No Sophomore Slump for this Romance Author

Romance author Margaret Locke got me to read not only one romance but now two, both of them hers. I reviewed Locke’s debut novel, A Man of Character, in this post from several months ago. Now, Locke has released the next in her series, A Matter of Time, a Regency-era, time-travel romance.

Talk about genre mash-ups, but this works. No sophomore slump for this romance author whose work turns formula on its head.

A Matter of Time tells Eliza James’s story. Eliza is the character from A Man AMatterofTime.FrontCoverof Character who wanted her best friend, Cat, to use her magic, medieval book to send her back to the period of her literary idol, Jane Austen, and into the arms of a duke. We’ve seen in A Man of Character that Cat’s magic works, and Eliza finds herself in Regency England at the estate of Deveric Mattersley, a handsome duke with a tragic past and an interesting family. Eliza finds out that, of course, wishes and reality can be two very different things. How she overcomes being a fish out of water, or, rather, a woman out of time, and how her duke overcomes his fear of commitment makes for an engaging read.

So, let’s find out a little about Margaret Locke.

Romance Reader at Ten

Margaret

Margaret Locke

A lover of romance novels since the age of ten (shh, don’t tell mom!), Locke declared as a teen that she’d grow up to write romances. Once an adult, however, she figured she ought to do grown-up things, like, oh,  earning that master’s degree in medieval history, not penning steamy love stories. Turning forty cured her of that silly notion. Locke is now happily ensconced back in the clutches of her first love, this time as a definite up and coming author as well as a reader.

Margaret lives in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in Virginia with her fantastic husband, two fabulous kids, and two fat cats. You can usually find her in front of some sort of screen (electronic or window); she’s come to terms with the fact that she’s not an outdoors person.

The Interview

Me: A Regency-era, time-travel romance—wha? Seriously, how does that work?

Locke: Uh, that depends on whom you ask. For me, it was simple: Jane Austen-loving, romance novel junkie Eliza James’s best friend Cat has a magical manuscript that can bring love interests to life. Eliza thinks this is the greatest thing ever and asks for her own personal romance hero in Regency England, since it’s the era she’s loved for so long. Cat figures, what the heck, if she’s got the power to do one kind of magic, maybe throwing time-travel into Eliza’s story would work, too. And, lo and behold, it does!

But really, the long and the short of it is, a modern-day Jane Austen fan finds herself in Regency England, through * jazzy hands * MAGIC! * jazzy hands*. That’s the power of fiction, folks.

Me: You’ve alluded to the fact that this is Eliza’s story, but what do you think was Eliza’s biggest challenge of one second being in modern times and the next in an era she’s studied but only fantasized about until now?

Locke: Truly comprehending the difference between fantasy and reality. It’s one thing to read about chamber pots and class systems and roast turtle and serious restrictions on women. We think we can comprehend them, but I have the sneaking suspicion that unless we’re there, in the thick of everything, we can’t.

The same is true for Eliza. She wants to imagine it all Jane Austen and FitzWilliam Darcy, but real life in Regency England, like real life now, is so much more complicated and layered than any novel or movie can ever portray (and of course I didn’t include numerous things I could have, given I was writing a happy romance, not a gritty tell-all.)

Plus, Eliza suddenly realizes just how much a fish out of water she is, for no matter how much she’s studied the culture, as anyone who lives in a foreign country experiences, she soon realizes there’s so much she never knew about, or hadn’t fully considered, or wanted to pretend she didn’t have to deal with.

I remember feeling that way when I lived in Germany: similar Western cultures, and, yet, there were things I experienced there I never learned in all my studies of the language and the country, and never could have “gotten” without actually being there, such as nuances of humor. I imagine the same is true for Eliza venturing to a different time period, probably even more so.

Me: What was your greatest challenge, as a writer, in putting a modern woman 200 years in the past?

Locke: Wanting to make her believable, both to her Regency peers, and to a modern reading audience. It’s actually a little easier to stick a modern woman back into Regency times in some ways. She can behave as independently as she wants, and it rings true. Whereas, as much as we love the kick-ass heroines dotting many a Regency romance novel, and while there were strong, independent, feisty women in that period, the reality is the restrictions placed on women were more stringent than they are today and a far cry from what many 21st century women would accept.

The other biggest challenge was getting the historical details right, and I’m sure in spite of my research, of reading books and scouring blog posts and querying members of RWA’s Beau Monde, that I still got some things wrong. It’s not my culture, my language, my time.

On the other hand, I could write a depiction of modern society someone else would view as completely skewed or wrong because everyone experiences the world through his or her own lens, in different ways based on upbringing, experiences, etc. Therefore, I’d like to think as long as I get most of the details right, the rest falls under artistic license. 😉

Me: In contrast to your first book, A Matter of Time has a large and complex cast of main and supporting characters. How did you keep them in line, i.e., getting them to “wait” for their stories to be told?

Locke: I’m not sure I did! In truth, I’d sketched out the Mattersley family before I’d even finished writing my first (at that point unrelated) book, A A-Man-of-Character-V7bMan of Character (Eliza’s character arc and subsequent travels were a later addition!). I’d always known I wanted to write Regency romance and that I wanted to write a series about siblings in the vein of Sabrina Jeffries, Julia Quinn, and Eloisa James. So I made up a cast of characters and even tidbits about what, and when, their stories might be. I tried to drop small hints in the pages of A Matter of Time, alluding to future stories. We’ll see if I did so effectively.

