I can be a little slow on the uptake. For example, when I finished Dakota, Or What’s a Heaven For, which is set in late nineteenth-century Dakota Territory, and someone called it historical fiction, I was a little surprised. I hadn’t meant to be writing within a specific genre, but, as a matter of fact, if a novel begins 134 years ago, it is historical fiction. A historical novel may also be literary fiction. It may be a mystery, or a romance, or gay or lesbian fiction, or feminist fiction, or sci-fi, or horror, or a host of other things. It may be “serious” fiction–think Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall–or it may be “fluff” (I’ll let you choose an example).
But what I learned this weekend at the Historical Novel Society Conference, where I was on a panel on “Writing Gay Characters,” is that the best historical novelists have in common a passion for history, a scholarly dedication to historical accuracy, and (no surprise here) a good story to tell. And maybe this was just a particularly nice bunch of people, but I was struck by the consistent generosity (and absence of posturing) of the attendees, as well-known writers whose books live on the bestseller lists mingled with first-time novelists and not-yet-published writers, while agents and editors steadily listened to pitches and patiently answered questions.
I had great conversations with physicians and lawyers and academics and scientists and theologians and actors and musicians, all of whom were identifying this weekend as writers of historical fiction.
Better still, Jennifer Weltz of the Jean Naggar Literary Agency (JVNLA), was there as a keynote speaker and panel moderator and general introducer-of-interesting-persons, making me feel very lucky to be represented by this agency. A lunch at the beginning of the conference, hosted by Jennifer, gave me the opportunity to meet my fellow JVNLA authors,
I also had the chance to meet one of the conference’s guests of honor, Cecelia Holland, who had written a really great (boxed)
Finally, I’d just like to give a shout out to