The Who, What, Why-the-Heck, Etc. of #HFChitChat

Me with Texas writer Sydney Young (L) and 2018 PitchWars mentor Carrie Callaghan (R) at the 2019 Historical Novel Society writers’ conference

So many creative initiatives begin life as an offhand comment, initially dismissed.

So it was with #HFChitChat—the idea of a recurring Twitter chat and online community for writers of historical fiction.

~

#Where

I’ve previously written about my time in Washington DC back in June at my first ever Historical Novel Society writers’ conference.

Specifically, about the three key goals I arrived with: learning about the current state of the historical fiction genre, documenting the conference for those not in attendance, and getting to know my histfic writing peers.

Well, one of the peers I met was a Texas-based writer of American history—Sydney Young.

#Who

I’d previously “met” Syd via Twitter in 2018 while we were both preparing to enter PitchWars, an online writing contest that matches writers with writing mentors who help them revise their completed manuscripts.

Syd and I connected by virtue of being among the few historical fiction writers entering the contest (PitchWars leans heavily toward fantasy, romance, and young adult).

It was Syd who ultimately convinced me to attend this year’s HNS conference.  It was our first time meeting in person.  I’d never met a Texan in real life before, and she sounded exactly the way they do in the movies.

The first time she said “y’all”, my Canadian heart swelled two sizes with joy.

She later gave me a present—a pin from Paris, Texas, where she lives, which comprised of the Eiffel Tower with a bright red cowboy hat on top.

She also told me what it is one says when they’re in Paris, Texas.

They say “Bonjour, y’all!”  Obviously.

#When

During the final day of the conference, while me, Syd, Carrie (pictured above), and a couple of other writers connected to PitchWars sat at a round table in the grand ballroom eating lunch and talking shop, Syd mentioned how great it would be to have a forum on Twitter for histfic writers to connect and discuss these things all the time, not just at conferences.

I only caught the remark in passing; I had my head turned at the time, in conversation with the person on my opposite side.  I silently agreed and left it at that.

The next time Syd mentioned the need for such a forum was on Twitter itself.  She’d already started posting various topics and brainstorming possible hashtags.  I suggested using #HFChitChat—historical fiction chitchat— which she liked.  But still, I didn’t get involved.

I admit, I’m kind of a sluggard like that.  It takes me forever to commit to pretty much anything.

#Why

The third time Syd mentioned the forum was in a blog post she wrote about the importance of historical fiction writers being on Twitter, which included some tips to help newbies get started.

At the conference, we both found that a lot of older writers weren’t using Twitter, and saw this as symptomatic of a deeper problem in the histfic community as a whole.

Namely that the readership of historical fiction tends to skew older than with other genres—likely due to a shortage of voices, themes, styles, and stories that are relevant to younger readers amongst what’s commonly being (traditionally) published at the moment.

This poses a serious threat to the longevity of historical fiction, for any genre that’s not actively adding new readers is destined to vanish once all the existing readers are gone.

In her post, Syd included #HFChitChat as a possible hashtag newbie histfic Twitter writers could use.  She even credited me with creating it!

Finally, she had lured me in with flattery (I’m a sluggard, but a vain one, apparently).  It was enough to get a soft commitment out of me: #HFChitChat was now officially part of my long-term to-do list.  I agreed to help brainstorm possible chat topics, albeit with no sort of timeline attached to it.

A goal without a plan is just a wish, according to French writer, aristocrat, and aviation pioneer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.  #HFChitChat could have easily failed before it even got started.

#How

Except by now, others had observed Syd and I discussing it on Twitter, and expressed interest in taking part.  All at once it was like a light had been switched on in my mind.  Suddenly I was the one publicly committing Syd and me to this project.

Knowing that it was something others besides just the two of us wanted—and that a Twitter chat could be a great way to find those histfic writers who are also interested in engaging younger audiences—was the final kick in the pants I needed.

Thankfully Syd was ready to get started (Syd had been ready, patiently waiting for my plodding ass to get on board) and several emails, DMs, and shared documents later, #HFChitChat—and our corresponding Twitter presence, @hfchitchat—is now officially live.

#What

I’m super-excited to have partnered with Syd to help bring her great idea to fruition.  I’d like to think that what I lacked in initial vigour, I’ve since made up for with organization, operational insight, and strong attention to detail.

At my day job, I’m constantly being referred to as task- and/or results-focused.  I’m utterly convinced this is a euphemism, at least in part, for something else entirely.  Still, there’s no denying my love for seeing a job done properly and efficiently.

The goals of #HFChitChat are as follows:

  1. To provide a forum for historical fiction writers (and readers) to connect and discuss various aspects of the genre on a regular basis
  2. To help promote historical fiction in its various forms and formats on the whole, and in particular to engage younger audiences (young adults, new adults, and millennials) in historical fiction
  3. To help keep the Historical Novel Society’s North American Chapter community connected between conferences, and to welcome conference non-attendees into the community
  4. To have fun while chatting about all things historical fiction!

Follow @hfchitchat on Twitter to be part of the community, and join us for the inaugural #HFChitChat live Twitter chat on Tuesday, August 27 at 9:00pm EDT (UTC-04:00).

(Image source #1, #2, and #4 – J.G. Noelle, #3)

3 thoughts on “The Who, What, Why-the-Heck, Etc. of #HFChitChat

  1. Why couldn’t y’all be writers of MAINSTREAM fiction?

    If I take much longer getting to the end of this trilogy, which is set in 2005/2006, it WILL be historical fiction, and I’ll just join you. Sigh.

    Now just make sure HF has a solid commitment to literary values (there is already a huge contingent who think HF is exactly like the present, except with long dresses and a palace or two for the Duke (or whatever)), and you’re set to go.

    No anachronisms – no lazy writing – no infantile plots – no Romance tropes. Carry on! [I freely admit these are MY hopes.]

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    • Do you follow Anne R. Allen’s blog? She had a post about the decline of mainstream fiction last week, ultimately concluding that it’s been subsumed by the specificity of genre: https://annerallen.com/2019/08/decline-mainstream-fiction/.

      I personally don’t read so-called historical fiction where the author treats history as nothing more than set dressing. If a story doesn’t capture the ethos of the period it’s set in, it’s not the story for me. Interestingly, I learned at the recent conference that this so-called HF may be owing as much to a fear of sympathizing outmoded societal attitudes as lazy research or merely being enamoured with the superficial elements of the period.

      It definitely is a challenge, making old, regressive mores relatable. However if you’re not able to find *something* germane (and humane) to modern life without resorting to gross anachronisms, that’s probably not a story you need to be writing at all.

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      • Yup. Just had a discussion with her in the comments last week about the vanishing (or rather, being pulled into the ‘literary’ category the big publishers want a stranglehold on.

        I think that’s why I don’t read historical fiction – the mores of the past annoy me rather severely – science would be far more advanced if all those touchy white men (and a few ‘non-whites’ – much to be preferred to women) hadn’t had THEIR stranglehold on who was ‘allowed’ to study, to have access to libraries and labs and telescopes, on the whole of the scientific field.

        Like

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