Debut romance author Margaret Locke has a great novel out, A Man of Character. I’ve reviewed it, and you can click here to read the review or click on the “Book Review” tab above and select it from the drop-down menu. Below is a refreshing interview I conducted with Ms. Locke. Authors of any experience level can relate to her experience–and her joy at seeing her first novel in print.
PD: You’ve spoken in other interviews about your agent-querying marathon, so we won’t go into that here, but what was most appealing, artistically, about indie publishing for you?
LOCKE: I did want that brass ring, you’re right. I wanted it desperately, as “proof” I was good enough. But I realized the brass ring came with encumbrances that seemed more detrimental than beneficial, especially after I listened to other authors share their experiences. The idea of not controlling my publishing schedule, of not having final say over edits, over cover art, over the title of my book—I couldn’t imagine it. Many traditionally published authors also told me they have to do nearly all their own publicity. Not as much control, smaller royalties, and still having to do all the promo? Indie publishing suddenly sounded much more appealing.
I’m so happy I chose this path. I admit, I felt I’d failed, at first, in not securing an agent, and that publishing on my own was somehow lesser. I’ve come around on that idea 180 degrees. Now I relish being completely in charge of my own career—for better or worse—and the creative freedom that comes with that. If I want to write a series in which the first book is a light paranormal romantic comedy, the second a time-travel romance, the third a straight Regency tale, I can. And, uh, I have. It’s a joy to have such freedom.
PD: Regency is a popular setting for romance writers. What’s your strategy for making yours stand apart in a crowd? And, without using the words, “Fitzwilliam Darcy,” what appeals to you about that era as a setting?
LOCKE: Oh, gosh. I have to have a strategy? I do hope my sense of humor brands my books as mine. I’m also partial to quirky, flawed characters. But those things don’t mark me as special; most authors incorporate those these days. Most authors also write series in which characters are interlinked, so I’m not treading new ground there. However, I plan to take familiar tropes and spice them up a bit, do a few unexpected things, have fun with the genre and its expected conventions.
As for what appeals about the Regency—I wish I had an answer. I think that era is a period in time that feels at once familiar and distant. Familiar, because it’s not all that long ago, relatively speaking. Many people, I’m guessing, can more readily envision Regency England than, perhaps, ancient Greece or medieval Germany. And distant, because social structures and social mores have shifted over the last two hundred years. With the Regency, we get a society we can understand fairly easily, overlaid with the whole fantasy element, that romantic idea of Once Upon A Time, especially since the Regency period is known for its grand balls and dukes and barons—all elements familiar to most modern folk from fairy tales we heard growing up.
PD: Describe your writing process. What do you keep around you for inspiration?
LOCKE: My writing process is erratic and not what it needs to be. Random thoughts, plot points, character ideas, snippets of dialogue, hit me at the most inopportune times (just before drifting off to sleep, while out running errands), and I’m frustrated that I don’t capture more of those thoughts (although I am finally using the iPhone’s voice memo option!).
I wish I had a more structured schedule to which I adhered. I always plan on that, but life (and social media) get in the way. However, I’ve long known I work best in the morning, and I work best when I can have a two-hour (or more) time period in which I know I won’t be interrupted. When that happens, I can ensconce myself in the Writing Cave and write—sometimes with inspiring instrumental music playing in the background, other times in silence. When I’m in the zone, I don’t need anything around me for inspiration, because I’m so lost in my own alternate reality that I don’t notice my real life, anyway.
PD: You’ve indicated A MAN OF CHARACTER is book one in a series of five (or six?) What are your plans beyond that, or is that thinking too far ahead?
LOCKE: I don’t know exactly how many books will be in the Matters of Love series. I suppose I should nail that down, but every time I decide I’ve thought of all the characters and stories I want to include in that series, something else pops up, and I think, “Oh yeah, I could write a story about that!” I do have eight potential books loosely sketched out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if secondary characters from those novels demand their own stories. After that, we’ll see. I recently discovered some ideas I’d written down years ago, when I was in my 20s, and a few aren’t half-bad. Then there’s a whole flip-the-fairy-tales-on-their-heads set of ideas that I’ve loosely planned out. I could be writing for a very long time.
PD: What would you say to someone who doesn’t normally read romance to get them to try A Man of Character?
LOCKE: I’ll bake you cookies. I’ll massage your feet. I’ll clean your house for month. No, just kidding. (You wouldn’t want me as your housekeeper, anyway, given the state of my own house.)
I do claim AMOC is not a typical romance, and yet I don’t want people to think I’m trying to distance myself from the genre. Exactly the opposite. I love romance and would love to encourage people to give a well-written romance novel a shot. They’re so much more than the stereotypes. Is a relationship at the center of a romance? Sure. Is the Happily Ever After a requirement? Absolutely.
But romances are no more formulaic than any other genre fiction. (Can’t write a mystery without solving it, right?) Romances tell women’s stories (or gay/lesbian/transgender stories—there are subgenres for everyone). The hero is crucial, of course. You can’t have a decent romance without an enticing (albeit flawed) hero.
But it’s the heroine with whom we as readers most closely identify, I would argue. It’s she we want to see overcome a variety of obstacles, she we want to achieve self-satisfaction—within and outside of the central relationship. Romance (most of it, at least) provides that. Much romance is much more feminist than most people realize: a story in which the woman’s journey is central? In which her emotional and sexual satisfaction are legitimate, worthy, and expected goals? Yes, please.
