Reflections on the Historical Novel Society Conference

Before I begin, I just found a cache of 65 comments in the trash of my website. Thanks for that, web site. I’m so sorry to have missed them. So if didn’t respond, I wasn’t being rude; I just didn’t know they were there. I have responded to all of them now. 

Also, I completely missed my blogiversary. This little ol’ blog turned six on June 16.

And now, on to our main topic…

At the end of June, I had the pleasure of attending the Historical Novel Society conference in Portland Oregon. It was hands-down the best, most fun conference I’ve ever been to. From the second I stepped into the hotel, I saw people I knew or who knew me, and it felt like a homecoming. These truly are my people. It was humbling and immensely gratifying to have so many people approach me, saying they loved my books and/or had seen me speak somewhere and learned something. I have to say that for the first time I felt like, maybe not a celebrity, but a rising star. I was certainly encouraged to continue on my journey as a historical fiction author!

I have to say I was thrilled by the diversity in the program offerings. In addition to panels on craft and dedicated to certain time periods, there were panels on everything from gender fluidity in Shakespeare’s England and race/minority viewpoints in historical fiction to LBGT characters in history and including women’s stories in history. It was encouraging in an increasingly polarized culture to see that within the Society, authors are talking about all forms of inclusiveness. On a similar note, there were workshops and koffee klatches for both traditional and indie authors and both forms of publishing (as well as being a hybrid author) were talked about on panels. Here again, I took comfort from the open-mindedness I experienced.

Honestly, there were so many great choices, it was often hard to decide which workshop to attend. (Note to HNS: Please bring back the recording of sessions. I would buy every single one.) Of the ones I attended (that I wasn’t on), the one I enjoyed the most were Writing in Multiple Genres, which reaffirmed that you can and perhaps should write in multiple areas, especially if you can make your fiction and non-fiction relate (which mine do, whew!)

From Bustles to Suffragettes panel

I was on two panels and lead a packed koffee klatch. The first panel was “From Bustles to Suffragettes: Writing Victorian Era & Gilded Age Fiction” with Stephanie Carroll, Leanna Renee Hieber, Amanda McCabe (Laurel McKee) and moderator Susan McDuffie. I had corresponded with these ladies online but had never met most of them until the conference. Stephanie and I were roommates at the conference (we met at the 2015 conference in Denver) and Leanna quickly became my new favorite person. (When you share a love of Victoria Woodhull and outspoken Victorian women, I guess this is bound to happen!) We certainly shared a feministic vibe and were two of the more passionate panelists in our answers. We all worked really well together and I’m very glad to have met all these ladies.

Putting the Her in History panel. Photo by Jessica Knauss.

Next was “Putting the ‘Her’ in History” with Patricia Bracewell, Rebecca Kanner, Mary Sharratt, and moderator Stephanie Lehmann. I was somehow magically added to this one a few months ago and I’m so glad it happened. First of all, I love Patricia Bracewell and Mary Sharatt as authors. Okay, I love Patricia Bracewell in every respect. I like to think of her as one of my writing idols. Needless to say, I was humbled and thrilled to be on this panel. Again, we were a group of well-spoken, intelligent women with no shortage of opinions and more than enough moxie to voice them. As Patricia Bracewell wrote in her blog post reflecting on the conference,”I can only tell you that my fellow panelists were passionate and eloquent about the roles of women throughout history, about the definition of POWER, and the difficulties that historical novelists face in bringing all-but-forgotten women to life.” We must have gotten rather feministic without realizing it, because when the panel started, there were four or five men in the audience; by the time it was over, there were none left. Oops. Sorry guys. We really meant no disrespect. But our message was received. I’ve seen the panel called the best of the conference on several wrap-up blogs like this one and Jessica Knauss said she thought we “had possibly the best energy of any of the panels.”

My koffee klatch was an “ask me anything” style open forum on being an indie author. About 25 people showed up and it was a rapid-fire hour. I barely stopped talking to catch my breath the whole time. Luckily, there were a few other experienced indie authors in the room (hi Lars!) so when I didn’t know the answer (like on KDP select, for example) they were able to fill in for me. Several people told me they really enjoyed it and learned a lot, so I can’t ask for more than that!

Lookie! I got to meet Geraldine Brooks!

The guests of honor, Pulitzer Prize-winner Geraldine Brooks (March, People of the Book, Caleb’s Crossing, The Golden Chord, Year of Wonders) and David Ebershoff (The Danish Girl, The 19th Wife, Pasadena). I have been a huge fan of Geraldine Brooks’ writing for years, so it was a dream come true to get to hear her speak. I love that she said she “looks for the stories that are too crazy to be believed” as the basis for her fiction. Finding those is one of my favorite parts of research (Victoria’s family, anyone?) and even if readers don’t believe them, they are things that need to be told. A woman after my own heart, Geraldine gave my favorite quote from the whole event when reflecting on her time and experiences as a war correspondent in the Middle East: “In societies where women are publicly silenced, they find ways to wield private power.”

