Cups, Cakes & Conversation: Behind the Scenes of a Writing Conference / #HNS2023

Join me as I brew a cup of coffee and pull up a comfy chair for…

A writerly chat with Carol M. Cram

My own focus in writing is historical fiction and romance, but I enjoy reading across several genres. I also enjoy friendships with writers all across the world, who are following their own dreams, and I’m happy to share their stories with you.

Recently I was thrilled to interview author, Carol M. Cram. An award-winning historical fiction author, Carol is the Marketing Chair for the Historical Novel Society North America (HNSNA) 2023 conference.

Attending the HNS conference in 2021 was a game changer for me – I met so many authors and learned a lot about writing historical fiction. There was something for everyone – the aspiring writer, the established writer, and readers of historical fiction as well. When the opportunity presented itself, I signed on as part of the team for the HNS’s conference in the UK in 2024 (#HNS2024).

It’s my first time working to build a HNS conference, so being able to connect with Carol and brainstorm has been ridiculously helpful. For our interview, Carol was gracious enough to share a lot of inside information about the upcoming HNSNA conference, as well as her experience working with the board for the first time.

Our interview originally appeared on the HNS website, but we are also sharing it on our blogs to help spread the word about the HNSNA 2023 conference.

Let’s dive on in!

How long have you been writing? What brought you to historical fiction?

Although I’ve been a writer in the education field for several decades and dabbled in fiction, I didn’t come to historical fiction until around 2010 when I decided to write THE TOWERS OF TUSCANY, my first novel that was published in 2014. For many years, I didn’t think I could write historical fiction because I’m not a history professor. And then I realized that maybe I could. After all, I could read and I was curious and I had these characters walking around in my head. And so, I took the leap and started to research and quickly realized that while research is super important, storytelling is still paramount. I also learned the value of consulting with experts!

When did you first join HNS? Have you attended their conferences previously?

HNSNA DatesJune 8 – 10, 2023
Direct Conference LinkHNSNA
Registration OpensFebruary 15, 2023
HNSNA FacebookHNSNA Twitter
HNSNA InstagramHNSNA YouTube
Newsletter “The Update”
Basic Information and Where to Follow HNSNA

I joined the HNS in 2014 just after THE TOWERS OF TUSCANY was published and then attended my first conference in London that September. Since then, I’ve attended the conferences in Oxford in 2016 and Durham in 2022 and the online HNSNA conference in 2021.

How do you think attending writing conferences has helped you as a writer?

So much! I was nervous attending my first HNS conference in 2014, but quickly discovered that I’d found my tribe of like-minded authors. It was just so relaxing to hang out with people that get what I’m doing and do it too. Attending sessions, meeting other authors, and making valuable connections has been enormously helpful to my growth as an author.

What inspired you to sign up as part of the HNSNA Board?

I wanted the opportunity to get even more connected to the historical fiction community and also to apply my marketing/writing skills and learn new skills.

What is the best part of working with the HNSNA Board?

The people on the Board are amazing to work with. Each one brings a different skillset to organizing the conference, and I’m constantly amazed by their depth of knowledge and experience. And all of us share a passion for historical fiction!

Now that you have a “Behind the Scenes” view, how has this changed your view of the conference? Has it made you change how you approach your writing or what you think someone can gain from the conference?

I’m learning about all the many components that go into making the #HNS2023 conference so robust and interesting. The number of events, presentations, and opportunities to network is much larger than I anticipated, having never yet attended an onsite HNSNA conference. I’m not sure if how I write novels has changed, but I definitely feel I will benefit as an author from attending the conference. I’m particularly excited to attend one or two of the Master Classes!

How have you balanced working on the conference with your own writing?

Good question! It’s a challenge sometimes. Conference work does take up a lot of my time, which sometimes impacts my writing time. Fortunately, I keep my own work schedule for all the other projects in my life, including my novel writing. I make a lot of lists and schedules and just do my best to fit everything in. There are sometimes not enough hours in the day!

What would you say are the major challenges for being involved in the organization of a conference? The major rewards?

The major challenge is the time commitment. There’s a lot to do! But I enjoy the challenge and the opportunity to interact with my fellow Board members, to learn new skills, and also to connect with other authors.

What can you tell us about Early Bird Registration?

Early Bird HNS Member$489
Early Bird Non-Member$539
Regular HNS Member$589
Regular Non-Member$639
Early Bird $249
Regular $299

Early Bird Registration runs from February 15 to March 15, 2023. The major perks of registering early are getting a discount on the conference rate ($489 for HNS members and $539 for non-members) and first crack at signing up for Blue Pencil editing sessions, agent pitches (these sell out very quickly!), and Master Classes. We are encouraging people to register early to make sure they get all the add-ons they want and to take advantage of the hotel’s conference rate.

The HNSNA 2023 conference theme – “THE WORKING WRITER” – really resonated with me in many ways. I sometimes think the work that writers do is widely misunderstood, unless you yourself are a writer. What made you all decide on this theme? Can you share a bit about it?

I know! I love our theme this year and I think it will resonate with a lot of new and experienced authors. The last time we were able to get together in person was 2019. Since that time, the writing world has changed dramatically, requiring new skills and a lot of imagination. Writing is work (much as we love it!) and goes far beyond creating characters and plots. We want to address how to succeed in this new landscape.

At #HNS2023, over seventy presenters will share their expertise in four tracks: The Craft of Historical Fiction, Publishing Historical Fiction, Marketing Historical Fiction, and the Magic of Historical Fiction. In addition, over a hundred authors will be signing books at our Readers Festival.

