The Nantucket Book Festival and the Historical Novel Society Conference, 2019

From the Nantucket Book Festival Website

June has been a busy month. I attended the 8th Annual Nantucket Book Festival, which was terrific. There were many authors I really admire, especially Susan Orlean (THE LIBRARY BOOK), Esi Edugyan (WASHINGTON BLACK), and Madeline Miller (CIRCE).

Some authors were approachable and delighted to be fangirled. Some were less so. Here are some of the highlights:

Esi Edugyan (Washington Black) , Moi, and Beowulf Sheehan (AUTHOR)

Fangirl don’t care.

WASHINGTON BLACK was named One of the TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR by the New York Times Book Review
AND One of the Best Books of the Year
The Boston Globe  The Washington Post ● Time ● Entertainment Weekly ● San Francisco Chronicle ● Financial Times ● Minneapolis Star Tribune ● NPR ● The Economist ● Bustle ● The Dallas Morning News ● Slate ● Kirkus Reviews. Ms. Edugyan was delightful. I loved hearing her speak about her book. Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, an audience member asks a question at the end that was a total plot spoiler. Actually, that happened twice, and Esi was very gracious.

I love Mr. Sheehan’s photo of Donna Tartt.

AUTHOR, by Beowulf Sheehan. Mr. Sheehan was self-effacing, gracious, and fascinating. “Perhaps the foremost literary portrait photographer working today, Sheehan is known for the beauty, nuance, and insight of his haunting compositions. His first book presents two hundred of his finest portraits of prominent writers, playwrights, historians, journalists, and poets such as Roxane Gay, Patti Smith, Masha Gessen, Karl Ove Knausgaard, and J.K. Rowling. These rich black-and-white images were taken in a variety of settings—the photographer’s studio, the subject’s home, concert halls, public spaces—and all bring out new facets of writers we’ve grown to know and love through their words. Sheehan introduces the volume with an essay recalling some of his most memorable moments with the amazing people he’s photographed.” Blurb from Politics & Prose Bookstore.

The harbor view from the Dreamland Theatre terrace, site of the Friday evening cocktail reception. Photo from the Dreamland Theater.

Madeline Miller, speaking about her amazing novel, CIRCE, which Ann Patchett very accurately describes as: “An epic spanning thousands of years that’s also a keep-you-up-all-night page turner.” – 

Tim Ehrenberg, who writes the NEED TO READ column in Nantucket Magazine wrote a great preview of the Festival books. His interview with Rebecca Makkai, about her new book, THE GREAT BELIEVERS, was a real highlight for me. He says about the book:
“I’m a great believer in the power of fiction to tell the truth. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” Rebecca Makkai’s novel left me stunned by its ability to tell the truth about a time so rarely spoken, written or read about. As a gay man in 2019, I have lived a much different life than the gay characters in 1980s Chicago, but this book resonated with me in a personal way. The Great Believers is a dazzling story of friendship and redemption in the face of the AIDS tragedy and this extreme loss set in 1980s Chicago and contemporary Paris. “

So, then I went home for two days before the start of the 2019 Historical Novel Society Conference.

THE HISTORICAL NOVEL SOCIETY is made up of authors and readers worldwide and has chapters in the UK , Australia, and US. The annual conference is held alternately in the UK and US. This year, it was in Oxon Hill, Maryland, just across the river from Washington, DC. The society is run by volunteers, as is most of the conference.

Members receive the quarterly Society magazine and may be listed in the Society directory, which allows visitors to view members’ profiles, their latest website/blog posts, and links to their Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads accounts. Writers can join critique groups and both readers and writers can contribute reviews to the magazine. The society also runs international novel and short story competitions. Meetings with agents and editors are available at the conference, as well as page critiques.

This was my first time at the conference. The theme was “Revolution”. When the call for proposals for presentations came out, I wanted to apply. I bandied some ideas about, and settled on “revolution in fashion” but my hubby thought that was too restrictive, so I changed it to “Evolution and Revolution in Women’s Fashion: 1850-1970”. I chose those years so I could begin with Bloomers and end with the mini-skirt. I was delighted to hear that they were interested in featuring my topic.

I’m not a fashion historian by trade, I’m a novelist. I did, however, attend a graduate program at The Fashion Institute of Technology, after college. Before the year-long program finished, though, I was hired to work for Ralph Lauren, where I was on the design staff. It was my absolute dream job, and during those three years I learned a lot about style and fashion and even more about life. My anxiety dreams are still about being called into a design meeting I had forgotten about and facing Ralph and Tasha unprepared. We all have a version of this, right? Only instead of not having any clothes on, I would have on the WRONG clothes—like Donna Karan or Calvin Klein instead of full Ralph regalia or something vintage and original, and inspiring.

I’ve always been fascinated with fashion history, and for my novels I put together an inspiration board of photos, maps, and sketches. I found more eye candy than I could use and had to pare down my 200 slides for my PowerPoint presentation for my lecture. Then, I practiced.

A lot.

For two weeks before the conference I read my talk aloud to my dogs once a day. Driving in the car I timed myself reciting from memory, and quizzed myself on dates. They couldn’t possibly expect me to know how to hook up my laptop to the projector.

But maybe they would. Better check on that. It was fine, though.

From all of the hundreds of fashion designers I could think of, I narrowed my talk down by time (1850-1970). Then I added some innovations: the zipper, pantyhose, aniline dyes.

The screen outside my lecture room.

There was a costume contest, where attendees knocked themselves out with historically accurate outfits. Marie Antoinette got my vote. There were workshops on swordplay and historical dancing. My fave (duh) was called “Hooch Through History,” which was an entertaining hopscotch through six historical revolutions, and really just an excuse to drink six cocktails. Lots of fun. It was also great to sit down with four fellow historical fiction authors who share the same agent. (photo above).

Now it’s July, and I’m home with the dogs and hubby until later in the month. Whew.

Here’s a link to another writer’s blog post about the HNSC by Sarah Johnson.

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