I had never heard of David before he spoke and I wasn’t expecting to be interested in, much less bowled over by, his speech. But I was captivated. He spoke so eloquently of the life of Lili Elbe, a pioneer in the transgender movement, who was the inspiration for his book The Danish Girl. His speech helped me understand transgender issues a little better and I actually teared up when he talked about Paramount quietly replacing the long-lost headstone on Lili’s grave.

Hooch Through History.

And what would a conference be without extra-circular activities? The first was Hooch Through History, a multi-flight alcohol tasting event that was accompanied by a well-researched presentation about what drinks were popular at different times in history and why. We had mead (which I’ve had before and find way too sweet), mulled wine (which I am very familiar with due to my German/Austrian heritage -YUM!), two kinds of gin (the first, which was an older type was kind of okay, but the second tasted like pine trees), absinthe (which tastes and smells like black licorice – all  kinds of wrong) and a bellini (which was my favorite drink of the night). I knew some of the history from my own research, but it was fun to learn more and taste with my friends. It was a unanimous opinion in the sold-out room that this should be an annual event.

Stephanie Carroll and I at the masked ball.

On the final night of the conference there was Hellfire at HNS, the first ever after party. It was so much much! It was a masquerade ball, and even though they gave out free domino masks, I bought a fancy bejeweled mask to wear, as did a few other people. You could choose from two activities: learning Regency dance or learning to play whist. I had major blisters on my feet from the stupid shoes I wore the night before, so dancing was out, but luckily I love playing cards. I can’t say I fully understand whist yet, but I think I have the basics down and my partner and I won, so there is that. I had a really, really good time and I hope they do something like this again in 2019.

My new discovery from this conference is author Kate Forsyth (Bitter Greens). I saw her on a panel on Myth, Magic, and Fairy Tales in Historical Fiction. She also spellbound the crowd with recitation of the fairy tale Tam Lin (click the link to watch my shaky video). I fell in love with her. She mentioned on the panel that she has a PhD in fairy tales (how awesome is that?) and that she’s written 40 books in 20 years. As soon as I heard that, I realized that is my new goal! (The books rewritten part; though the PhD would be cool too.)

Jenny Q. and I

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, I met my lovely cover designer, Jenny Q., in person for the first time!

Next year the conference is in Scotland. I really wish I could go, but unless things change that isn’t going to happen. So I’m already looking forward to 2019. I’m considering being on the board, so we’ll see where that goes!

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What Inspired Me to Write Dark Lady? A Guest Post By Charlene Ball

Many of you know that I’m a bit of a Shakespeare nut. I have a deep love for his comedies and I’m a Marlovian. (Yes, you will be getting a Shakespeare-was-really-Christopher-Marlowe novel from me sometime in the future.) So when I was asked if Charlene could do a guest post on her book about one of the most enduring mysteries surrounding Shakespeare – the identity of the Dark Lady in his sonnets – I jumped at the chance. So without further ado (or should that be “Much Ado?”) please welcome scholar and fellow feminist Charlene Ball!

Author Charlene Ball

I was in the auditorium at the University of Georgia listening to a short, dapper English historian explain his theory that Emilia Bassano Lanyer was the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets. It was around 1975. I was fascinated. Imagine my excitement to learn that someone had discovered a woman who not only might have been close to Shakespeare, but who was a poet in her own right—and, moreover, was an early feminist!

Up until then, my feminism and my love of Renaissance literature were kept in separate areas of my world. Feminism was about marches and demonstrations for the Equal Rights Amendment and Take Back the Night, reading The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, Our Bodies Our Selves, and Sinister Wisdom; listening to talks by popular feminists like Gloria Steinem; reading Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde; and talking with our very own resident radical feminist, Julia Penelope Stanley, who taught linguistics in the UGA English Department and whose mother ran a cool bookstore called The Hairy Hobbit.

Feminism was also about living with my woman lover, identifying as a lesbian, going to softball games to cheer on our lesbian friends who played on a softball team called—what else?—The Hairy Hobbits (the bookstore sponsored the team).

My coursework for my Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, on the other hand, involved attending classes and writing papers on Medieval Narrative, Shakespeare, European Romanticism, French Classical Drama, and Renaissance Narrative Poetry.

I loved it all. But there was a disconnect. My coursework did not overlap at all with my life.

So when I heard A.L. Rowse say that not only was Emilia Lanyer the lover of Shakespeare, but also an early feminist who roundly condemned men for slandering women and called for women’s equality, I could not contain my excitement. I was already fascinated by Christopher Marlowe, or the myth of him as an early gay poet, and I wrote a play about him. I also wrote a play about Shakespeare and Emilia Lanyer.

