historical fiction: where the boys aren’t(?)

Evidently I’m writing a fantasy novel.

This is news to me.


So how did this happen?

Of all the sessions I attended at the HNS conference last week, the one about male protagonists was the most surprising. As far back as 2015 I’d heard murmurings that my choice of a male protagonist was unusual but I didn’t realize just how unusual.

Industry logic goes like this: historical fiction is written primarily by and for women. Women prefer to read from the points of view of other women. Hence, a female protagonist is all but required in order to market a book as “historical fiction”*. Hence, having Edward Kelley as my protagonist creates a hurdle to publication, at least in this genre.

Of course, historical fictions with male protagonists do exist, though they’re often marketed as something else. This results in oddities like “Wolf Hall” being shelved in literary (even though Hilary Mantel clearly thinks of herself as a historical fiction writer) and books from the POV of a male spy having women on the covers to meet reader expectations.

Which makes little sense because readers don’t actually expect this. Anecdotes aren’t data but the panel attendees–men and women alike–enjoyed reading male protagonists and want to see more of them. Authors enjoy writing them, even though some editors warn them off (!).

The trope persists due to a risk-averse publishing industry based on what I suspect are very old stats. This does a disservice to readers and authors alike in terms of publishability and findability.

Interestingly, fantasy/sci-fi has the opposite problem. Which led to my asking whether I should pitch the Work in Progress as fantasy, given my male protagonist and fantastical elements. The panelists replied with a resounding “yes”.

So, shall I pitch as fantasy and betray the sisterhood/fall under histfic readers’ radar, or pitch as historical fiction and possibly never publish at all? It’s a conundrum. Fortunately, I find this funny as well as frustrating.

I invite readers to share their favorite genre-bending media (not just books! Movie, tv, comic, game, etc. recs are all welcome!), particularly historical fiction not marketed as such. How did you find it? Did you have trouble finding it?

*Not that historical fiction can’t be about men: it often is, just through the eyes of the women around them. The notion is that women don’t mind reading about men, they just don’t want to walk in their shoes.

writing and the day job

I don’t talk much about my day job online.

It’s a deliberate decision. My 9-5 has nothing to do with writing and I don’t like discussing private office goings-on in a public place. Nonetheless, the day job does affect the writing and likely always will.

This doesn’t surprise me. Only award winners and best sellers stand a chance of making a living purely for their art and even some of them keep day jobs: Hugo award winner Kameron Hurley has been unusually candid about her earnings. Which is all cool – I didn’t get into this to get rich. But it does mean that when something happens to the day job I have to divert attention from the writing.

My current contract is up in October, so I find myself seeking new employment for the first time in fifteen years. No matter how convenient it is to apply with a mouse click I still have to check listings, tailor the resume, interview, return emails etc.

Short version: it uses my writing time. Which is somewhat vexing, but very necessary. I’m more creative when I’ve got a regular income to keep the lights on and food on the table.

This also means I won’t have time to blog as I’d like – hence last week’s warning that I might go silent.

shit getting real: taxes

So, since I got out of my perfectionism tail-chasing the writing has gone very well – a scene a day rather than a scene a week. At this rate I might have my fifty pages within a month [crosses fingers]!

But I’m also working on the business end of things.

Writers should be able to fully deduct from their taxes all writing-related expenses, including alcohol, parking tickets, court judgments, fines for lewd public behavior, Zoloft, and cigarettes- Chuck Palalniuk
Via likesuccess.com

Not including quite what Palahniuk is, but I am going to try to deduct the Prague research trip from my taxes.

Even though I’m not published.

Even though I can’t guarantee that I will ever be published.

Though my writing acquaintances assure me this is all above board it still makes this adventure that little bit scarier, that little bit more real. I’m naturally risk-averse and images of the IRS breathing down my neck if I don’t get a book deal steal into my head unbidden.

But still.

For the past 3+ years I’ve raided libraries, taken classes, gone to writer’s conferences, purchased craft books and now traveled internationally in pursuit of the possibility of hammering this WIP into something suitable for print.

I’d not have gone to this much time, effort and expense if I weren’t serious.

So I’ll see what they say.

And keep (re)writing.

everything, everything: the HNS conference


This past fantastic weekend was my second writing conference and my first (and certainly not the last!) Historical Novel Society conference. I’m still digesting it all, but here are some highlights:

  • The camaraderie. Socially awkward me had spontaneous conversations everywhere: on light rail, in the elevator, at every meal and in every session. The entire HNS membership is as kind and welcoming as my local chapter. Thank you all!
  • Keep Calm: Gabba gabba we accept you one of us!
    Via http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk
  • Others who “get it”. Who understand how you can’t NOT write, no matter how difficult it gets. Who grok the indescribable relief/joy of the perfectly turned phrase. Who talk to and channel their characters. Who appreciate the addictiveness of research. So much nodding in agreement my teeth are still rattling.
  • The readers. After all, we all started as readers, and without them authors would just be talking to themselves. I look at my “to read” pile and weep with envy at their luxury of time to read all these wonderful books! Many blog their enthusiasm for their chosen genre and they know what’s hot, what’s not, and what’s coming next. Hats off!
  • Hearing what brought authors to their stories. Often their plots are years in the making, based on childhood obsessions or family histories. Everyone is so passionate about their work!
  • The hard to hear but much-needed blue pencil cafe critique of my first 10 pages. The sting only lasted until my little black heart smiled at my mentor’s suggestions for tightening the screws on my characters…
  • Reassurance that I’m on the right track.
  • Valuable information about the responsibilities of authors, editors, agents, and publishers, and how they intersect.
  • A reminder that published authors are still responsible for the bulk of their publicity, and that it doesn’t have to be a chore.
  • The impetus to finally create my author Facebook page.
  • Tips on how to read in front of an audience without turning into a panicky train wreck.

Somehow I’m both more terrified AND more hopeful about the long revision process to come. It’s time to get to work.

What was your favorite part of the conference?