Monday, June 17, 2013

Mainstream vs non-mainstream historical fiction: my Historical Novel Society Conference workshop

On Saturday, I'm going to be part of a panel at the Historical Novel Society 2013 Conference talking about non-mainstream historical fiction. Our workshop is 'Off the Beaten Path: Reading and Writing Outside of the HF Mainstream'

Here's the panel description:

Trends in historical fiction are beloved for a reason, but readers (and writers) have broader tastes than many realize. There is a wealth of historical fiction available that veers off the expected path, from non-traditional relationships to rarely visited locations to blended genres, with surprising protagonists and fascinating journeys hard to find elsewhere. In this panel, comprised of both readers and writers, we’ll discuss motivations for writing outside the mainstream, the challenges of doing so, and take a look at some of the best historical fiction off the beaten path–both recently published and upcoming. Panel members include authors Heather Domin (The Soldier of Raetia, Allegiance) and Julie K. Rose (The Pilgrim Glass, Oleanna), and book bloggers and reviewers Andrea Connell (former Historical Novels Review Indies editor) and Audra Friend (Unabridged Chick).

and Heather crafted this additional bit about what we mean when we talk about non-mainstream historical fiction:

There’s nothing wrong with popularity! But with so many books out there and only so much time and space for promotion, the most popular themes naturally get the most attention, while others remain out of the spotlight. In this panel we will explore current themes and trends in historical fiction and take a look at some books that veer off these paths. Our goal is to show readers the wide variety of historical fiction available to them, and to show writers that there is an audience for every story. If you’ve ever asked, “Doesn’t anyone write (…)?” this panel is for you.

In this panel, “mainstream” refers to the most well-known settings, eras, characters, and/or styles in current historical fiction.

What our definition of mainstream is NOT:
- A method of publishing
- A list of targeted topics
- Overdone (aka “popular = bad”)

Together, we came up with something like six pages of non-mainstream historical fiction to recommend, and once we do our workshop, I'll share the list here. Like the other panelists, I enjoy Tudor-era and WWII fiction, but I also love novels set in different eras, locales, or featuring different main characters. I'm excited to gush and hear from the other panelists about why they enjoy writing 'off-the-beaten path' and why we all love reading it. (Devastatingly, our panel is at the same time as a workshop featuring Margaret George, Stephanie Dray, Vicky Alvear Shecter, Kate Quinn and another with Jenny Barden, Nancy Bilyeau, Patricia Bracewell, Deborah Swift and Gillian Bagwell. Le sigh!)

What are some of your favorite off-the-beaten path historical novels?


  1. Audra - wish I could be there to hear your panel. I just completed a time travel/ historical set in in an unusual time - 500 BC, beginning in Druid time in Albion and continuing on to Carthage and the world of the Phoenician explorers. I spent many years of research of the Phoenicians and the ancient world,
    Perhaps you can post a recap of highlights from your panel? I would love to hear more about your topic. As you certainly already know, past HNS Conferences featured many agents and publishers who advised writers to stick to the more popular times and "Marquee" names if they wanted to be published. Good to hear some alternative views will be presented.
    Bet wishes .

  2. Excellent idea for a panel! As much as I like the popular fiction myself I do often wonder where the rest of it is/why it's not promoted as much, because it must be out there somewhere it's just harder to find. Judith's suggestion of highlights would be great, and having your list really useful. All the best for it Audra, a much needed discussion!

  3. I love this panel idea and so wish I could attend. I love the Latin American historical fiction stories, and I've often chatted with C.W. Gortner about more from Portugal's history, royal and otherwise. I just read The Neruda Case, which I enjoyed -- historical fiction in Chile's Allende-Pinochet period of turmoil