I don’t know if that answers the question, so I asked my husband what he would say. (He read the whole book in one day.) His answer? “Tell them they might just enjoy the story and might learn that some of the things they thought about romance were wrong.”
Yup. What he said.
PD: What are some words of encouragement to would-be authors out there, in any genre?
If you want to write, write. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t study the craft and learn the ins and outs of your intended genre. You should—if you plan to put your work out for public consumption, at least. But don’t let the Eeyores drag you down. Keep writing. Keep reading. Join a critique group. Find some beta readers. Go to conferences. Get to know authors on social media.
OK, well, those are all the things I did. I don’t know if they work for everyone else. I think the biggest thing is, write if you want to. It might take a while to find the right writing community for you, but keep seeking one out. Sabrina Jeffries told me, “Don’t write in a vacuum.” I 100% agree. Find your groove, and find your group, and don’t give up.
PD: Describe your book launch day, i.e., for those who’ve never experienced it; the emotions, good and bad. Was it everything you expected and hoped for? What will you do differently next time?
It was amazing and surreal, exhilarating and exhausting. There had been some build-up: the first time I saw my book’s listing on Amazon, the first time I held a copy in my hands. (Yes, I shrieked and hopped up and down both times.) But to know on launch day that my baby (warts and all) was out there for all to see—and potentially criticize—was terrifying and elating, at the same time.
If I had to do it all again, I would’ve done more promo prep before launch day. I probably should have contacted book bloggers. I could have created more visual memes. I might have had all the potential excerpts and quotes and promo posts already drafted. I didn’t. But I had fun anyway. And I’m doing some of those now, hoping that “better late than never” still applies.
Confession: I also don’t want to be strung out on chocolate on my next release day. It was such a whirlwind week, I’m not surprised I fell face-first back into the sugar. By actual release day, I was a mix of exhausted and over-sugarfied. Not really a good combo, on Launch Day or otherwise.
PD: You’re barely taking a break, in that your next book in the series comes out in the fall. Give a brief sketch of what it’s about, and dare we hope it involves Eliza and her duke?
LOCKE: The only reason the “break” is so short is that I have the second book already written. (Thank you, NaNoWriMo 2014!) It needs heavy editing, but the basic parts are there, so I think (I hope!) my late fall deadline is workable. And yes, it most definitely involves Eliza and her duke. In it, I introduce you to the Mattersley family—the family around which all my original story ideas were based, before Cat leapt into the picture. I hope y’all have fun reading about Eliza’s struggles to come to grips with what it actually means to live in a different era and to deal with a man who doesn’t necessarily agree that he’s her soulmate.
PD: In your “Acknowledgements” section, you included your writers group, Shenandoah Valley Writers. How are writers groups important, in general, and, specifically, how did yours help you?
LOCKE: How did it not? To be a part of a writing community, to put myself out there and call myself a writer, was one of the greatest feelings ever. I was doing this. And I was doing it publicly! To hear about others’ struggles, successes, strategies, systems…all have helped me grow in my own process. I’ve met amazing people and developed incredible friendships. We’ve gotten together in person. We’ve cheered each other on, helped each other up, told the world about each other.
In fact, it’s hard to remember life without all these writer people in it, and yet that was the case just, what, two years ago? Three at most. Surrounding myself with people who love what I love is amazing! (Even if it bores all my other friends to hear me talking writing all the time. Sorry, guys. I’m trying to find balance.) So thank you, Maggie. Thank you, Rebekah, Annika, Tamara, Foy, Taryn, Allison, Sydney, Morgan, Lindsey, Josette, Christy, Sara, and Audrey. (Eek! I’m sure I’ve forgotten people!) Thank you to the Flash Friday community. Thank you to the writer friends I’ve met online. Y’all are amazing. And you brought me to this place. I’m sure that if I were going this alone, I would not be published.
The first time I joined a critique group, I was terrified. The first time I put myself in the hot seat and let people critique my work, I thought I was going to throw up. And yet I could see how valuable it was to get multiple sets of eyes on my work, to hear from them what worked and what didn’t, whether or not I was on the right track, etc. So find a writing group, find beta readers, but also find a critique group. It might take a few tries to find a group of people with whom you click, with whom you feel safe, a group that has the same approach when it comes to critiquing (I value positive, uplifting interactions, even when giving suggestions for improvement). But it’s worth it.
PD: Finally, what would you like to say–anything at all–on becoming a published author?
It’s surreal and exciting and…surprisingly not all that different from my life before I was a published author. Am I part of the club yet? It doesn’t feel like it. I still wrestle with self-doubt, still wonder if I’m good enough, still fret over whether I’m doing it right (whatever it is: writing, editing, promo). Sadly, I haven’t made a bazillion dollars. I still have laundry to do and meals to cook. My kids still squabble. I still have to grocery shop and serve as Taxi Mom and deal with my own character faults.
Rats. I was kind of hoping once I was published, I’d hit glamour status. Nope. Now I’ve got the pressure to write the next book, and the fear it won’t be as good as the first.
I guess that’s all normal.
But what do I also have? The unbelievable, nearly indescribable feeling of accomplishment. I said for years I was going to write romance. I finally did. I really did it.