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Monday, April 12, 2010

Author Interview - M. Louise Locke & Book Giveaway

It is National Library week so take a little time this week to get to know your local library if you haven't already.  I plan on paying my overdue charges! Yes, I donate to the fund to buy new books regularly via my late fees.

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First up we have an author interview with M. Louise Locke, author of MAIDS OF MISFORTUNE, that I reviewed recently (read the review here.)  Growing up in Pittsburgh, Pa, Ms. Locke had two goals for her future: to teach history and to write novels that would bring others the joy that Georgette Heyer’s historical romances and Mary Stewart’s suspense novels brought her. History degrees from Oberlin College and Kent State University got her started on the first goal and she did go on to have a long career teaching history. Now semi-retired from teaching, she has finally returned to her second childhood goal, to write light, romantic, suspenseful fiction.

- Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?

I started with the plot for my first mystery, Maids of Misfortune, and I have done this for the sequel I am writing. I knew I wanted the sequel to explore nineteenth century spiritualists (including those who were clearly fraudulent versus those who were true believers.) From that I knew that I needed to have a reason for Annie, my protagonist, to investigate spiritualism. So, I came up with a murder where the killer could exploit spiritualism and those plot elements lead me to come up with the identity of the victim and killer. Once I had these two elements, this lead to additional plot ideas, additional characters, etc.

- Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail, a strict 3 act structure etc) before sitting down and writing?

I did an outline for my first book, and have an outline for my second one. I find it helpful since I am writing mysteries, where you have a definite murder, certain clues you have to develop, as well as red herrings to plant, to have a basic outline. I also like to have an arc planned out of the development of the relationship between my two main protagonists, so that goes into the outlines as well. But the level of detail isn’t very great. I actually start with listing each day that passes from opening of the story to the end. Then under each day I list scenes and for each scene I list location, characters, and my goals for the scene. I also wrote out a brief description of the day of the murder, which happens before the story opened. But then as I write each scene I pretty much let my imagination take me where it wants to go. There are ways in which my finished book deviated from my original outline-but the basic structure remained the same.

- I enjoy Annie, Nate and Annie's supporting cast, what is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character(s) tell you about him/herself as you write?

For Annie and Nate, my primary characters, I wrote out mini biographies, physical description, and primary motivations. These biographies expanded over time as I wrote (and since I wrote first book over a long time it was important to maintain continuity.) I wrote out a short biography for most of the secondary characters that included physical characteristics and some back-story.

I have found that my secondary characters also tell me a lot more about themselves as I write. Ambrose Wellsnap, a secondary character that comes late in Maids of Misfortune, simply walked into a scene, introduced himself, and there he was. I hadn’t developed any detail in my mind about him except that he needed to exist, so he was a complete surprise to me-name and all. I hope readers enjoy meeting him as much as I did!

I love novels where much of the humor comes from secondary characters, and I have tried to infuse my supporting characters with as much life as possible. Since I plan to write a series, I knew that the people in the boarding house that Annie owns would have continuing roles, so I knew I would have time to develop them in subsequent books.

I couldn’t have been more pleased, Ariel, when you said that when you finished Maids that you immediately began to miss Annie and her world. Because I also hate to leave the world created in novels I really enjoy, I have started to write short stories for the secondary characters from Maids of Misfortune that I will make available for free. I hope this will tide my readers over until I finish my next full-length book. My first short story features the teacher Barbara Hewitt and her son Jamie (two of the boarders in Annie Fuller’s boarding house), and their dog (who now has a name). The story is entitled Dandy Detects and will be available soon at my book website,

- How do you find time for writing, what works for you - and do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?

I am semi-retired community college professor, and, until my retirement, I did most of my writing during the summer. That is in part why it took me nearly 20 years to write Maids of Misfortune! Now that I only teach one class a semester, I try to put in 3-5 hours, usually broken up during the day, about 3-4 days a week. I tend to work on my laptop, sitting in my living room. There is usually music playing in our house, but I don’t really need to have anything going to inspire me.

- What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?

My first book was done over such a long time that I don’t know how to answer this. I did just write the first draft of my first 6,000 word short story in a week, and I hope that this summer when I start work on my second book that I will be able to produce at an even higher rate. I will know better what the answer is to this question in about 6 months!

- San Francisco in 1879 must be fascinating.  How much research goes into your work and do you complete that up front or "just enough" as you go?

For my doctorate in history from UC: San Diego, I wrote a dissertation called “Like a Machine or an Animal: Working Women of the Far West.” For this I examined the 1880 census for Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Portland and did a statistical analysis of women who worked in these three cities. I also did a lot of primary research, including diaries by working women. As you can see, when I began to write Maids of Misfortune, I had a wealth of research already done. What was wonderfully liberating was to draw a picture of the San Francisco and the people who lived there without having to footnote everything!

That dissertation was done nearly 30 years ago, so now, as I write, I have to look up details I have forgotten. But there is also so much more information available through the internet-and I do spot research as I go along.

- Setting seems as important as the characters in your mysteries, any tips on conveying a sense of place well?

