M. Louisa Locke: From Academia to Authorship, A Dream Deferred

M. Louisa LockeM. Louisa Locke is a retired professor of U.S. and Women’s History, who has embarked on a second career as an historical fiction writer.

Her Victorian San Francisco Mystery series is based on the research she did for her doctorate in history at University of California, San Diego about women who worked in the far west at the end of the 19th century.

The series features Annie Fuller, a boardinghouse owner and pretend clairvoyant, and Nate Dawson, a San Francisco lawyer, who together investigate murders and other crimes.

In the first book, Maids of Misfortune, Annie goes undercover as a domestic servant, in the second, Uneasy Spirits, Annie and Nate investigate a couple of fraudulent trance mediums, and in the third, Bloody Lessons, they try to determine who is attacking San Francisco teachers.

Her short stories, Dandy Detects, The Miss Moffets Mend a Marriage, and Mr. Wong Rights a Wrong give secondary characters from this series a chance to get involved in their own minor mysteries.

M. Louisa Locke Interview

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Books by M. Louisa Locke


M. Louisa Locke Transcript

Tim Knox: Hey friends, welcome in to Interviewing Authors with Tim Knox, another great show for you today. M. Louisa Locke is my guest, my friend Mary Lou Locke. She has quite the history. She’s a retired professor of women’s history, embarked on a second career as a historical writer and her Victorian San Francisco mystery series is based on the research she did to get her doctorate.

The series features Annie Fuller, a boarding house owner and pretend clairvoyant. The series thus far includes Maids of Misfortune, Uneasy Spirits, Bloody Lessons and the new book soon to come out, called Deadly Proof.

Now if you are interested in writing historical fiction this is an interview you don’t want to miss. Mary Lou talks about all of the work that she puts in and the research she does to make sure things are accurate. But then again she also talks about things like bringing humor into the story and the mystery and the romance.

So just a really good interview with M. Louisa Locke on this edition of Interviewing Authors.

Tim Knox: Mary Lou, welcome to the program.

M. Louisa Locke: Well it’s very good to be here, Tim.

Tim Knox: To begin let’s hear a little bit about you. Tell us about your background.

M. Louisa Locke: Okay most of my life, career as an adult I was a college professor. I got a doctorate in history in the late 1970s, early 1980s. I spent most of my career teaching at San Diego Mesa Community College, so teaching freshman U.S. History and U.S. Women’s History. That’s what I did with most of my career but I always wanted to write historical fiction. In fact my high school yearbook when it said ‘what do you want to do with your life?’ I said I wanted to write.

I understood by college that most writers couldn’t make a living and so I decided that I would make history my profession and then the hope was that I might be able to write fiction on the side. In many ways that dream got deferred until I was in my late 50s and I was semi-retired. I thought I would give writing another shot. I’d written a rough draft of the book that became my first book years earlier. I published as a self-published independent author and it sold and I made enough money by the second year to retire completely. So I really now have a second career as a full-time writer. It’s really a dream deferred that I really did not expect to get fulfilled.

Tim Knox: I love that phrase, a dream deferred. You knew very early on then if you wrote in your high school yearbook that your goal was to be a writer. You must have had the bug even back then. Did you write a lot as a youngster?

M. Louisa Locke: Well, you know the typical things. I wrote poetry. I wrote a short story for an English class that was a Regency romance because I was a big reader of Georgette Heyer Regency romances. So I wrote then but it’s interesting because a lot of times writers talk about well if you’re a writer then you’re just going to write whether you get published or not. I wrote but most of my life it was non-fiction. So I wrote articles and I wrote the big dissertation and I wrote lectures and I wrote memos but I didn’t really write fiction except working on this one novel off and on during my teaching career.

So I was not one of those people who just had manuscript after manuscript in a drawer. I sort of wish I was because the friends I know who took to indie writing and had four or five manuscripts ready to pull out have really done well and I’m a slow fiction writer so I’ve only been able to get two books out a year.

