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The "meh" and the good and bad of summer


I used to love summer, and I still love the long days and sunshine, although now that I’m officially “old” (whatever that means these days), time off from school or work is no longer part of the allure. As the NYT reported recently, for many folks, global warming is messing with the ideal of vacationing on the beach, uninterrupted outdoor play, and barbeques in the park between June 1 and August 31. Perhaps we have to adjust the calendar so that we can hibernate inside in the summer months like many people (north of the Mason-Dixon line) do in the winter. Perhaps September to November should be the new seasonal break from the classroom and the office?

Our summer was somewhat altered by unexpected heat, and by another factor: the amount of time we’ve inhabited our bodies. Due to my deteriorating knee, my hiking buddy Janet’s hip and knee replacements, and Ben’s heart problems, our hiking habit was reduced to walking this year. But Ben had successful surgery at the end of August, and now, we plan to build back our earlier stamina so that we can again climb The Crags as easily as we did only a year ago. Janet’s recovery may take a bit longer, but she should be back on the trail by next year. ( Ben and me on top of The Crags, October 2022).


CIPA EVVY Awards

But topping off what otherwise would have been a meh summer, I attended the Colorado Independent Publishers Association (read: anybody but the Big Five) EVVY awards banquet in Wheat Ridge, CO, the last day of August. I was surprised and happy to win the gold medal for historical fiction, but truly shocked and elated to also win the overall fiction prize, the Herb Tabak EVVY Choice Award. I had no idea I would ever win such an honor for a book about a sixth century nun.

Telling that story in The Rebel Nun rose to an obsession for me, but I recognize that sixth century politics and religion aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. I thank, profusely, the judges (anonymous) who were willing to put aside what’s popular these days (speculative fiction and Colleen Hoover) and vote for something so unpopular with agents and publishers.


Speaking of which: I returned from the Historical Novel Society conference in San Antonio, TX, in early June quite discouraged about continuing to write books based in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. While I enjoyed the conference and made some fast, fascinating friends (here’s looking at you Ana Veciana-Suarez and Dave Mampel), I and many other authors were discouraged by comments from many of the agents. When queried about the extra hurdle created by most attendees’ advanced age, one agent responded that she had a client in her mid-80s, still publishing successfully with a Big Five publisher. She failed to mention that the author got her start in her 50s. Another agent said that if he had researched an author’s age before submitting a manuscript to a publisher, he never would have submitted it. The publisher rejected it, in part because he saw no future in a relationship with an older author. Well, I’m turning 70 next month. Is that a factor in my inability to find a new agent? Probably. But there’s nothing I can do to fix that. I can change genres, I can write shorter or longer books, but I can’t change my birthdate.


To make matters worse, when agents in the seminars were asked about medieval fiction, we heard nothing but groans and quick dismissals throughout the week. Publishers are only looking for more of what is selling well, not ancient history, they said. (Now I understand why I have heard crickets from the many agents I have queried with my last two historical fiction manuscripts.) I paid to have an appointment at the conference with one agent who dismissed me after 30 seconds when she heard that my setting is early medieval. "No," she said. Nothing more. (That 30 seconds cost me $25.) On the other hand, the agents said they were eager for “historical fiction” based in the 1980s. Heck, for me that’s not historical! It’s my life!


So, to win the top prize for a novel set in the sixth century and a prize based only on the quality of the writing, plot, and research, I feel vindicated. Not particularly encouraged, but at least rewarded for the effort. I have three other manuscripts set in medieval times ready for agent representation. Perhaps the recognition from CIPA will help.


Bags, bags, bags


I rarely write in this blog about anything but writing itself, (is this a kind of tautology?), so most of you have been spared tales of my other obsession: making bags. I have a studio at a used-craft-supplies store in south Colorado Springs called Who Gives a Scrap. Great name and friendly people. There are ten or so artists and crafters in the building, ranging from fine contemporary and portrait painters, to a woman who dyes yarn, a potter, a bead artist, and collage makers. And me. I’m the “bag lady”—as I’m called there, although I think some people may think that is politically incorrect.

While I make no money at it—my bags sell for much less than they cost to produce, especially if you count the hours I put into them—Ben says it keeps me off the street. I’m not sure what he thinks I would do “on the streets,” but apparently making tote bags, fanny packs, and purses is an acceptable use of time for someone who makes no money writing books, either. I love it as a quiet, creative place to get away from the chaos of the world, surrounded by fabric, and calmed by the hum of my sewing machine and the smell of the iron on cotton.


If you’re ever in south Colorado Springs, stop by. We’re at South 8th Street and Arcturus. I’m in Studio 2, and I’ll introduce you to my fellow studio residents.




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Sandra Dallas
Sandra Dallas
Sep 10, 2023

Congratulations on winning the recognition for the Rebel Nun. It is s superb book and deserves the honor. No big surprise considering your writing skill and the extensive research.

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Dave Mampel
Dave Mampel
Sep 05, 2023

Hearty congratulations on your well-deserved awards, Marj! And so glad to have met you at the Historical Novel Society Conference… I think that publishers and agents from Europe are more interested in medieval historical fiction. That’s my take on precedence and the conference (eg Amy Durant wanted me to send the full on my medieval piece, and she’s from the UK)—at least THAT history is a part of their continent and I think there’s more interest in it there. Also, if you look at the reality, so many wonderful, medieval historical novels have been produced over the years (Name of the Rose, Illuminations, etc.) and if you have a good story, I know it will get picked up somehow at…

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