Dear Friends, It’s been a busy summer! From the Historical Novel Society of North America Conference in June, to Rebels and Redcoats earlier this month, to History Camp this past weekend, I have been running around. And through the summer, a question: what should I be wearing??
Back a million years ago, as an incoming college first year, I was excited to receive a student handbook. The book was not only filled with cute New Yorker-like cartoons, but much advice. To wit: “The weather in Ohio can change in an instant. You might consider bringing a waterproof bikini-parka to school!”
I wonder about that line today. Maybe it would be odd for a school to even suggest wearing a bikini? But the sentiment was correct: we went from swampy Orientation Days to winds whipping across an icy rural campus within weeks.
Getting ready for HNSNA held in San Antonio this year, I felt I was up against the same predicament: what to wear? Thanks to climate change, El Nino, and weather, Texas had experienced a rainy spring with cool evenings that could change to broiling heat the next day.
My closet: a lesson In sustainability
I stood looking at my closet and all my pre-pandemic clothes. I had told my sister recently that my wardrobe was “a lesson in sustainability.” Although I’m constantly tossing clothes as I buy new ones, the last five years had seen my wardrobe acquisitions trickle to a minimum as I gave up working in an office and then for some time, “going out.” I had 20-year-old dresses that I kept dry cleaning and wearing, telling myself “this is the last time.” I had shirts cast off by my daughters that I thought looked cute. I had a tiny bit of office wear. I had flip-flops that have passed as work sandals. Wasn’t this enough?
Oh, did I mention that the organizers at HNS had warned us that the Marriott River Walk was famous for its meat locker-like cold? “Bring a sweater, long pants, maybe tights,” they said, despite the fact that the forecast was for almost 100-degree days.
In despair, I sat on my bed and contacted my sister-in-law’s husband’s sister, the amazing Angie O’Riley, Fashion Creative, Size Inclusivity Expert, and Fashion Tech Leader. “Help!” I said. In several emails reminiscent of therapy, I described what I typically wore and why, my worries about wearing certain things, and things I saw online that I liked but didn’t know if I “could” wear them. Angie helpfully supplied me with a virtual shopping cart full of items. She suggested some fun blouses, a dress, contemporary pants (as I think of them), and comfortable shoes that didn’t scream “I have back problems.”
Two other helpful people were my writing group friends one of whom, Anita, had worked at J. Crew in the past. “You need a pink suit!” they said. “Or a white suit!” “And jewelry!”
It felt strange to have so many new clothes at once. I usually never buy a lot of stuff unless I’m starting a new job, copying whatever I see people wearing the first week or two . But I was pleased with the results:
As Angie said, you’ll look comfy, not sloppy! Indeed. And linen! I’m usually scared to wear it (wrinkles and all that) but it proved a good choice in the Texas heat and cold.
HNSNA Conference in San Antonio…and the dreaded “Salon G”
On to the conference…As predicted, it was in the 90’s the week I was in San Antonio, though inside the Marriott River Walk, it was freezing! Participants sat huddled over their laptops, hoping those old batteries would generate enough heat for them to focus, especially in Salon G, a meeting room that seemed to exist in a microclimate all its own and located down a dark and chilly corridor.
I got in the afternoon before the conference began and spent some time strolling the River Walk where it was ten degrees cooler. I learned that this was one of the features that made the Walk so attractive early on: the relief from Texas heat. Despite a mild phobia that I might slip and fall into the River (there was no railing in many places and I was not happy to read that nearly 12 people fall in each year), I soon became acquainted with the Walk just outside the hotel as a great place to…warm up!
That night, groups of us met on Facebook and planned dinners out. I had a very enjoyable meal with a group of writers from across the U.S. and Canada writing on topics as diverse as Medieval England and JFK’s youth. Temperature in the restaurant: perfect.
The next morning started bright and early with a walking tour. I learned more about the Walk and the immediate San Antonio neighborhood from Dr. Vince Michael. All was nice and cool at 8, but by 9:30…things were heating up outside.
Secret Prose Sauce The afternoon saw me in the “How to Write a Bestseller” Master Class with novelist Libbie Grant (who also writes under the pen name Olivia Hawker). I confessed to her that I didn’t really want to write a bestseller given the odd nature of what I write about to which Libbie kindly said, “okayyyyy…” but I found her list of “Secret Prose Sauce” items invaluable for editing. I’ve been using it all summer; adding these elements is a quick way to edit because I find as I add them, I also think about the context in which they occur. For example, if “character says something pithy,” I need to add how everyone’s reacting. Great advice! Libbie also gave an inspiring speech at the Opening Reception that night.
