Move Over, Southern Writers

By  Karen Wills

Since my roomy at the Historical Novel Society 2017 North American Conference, Janice McCaffrey, has written about sessions she attended, I’ll continue the thread.

Libbie Hawker, a young writer I admire both for her talent and prodigious output, was to moderate a panel discussion listed as Historical Fiction through a Pacific Northwest Lens. Emphasis was on the region as our last frontier.  pacific nw

Since NW Montana as part of the Inland Northwest is a sort of cousin to the Pacific Northwest states only without a coastline, I decided to attend. A former member of Kalispell’s Authors of the Flathead, Janet Fisher (A Place of her Own, and The Shifting Winds) presence on the panel became another incentive. Additional speakers were Kirby Larson (Hattie Big Sky, the Audacity Jones series, and others), and Janet L. Oakley (Tree Soldier, Timber Rose, and Mist-Shi-Mus).

Panelists first addressed how curiosity about their region determines what they write. It also leads to sources chosen for research. These include Metzger maps, documents such as deeds, historical societies, old letters, and professional historians to interview. The list also included early regional newspapers. As an aside, Oakley reminded us when we’re researching online, to look for sites ending in edu or org. Also, in order to save later grief, for every source record its date and where you found it.

Kirby Larson also spoke to the special temptations of using everything you’ve found in research. She once wrote an entire chapter on how to bake bread in a wood stove. As Janet Fisher said, of historical fiction, “The background is the brush strokes. Give a sense of your era without going into great detail.”

When asked about writing about minority populations, such as the Japanese Americans interred during WWII, panelists agreed on very minimal use of offensive racist terms. Writers need to be realistic about the era being covered, while still recognizing twenty-first century sensibilities.

The panel surprised us by expressing a desire to have the vibrant group of Pacific Northwest novelists become as recognizable and distinct by region as the Southern writers, think Truman Capote or Harper Lee. I caught up with Libby later, and suggested us Inland Northwesters be included.

river with no bridge

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Historical Novel Society Conference 2017

Sis. McCaffrey

By Janice McCaffrey

The Historical Novel Society North American Conference convenes in the US during odd numbered years with its counterpart in even numbered years meeting in the UK. This year Portland hosted June 22nd – 24th. Karen Wills and I attended with participants from across North America, the UK, Australia, Europe, and South American.

In two days we had at least 15 hours of informative sessions led by successful authors, editors, agents, and publishers. As well as an interview of and speeches by the two Guests of Honor: Geraldine Brooks and David Ebershoff. And we had time in between to meet, greet, exchange business cards, and chat with other attendees.

Since I love research, my favorite sessions were the ones where ideas were shared about what, where, who, and how to learn and verify historical facts to give our fictional characters, settings, and circumstances credibility.

I’ll share a few:

Paterson’s Roads by Daniel Paterson gives detailed information about English travel from 1775 to 1820. Originally maps and notes for the military these publications were used by travelers as they took road trips to see the sites. Elizabeth Bennett’s Aunt and Uncle used one to find Pemberley.

If there are horses in your story than the book Writing Horses by Judith Tarr is invaluable. Google “everyday life of series” and you’ll find books about everyday life, past and present, for all classes of society in many countries. Htpps://archive.org boasts a free non-profit online library with “millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.”

If you need historical clarification about military uniforms, weapons, transportation, etc. from ancient to modern times it’s http://ospreypress.com. For travel throughout the Roman Empire http://Orbis.Stanford.edu. Words from the past? Try the Oxford English Thesaurus. Books of Manners were first published in 1500. I found some online at http://openlibrary.com

To find experts to interview or ask them specific questions online try htpps://academia.edu and Profnet Connect at htpps://prnewswire.com/profnet. One presenter said that she takes classes or lessons to learn about and understand specific trades and suggested htpps://mooc.org which has free online classes to help improve your career. Another said she has studied religions and cultures through Harvard htpps://online-learning.harvard.edu.

And who knew? Google Scholar says with them you can “Stand on the shoulders of giants” because they provide “a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites. Google Scholar helps you find relevant work across the world of scholarly research.”

The conference concluded with the first ever after party where members of the Portland Jane Austen Club taught us how to play whist, the forerunner of contract bridge and past time of the gentry in 18th and 19th century England. In fact Edmund Hoyle wrote the first book of instructions for Whist which was published in 1742. And yes, that’s where the expression “according to Hoyle” began.

But my very favorite party activity was when an instructor, accompanied by live music of the era, led us through several English folk dances. It was such great fun and since I played the male partner all evening, I can dance like Mr. Darcy!!