Tim Knox: Maybe you’ll be quick to catch up now that you’re doing it full-time. Let’s go back because you write in the genre of historical fiction and you were a professor of women’s history. Is there a correlation there? When you were younger you decided you weren’t going to make any money to write but then you became a professor of history and now you’re writing historical novels. Is that all tied together?

M. Louisa Locke: Oh absolutely. The fiction that I read as a young person was historical fiction. The fiction I read as a young adult was women’s fiction because it was 1960s, early 1970s when suddenly there was a lot of women’s fiction out, a lot of old women’s 19th century women’s fiction that hadn’t been part of the normal cannon that was now being reissued.

I then was a big mystery fan. I think a lot of academic women find mysteries, particularly mysteries with female protagonists – which once again in the 1980s became one of the kinds of mysteries that were being written – very interesting because you worked out puzzles, you solved puzzles, you had independent women doing things which many of us were doing in our careers.

I really conceived of writing a series of historical mysteries set in the 1880s because that was my doctorate research. I knew that my dissertation even if it became a book would probably be read maybe by 100 people.

So very early on I really wanted to share the working women of the Far West that I was studying with a much more broad, popular audience. So that was really my goal and it still is my goal. Of each my books, I have three books now, feature a particular female occupation of the late 19th century.

Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little about that because in your first book, Maids of Misfortune, the heroine of the book, Annie Fuller, is a boardinghouse owner and pretend clairvoyant. Now why a pretend clairvoyant? Why did that appeal to you as something that Annie would do as an occupation and how did it play into your book?

M. Louisa Locke: That idea, once again, came right out of my research. I read the San Francisco Chronicle for the period I was studying and on the first page, on the front page they have ads, which is sort of like our personal ads. About 10 or 12 every day were various kinds of clairvoyants, most of them female. They were trans-mediums and fortune tellers and medical spiritualists but a number of them specifically said that they were giving advice, business advice.

I also in my research discovered that a woman who was very notorious during the 19th century and really just a few years before when my books were set, a woman named Victoria Woodhull – she was the first woman to run for President in the 1870s and she was notorious because she was known as someone who believed in free love but she also had spent her youth as a trans-medium. Her family basically sort of used her to make money. By the 1870s she was setup by Cornelius Vanderbilt who was sort of the big millionaire of the time period. She and her sister were setup as stock brokers who made a lot of money for a couple of years on Wall Street.

So coming up with this pretend clairvoyant as a root for a woman who had business skills – the fictional character was taught by her father who was a stock broker how to analyze and come up with investments – was actually not that far from what actually happened with some women. I know for many people that probably seems like the most fictional part of my book but it was very much rooted in historical reality.

Tim Knox: So one of the realities of the time was that smart, independent women like Annie Fuller often had to resort to these kind of call them creative occupations, if you will, to make it in the proverbial man’s world because it was a different time and it was a time when women typically were second class citizens and Annie understandably bucked against that.

M. Louisa Locke: Well, you know, one of the things that’s interesting and was a shock to me when I actually went to graduate school is that in the period between about 1870 and 1910, 1915 there were actually proportionally more women who were doctors, more women who were lawyers, more women who were professionals than in the 1950s and ‘60s when I was growing up. It’s one of those things where when people say well you’d never go back to those kind of gender relationships, well the truth of the matter is gender relationships and roles of women have changed, expanded and contracted over time.

On one hand there were lots of women who were working because they had to economically. So there were lots of young women who were domestic servants. There were lots of working class women who were taking in boarders because their husbands or their fathers simply were not making a living wage.

One of the reasons I focused on domestic servants in Maids of Misfortune is I wanted people to get a sense of how incredibly difficult being a domestic servant for a middle class household was. On the other hand, there was great opportunity for education for women in the 1870s and 1880s than ever before.

