On June 18th, we set off from home for the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”. (IMO, that national anthem is probably the most challenging in the world to sing, which is neither here nor there…)
The ultimate goal with our visit to the US was to attend the Historical Novel Society’s (HNS) conference in Denver. Well – that was my goal. Hubby sort of came along on the ride.
The HNS has as its purpose to promote historical novels – it therefore comes as no surprise that most of the participants are a) history buffs and
There are quite a few readers around as well, but they are in obvious minority – although most historical writers I know are also historical readers, goes hand in hand, if you will.
After Las Vegas, the 30 degrees Celsius in Denver came as a relief. And that, dear peeps, is the extent of what I have to share about Denver as a place – beyond expressing my surprise at finding the mile-high city to be situated on a very flat, very huge, plain. The mountains were about as distant as Mount Doom is to Frodo when he decided to go it on his own, leaving Aragorn et al behind.
The Conference, however, is another matter – I did not walk about for two days with ears and eyes firmly closed. The chosen venue boasted friendly staff – many of whom, to my delight, I could speak Spanish with – good rooms and hints of high-tech, such as USB chargers in the rooms and an interactive TV that could be used as a computer.
The Conference itself was well-organised with a nice variation in panels. Of course, you throw 450 people together and attempt to feed them simultaneously, and the result can be a tad chaotic – but in a friendly way.
Fortunately, friendly was also a word I’d use for the sword-fighting session I went to. Put rapiers in the hands of enthusiastic historical novelists and there is a teensy weensy risk people may go all wild and crazy – because it is fun to grip a rapier, heft it in your hand. I am glad to report there were no accidents, just some friendly clashing of steel, some posturing and a hell of a lot of advance, retreat, passo avanti and passo in dietro, which essentially meant many of us had sore thighs the day after. Even a novelist can survive sore thighs…David Blixt, I suspect, heaved a sigh of relief once the sessions were done. Not one single injury!
Personally, I’m thinking of taking up a career as a bravo. I’d look good in boots and cape, with my rapier in its frog and a dagger tucked discreetly in my belt, somewhere mid-back. But however dashing, being a swordsman in this day and age leads to ridicule and titters rather than awe and fear. Besides, did I mention my thighs hurt?
Other than learning about the Bad, Great and Dangerous aspects of historical fiction, enjoying an excellent session about ”Historical Fiction without the famous” and in general taking notes, this was a conference in which a lot of time was spent meeting the real people behind the FB avatars.Plus, of course, it was an opportunity to catch up with friends, sit and discuss other things than books and writings, which is how some of us ended up talking about democracy, the situation in Syria, the cultural divides that still, to a large extent, cause so many dangerous misunderstandings in this world of ours. Discussions one should hold while surrounded with candles stuck in empty wine bottles, the erstwhile content in those bottles no more than a rusty residue in chipped glasses. Sorry: no candles, but we did well enough anyway.
I came to Denver a bundle of nerves. You see, I was one of four finalists for the Historical Novel Society’s 2015 Indie Award. I am a competitive sort – which is why I only play Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit with hubby, as in all other board games he tends to win. Well, in all other games, if we’re going to be correct. Unfortunately, when it comes to book awards, there’s nothing you can DO to ensure you win. You can only wait patiently, and, as some of you well know, Patience is not my middle name…
Being a writer is per definition creating in isolation and then throwing whatever you’ve created out into the world, eyes squished shut so as not to watch if the precious creation drowns rather than swims. It takes guts to publish books – if nothing else because all writers pour a substantial amount of self into their work. A negative reception is therefore not only a reflection on the book as such, but also, some authors feel, on themselves. Actually, most reviewers have no opinion about the author as a person – how can they, when they don’t know him or her? Nor do most reviewers want to express an opinion about the author – they want to talk about the novel as such. Easy to forget for the insecure writer – and most writers/artists are insecure when it comes to their work – which is why all writers need their supporting network.
First and foremost, such a network is built on family and close friends. Probably a useless network from a professional book business perspective, but essential to keep the writer’s ego relatively hale and hearty. Today, thanks to this thing called Internet, the network expands exponentially – assuming the writer is willing to put in the time needed.