I don’t live in San Francisco, but I travel there as often as I can, and walking around the city, paying attention to the way the weather changes, going through old Victorians like the Hass Lilienthal House, all helps me as I try to create as complete a picture as I can. I also own books that detail period interiors, women’s clothing, exteriors, etc. A writer friend once reminded me to use all my senses when describing a place-and just using my imagination-what my character might smell, or hear, or touch as they move through a scene makes it more real for me, and I hope that is conveyed to my readers.

- Can you recommend a fiction book that provides a great example of the writing craft to dissect and learn from?

My original inspiration in writing was the regency romance novels of Georgette Heyer, and I have spent a good deal of time looking at how she produced such satisfying blends of romance, suspense, and humor. One of my favorite contemporary series is Laurie King’s Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes books, and they have also been a great inspiration to me.

- What are you currently reading?

I just finished Anna Dean’s Bellfield Hall: Or the Observations of Miss Dido Kent. It is an historical mystery written in the period and style of a Jane Austin. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I would recommend it for readers taking your historical mystery challenge.

- What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

I think it is probably a quirk that many if not most fiction writers have. Once I start writing, I get very spacey, because I find it difficult to get out of the world I am in back to the present.

- I see you self published, what were the factors the made your mind up to go that route?

This is a long story, and I have actually addressed it in a series of 4 posts on “Why I Decided to Self Publish” on my blog The Front Parlor. If anyone is interested they can go to The short version of the story is that I had tried the traditional route, with frustrating results (got accepted by an agent, but historicals weren’t yet popular, got accepted by a small press that went under), and I didn’t want to waste anymore time. I also became fascinated by the possibilities of ebooks and print on demand, and loved the idea that I wouldn’t give up control or my rights by self-publishing.

- Do you participate in a critique group (or have you in the past?) What are the pros and cons of critique groups?

I have belonged to a writer’s group for 20 years, and while it has expanded and contracted, the same 4 writers who started the group are still meeting monthly. The most important advantage of the group I am in is that we critique full manuscripts, and that our basic writing skills are all good enough so that we can concentrate on things like character and plot, not grammar. Knowing that we need to finish a manuscript before we bring it to the group is a powerful motivation to get beyond the trap of writing and rewriting the beginning. Belonging to this group also meant that over the years when I was not really writing I continued to see myself as a writer. Finally, critiquing other people’s work can do a good deal to help you improve your own writing.

- Do you have another book in this series planned?  If so, please tell us a little about it.

My next book in the series is entitled Uneasy Spirits, and it will take up a short time after the conclusion of Maids of Misfortune. In this book Annie Fuller will be asked to prove that a trance medium in San Francisco is a fraud. Her investigation will lead her into personal danger and it will also cause her to begin to question her own work as a clairvoyant. Annie’s relationship with Nate Dawson will develop further during this story, but of course the path to true love will not run smoothly!
Thank you so much M. Louise Locke for that wonderful interview.
Now on to the next Book Giveaway.  The publisher has graciously provided 2 copies of THE BLACK CAT by Martha Grimes for promotional giveaway.  You may read the review I did recently on this book here.
Please read the directions carefully as I have changed one or two things.

How to Enter:

*** First, you must be a member (follower) of this blog.***

All entries are to be in the comments for this post (or possibly in an email.)

I will stop taking entries for this giveaway Friday April 16 at midnight and will announce the winner Monday the 19th.

For each point you earn you will have one entry in the random drawing. There is a chance for 9 points total for each contestant and thus 9 entries each.

+1 for leaving a comment with your correct email information. If you don’t feel comfortable leaving your email in a comment, please email me your information at: mysterysuspense1 at gmail dot com.

+2 for posting on your blog about this giveaway with a link back, please supply link to your blog post in the comments

+2 for each new member you bring to this blog (you must identify the new member you brought) limit of 2 new per contest

+1 for having this blog's button in a side bar of your blog with a link back, please supply link in comments

+1 for tweeting about this contest, please post link in comments

Comment/email example:

+1 here is my email address so you can notify me I won _ _ _ _ _ @ _ _ _ .com

+2 here is the link to the post I did on my blog for this giveaway ( giveaway hurry)

+2 for new google member Sadie197 I brought to your blog

+1 for adding your blog button to my blog sidebar (

+1 here is the link to the tweet I did on this giveaway (

Thank you for participating and good luck!


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The Book Mole said...

+ 1 Here is my email for this giveaway bookmole2 (AT) yahoo dot com

Giada M. said...

Thank you for the interesting interview and giveaway! The Black Cat sounds intriguing! If this contest is open to international readers, please enter me.

Thank you!^O^

I'm a follower

+1 here is my email address so you can notify me I won fabgiada @
+1 for tweeting about this contest

Aimee said...

Sounds great! Please accept my entry. Thanks!


Carol M said...

This sounds really good! I'd love to read it!
+1 here is my email address so you can notify me I won
mittens0831 at aol dot com
+1 here is the link to the tweet I did on this giveaway (

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