seated in. But let me get to the part you’re really interested in. The celebrities!

Fan Girl at Large

The evening started out with a cocktail reception. I remember seeing a few friendly faces. Then Kate Quinn discretely pointed and whispered, “That’s Margaret George.”

If I had any hope of maintaining a calm, confident authorial presence at this convention, it disappeared in an instant.

My knees went weak and I gasped. “Oh my god.”

Then, giving no thought to decorum, I … fled!

It was primal instinct. The only thing that stopped me from plowing over white-gloved waiters was the fact that Kate actually caught me by the back of my shirt and yanked me back. Even when warned of my impending melt-down, the irrepressible C. W. Gortner made it his mission to introduce me to the reigning queen of the historical fiction genre.

And?

Margaret George is the loveliest, most gracious woman you can imagine.

Knowing my own obsession with all things Cleopatra, she showed me a genuine Cleopatra and Antony coin she had made into a necklace and my knees went weak all over again. I sat beside her during dinner and we had a lovely conversation about everything from Timothy Dalton to Caligula.

Or, at least, I think it was a lovely conversation. The whole time my thoughts were crowded with, “Please do not flip your plate into Margaret George’s lap. Please don’t knock over your water glass onto Margaret George. Please don’t forget how many descendants of Augustus actually became emperors of Rome…”

The effort required to avoid doing something embarrassing proved so exhausting I wondered how I would stay awake for the late night festivities. But, as it turns out, HNS folks are quite sensible. There was no late night mob in the lobby. No sleepless pajama parties–at least, none that I was aware of. RWA and RT veteran Eliza Knight and I were left staring at one another in confusion as people went upstairs to get a good night’s sleep.

Considering that I was taking part on the Religion in Historical Fiction panel at 8:15am, I decided to do the same.

Panels Galore

The next morning I worried it might be a little too early for people to want to listen to a discussion about god, history, spirituality, and whatever the dissertation question was that Kate Quinn asked from the audience, but people turned out in force. Good thing, too, because moderator Teralyn Pilgrim went above and beyond the call of duty for this discussion, having read all the panelist’s books to prepare specific questions. And wow, what a chat we had! Teralyn, Kamran Pasha and Mary Sharrat all spoke so passionately about their work and the things they had discovered about faith that I was humbled. (I’ve already devoured Kamran’s book about the birth of Islam, MOTHER OF THE BELIEVERS and cannot wait to start on Mary’s ILLUMINATIONS, about a very special nun.)

One of my favorite parts of the panel was having the chance to explain that Isiacism is not a dead religion, that it has lived on to the present day, and that it was a great forerunner of Christianity. On the other hand, I forgot to mention the black madonnas and Cleopatra Selene’s specific role in preserving that religion during one narrow part of history where it was imperiled. And to the gentleman whose question I hijacked to make the point that religious tolerance comes in waves throughout history, I’m still thinking of a real answer to your question.

The next few hours were a blur of panels that I attended, including one on the history police (with whom I am intimately acquainted) and another one on cliches in historical fiction (which I am sure I am guilty of having written).  All of this was followed by wonderful lunch address by C. W. Gortner in which he made everyone’s heart flutter just a bit by reminding us of why we should be so proud of the genre we write, why we should not give up, and why community is so important. As a veteran of more conventions than I can count, it was easily among the top speeches I’ve been privileged to hear.

Next up, I moderated a panel on Location/Setting with other members of the Chesapeake Bay chapter including the melodic-voiced and passionate Adelaida Lucena-Lower, who came up with the idea for the panel in the first place, Eliza Knight, the wise Kathryn Johnson, and Sophie Perinot. My love of having a microphone in my hand must have showed. It was a blast as we took questions on everything from the marketing of unusual historical settings to the advisability of pen names. Also, Adelaida brought visual aids that made everyone oooh and ahhh.

Last on my agenda was as a panelist on the Ancient World discussion with Margaret George, Kate Quinn and Vicky Alvear Shecter, who I met for the first time at this conference and who I instantly adored. What I remember most about this panel, other than Kate’s expert moderating, is the trivia game at the end where we could not get four ancient world authors and an audience full of folks who were either experts or very interested in the subject, to quite agree on the answers. I also remember that the lovely Meg Wessel of A BOOKISH AFFAIR was an incredibly good sport while I put her through round after round of historical interrogation. (God bless the bloggers and the readers. We cannot say this enough. They are the patron saints of our industry.)

The Chaos and Debauchery

Next came the book signing. That’s the chaos part. I was totally confused by the fact that our books were not at our tables. Which meant that I could not snag books from my own favorite authors before sitting down to sign for readers. This sorry state of affairs meant many fewer books purchased by me–and resulted in a mad dash to the bookstore with Kamran Pasha and the very charming David Blixt, who also has an interest in antiquity.

I want to thank all the amazing folks who came up to have me sign their books. I especially remember Weina, who is writing about a Chinese Cleopatra. When I guessed Tang Dynasty China, we both expressed our mutual admiration for Jeannie Lin’s work. I was also delighted to finally meet Audra Friend of Unabridged Chick! (Did I mention that we should all get down on our knees in thanks for great bloggers and reviewers?)

That night I sat next to Christy English (she of Alais and Eleanor) and Donna Russo Morin, two of the sassiest historical fiction authors you’ll ever meet. Dinner that night was followed by a bit of a controversial talk by Steve Berry, and a wildly entertaining costume show hosted by Gillian Bagwell (whose Nell Gwynn book I loved).

Dressed up as Lady Rivers, Gillian has exquisite comic timing! But it was Teralyn Pilgrim who brought down the house by showing up dressed as a Vestal Virgin who was pregnant just needed to lose some weight. As I’m partial to Teralyn, Vestal Virgins, and sly humor, I was rooting for her to win the contest. And not be buried alive. She won the contest. We did not bury her alive. In fact, all of us wish her good luck with her “diet.”

Alas, at this point in the evening, I was forced by circumstance to miss almost all of the late night readings with Diana Gabaldon. It gives me something to look forward to next time!

And there will be a next time, because this was an amazing group of people. The mixture of authors, readers and reviewers as part of a single SOCIETY is a special and wonderful characteristic of this convention.

I have many scattered impressions. I remember receiving many gifts of hippos–including one from the very funny and gregarious Sophie Perinot that had a little sign saying, “I really am dangerous.”

I remember a long discussion about the Red Baron.

I also remember Kate Quinn’s red shoes.

I remember meeting Julie Rose and Heather Domin and sitting out on the front porch of the Vinoy in rocking chairs. Waving hello to Lisa Yarde without ever getting a chance to talk to her.

In closing, to all the other readers and bloggers and authors that I met and did not have the opportunity to mention by name in this post, know that you gave me a glow that will last for quite some time. To the others, who I wanted to get to know, but wasn’t able to find a spare moment…I’ll be back. And we need to do this more often.

P.S. For a much funnier recap, check out Kate Quinn’s!

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