Through Internet, I have met some of my most stalwart supporters. People like Helen Hollick, writer of a devastating book about Harold (of 1066 fame) which I just can’t bear to finish, hoping that by not reading it, I help Harold evade his fate. Stupid, I know, but when authors write gripping books, they make you care, right? Other than Harold, Helen has introduced me to charmer pirate Jesamiah Acorne, for which I am very grateful, but first and foremost Helen encourages and promotes, is generous with advice and is always there to help you pull your socks up and get on with it. Plus she’s a great hugger, something I’ve known for some years now (And hubby was pleasantly surprised to be warmly hugged as well. He likes hugs – a lot!)
Other fantastic supporters include Amy Bruno – not only does she offer great virtual book tour packages, but she is generous in sharing, in yanking ”her” authors into whatever limelight she can find – the same goes for Stephanie Hopkins, who through her blog Layered Pages gives so many authors a chance to be seen and heard. Once again, these ladies know how to hug – and it was wonderful to finally get the opprtunity to do so when we met face to face in Denver. (Internet has a major drawback in the hugs deparment. I do hope someone is working on that specific issue)
All writers need reviewers, preferably reviewers who like your books. Such people are to be treated as precious pearls, and are often willing to act as sounding boards for new ideas and projects – assuming the writer has take the time to build a relationship with them. I have a number of reviewers out there who ”get me”(well, my books; hubby says ”getting me” is a lifetime project, and I’m assuming that’s a compliment.) Voracious readers all of them, they are generous enough to take the time to write a review, post it AND share it!I can’t mention them all, but I was so happy to finally meet people like Erin and Margaret at Denver. Once again – yup, they know how to hug.
All this hugging served the purpose of distracting me – slightly – from the upcoming Award ceremony. Wonderful writer friend Alison Morton was amused and supportive, her brisk British humour making me laugh – a lot. New friends such as Cathy Helms and Char Newcomb smiled and kept their fingers crossed. Nice ladies all three – and great huggers.
Geri Dunlap Clouston of IndieBRAG already KNEW who had won, but was as enigmatic as a sphinx, while being as lovely and gracious as she always is. For those of you that don’t know what IndieBRAG does, I suggest clicking here. In brief, IndieBRAG works towards making great Indie novels visible. And yes, there are great Indie novels – quite a few, in fact. Ahem: like mine. (So this is when, as a Swedish person, I expect God to strike me down on the spot for hubris. Us Swedes are taught never, ever to toot our own horn. But sometimes one has to…) Did I mention Geri is yet another great hugger?
I’m starting to see a theme here: good, supportive people very often are great huggers. It goes hand in hand with an open and embracing (;))personality.
Anyway: Saturday evening approached. I was beginning to go about with a constantly elevated pulse, damp patches behind my knees, and a slight humming in my head. I distracted myself by rehearsing my speech for the MM Bennetts Award which I was presenting – didn’t exactly lower my heart rate…
Dinner on my plate, but who could eat? My intestines knotted together. One award. Next award – the one I was presenting. Gulps of air, march up to the stage, speech – attempt at speech, initially, as I seemed to have forgotten how to breathe. Cleared that one up, presented the three finalists, announced the winner, got a big hug. Nice big hug. Men who are enthusiastic about hugging are fantastic huggers, and Greg Taylor was so happy with his win (for the excellent book Lusitania REX) he was very enthusiastic.
Down to wait some more. I studied my nails and considered whether it would be bad taste to chew on them. Decided it would be. The runner-up was presented. Not me. I stared at the floor.
”…the winner is Anna Belfrage…” someone said. Me! I wanted to leap atop the table and do the hula-hula, but just like with the nails, I decided it wouldn’t be appropiate. But I did do some dancing on the spot – and guess what? Three more lovely warm hugs!
The book I won with is Revenge & Retribution – the sixth in The Graham Saga, but fully readable as a stand-alone. The beautiful cover was designed by Olly Bennett at MoreVisual, and the book was produced by Silverwood Books – delivering yet another beautiful finished product.
Now it is almost 48 hours since that exhilirating moment in Denver and I’m back home in Sweden. And I smile and smile and smile. I am so happy, so honoured, so proud. I may not have seen much of Denver, but as of Saturday June 27th, that particular city has a very special place in my heart! To quote one of my favourite artists, ”It’s a long way from this place to Denver, a long time to hang in the sky” – but I would leap onto that jetplane in a flash, just to experience once again the sheer rush of joy that had me, for a moment, feeling very much on top of the world.