Wednesday, June 29, 2011


By Elizabeth Kerri Mahon

I’ve been a member of RWA for over ten years, and I’ve attended my share of conferences both national and local. One of my dreams and goals as a writer was to one day is able to take my place at the literacy signing that opens every RWA national conference. However, my writing took a different turn, and my first published book is not a romance, women’s fiction or even young adult, the genres that I had been writing in for years. No, SCANDALOUS WOMEN is historical non-fiction which means that by RWA standards, I am not a published author, nor would I be able to sign books at the literacy signing. I felt it was important to attend a conference that was close to the genre that I want to write. As much as I love RWA and feel that it is an invaluable tool, I feel that in order to grow as a writer, it’s important for me to get out of my comfort zone and expand my horizons to other conferences.

Most people know about Thriller Fest, which is held in New York every year, as well as Malice Domestic for mystery writers, but what if you write other kinds of fiction say historical or even young adult? Well there is a conference out there for you. Some of the bigger names are the Maui Writer’s Conference (famous as the place where Jenny Crusie met Bob Mayer) as well as the Surrey Writer’s Conference in Vancouver. Of course, most of us don’t have the kind of big bucks for those conferences. However, the Liberty State Writer’s Conference is close by in New Jersey and not that expensive. Not only do you gain a different perspective on the industry, but it also is a great opportunity to make new friends, as well as expand your audience for your book if you are published.

Last week, I had the great fortune to attend the 4th Historical Novel Society conference the Holiday Inn by the Bay in San Diego. The Historical Novel Society has been alternating having the conference in England and North America over the past few years. I had only just found out about the society 4 years ago when they had their Albany conference, and I couldn't attend the conference 2 years ago when it was held just outside Chicago. Attending the Historical Novel Society conference was a now brainer for me. I’ve always read a great deal of historical fiction, and I’ve also begun to review the genre on Scandalous Women. The Historical Novel Review also gave SCANDALOUS WOMEN a nice review. Plus, I thought it would be nice to be amongst my people for a weekend, authors and readers who love history as much as I do, who have a habit of talking about historical figures like Eleanor of Aquitaine as if they were in the next room.

The conference was inspiring, not only did I get to meet some of my favorite authors such as Michelle Moran, author of MADAME TUSSAUD, but I also discovered some great new authors who I can't wait to read. There were so many fabulous authors there that I can't name them all. I was lucky enough to be a moderator for a panel entitled "Turning History's Antagonists into Sympathetic Protagonists" on Saturday with an incredibly distinguished group of authors including C.W. Gortner (author of the CONFESSIONS OF CATHERINE DE MEDICI), Emma Campion (author of THE KING'S MISTRESS), Anne Easter Smith, and Susan Higginbotham. I have read the works of all of these wonderful authors, so it was a thrill to be in the same room with them, let alone be moderating a panel. I'm pretty sure that I was chosen to moderate this panel, because the women in SCANDALOUS WOMEN haven't been treated sympathetically by their biographers over the years. We had a lively discussion on the panel and it was very interesting to hear the different points of view.

It was interesting to see the different viewpoints at the panel on whether or not you need a Marquee Name as your main character in historical fiction. The general consensus of the panel was that it does help if your main character is someone well known like Mary, Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, or Anne Boleyn, but another way to get around that is to have a Marquee name as a secondary character which I have seen done successfully, or even a marquee setting such as Tudor or Elizabethan England. This is something that I've often wondered about. I adore Anne Boleyn, but how many stories are there left to tell about her.

The best panel was the Editor panel, moderated by Jennifer Weltz from the Jean Naggar Literary Agency, featuring editors from Sourcebooks, Random House and St. Martin’s Press. Here one got a real sense of what the editors were looking for as well as what was selling. What I love about historical fiction is that it is so wide open in terms of subjects and settings. There is something for everyone. Just like at RWA, there were opportunities to have editor and agent appointments at the conference.

Since I'm a relatively unknown author, I really didn't expect to push a lot of books at the book signing, but it was great to see them in the bookstore at the conference. I felt like a real author! At the end of the day, I came back with at least 10 ideas for historical fiction projects. As much as I love writing non-fiction and want to continue to do so, I started out writing fiction and there is a part of me that would like to see if I can actually write a novel that someone wants to buy! I had such a good time though that I’m already planning on trying to attend the conference next year in London.

My only quibble with the conference is that the panels were not recorded, so if you missed one, there is no opportunity to listen to it later. Nor were there that many workshops on the actual writing process or even panels on what do after you are published in terms of promotion. That is one area where RWA has it over the Historical Novel Society conference. I would suggest that perhaps the organizers of the next conference explore that option, as well as other workshops on the writing process, from querying to writing a proposal. From my informal survey, quite a few people would be willing to buy the audio DVD's of sessions that they missed.

All in all, it was a good experience and I’m glad that I decided get out of my comfort zone to attend.♥

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon is a professional actress and amateur history geek. Her first book, SCANDALOUS WOMEN, was published this March by Perigee Books. It is an extension of her blog, Scandalous Women, which was named one of the 50 Top History Blogs by Zen College File. A native New Yorker, Elizabeth still calls Manhattan home. Visit her blog at

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Elizabeth, and I couldn't agree more. I find attending a non romance fic contest, whether it's NINC or another, reinvigorates me on many levels, including refreshing my writing.

    I hope to attend a Historical Novelists Society conference in the not too distant future. Glad you got the chance to mix and mingle in San Diego.