This was about the time that feminist scholars were beginning to write about early women writers. The decades that followed brought my graduation, my search for academic employment, and the changes in the world and in my life. I taught English composition and literature, and, in between part-time teaching gigs, I took temp jobs. I put Emilia on the back burner. My life changed. My relationship ended. I found a position as an office administrator in a Women’s Studies department. I researched and wrote about feminist utopias and Audre Lorde. I began to write fiction.

When I returned to the literature I first loved, no longer called the Renaissance, but the Early Modern Period, I found that feminist scholars had discovered Emilia (or Aemilia) Bassano Lanyer and had written a great deal about her. But from a very different point of view.

What I had found most troubling about Rowse’s description of Emilia in his talk, the introduction to his edition of her poems, and his books about Shakespeare was that he took an unquestioningly misogynistic view of her, calling her “a bad lot” and “no better than she should be.” Other scholars agreed, including the historians who chronicled the Bassano family of musicians, David Lasocki and Roger Pryor. Pryor assumed she was “a well known whore.”

So I was delighted to discover Susanne Woods’s biography and edition of Lanyer’s poems. Woods makes it clear that there is no evidence at all to believe that Emilia was promiscuous, and even if she were, what would it matter anyway?

The feminist Aemilia was not the same as Rowse’s Emilia. There seemed to be no way to see them as the same person.

Yet—why couldn’t they be? There was no reason I could see that a vehement defender of women could not also have been the lover of, not only Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, but of William Shakespeare as well. And those sonnets of Shakespeare’s that are clearly addressed to a woman are far from flattering. Most of them are angry, mocking, and disparaging. Might not a woman who read them and realized they were about her be offended? Might she not want to answer back in her own defense, in the defense of all women?

So I wanted to write about Emilia (I kept to the spelling of her name that I had first learned) as a woman of her time, assuming just as a “what if” that she was Shakespeare’s lover AND a talented poet. I wanted to portray her as she might have been, doing all the things we know she probably did based on Rowse’s research, but not accepting his easy misogyny and stereotyped thinking. For no scholars deny the basics of Rowse’s research; they just don’t accept his conclusions that she must have known Shakespeare and must have been the woman in the Sonnets.

My Emilia, then, is the daughter of a Court musician and member of the large extended family of Bassanos who came from Venice to London at the invitation of Henry VIII. She is the one whose father died when she was young, who was fostered by Suzan Bertie, Countess of Kent, who became the mistress of Lord Hunsdon at a young age, who married her cousin Alfonso Lanyer when she became pregnant, and who visited the astrologer Simon Forman and endured and may have encouraged his sexual advances. My Emilia is also the mother of two children, one of whom died in infancy. My Emilia is the friend of literary women and a poet herself. She is the woman who published a book of poetry in 1611 and who dedicated it to nine of these women, thus becoming one of the first women in England to publish her work and the first to seek patronage as male authors did.

So—shameless plug!—my novel, Dark Lady: A Novel of Emilia Bassano Lanyer, brings together my feminism and my love of this fascinating time in history called the Early Modern Period, the time of the incredible burgeoning of drama and poetry by Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson, Phillip Sidney, and so many other men. And now we know about some of the women: Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke; Lady Arbella Stuart; Isabella Whitney; Mary Wroth; Anne Vaughan Locke Prowse. And Emilia Bassano Lanyer.

Books for Further Reading:

David Lasocki with Roger Prior, The Bassanos: Venetian Musicians and Instrument Makers in England, 1531-1665 (Scolar, 1995).

A.L. Rowse, The Poems of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady: Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum by Emilia Lanier (Clarkston N. Potter, 1979).

Susanne Woods, ed., The Poems of Aemilia Lanyer: Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (Oxford UP, 1993).

____________, Lanyer: A Renaissance Woman Poet (Oxford UP, 1999).

Thank you, Charlene! I, for one, can’t wait to read your book! If you have questions for Charlotte, please put them in the comments. I’ll let her know and she’s be around to respond.

Quick Book Updates

In the summer, this is what editing looks like. This is me trying to figure out what needs to change in Mistress of Legend.

I’m thankful to finally be back to writing on a regular basis. I seem to have fits and starts this year, which I guess is normal, given that I write in between conferences and day job.

Speaking of conferences, don’t forget that I’ll be at Gateway Con June 16-17 in St. Louis and the Historical Novel Society Conference in Portland, Oregon, June 23-24. I’m speaking and signing/selling books at both, so please come and say hello! I’ve just been added to a third panel at the HNS conference, “Putting the Her in History,” with two of my favorites, Patricia Bracewell and Mary Sharratt! Here’s the full information: https://nicoleevelina.com/events/. (Make sure you look at both the reader and writer sections of the page.)

