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.

year in review, year to come

Strange days, the weeks around Christmas and new years. I find it difficult to keep motivated due to the disruption in schedule (and a nice cold I’m working on – achoo!) Certainly not a time to start anything new. So I thought I’d review:

For the coming year:

  • Attend the HNS conference in June
  • Have a proper second draft in time for this conference if it kills me
    • To this end, write a bit every day, even if it kills me
  • Keep meeting with critiquers and critiquing in turn
  • Guest blog post(s?)

And this is just off the top of my stuffy head.

Happy holidays to those that celebrate. Don’t worry, I’ll see you one more time before the new year, with a tidy link dump for next Wednesday.

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?