LESSONS LEARNED



I don’t take rejection well.  Which is ironic, because as an actor in Los Angeles, I dealt with rejection on a daily basis, sometimes several times a day, for over 20 years.  But, somehow, I still managed to make a living as an actor in a big pond.  As a writer, I have not yet achieved that goal, and sometimes that makes me feel like a totally useless waster of other people’s oxygen.  It can leave me in such a dark, low place that waking up and facing another day is too much to bear.  Yeah, I know, that makes me a total drama queen, but it is truth. 

Yesterday, a friend sent me photos from the Historical Novel Society Conference, with the message ‘Fun memories.’  And, yes, they most definitely are.  Friends have been asking me how that weekend went and what it was like.  So this post is about what I learned, and am continuing to learn, from HNS 2013.  
New friends:(L-R) Stephanie dos Santos (whose manuscript is about love, Portuguese tile and an 18th Century killer earthquake; Fiona 
A month ago today, the Historical Novel Society Conference was in full swing.  There were over 300 people at the Vinoy in St. Petersburg, Florida – all of us like-minded in many ways.  The Vinoy, a magnificent old hotel, is said to be haunted, although I did not personally meet any ghosts.  However, as historical novelists, we brought plenty of spirits with us.  There was a sea of friendly writers, each one passionate about a different historical time period.  Some had spent years researching specific historical figures, and everyone was happy to talk about their particular passion, if you asked them. 
With dear friend,Stephanie Cowell (author of successful novels about 
Shakespeare, Mozart, Monet and the Brownings, etc.) and new friend, Stephanie dos Santos
 
No one was shy when talking about rejection either: 
‘I thought I had an agent, but then she changed her mind.’ 
‘My publisher dropped me after my first book.’ 
‘My agent never returns my calls.’ 
It didn’t take long before I had a genuine understanding of the words I’ve heard so many times before:  ‘You are not alone.’ 

Being surrounded by so many creative, friendly people turned me into a deer in the headlights.  I spent a lot of time just staring and listening to other people.  In fact, I had a whole conversation with Margaret George – THE Margaret George - and never even realized who she was.  [cringe] 

The person who probably made the most profound impression upon me was C.W. (Christopher) Gortner.  He’s the author of novels like THE QUEEN’S VOW and THE TUDOR SECRET, and he was the featured speaker at the Saturday luncheon. 

His stories are about passionate Renaissance types and Tudor spies.  He says he likes writing about the past for the same reason most of us history-geeks like it:  ‘There is always a secret to uncover behind the portrait, a mystery to explore within the legend, a hidden motivation under the fact.’   

Christopher's best-selling books have been translated into fourteen languages.  Fourteen seems to be a magical number for him.  He endured an epic amount of writerly angst and rejections – like agents who accused him of ‘lavender prose.’  Okay, now that’s a totally dim-witted criticism to hurl at a gay man who writes about queens.  After FOURTEEN LONG YEARS of that, he finally landed a publisher at the first HNS conference in 2005.  I was there too, and wish I’d known him then.  In fact, he self-published his first book, THE SECRET LION, about a 16th Century Tudor spy, the disappearance of Edward VI (who died at 15), the whole Lady-Jane-off-with-her-head, Bloody-Mary and Queen I-am-SO-a-virgin Elizabeth thing.  Now, I ask you:  Doesn’t that sound like a good story?  And now, in an absolute inspirational ending to Christopher's story, the publishing gods are definitely smiling on him .  When he spoke to us – a room of over 300 people who were eating desert and drinking coffee – it was like we were his friends from down the road who just happened to stop by for a cuppa and a chat. 

So, at the 2005 conference, Gortner got a publisher.  You know what he got at the 2013 conference?  A standing ovation.  By 314 people. 
Before the banquet: (L-R) Patricia Hudson (author of a wonderful manuscript about 
Daniel Boone’s wife, another one of those heroines ignored by HIStory); 
Fiona and Stephanie Renee dos Santos (dressed as Frida Kahlo for the costume contest). 
Patricia, Stephanie and I hung out in a hotel room until very late, sipping wine and helping each other perfect our pitches for the next day.  It was a great session.  We laughed ‘til our sides ached and then we each got manuscript requests! 

The next time I get really depressed about rejection, I hope I have enough money to run off to a writers' conference.  It's the perfect antidote.  

I’ll write another post about further adventures at the conference.  For now, I’ll leave you with the words of the amazing Charlotte Cook :  
 ‘Writers come to an empty page with a full mind.  Readers come to a full page with an empty mind.’ 

5 comments:

  1. I loved the inside view of the conference, including photos. Thanks for much for sharing Christopher's story. It reminds me I should keep at it.

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  2. What wonderful words of encouragement for all of us! So glad you had a great time. LOVED the pictures and hearing about your experiences.

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  3. Well damn! I still hate that I missed the conference!!!! The pics were just wonderful. I hope you walked away feeling less alone. I think to get through the writing, the rejections, the whole journey of publication within itself, it really takes a village. I'm thrilled to be a member of that village even if I may be the idiot. All villages need one of those for entertainment purposes and whatnot. So...you're welcome. Just doing my part. :)

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  4. Fiona! Grand fun memories, thank you for the link, and post. I loved every minute of the HNS Conference and spending time with you and Pat!

    Fond recollections and heartfelt welcomed new friendships!

    You are not alone, none of us are. Let us walk the literary forest together, meet at the refreshing conference springs, and traverse the lowlands and high ridges hand-in-hand.

    Namaste, Namaste, Namaste...

    Stephanie Renee dos Santos

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  5. Hiya, BBF (Book Buddy Fi) -

    I'm glad I caught this post - such great photos, stories and pure inspiration! I've yet to make it to a writers' conference, but sure do look forward to the experience even more now, thanks to your sharing.

    I also appreciate your inspiring me from afar - via SKYPE and expensive phone chats, no one holds my literary feet to the proverbial fire better than you and I thank you for being such a great mentor and coach. You've great insights and ideas and generous with sharing these with fellow writers. Your talents as a writer yourself make me want to be a better writer and author as well!

    Best wishes for your continued success,

    Christine

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