It’s now June 13 which means I’m back from the Historical Novel Society conference in San Antonio. It was my first in-person conference since 2019, and it didn’t take long to realize that a) it was AMAZING to be with other writers in person and b) it was also A LOT to be with 300 other people. This con was smaller than I’m used to, and that’s probably a good thing as there were times I definitely got overstimmed! As much as things feel almost “normal” there’s no denying that the pandemic changed us in fundamental ways.

Know what else the pandemic changed? Air travel.

I know airlines are still clawing their way back. People want to travel, labour shortages happen, and so the worst thing about the trip was getting there and back. The last time I went to San Antonio I had one stop. This time I had two, one of which was a 6 hr. layover. I had to leave at an ungodly hour (I left for the airport at 3:30 a.m.) and on the way back my routing took me in such a weird way – San Antonio to Seattle to Calgary to Halifax. We were stuck on the tarmac for an hour in Seattle after a 25 min delay. That meant I missed my connection, had an 8 hr layover in Calgary, and flew the red eye home. Twenty-four hours of travel later I had breakfast, a shower, and a 3-hr nap. 🙂 Collage of Donna Jones Alward with Noelle Salazar, Sydney Young, Eliza Knight, and Laura Morelli

ANYWAY, back to the conference, which was amazing! My roomie and I arrived on Tuesday night and ordered in dinner, then Wednesday the rest of our crew arrived (including my bestie Barbara Tanner Wallace!) and we kicked things off with lunch at Margaritaville just outside the hotel doors. On Thursday, I had a master class in the morning, a group lunch at noon, and I volunteered at the registration desk in the afternoon. In the evening we enjoyed a pasta bar and listened to Libbie Grant speak – she was fabulous! I always love hearing keynote speakers – inevitably I come away inspired.

Friday things really kicked off. You know, sometimes I go to conferences and I take advantage of a lot of things but don’t always find workshops that speak to me. Not so at this con! I went to three sessions in the a.m., then had lunch (James Scott Bell was the speaker), then took a wee break to prepare for the chat on indie publishing I presented on Friday afternoon. Friday night our crew went out for dinner on the Riverwalk (btw, San Antonio is freaking hot!) and then had some chill time together.

Saturday was breakfast and an agent/editor panel, then a workshop, and then I met up with Noelle Salazar and we were joined by Elise Hooper. Bad influences both – because we ended up at the bookstore and you can guess what happened there! Another luncheon – by the way the food was soooo good at this con – and Jamie Ford spoke. Jamie is…funny, humble, smart, lovely. I think he was my favorite speaker of the conference, and he is super kind one on one, too.

Book stack featuring A Brilliant Night of Stars and Ice, A Botanist's Guide to Flowers and Fatality, Fast Girls, and The Librarian of Burned BooksAt this point I was getting pretty tired, so I took a few hours off before meeting with an agent and then heading to the booksigning, where I got some books signed before doing a volunteer shift (including this stack). I love volunteering at conferences – you get to meet so many people that way! A final reception was held Saturday night, where Lisa Wingate spoke, and then I finished up the con with one more meeting of the crew for wine and laughs before heading to the airport at 5 a.m.

I learned so much, and met so many fantastic writers. The HNS board is only 8 people and no staff…and they did an AMAZING job running this thing. The vibe was so warm and relaxed, the conversations easy and interesting. It might be the best conference I’ve EVER attended. I went with the goal of just soaking it all up and I did just that.

Now it’s back to work and that is not a hardship because I came back so very inspired and though tired, so much more relaxed than when I went in. I feel more MYSELF which is just a wonderful way to end a hectic, fantastic week.

If you’re a historical fiction writer, check out this org and consider going to a conference. The next North American con is in 2025 in Las Vegas. 🙂