I’ve had some new projects pop up, so I wanted to give you a rundown of where everything stands:

The Once and Future Queen: Guinevere in Arthurian Legend (non-fiction)
I spent the early part of this year researching for my first non-fiction book, which traces the evolution of the character of Guinevere from her Celtic roots to today. I started writing on it in April, but then other things came up. But I’m back at it at a steady clip now. I was hoping for a summer release, but now it’s looking more like end of the year.

Mistress of Legend (Guinevere’s Tale Book 3) (historical fantasy)
I know all of you are eagerly awaiting this book, and frankly, so am I. Guinevere and Morgan have been talking to me a bit, but not as much as I want them to, so things are going slower than I would like. I have re-read my first draft and while it’s not as bad as I thought it was, it still needs work. I have a revision outline and am doing some additional research, which should be finished in the next few weeks. I’m hoping to start writing in earnest on it over the long Fourth of July weekend. I was hoping to have this out by the end of the year, but now I think it will likely be early 2018.

But the book does have a cover! Members of the Guardians of Endangered Stories (my street team) have seen it, so if you can’t wait, please join! Everyone else will get to see it when we get closer to the book’s release.

Untitled Non-Fiction 
Ever since I started researching Victoria Woodhull, I have come to realize how much feminism means to me. There are so many great stories of women who have gone against the grain of their society and fought for our rights. I am considering writing a biographical historical fiction of another of them, but I also want to examine what feminism has meant in the United States since the birth of our nation and where the movement might be going, especially in our current political climate.

We know for sure there have been three waves in the movement, each with their own inciting event, primary cause, public figures and cultural shifts. The first was in the 19th and early 20th centuries when women fought for the right to vote. The second was from the 1960s – 1980s, when women fought for equal rights, equal pay, an end to sexual harassment and other causes. The third began in the 1990s and encompasses a variety of topics from slut shaming to contraception and more. Just in a little bit of reading, I’ve learned that the waves are more similar than one might think at first glance. I would also argue that we are currently in the beginning of a fourth wave, spurred on by the 2016 presidential election and its fallout.

This is a passion project that I am just beginning to outline and research. I know it is going to take several years and it won’t take the place of my fiction writing. I need something to work on when the characters aren’t talking, so this is my ongoing project.

A New Venture into Feminism – Femina Aequalitas

womens blog header small“You, a feminist?” I can hear all of your mock shock and horror. I can also hear some of you saying, “You don’t need another project. Just write.” While that’s true, I have to follow my heart in all that I do, and it was telling me the time had come for this blog.

Those of you who have been around here a while know I’m all about the strong female characters. Well, that extends to other areas of my life, too. So I decided a few months ago to start a blog to talk about issues around feminism, women’s equality, female rights, whatever you want to call it. (Check out my “why I’m here” post for more about why I created this blog.) I gathered up nine of my closest friends and several people who wanted to be guest bloggers, we did some planning via email and voila: Femina Aequalitas was born.

Femina Aequalitas is Latin for Female Equality. (Thanks to Liv for the name!) It was an easy way to show what we’re all about. It just so happens that it was ready for prime time right around the time that Emma Watson gave her groundbreaking speech on the role men play in the fight for gender equality. (If you haven’t seen, go watch it. You won’t regret it.) I’m grateful she broke the ice on the subject; we intend our blog to be a place where it can continue.

We’re not like a lot of other feminist blogs out there. You won’t find any man-hating or hard-line rhetoric. As our “About” page will tell you, we’re a group of men (yes, we have male contributors, too) and women who are searching for equality among the sexes in our lives and in our world – in pop culture (movies, music, books, TV, etc.), world news, politics and in our own lives. We’re want share those thoughts in order to foster healthy discussion and grow a community of like-minded individuals. We are desirous of change, but aren’t necessarily traditional activists.

We’re also taking a different approach to blogging. For now at least, we don’t have a regular posting schedule; we just post when something moves us so that the content is fresh and heartfelt, rather than required by a schedule. (We’ll see how that works.) We also have a Twitter account that all of us tweet from to spread the word about women’s issues that way. Feel free to follow us at @feminaaequalita.

We’re open to contributions, so if any of you would like to get involved, please either subscribe or check out our submission guidelines, or both! We’d love for you to stop by and say hi. While we’re still in our infancy, we hope you’ll join us as we build our community.

They say to practice what you preach, and this is the best way (online) I knew how to do that.

What do you think about the site? Are you interested in joining? Or at least following the conversation? What do you think about the recent discussions about feminism on social media and in the news? How do you define feminism? Do you consider yourself a feminist?