They were getting not just high school education but some of them the sort of equivalent of college education for the first time. In fact there was a big uproar at the end of the 19th century because more girls were graduating from high school than boys, which is very analogous to there was a lot of upset that in college right now more women are graduating than men.

There was a great concern about why are our boys dropping out of high school? Of course one of the reasons they were dropping out of high school was because they actually had better paying jobs they could go to that their families could use where a lot of the girls were staying in school until they got married because they didn’t have either respectable jobs or jobs that paid well enough.

The greater education meant that by the 1880s and 1890s there’s a lot of women who are not satisfied with just marriage and many of them meet men who are happy to support their wives in careers so careers like librarianship and social work really began to take off during that period.

Once again, yes, Annie is fighting against the norm and I often put her in a situation where she wants to do something but her friends are like, “well that’s not right and you shouldn’t do it by yourself and you need to do it with a male love interest,” et cetera but she was not such an outlier that she’s just made up. She really does represent what there was a segment of women doing.

Tim Knox: How important is it to you to keep Annie true to the time? There are a lot of historical novels especially that have a strong heroine; it almost seems like they try to make her too modern, they try to make her ahead of the time or out of the time. How important is it to you to keep Annie grounded in the time that you’re writing about?

M. Louisa Locke: I think that’s where having been an historian and taught history for so long means that that check is probably greater in me. I do know that often I won’t finish a 19th century historical fiction when they do make the main character too modern, either in their language or their behavior. Annie does things that seem modern but she does it usually because she has to out of economic necessity and she worries about it. It’s a big struggle, her desire to be financially independent and the expectation of Nate Dawson, who is the romantic partner of what a woman should be like is at the basis of the conflict.

One of the reasons I think a lot of readers who like my books is that Victorian fiction tends to go to the dark side or these proper men and women are constantly jumping into bed. To a large extent there isn’t overt sex in mine because that would not be what these women would do. Did women have sex? Yes. Did women have sex outside of marriage? Yes. But was it done with the ease that you see in sort of romantic historical romances? No. For example, the last book I did there is a theme where woman does have sex outside of marriage and there are major consequences.

I find… one of the things they always talk about in good literature and what people like is conflict and tension. I find the tension between what society thought women should do and what women often had to do is a great way of driving the plot.

Tim Knox: You do it very well as you mix in a lot of different elements. At the heart of the story it’s a mystery but there’s humor, there’s romance. There’s a lot going on. Talk a little about how you wrangle all of those elements together and still keep true to the plot, true to the characters but you do have moments of humor, you do have mystery, a lot of things going on. How do you juggle all of those things and keep the book on track?

M. Louisa Locke: It’s interesting. I just wrote a sort of forward to a collection of short stories I’ve done that essentially that was what it was about, was the reason I’ve written short stories is because in order to balance the historical fiction and the mystery and the romance I often have to cut a lot about the minor characters. It’s very difficult. You really have three different kinds of readership. Historical fiction readers are often comfortable with really long books. They like a lot of detail.

Mystery readers tend to like much shorter books and they want everything to go really fast and let’s move on; don’t tell us everything that’s in the room. Then romance readers really have certain expectations that there’s going to be a lot of back and forth in terms of the main couple. My books are long for mysteries.

They’re between 110,000 to 140,000 words and the standard mystery is more like 70,000 or 80,000 words. So one of the ways I handle that is I write slightly longer books, which is one of the wonderful things about being an indie author is that if I was trying to go traditional I’m sure they would have insisted that I cut a lot more than I’ve already cut.

Tim Knox: That’s one of the things I hear a lot from independent authors is they like having the autonomy to do what they want. If they want to write an 800 or 900 page book they don’t have to worry about an agent or a publisher trying to get that down. You tried the traditional publishing route years ago. How was that experience? Did they try to edit you? Did they try to cut down the page count? Was it pleasant, unpleasant? Would you do it again?

