Monday, June 28, 2021

Historical Novel Society Conference Report

Annamaria on Monday

This past week, the Historical Novel Society of North America staged its biennial conference, virtually.  Unlike the mystery conferences most of us are used to, this one is organized along the lines of an academic symposium.  Those who want to present submit proposals, which require a rigorous amount of information.  As with our mystery conference, decisions are made behind the scenes, using undisclosed criteria.

At mystery conferences, authors pretty much always get a chance to be on a panel, so we all get a crack at hawking our wares,  But the topic and the panel-mates are pot luck.  With HNS, a group may jump through the many hoops to submit a complete proposal and still be turned down.  (One consolation here is that one does not have to buy a ticket to the event until after that acceptance decision is published.)  The big advantage with HNS is that authors get to pick their own topic, the questions they want to answer, most important who will be presenting with them.

This year, I was very pleased to present with three of my very favorite historical novelists.  HNS also provided us with a moderator, Mary Tod and  a tech support volunteer, Jodi McMaster, both of whom made top-notch contributions and allowed us to shine.

Regular MIE readers will recognize my fellow panelists from their previous visits to these precincts.  Here they are in alphabetical order, along with the bios we submitted with our conference proposal.  I am also including snippets of reviews of some of my favorites of their books.  The reviews all come from the Historical Novel Society Journal. 

 James R. Benn is the Dilys and Barry award nominated author of the popular Billy Boyle WWII mystery series—fifteen books to date—as well as two stand-alone books. His novel The Blind Goddess was long listed for the 2015 Dublin IMPAC Literary Award, and his works have garnered numerous starred reviews from major review publications. Benn is a graduate of the University of Connecticut and has a Master’s in Library Science degree from Southern Connecticut State University. He worked in the library and information technology fields for over thirty-five years before leaving to write full-time. 

"If you love a good mystery that’s full of facts about WWII history, you can’t go wrong with a Billy Boyle book. A Blind Goddess takes place in 1944 in Hungerford, just outside of London. Capt. Boyle is called in on a MI5 case in which a local was found dead outside of his boardinghouse. He boards with a German couple who had fled to England and is told by his superiors not to question them regarding the murder. An estranged friend from Boston also has asked Billy to look into the murder of another local, a constable, who was found on top of his father’s grave with his head smashed in. Tree is part of the colored tank crew stationed nearby, and his comrade is being accused by the Army of this murder because he was dating the deceased man’s sister, and also because he is black. This is only part of the injustice and prejudice shown to our black American soldiers by their own while the locals welcome the soldiers into their businesses and homes. When a young girl disappears, racial tensions rise between the black and white troops as the detectives try to discover if there is any connection to the murders.

I really enjoyed this book; the mystery drew me in and kept me on my toes. Billy Boyle is a believable and likable guy, and his friends who work with him on cases add another level of mystery to the novel.”

Nancy Bilyeau is the author of five published historical novels: the Joanna Stafford series set in Tudor England titled The Crown, The Chalice and The Tapestry, published by Simon & Schuster; an 18th century thriller set in Europe’s art and porcelain world titled The Blue, published in 2018; and an early 20th century mystery set in Coney Island titled Dreamland, published in 2020. Publishers Weekly gave Dreamland a starred review, saying, “This fascinating portrait of the end of the Gilded Age deserves a wide audience.” She is now writing a sequel to The Blue, scheduled for publication in 2022.


A former magazine editor with staff positions at Rolling Stone and InStyle, Nancy is currently the deputy editor of The Crime Report at the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College. She lives with her family in Woodstock New York.

"Bilyeau takes us on a rollercoaster ride through the history of porcelain making and through the world of 18th-century French and British espionage. On that ride, we meet Madame Pompadour at Versailles, walk the halls of the British Museum, and stroll the streets of 18th-century London. On that journey, too, Bilyeau introduces us to a memorable cast: Genevieve, who is faced with seemingly impossible choices which test her resolve and her faith; slick and despicable Courtenay; Sturbridge, clever, funny and always with something up his sleeve. Bilyeau’s research is impeccable, taking what might have been a dreary industrial novel and making it into a living, breathing drama. Kudos and highly recommended!"

 Michael Cooper arrived in Jerusalem in 1966, lived in Israel for eleven years, studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and graduated from Tel Aviv University Medical School. Now a pediatric cardiologist in Northern California he volunteers for medical missions twice a year serving Palestinian children who lack access to care. Foxes in the Vineyard, set in 1948 Jerusalem, won the 2011 Indie Publishing Contest grand prize. The Rabbi’s Knight, finalist for the 2014 Chaucer Award for historical fiction is set in the Holy Land in 1290. Soon to be published, Sins of the Fathers, is set in Jerusalem during WWI.

"Cooper does a masterful job of building suspense and telling a riveting story. While there is a great deal here of historical significance—the fall of Acre, the role of the Templars, the warring Moslem factions—the conjoining of St. Clair and Samuel, two such disparate souls is, in and of itself, worth the read. Not coincidentally, it is Samuel and his Moslem “brother,” al-Hasani—again, so dramatically different in their religions, approaches and beliefs—who decipher the inscription. The message beyond this wonderful story is clear: with a common goal, all people of good faith can work together to find solutions."

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