Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Colorado, Small Swords, HNS and Elizabeth Peters

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

Greetings from the beautiful state of Colorado! Now you’re probably wondering what a dedicated flat-lander Texas girl like me is doing high up in the mountains. Well, right now I’m having fun.

Seriously, the reason we (The Husband and I) came up to Denver was to attend the Historical Novel Society conference. It’s the first time I’ve ever been to one of these conferences, so I didn’t know what to expect, but when I was invited to speak I had to go – especially since the panel was on Egyptology (one of my main interests, as you  know) and Elizabeth Peters (who was not only one of my favorite authors but a treasured friend.)

Actually, I felt sort of a cheat being there as a conferee let alone a speaker, as so few of my books are historical by any stretch of the imagination – a handful of Victorian gothics, a time travel to Ancient Egypt, a few traditional Regencies, a mystery set right after WWI. I mean, these people are the ones who write stories about medieval royalty and Minoan mysteries and how to do historical research and the problems of linguistics. I felt totally overwhelmed.

I was on a panel with Bill Chirf, Libby Hawker and Lindsay Davis – all proven and respected historical novelists. And me. We had sort of informally split the subject up – Bill took Elizabeth Peters’ (also known as Dr. Barbara Mertz and Barbara Michaels) early life and the attitudes of the times; I took her career from the sale of her first book (a non-fiction Egyptology book called TOMBS, TEMPLES AND HIEROGLYPHS) through her career as a best-selling multi-genre novelist and on to her much-regretted passing in 2013. Libby analyzed how her success affected the market for Egyptian fiction, which was fascinating – even a devotee such as I didn’t realize how she had made it soar. Finally, Lindsay talked about the problems of research. We had a pretty good crowd and some very interesting questions afterward, but what really impressed me was how many people came up to me from the end of the workshop to the close of the conference to tell me how much they liked my presentation. Boy, that felt good!

One fun thing we did was take David Blixt’s Rapier, Short Sword and Dagger workshop. He also did a broadsword workshop, but those things are heavy, and this was very much a hands-on workshop. You do not know what fear is until you are in a fairly small meeting room with about 40 amateurs armed with short swords, rapiers and daggers! We advanced, we fell back, we did forward and back passos (that’s what it sounded like) all the while thrusting and parrying. For some strange reason (because it was an historical conference, perhaps?) I had worn a skirt. A long skirt. I had forgotten how difficult and uncomfortable those things were to wear. Also, to ‘fight’ we in sandals had to remove them and fight barefoot. Unfortunately, The Husband and I were in the same sessions – not everyone could participate at once – so he couldn’t take pictures of me dueling barefoot in a long skirt. Maybe that’s a good thing. David, however, was an excellent teacher (and a bear about safety) so the workshop was a joy.

One thing that was not a joy was the booksigning. There were close to 100 authors by my estimation who were in the signing. The entire second floor atrium of the hotel was lined with tables and authors with big smiles and pens at the ready. The keynote speaker was Diana Gabaldon, of OUTLANDER fame. The booksigning had been advertised locally and we were told a good crowd was expected. And a good crowd came. Miss Gabaldon’s table was set aside at the other end of the room from the rest of us, which was not a bad idea as the aisles were narrow. Except – when the crowd came, they lined up to get to Miss Gabaldon’s table, got their book signed and then left. Very few even glanced at the hundred or so other authors. The most books I heard of being sold by an author other than Miss Gabaldon was four. Four! There was a lot of mutterings and gripings among the authors that a woman who has sold at least a bazillion books was syphoning off potential sales from the rest of us. Sour grapes? Probably, but still very true. It did leave a bad taste in a lot of mouths.

However, the conference ended Sunday at noon, and here we are still in Colorado until the end of the week. It’s called being a tourist. The Husband and I decided it was ridiculous to come all the way to Denver from Dallas just for two and a half days, so after the conference was over we moved down to Colorado Springs. Yesterday we spent at the Garden of the Gods. The Husband had never seen it, and I had only been there once years ago – back when I was a girl in high school.

Wow! Is that a fantastic place. Great shards of rock sticking straight out of the earth. Gargoyle figures sculpted by Nature itself. Rocks the size of a hamlet. All incredibly beautiful. We had planned to spend the morning there and then go on to a mine tour in the afternoon, but at 6:30 we were still in the park. Thinking solely of the conference, I had not brought my camera, but The Husband – a photo-holic – had his, and spent most of the day climbing over rocks and up trails taking pictures. I don’t climb well, so I sat a lot and enjoyed the scenery. It was one of the best days I’ve spent.

We’ve spent hours driving around, exploring the little towns both known and obscure. And shopping. Don’t forget shopping. I have some lovely t-shirts to wear when I want to feel a little bit of Colorado.

And plots. I’ve made notes (skeletal, to be sure, but still viable) on no fewer than three new books. As if I needed more plots. I’m already backed up over four books worth. I need more time, not plots!

But not just yet. Tomorrow we are going to make the mine tour, and perhaps a silver shop and take a look at the Royal Gorge and perhaps the dinosaur museum and… Who knows? Carpe diem, especially when in glorious Colorado.


  1. Susan, I think you've just answered the question non-writers always ask (where do you get your ideas?) Answer: be excited by life and keep your eyes open. Nice post.

  2. wow - great adventure, and another notch in your writer's resume. The Garden of the Gods sounds like something I NEED to see.

    I have to admit, I hate book signings. I hardly get over 2 sales!

    Loved your post

  3. I envy you taking that weapons class! What great fun and super research for the next fight scene you write. And the rest of the adventure sounds great too.

  4. Ooh, I'm jealous. Hubby and I enjoyed Denver on our last visit and want to go back. If you have time, go see the Mollly Brown house in downtown. It is wonderful. Congrats on presenting such a wonderful workshop. Elizabeth Peters (and her many other names) is one of my favorite authors

  5. You've made me want to visit Colorado, Janis!