M. Louisa Locke: The first book literally I wrote in 1989 and then I published it in 2009 so this was a book that I actually got an agent in 1989 but at that point there wasn’t much out there in terms of historical mystery. The editors were generally positive but they said things like we have one historical mystery and we’re not sure there’s a market for more. Now in the 1980s and 1990s it really exploded but by that time I was working full-time and really couldn’t pursue it.

Probably I would have cut. In fact with the first agent she wanted me to get rid of the point-of-view with the male character and I did so I completely rewrote it. That didn’t sell it. When it was time for me to rewrite it to self-publish it I completely rewrote it again and brought the point-of-view with the male character back because it just worked better.

If it was now and a traditional publisher came to me I probably would… particularly if they came and said we’ll publish it if you do XYZ, I probably wouldn’t do it. Are there ways I could have cut the books that I have? Yes. Each book has gotten trimmer. The last book I’ve done, Bloody Lessons, I think I did a better job of the pacing to satisfy mystery readers.

You’re right, there’s a lot of things to balance. One of the things about the humor is that I like books with humor in them and often it’s the secondary characters that provide the humor. There’s a dog and a cat and they’re important characters and they provide the humor. Then the romance once again is often played out in that conflict between Annie’s desires and needs to be independent and Nate, who loves her and loves her in part because of her independence but also is conflicted about what his role should be as a man in that society. I enjoy the romance. I would never get rid of it. For romance readers it’s too slow.

Mystery readers are used to romances between main characters playing out in a series over maybe four or five books before marriage or anything happens. Romance readers are used to having it all wrapped up by the end of the standalone book. So that’s a tension. I have to move their relationship forward enough with each book to satisfy the romance readers but not have that romance dominate so much that it slows the pace down for the mystery reader who wants to find out what’s happening next.

Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little about self-publishing because you are one of the more successful authors now who’s gone the self-publishing route. For those that have tried traditional publishing or maybe not have tried it at all but are thinking about self-publishing with Kindle and CreateSpace, words of advice?

M. Louisa Locke: Okay, two things. First of all Amazon, through CreateSpace which is their print on demand, and then through KDP which is their Kindle Direct Publishing, really made it easy for the person who wanted to self-publish. They give us more and more tools particularly on the Kindle side. So I’m not technologically real savvy.

I know how to do email and do word processing. I have a husband who’s more technically savvy so he’s my tech support but I really did not find any difficulty formatting and uploading all of my books, all of my short stories to Kindle and then formatting it for the print on demand. That was fairly easy but for those people who either are technophobic or just don’t find learning new things as interesting as I do, there are lots of people out there for very little money who will format and help you with uploading.

I like the fact that, because I did it myself, when somebody discovers a typo whether traditionally published or indie published, I can simply go in and fix it myself. I don’t have to like wait. Of course traditionally published authors who discover those sorts of things may never get it corrected unless there’s a new edition. I have friends who have been traditionally published for the last 20 years so I really have a good place of comparison.

So actually getting the book up is really not that difficult and it takes… once I have the file and I often just upload a Word document; once I have it ready it takes 10 minutes to upload it and it’s live within 24 hours. That part is wonderful.

Then one of the things I love is that my covers are my vision for a cover. My titles are my titles. One of my oldest writing friends, her book has a completely different cover and a completely different title than she envisioned in the years that she wrote it. The only money I spent with the first book was for a cover design and it was a friend who was a designer and she did it exactly the way I wanted it, so all my books are my vision. I paid $250.

You can get cheaper. You can do covers yourself. It’s seldom that covers cost more than $200 or $300. There’s a lot of freelancers out there now. So that parts pretty straightforward. The marketing, the truth of the matter is the marketing as a traditional published author and an independent author is pretty much the same. Unless you’re one of the really, really big authors with a really big advance that a publishing company is going to spend a lot of their money on you’re lucky if your book gets into bookstores, you’re lucky if there’s a little press for the first six weeks and then it’s really all up to you.

