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Interview with M. Louisa Locke, author of the Victorian San Francisco Mystery series

Victorian San Francisco M Louisa Locke

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Tell us about your Victorian San Francisco Mystery series. How many books are in the series so far and what are they about?
I have two novels and two short stories in this series so far. The novels feature Annie Fuller, a widowed boarding house owner who supplements her income dispensing business and domestic advice as a clairvoyant, Madam Sibyl. In the first book, Maids of Misfortune, she goes under cover as a domestic servant to investigate the death of one of Madam Sibyl’s clients. In the second book, Uneasy Spirits, she is asked by one of her boarders to investigate a couple of fraudulent mediums. She is aided in these investigations by friends who live and work in her boarding house and by Nate Dawson, a local lawyer. It is their budding friendship that provides the romance in these books. The two short stories, Dandy Detects and The Misses Moffet Mend a Marriage, involve minor characters from the novels in their own investigations.

What genre are these books?
This series fits into several genres. The novels are clearly historical mysteries, but they can also be described as cozy mysteries and, because they feature a female protagonist, they fit the sub-genre of mysteries with women sleuths. But all my work can also be categorized as straight historical fiction and historical romance as well.

How historically accurate is the San Francisco that your portray in your novels?
I came up with the idea behind this series over thirty years ago while working on my doctoral dissertation on women who worked in western U.S. cities (including San Francisco) in the late 19th century. Consequently, the books are grounded in my extensive research on this topic and are as historically accurate as I can make them. From the beginning I wanted to illuminate the kinds of occupations that 19th century women engaged in through fiction. As a result, in Maids of Misfortune you learn a good deal about what life was like for domestic servants, in Uneasy Spirits I examined how Spiritualism provided women an unusual opportunity to support themselves as trance mediums, clairvoyants, and fortune-tellers. In Bloody Lessons, my work in progress, I am focusing on the teaching profession.

What kind of readers will it appeal to?
Because there is no explicit sex or violence, these books appeal to readers of all ages. I have had twelve year-olds and eighty year-olds tell me how much they have enjoyed reading my books. Both novels are written from the point of view of both Annie Fuller and Nate Dawson, and, as a result I do have a strong male readership, although I suspect the majority of my readers are women who enjoy cozy mysteries.

Complete this sentence for us: if you like ___________________, then you’ll love the Victorian San Francisco Mystery series.
If you like the intelligent mysteries by Dorothy Sayers and Deborah Crombie, historical mysteries by Ellis Peters, Rhys Bowen, or Jacqueline Winspear, or historical romances by Georgette Heyer, then you’ll love the Victorian San Francisco Mystery series.

Tell us a little more about Annie Fuller. What kind of woman is she?
She had an unusual upbringing, taught about business and finance by her father, and a tragic marriage that ended when her husband lost her fortune and then committed suicide. As a result she had to make her own way in the world, and, after inheriting a house in San Francisco, she turns that into a successful boarding house and supplements her income by pretending to clairvoyance. She is able to use her financial acumen and her own personal experiences to provide business and domestic advice as Madam Sibyl. Because of her past, she has a fierce need for economic independence that will cause her to challenge prevailing social and gender norms and complicate the romantic intentions of Nate Dawson.

Will we be seeing Annie and Nate Dawson in further novels? If yes, can you tell us what to expect from them?
Yes. While I will continued to write short stories that focus on minor characters, the novels will continue to have Annie Fuller and Nate Dawson as the major protagonists, sharing in investigations and developing their personal relationship. However, in the third book in the series, Bloody Lessons, I have introduced Laura Dawson, Nate’s younger sister, as a major character, and I suspect that future books will include some of her own romantic and mystery adventures.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
While I always wanted to write historical fiction, most of my adult life was spent as a college professor, primarily teaching U.S. and U.S Women’s history at San Diego Mesa College. I loved teaching, but the historical mystery manuscript that became Maids of Misfortune stayed in my desk drawer for twenty years, until I semi-retired and had the time to spend to rewrite it and look at my publishing options. I decided I was too impatient at that point (too old!) to go through the long slow process required by traditional publishing and instead self-published Maids of Misfortune in December of 2009. What I never expected was the positive reception the book has had, or how much I would enjoy the varied tasks, including marketing, required by self-publishing. By 2010, Maids of Misfortune was making me enough in royalties so I could retire completely and devote my time to writing and working with other writers. Currently I am the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative. I live with my husband of over 40 years in San Diego, have a daughter and son-in-law (and five grandchildren) that I try to visit as often as possible, and a dog and two cats that keep me laughing.

Do you have a website where we can keep up with your work? How can we follow you on Twitter and/or Facebook?
My website is where I blog about Victorian San Francisco and publishing topics, and you can follow me on twitter at @mlouisalocke. However, if you want to keep up with my day-today research and writing the best place to go would be my author facebook page at

What’s next?
As I have mentioned, I am working on the third book in the series, Bloody Lessons, that I hope will be published by this coming fall (2013). There are lots of minor characters I want to feature in my short stories, and numerous female occupations that I plan to write about in subsequent mysteries. And, of course, I look forward to exploring further the romantic ups and downs of the relationship between Annie Fuller and Nate Dawson!

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