I, apparently, was not the only one who had thought about clothes, and I was definitely impressed at the Reception when I saw Elizabeth Huhn, a writer of historical fiction set in 19th and 20th Century America and Britain. Yes, she made the dress and accessories.
The Semiquincentennial is Coming!
At Breakfast the next day, I gathered a small group of writers with an interest in the American Revolution. We’ve since met on Zoom with others who are trying to think about how to take advantage of the Semiquincentennial (remember the Bicentennial? This one’s 250 years) in terms of marketing. Send me an email if you’d like to join a call in the fall.
On to Cozy Chats, smaller groups that met in a lounge. I loved these! I attended an early morning one on working with genealogists when writing stories based on our (or other) families. It was not so cold in the Cozy Chat room and you could walk outside on a balcony if you wanted to feel the 95-degree air. Another later in the day focused on “Indie Publishing” and Saturday we chatted about “Authors and Librarians.”
There were so many great sessions; I didn’t bounce around but made a concerted effort to sit through the ones I joined. My first, “Writing Desire” was terrific. Bonus: one author, Julie Gerstenblatt who’s written “Daughters of Nantucket,” about Quakers. I would blush if I relayed what she told us…just read her book.
I also met with my mentor, Kathryn Haueisen, who’s written “Mary Brewster’s Love Life: Matriarch of the Mayflower. “This was my second Blue Pencil Cafe and I really enjoyed the chance to sort out how much Plain speech I wanted to include in my novels. Don’t you think the last couple of episodes of Outlander have given us an answer?
I went back to my room late in the morning to practice my pitch for two small publishers who were there. Again, I was so pleased to have new clothes! We’ll see what comes of the meetings but I was feeling confident and well-dressed.
Did I tell you about Salon G? I did. So cold, but worth it for a presentation on “Folklore, Culture, Religion and History” that afternoon.
Remember the Alamo? It was hot! That night, still clad in my dressy linen, I went on the private tour of the Alamo. I have never desired to be in the shade so much. In the evening! I’m definitely from the East Coast.
Saturday and its Microclimates
Saturday we learned about the current “State of the State: Publishing in All its Forms.” The experts were all…of different minds about what AI would bring to publishing and writing in the next few years. I had attended a virtual presentation on AI earlier in the week and many of us agreed we would welcome virtual help with boring tasks, but maybe not so much for our more literary writing.
A lunch with Jamie Ford, author of “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” as speaker has convinced me that historical writers are the best speakers! The speech was funny, heartwarming, and enjoyable. I spent the whole time he was talking with my hands wrapped around a cup of hot coffee for warmth.
Back to Salon G for “Writing Real History in a Fictional Narrative:” good advice which led me to my next session, “Libel, Slander and Defamation.” Yikes! Fortunately, I’m not writing about well-known historical figures but even so, it’s good to know what you can and cannot do.
Reader, I confess, though I briefly went to the Readers Festival, I was so cold by the end of the day and my time in Salon G, I stepped out onto the River Walk where it turned out a flotilla of drag queens and other folks were celebrating Pride: definitely some great clothes there.
I walked about clapping to disco in the afternoon heat and then inexplicably found myself having ice cream. Stopping in at a souvenir store for a San Antonio t-shirt, I was already preparing for my journey home and transition back to athleisurewear.
Back to the Closing Reception and another exceptional speech by Lisa Wingate, author of “Before We Were Yours.” I continued to meet so many great people at the Frivolities, at the airport on the way back, and on my return to JFK where clad in hybrid leisureware/business attire I found myself confounded by the fact they’ve totally relocated the rideshare location. I was feeling sweaty, lost, and freaked out but kind authors helped me. It was cooler in New York and I felt fortunate to have left Texas just as it was headed into a week of 100 plus degree temperatures.
I had so much fun at HNS, that I made an effort to get to History Camp in Boston this year, as well Rebels and Redcoats at Old Sturbridge Village. It’s wonderful to meet people I’ve corresponded with online, as well as meet again with those I know from real life. I’m really pleased that writing has provided me with a social outlet. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a historical interpreter, or fashionista but at least I know what to wear to a writing conference in Texas.