In fact, once again, one of my writer friends who had a big advance has now that the book has been out, gone and paid her own publicity person because she got such little help from the traditional publisher.

Tim Knox: That seems to be somewhat of a rude awakening for all authors, even authors who have been publishing for 20 years traditionally and are now doing it through the self-publishing route. You have to become a marketer. You have to learn to get your books out there. You have to figure out how to get noticed. What are some of the things that you were doing to attract your audience, build the brand and keep selling those books?

M. Louisa Locke: Okay, interestingly for me the first way I got it out there beyond the people I knew was my blog. My first blogs were all about the process of being an independent publisher. This was early 2010 and so I got a fair amount of traction because there weren’t a lot of us out there. There are a lot now. The first six months I only sold 150 books.

Now I was pleased. I had a friend that said well even you don’t know 150 people so some of it was people who were strangers. The turning point came for me when I did three things all at once in July, sort of six months into having the book out there. I discovered that the historical mystery category, because of a glitch, when you asked for your book to be put there in Amazon it didn’t go up. You had to have it done manually. So at that point I got Maids of Misfortune in historical mystery and it wasn’t showing up there.

Second thing that happened was that Kindle Nation Daily by Steven Windwalker, who was really one of the first to jump on the bandwagon of promoting Kindle books, offered to… he was doing something called Kindle Shorts at that point for free. I think I was the last author who got this for free that he said I will put the entirety of that first short story, Dandy Detects, up on my website for free but then I will link it to your Maids of Misfortune.

He did that over the weekend of July 4, 2010 and I got 700 sales in that weekend and it made me a mover and shaker on Amazon and it put Maids of Misfortune into the number one spot in historical mysteries and it stayed there for the next year and a half. Now that has become one of the major strategies, which is you give something away for free.

The next year when there was a lot more competition was when Amazon created their Kindle Select where if you went exclusively with Kindle, your book exclusively as an eBook on Kindle, they would give you the chance to put the book up for free for five days over a three month period.

That was the sort of contract for exclusivity. I jumped on that right away because I’d already learned my lesson, which is a free book can really sell books. So I used free promotions for about a year and a half and they really kept my books visible on historical mystery and mystery women’s and some of the big categories.

Then this year they’ve added the Kindle Countdown where for up to seven days you can have your book be $0.99 or you can have it go up in increments from $0.99 to $1.99 to $2.99. I’ve shifted to do my promotion with Kindle Countdown because I’ve given lots of books away. The way giving books away sells books is that it makes you visible and so once your book is visible then people will buy them. But I’ve given over 200,000 books away and I’ve sold over 100,000. So free strategy works.

It’s made me a lot of money. I was able to retire completely because I was making enough money but I confess at this point I enjoy at least knowing that people were spending some money on it, the $0.99. At a certain point it’s become clear that a lot of the people who download lots and lots of free books don’t necessarily go and read them right away.

So basically CreateSpace in terms of doing some features on me and KDP Select in terms of the tools they’ve offered and the support they’ve given me have really been one of the ways in which I’ve been able to sustain my sales. I believe my books earned me the reviews and earned me the attention but certainly the tools that Amazon has given indie authors has really made that sort of sustainable. They’ve also essentially offered me a contract for Maids of Misfortune to be translated into German so that’s something else that as an independent author, getting translations are very difficult. So that’s been very helpful.

Then I am in the process of getting my books up as audio books which is another arm of Amazon through ACX which is also something as an indie, because they let you do royal sharing where you don’t have to put any money upfront. It’s something that really makes available to me as an indie what it used to be you could only get if you were a traditionally published author.

Tim Knox: It seems like a lot of the traditional publishers are finally figuring out that these self-published, these indie authors can really add to their bottom line. If you were approached by one of the traditional publishers now do you think you might actually consider going that route?

M. Louisa Locke: You know I think frankly from what I’ve heard the only one that would tempt me is if it was one of the Amazon in prints. For example, I belong to an organization called Historical Fiction Authors Co-op and we’re a group of authors who have gotten together and created a website.