At one point in the revision process, I did end up drafting a spreadsheet listing each character and important information about them, because I worried I was repeating or omitting things. Hopefully, I struck the right balance.

And, well, Deveric’s two sidekick friends, James Bradley and Morgan Collinswood, were late additions, stuck in during a moment of NaNoWriMo lunacy, and then developed further because I fell in love with them!

Me: I know this book introduces characters, who will appear in later works dedicated to their stories. That’s fun, but it has to be scary, too?

Locke: Absolutely. I’m wondering if I’ll be able to keep all the information from the previous stories straight, if I’ll get it right in future stories, if I’ll be able to keep dropping hints about the various other tales in the stories to come. I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but all I can do is move forward. I’ve read the masters, I know how successfully they’ve done this, so when in doubt, I’ll go back to the sources, the Triumverate of authors mentioned above, and study up again.

The key, I think, will be making more of those character spreadsheets, to try to keep everyone and everything straight. On the other hand, I believe it’s Julia Quinn who laughs about how one heroine’s eye color changes three times over three different books. So, well, there’s potential room for error, right?

Me: What was your greatest fear, again, as a writer, for the publication of your second novel?

Locke: That people won’t like it. I’ve been delighted and surprised by the positive response to A Man of Character. I can’t believe how much some readers have raved about that story. So the question is, can I do it again? Will those readers follow me along to a new story set in a different era, a romance that’s more traditional in structure/plot? Or will I hit sophomore slump, lose readers, and have this be the end of my career?

The fear is still there, every day.

Me: What about the second novel was easier? Harder?

Locke: I think I felt more confident in my ability to actually complete the sucker, and it felt easier to be following a more familiar pattern. I won’t say formula, because that has negative connotations, but like any genre novel, romance has familiar steps in the dance, points at which certain types of things happen, etc. With my first book, since it wasn’t a typical romance in terms of having the hero identified from page one, I flailed about a bit more while figuring out how to structure the thing. A Matter of Time was easier, in that regard.

Harder, again, was the fact that I was suddenly writing a historical novel, and even though that’d always been my plan and is what I want to do, it was daunting to realize just how challenging getting the history “right” (or at least “right enough”) is. It’s one thing to read historical fiction; it’s quite another to write it, and as a trained historian, all I can think is, “I’m missing details, I’m leaving stuff out, I’m probably getting this wrong!”

Luckily for me, I wrote the first draft of this novel well before A Man of Character was published, so though I’m frightened now of its reception, I wasn’t frightened when I wrote it. Which is a good thing, since I’m in the middle of writing book three, A Scandalous Matter, and am painfully aware that the thing is a big old mess, but one that I’m going to have to figure out how to fix and get into shape enough so that people will want to read it, because people are already telling me they want to read it!

Me: What about the second novel has surprised you, compared to the first?

Locke: The second novel, while it has its moments of levity, too, has a few plot points that are more serious in tone. Both Eliza and Deveric have experienced great losses, and those losses come into play, influencing thoughts, emotions, and actions at various points in the story. So I wrote some scenes that were, for me, heart-wrenching, more so than anything I wrote in A Man of Character. I don’t mind that; I want my novels to evoke feelings, though I hope to keep the fun, witty verbal exchanges that delight me so much!

Me: Is the whole novel-writing/editing/revising/publishing process somehow easier the second time around? Do you anticipate each successive novel will be easier or harder?

Locke: I’m guessing certain parts will get easier and certain harder. I hope, with each successive novel, to do a better job from the start in constructing a solid story, so that revisions are less extensive. If I’m studying my craft and learning from my mistakes, this would seem to be a natural progression. Please, let it be so! I don’t like editing. Not that I’m saying I’ll ever write a perfect first draft, no one does, but I’d like to feel I’ve gotten the elements (character development, plot, emotional arcs, etc.) more in balance from the beginning.

On the other hand, I fear the pressure will mount. I now get why published authors say it never gets any easier. I used to think, “What do you mean? You’ve got thirty books out! Surely by now you realize how good you are!” But I think what they mean is, every new book is a chance for failure, for rejection, and that’s scary. We all know famous movie stars who’ve made flop movies, which have changed our perceptions of them. Nobody wants to be a flop writer.

Me: There’s a sweet little Easter Egg toward the end of A Matter of Time about Jane Austen. Was that fun to include or a little tear-jerking?

Locke: Both! I really, really loved how that scene came together, though I fear true Austenites might challenge my portrayal of certain people/things. It makes me giddy every time I read it. And yet, well, in 1812, Jane Austen only had five years left to live, and Eliza would have known that. That part made me sad but not sad enough to cut the scene. It is one of my absolute favorites.

Getting in Touch

Locke likes connecting to her readers, so if you’re not already following her on various social media or subscribing to her newsletter, and you should, here is how you can connect:

Website/Blog: http://margaretlocke.com
Facebook: http://facebook.com/AuthorMargaretLocke
GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/MargaretLocke
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/Margaret_Locke
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Margaret_Locke

Both of Locke’s novels are available as paperbacks and ebooks from Amazon:

Click here for A Man of Character
Click here for A Matter of Time

 

Interview–Debut Romance Author Margaret Locke

MLHeader2Debut 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.

You visit Ms. Locke’s blog and sign up for her newsletter by clicking here. You can purchase A Man of Character on Amazon.com