Friday, September 25, 2015

AllSoulsCon: A Fan's Perspective

We're so pleased to present a guest post about AllSoulsCon from author, Nicole Evelina!

Her Bio:
"I’m an American author who writes under the pen name Nicole Evelina. My specialties are historical fiction and contemporary romantic comedies that might be romance or women’s fiction.

 I am one of only six authors who studied with #1 New York Times best-selling author Deborah Harkness at Hedgebrook as part of a Master Class in historical creative writing at Hedgebrook in Washington state. I spent 15 years researching Arthurian legend, Celtic Britain and the various peoples, cultures and religious practices that shaped the country after the withdrawal of Rome. I’ve even traveled to England twice to visit some of the places in my Guinevere trilogy. Along the way, I’ve consulted with internationally acclaimed author and historian Geoffrey Ashe, as well as Arthurian/Glastonbury expert Jaime George, the man who helped Marion Zimmer Bradley research The Mists of Avalon.

 I’m also a proud member of and book reviewer for the The Historical Novel Society, and Sirens (a group supporting women in fantasy writing), and the Romance Writers of America. I’m also a member of the St. Louis Writer’s Guild, Women Writing the West and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

When I’m not writing, you can find me reading, playing with my spoiled twin Burmese cats or in my day job as an internal communications (PR) supervisor. But that just pays the bills. To my core, I am a writer, and with a little bit of luck, someday soon I’ll be able to call myself a full-time novelist."

All Souls Convention: A Fan’s Perspective
by Nicole Evelina

First of all, thanks to Valerie for inviting me to do this guest post. It’s going to be a very fangirly article, so be forewarned…

AllSoulsCon was my very first fan convention. I flew from St. Louis, Missouri, to LA to be there – there’s no way I would have missed it. Besides being a huge fan of the series (I took up rowing after reading A Discovery of Witches), it was an extra special day for me because in March 2014, I was one of six authors chosen to spend a week learning from Deb Harkness at a writing retreat at Hedgebrook in Washington state. I saw Deb last August when she was on tour for Book of Life, but I hadn’t seen any of my fellow writers since the retreat. At the convention, four of us got together in person, and the other two participated virtually. It was a mini-reunion for us with each other and with our mentor, a true dream come true.

It was nice to have this be a fairly small event. I didn’t count attendees, but I would estimate about 100, each grouped into tables of eight named for locations in the book. (I was at New College with some wonderful people. Hi to Rebecca and my other new friends!) Most of the people were women, but there were a few brave men.

The first major panel was “Matthew Clairmont: Dream Date or Hot Mess?” The title alone should give you an idea how much fun we had. There was a fair amount of swooning (mostly over Matthew, but also Hamish and Gallowglass), and even some booing when one woman admitted to having a thing for Baldwin. (I know, right?) But all kidding aside, several of the fans gave insightful analysis into the characters, how they interacted and how they grew and changed throughout the series. I think my favorite was the woman who talked about Hamish being able to “peel back the layers of the Matthew onion” to show us the vulnerabilities he would rather hide. For record: I thought Matthew was a hot mess for most of the series – I was afraid of him and afraid he would harm Diana. He kind of won me over by the end of book one, but I didn’t start fully trusting him until into the third book.

Next up was the Renaissance music workshop, “The Music of Matthew and Diana’s Wedding.” I’m a huge Medieval and Renaissance music fan so this was really cool. But the musicians went the extra mile, picking music that specifically fit with events in Shadow of Night and that Matthew and Diana might have heard in an Elizabethan court. They also look the time to explain the meaning/time period usage of each song, as well as interesting things about their period-accurate instruments. So it was not only fun, but educational.

The last session before lunch was with audio book narrator Jennifer Ikeda, who voiced all three books in the trilogy. I’m a huge audio book junkie so I found everything she said fascinating. She told us about her research process, how she thinks about a character and prepares pronunciation before a read. The biggest shocker to me was that she read Book of Life in four days. I think it took me that long to read it in my head, much less out loud! And she read straight through, switching characters as she went, which just blows my mind. I always imagined they recorded each character separately and then edited them together. If that wasn’t enough, she demonstrated it by doing a live reading. It was surreal to watch her go from Diana to Matthew and back again like it was nothing. Talk about a talented lady!

Deb Harkness & Jennifer Ikeda
I loved the yoga stretches with Margaux Permutt between sessions. I was wearing a dress, so I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to participate, but she made sure the poses were simple and doable by everyone, even those who couldn’t rise from their chairs. Someone said Margaux was like a real-life Amira and I completely agree. She really made the poses go beyond movement and breathing and tied them into the books, and the themes, symbolism and mysticism that attracted me to the series. She gets it. If I lived in LA, I would totally take a class from her.

Whoever’s idea it was to have a wine tasting with lunch – I could kiss you!

After lunch we had the big Q&A with Deb. I loved that she started off with a list of things she didn’t have answers for (TV show air dates/casting/what she’s writing next) so that everyone knew not to ask. God love her. She was very free with what she could say and very kind and patient with the fans. She answered questions about how certain elements made it into the books, who her favorite character is (Philippe), writing and teaching, and even talked about the X-Files references in the books (I’m not a fan, so that went totally over my head). My favorite line? “Being smart is sexier than not being smart.” No truer words have ever been spoken, Deb.

The final event was the book signing and photo ops. I spent most of my time with Jennifer Ikeda talking audio books because I had another opportunity to talk with Deb. And boy was I nervous to meet Thomas Gunter (a.k.a Gallowglass)! He is one handsome man, and incredibly sweet on top of it. I can’t say I ever had a clear mental image of Gallowglass, so he’ll do just fine in my book!

Pictured here with Thomas Gunter (aka 'Gallowglass')
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention what a wonderful venue the Sofitel Los Angeles was. Not only did it fit in with the French theme, the food and drinks were beyond amazing, the rooms were clean and comfortable and the service was impeccable. As someone whose day job is in marketing, I’m really impressed with the way they have infused their high-quality brand into every aspect of a guest’s stay, from the valets and bellmen to the servers in the restaurant, and the uniforms and interior design. Tres chic to say the least!

Last, but certainly not least, thank you so much to our convention hosts/organizers, volunteers and all the special guests. You made this fan very, very happy.  I’m not sure if I can make the one next year (assuming there is one), but you’ve certainly got me for future events. I can’t wait to watch it grow and continue to blossom with the love we all have for Deb and her books.

Thank you, Nicole!

You can find Nicole Evelina online here:
Goodreads: Nicole Evelina

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