Our goal was to sort of create a website – this is all marketing – where somebody who really likes historical fiction and sees that there are all these books out there, that they would come to our website first because we would have curated membership by invitation only. We now have 44 members and some of them are indies and some of them are hybrids and some of them have their books with traditional presses. The ones who have their books with traditional presses have just not sold as well because they haven’t been able to do the press discounts or a number of them are out there with a small press that has figured out that loss leaders is a good idea but they will put the book, the first book of the series at $0.99 and not promote it.

In other words they won’t tell anybody that it’s at $0.99 so nobody buys it at $0.99 and then nobody goes on and buys the other books. I really, except for Amazon, haven’t seen any traditional publishers of my kind of genre fiction which is, you know I’m not going to be a blockbuster, provide the kind of support in terms of discounting and price changing and experimentation that I really think is necessary at this point to stay ahead of the game. Everything changes so fast right now in this industry. Nobody really knows what’s going to work next year. We know what worked this year.

We don’t know what’s going to work next year and traditional publishers are so slow to change. They’re just adopting some of the things that I’ve been doing for four years. So yeah, I would be very reluctant at this point unless it was Amazon.

Tim Knox: You have a really interesting story about how you arrived at the penname, M. Louisa Locke. Tell us about that.

M. Louisa Locke: My official name is Mary Louisa Locke but all my life I’ve been called either Mary Lou or by close friends and family just Lou. That’s my professional name, Dr. Locke, Dr. Mary Lou Locke. When it came time to think about how to publish my book, first of all, I wanted to distinguish it from my professional name because at that point I was still a professor and it just seemed sort of weird to have the idea that students might be out there looking at my book.

Second thing is I wanted something that sounded 19th century and M. Louisa Locke reminded me of Louisa May Alcott. I decided to go with M. Louisa Locke. Obviously I wasn’t trying to pretend I was male because it was clear with Louisa that I wasn’t. It just sounded 19th century to me and what is really odd is that when I started and would start Googling to see whether I was showing up, which you tend to do when you’re beginning. Has anyone noticed me on Google?

Often when I would put M. Louisa Locke in about the 5th book down would be a book my Louisa May Alcott. The only thing I can figure out is that for some reason the Google algorithms also thought that the two sounded similar so it did exactly what I wanted it to and people have said it does sound very 19th century.

What I didn’t expect is that I would sort of have readers that would then write me and say ‘Dear M.’ or I would be in organizations or writing comments and my inclination was to sign Mary Lou but that was not my pen name. One of the things I started doing is that when I write that to somebody if it’s, you know, really just a sort of formal relationship I will increasingly say Mary Louisa Locke and then whether they address me as Mary or Mary Louisa or whatever doesn’t matter.

Informally when I’m talking to a fan that’s become a friend or another author I go back to signing Mary Lou. It was just a problem I had not anticipated.

Tim Knox: So figuring out your name is really important. Let’s talk about the names of your books because I think that’s important as well. You had Maids of Misfortune, Uneasy Spirits, Bloody Lessons and you’re working on the 4th book now. What’s the working title there? How’s that going?

M. Louisa Locke: Just as a background the first book focuses on domestic servants so it’s Maids of Misfortune. The second book focused on spiritualists and so it’s Uneasy Spirits. The third book was about teachers called Bloody Lessons. This fourth book is going to feature women who are topographers who were in the printing industry and everybody involved is going to be involved in some fashion with the printing industry and so the title is going to be Deadly Proof.

Tim Knox: At what point do you come up with the titles for your books? Do you wait until the book is written or do you come up with something in the beginning that you write toward? When do you come up with these names?

M. Louisa Locke: I tend to come up with it early. There’s a good marketing reason for it, which means that while I’m writing it or in the bio when it says M. Louisa Locke is now working on her next book and put the name, it really does help with Google search because what I found is that by the time a book comes out, if I Google that title it’s well up there in Google because I’ve been using it for a couple of years. So marketing reasons but I think for me it also just gives me a much stronger sense that this book is going to be a reality if it has a title.