After having to do such a shift in 2021, it is super exciting for people to be able to connect again in person. I truly enjoyed the last HNSNA conference – how do you plan to build on the success of 2021, and the Taste of HNSNA, this year?

We are so excited to get back together in person. While #HNS2021 was fantastic, there’s still nothing that beats being able to meet and mingle with fellow authors over coffee, at lunch, in presentations, while signing books at the Readers Festival, etc. All those serendipitous conversations can lead to so many new connections for the working writer!

This year, we are including a virtual component so that people who want to attend but can’t make it to San Antonio, can still benefit from the presentations and do some networking in our virtual conversation rooms. We anticipate that #HNS2023 (which is our 10th conference in 20 years!) will be our largest conference yet. In addition, for the first time, we are professionally recording all the live mainstage sessions for on-demand viewing after the conference. Both virtual and in-person attendees will have access, so there will be no more FOMO at #HNS2023!

What is something that you think makes the HNS/HNSNA conference unique? Why would you recommend this conference for other writers?

For me, it’s all about community. Each HNS conference I’ve attended makes me feel like I’m part of the wider world of historical novelists. Writing is such a solitary occupation, so it’s so stimulating to actually get away from my desk for a few days and interact with other writers. We share so many of the same challenges and passions. I think it’s this sense of community and shared passion that sets HNS conferences apart from other writers’ conferences I’ve attended.

Is there anything that you can share with us about the keynote speakers? Any panels that you are particularly excited for?

We are thrilled to welcome four special guests to #HNS2023: Lisa Wingate, Jamie Ford, James Scott Bell, and Libbie Grant. Each will be giving an address and participating in general programming, the book signing, and attending the evening receptions to mingle with attendees. Also, James Scott Bell and Libbie Grant will be presenting Master Classes.

What can you share with us about the program’s panels? For established writers? Aspiring writers? Readers of historical fiction?

We are very excited about our program this year. We saw a 50% increase in submissions over our last in-person conference in 2019, and the depth and breadth of topics and expertise was amazing. We are very conscious of listening to attendee feedback from each conference and ensuring our program continues to evolve to meet their needs and desires. Our presenters really took our guidelines to heart, and we are so pleased with the instructional quality of the presentations we’ve selected.

Unfortunately, we could only select about a third of the proposals due to space and AV restraints, so the programming committee had to make really tough decisions and say no to some of our personal darlings. Attendees can expect an exceptional lineup this year!

Our conference continues to grow, and we are thrilled to be reaching and hearing from many new voices. Our full conference schedule will be live on our website on February 8 so attendees can get a good idea of all that’s on offer before registering when Early Bird Registration opens February 15.

What suggestions would you give to someone who is attending a conference for the first time or those attending virtually?

Come prepared to learn and connect! Be open to meeting new people and to sharing information about your novels. You’ll find like-minded people who are genuinely interested in your historical period and themes, and you are very likely to connect with someone who shares your particular interests.

If you’re attending virtually, make sure you attend our conversation rooms. There, you’ll meet up with people who share your interests in a specific aspect of historical fiction. You can also chat with fellow attendees during live sessions in the app, and you will have a chance to ask questions of the live presenters.

What kinds of “Tips and Tricks” would you offer someone for attending HNSNA? Such as – Getting the most out of the conference? What is one item that they shouldn’t forget to pack? Do people generally bring anything to exchange (cards, pins, etc)? June in San Antonio – any clothing recommendations? Anything local that you’d recommend?

To get the most of the conference, come with an open mind and a willingness to learn! Don’t forget to pack lots of pens and a notebook, or your laptop. Also use your mobile device to take full advantage of the conference app. You can create your personal schedule, keep track of your agent/editor appointments, browse speaker and attendee bios, play games for prizes, and chat with virtual attendees. Bring along some business cards, bookmarks, or other promotional items for the swag tables and to share with the people you’ll meet.

June in San Antonio is pretty warm, so make sure you bring a sun hat, some warm-weather clothes, and your bathing suit (the Marriott Rivercenter has a great indoor/outdoor pool!) along with a sweater for air-conditioned conference rooms.

At #HNS2023, we have several optional excursions you can sign up for, including working in a real blacksmith’s forge, touring the Alamo after-hours, visiting an art museum, and taking a tour around San Antonio with a local historian.

Are there any ways that attendees can connect prior to the conference?

Be sure to sign up for our updates so you don’t miss any important announcements. Check out our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds. People looking to hook up with someone to share a hotel room can find each other there!

Anything that I haven’t hit on that you’d like to highlight?

I just want to emphasize that #HNS2023 really is the conference for historical fiction in 2023. You’ll come away feeling motivated and inspired. I guarantee it!

Thank you so much Carol! 🙂

Carol M. Cram from Bowen Island in British Columbia, Canada, is the author of three award-winning historical novels in her Women in Art Trilogy (The Towers of TuscanyA Woman of Note, and The Muse of Fire). Carol is also the Marketing Chair of the Historical Novel Society North America and the Artistic Director of the Bowen Island Writers’ Festival, the founder of the Art In Fiction Website, the Art In Fiction Podcast, and the Artsy Traveler website and the author of 60+ best selling college textbooks in computer applications and communications. She was on faculty at Capilano University in North Vancouver, Canada, for over two decades and holds an MA in Drama and an MBA.

If you’re not already familiar with the Historical Novel Society, I’d encourage you to check the organization out. They really have a lot to offer to writers and readers of historical fiction. I’ve been a part of the Admin Group for the Historical Novel Society’s Author Interviews Team for awhile now, which is an amazing opportunity for authors.

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