Tim Knox: In other words it makes the book real for you.

M. Louisa Locke: Right, it makes it real.

Tim Knox: How far into the 4th book are you?

M. Louisa Locke: I’m still just doing research. Printing was actually one of the few skilled jobs that women had in the 19th century but in San Francisco in 1880, the topography union wouldn’t let women join even though the National said they could. That meant the women often were hired as scabs, strike breakers, so I’m assuming somewhere in that I’m going to find my mystery plot.

Tim Knox: M. Louisa Locke, Mary Lou Locke, author of Maids of Misfortune, Uneasy Spirits, Bloody Lessons and the soon to be Deadly Proof. Mary Lou, how can folks find more about you online?

M. Louisa Locke: M. Louisa Locke altogether. It’s MLouisaLocke.com if you want to get my website. That’s the handle for Twitter. I have a personal Facebook page but for anybody who’s particularly interested in terms of my writing I have an author page that’s M. Louisa Locke Author and I also have a Pinterest because as I write a book, as I do my research I start to pin pictures – fashion pictures and street pictures and those sorts of things for the book. If anybody’s interested I’m once again M. Louisa Locke is how you would find me on Pinterest as well.

Tim Knox: Did you ever think you’d become such an expert at online marketing?

M. Louisa Locke: I found it very interesting and it’s been interesting because I do know writer friends who say I just can’t sell myself and I just keep saying the truth of the matter is I just get the book out there and then the book sells itself.

Tim Knox: I think one of the downsides of making it so rightly available online is your fans come to expect more from you don’t they? I’ve talked to authors who churn out a new book every four or five weeks. It’s just crazy.

M. Louisa Locke: Yes, in fact one of the things that authors have talked about is that it used to be when you traditionally published you were lucky to get a book out every year but usually it was longer than that. Independent publishers can put a book out every month if you have a back log or they can put it out every six months and some of the ones who really write fast are putting a book out every couple months. Well the reader has gotten very impatient.

I will put out here’s the title and here’s what I’m writing about and then for the next two years they will say where is it? So I really find my author Facebook is a good motivator. I discovered with the last book that at the end of every day I tell them what my word count is and that keeps me honest. If there’s a day where I want to break off and do something I’ll say well, you know, my fans are going to be disappointed if I didn’t make some headway.

Tim Knox: There’s one more thing I want to ask you about because I do talk to a lot of authors who are interested in historical fiction. How important is accurate research?

M. Louisa Locke: With historical fiction you’re absolutely correct. Research is very important. If you weren’t trained in that area the way I was then you want to do a lot of prime resource reading and that means fiction written during that period, diaries, memoirs and a lot of that stuff is now online. I would immerse yourself as much so that you just get a sense of how people spoke to each other and what kind of words they used. A lot of the times the research will give you some ideas about the plot. On the other hand, be careful once you start writing not to let research then slow you down too much.

Once again the internet is very useful in that you can fairly quickly, you know, for me if I want to check a street name, if I want to check the name of this piece of clothing or want to check if this is a word that was actually in use in 1880 – there are lots of sites that will let you do that immediately. If the research is deeper than that generally I would say make a note, continue to write and then when you’re tired of writing or you’ve got some evening time…

I just finished a short story where I probably spent days researching the San Francisco stock market in 1878. It probably came up in one sentence in the short story but it made me feel good about the story because I knew it was absolutely accurate and of course people have said that to me. They’ll say I trust that what you’re presenting is real.

Tim Knox: M. Louisa Locke, my friend Mary Lou Locke, thanks for being on the program.

M. Louisa Locke: Okay, bye bye.


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  1. Pingback: M. Louisa Locke: From Academia to Authorship, A Dream Deferred | Publetariat

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