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Maids of Misfortune is the first book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, and I am pleased to say that six years after I first published it on Kindle, it is still selling quite nicely (one of the benefits of writing historical fiction is that these books never go out of date.). It has over 1100 four and five star reviews, and the whole series continues to attract readers who just want a light, fun, easy read (always my goal.) It will be 99 cents on Kindle for the next 3 days.

Next up is the second book in my series, Uneasy Spirits, which will be free on Kindle 1/20-22. This book is probably my most edgy, in that it deals with the question of whether or not spiritualism (which was a very popular belief in the 19th century) was real or not. So in addition to it being a fairly straight-forward mystery, it’s got a good deal of suspense going on as well.

Finally I want to report how happy I am with the sales of my novella, Violet Vanquishes a Villain, which comes chronologically right after the fourth book in this series, Deadly Proof. But I would also remind you that you can get this novella, and my collection of short stories, as a free download if you subscribe to my newsletter.

M. Louisa Locke

Introducing Katja Blum, translator for my German Edition of Maids of Misfortune

Katja BlumI am very pleased to introduce Katja Blum, the person who did such a lovely, professional job translating Maids of Misfortune into the German edition: Dienstmädchen im Unglück.

She graciously answered some of my questions in my quest to get to know her, and I think you will be as charmed as I was with her answers.

1. Please tell the readers about yourself and how you got into translating.

I began working as a translator (English into German) while I was studying at Hamburg University in Germany – sheesh, that was almost twenty years ago. My major wasn’t translation, by the way, but American Literature and Women’s Studies. For my first job, I translated Harlequin romances into German. I’m fluent in English, I’m a writer – how hard can it be? The answer: Very. I learned many important things from working with those romances and my extremely strict editor – listening to the author’s voice and reigning in my own, being disciplined about deadlines (tough one) and writing to meet specific market requirements, while still creating a natural, flowing text in German.

After a few years working solely as a literary translator, I felt that I needed a different challenge and went into marketing and corporate communications for luxury brands. I was able to use many of the skills I had learned, because I was still dealing with fairy tales for adults, just that the perfect guy was being replaced by the perfect pair of very expensive shoes.

One of the very best parts of my job is that I can work in my pajamas. I don’t usually, but I could. Freelance work also allows me to make my schedule around spending time with my three-year-old son. Sam has a condition that makes it hard for him to learn speech, so in working, playing and learning with him, I now get to approach language, communication and storytelling in a whole new way.

Apart from family and books, the fiber arts are my greatest passion. I study textiles through the ages and how to make them today using the old techniques from spindle-spinning flax to tatting lace. The knowledge comes in handy when I translate historic fiction. Not only do I have a pretty good idea what people are wearing or making, but the study of textiles also comes with a lot of social history, which to me is as fascinating as it is useful.

Today, I mix it up in my job with marketing translations, usually time-sensitive, and bigger book projects (fiction and nonfiction) with longer deadlines. All parts of my job inform the others and continue to shape my understanding of the languages I work with and – hopefully – my skills as a translator.

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Maids of Misfortune in German

German CoverNotice that Victorian woman on the cover? She looks almost exactly as I picture Annie Fuller, the main protagonist in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series. Which is lovely, since this is the cover of the new German translation of Maids of Misfortune, the first book in that series. Available now for pre-order, this edition is coming out in print and ebook in exactly a month, on September 2, 2014.

So how did this happen?

As an independent author, I knew that getting my books translated into foreign languages would be more complicated than if I had a traditional publishing contract and/or agent. And, while I knew of other indie authors, like David Gaughran and Joanna Penn, who were working to find translators on their own (often using a royalty splitting agreement), or using a distributor like Babelcube, which matches up authors and translators, this seemed time-consuming and therefore was not something I put high on my “to-do” list. It was more on my “someday maybe I will do this” list.

Then I was contacted by AmazonCrossing.

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What does it mean when your characters name themselves?

This week I read an interesting post the importance of choosing the right names for fictional characters. One of the points the post made was that authors should avoid doing anything that might bring a reader out of the story, including having names that sound alike.

I first ran into this specific problem when I was about to publish my first book, Maids of Misfortune. Most of you know the story by now: I published this book thirty years after I came up with the plot and twenty years after I wrote the first draft so, as you might imagine, I had grown very fond of the character names I had chosen.

Then one of my beta readers pointed out that two of my main characters, my main protagonist, Annie Fuller, and Annie’s maid, who I had named Maggie, had names that ended in “ie,” and she found this to be confusing.

Well, that was a blow! I certainly wasn’t going to change Annie’s name, so the name Maggie had to go. As the writer, I may have believed that no one could possibly mix up the two characters, but as a reader, I could understand how someone who was being introduced to both characters for the first time could mix them up. So, I decided to turn Maggie into Kathleen (another good Irish name and a salute to Kathy, the reader who had pointed this problem out.) Six years later, I can’t imagine  the character Kathleen being named anything else.

A second problem in similar names unfortunately slipped through. In Maids of Misfortune I introduced Mr. Harvey (one of Annie’s boarders) and Mr. Harper (one of Madam Sibyl’s clients) and I keep forgetting which is which when these characters reappear in my later books and stories—so I can imagine how difficult it might be for a reader to keep them straight. Since then, I have started keeping a list of characters names as I create them, changing them ruthlessly if I discover I have inadvertently created a name that is too similar to another.

A second issue is how to treat minor characters names in general. Since a minor character is often on the stage for a short time, I have discovered that I need to be very efficient in making that character memorable. For example, in any given book or short story in the series, the older seamstresses in Annie’s boarding house may not even have a speaking part, or they may only get to say a line or two (which is one of the reasons I finally gave them a whole short story of their own.) Here a name can do that. Miss Millie and Miss Minnie Moffet are hard to forget, because of their names. I also try to choose names that reflect a character’s ethnicity. I don’t have to keep reminding the reader that Beatrice O’Rourke is Irish because her name is the reminder. Interestingly, in 1880, over 74% of San Francisco residents in 1880 were either foreign-born or the native-born children of the foreign-born (from a variety of countries), so it is easy to create different kinds of names.

On the other hand, sometimes I leave a minor character nameless. There is no reason to force the reader to keep a name in their head if the character is never, ever going to appear again. Usually a descriptor like “errand boy,” “other teacher,” “policeman” is sufficient.

At the same time, I don’t want to get into the “unnamed ensign” habit (remember those early Star Treks, when one just knew that a crew member without a name was going to get killed on the next mission.) Giving names to enough minor characters makes it less obvious which of them might turn out to be important later on in the plot and which are really bit players.

Finally, there are the characters who simply announce themselves to me. This happens all the time. Beatrice O’Rourke’s name was just there from the moment I conceived of her over twenty-five years ago as Annie Fuller’s Irish cook and housekeeper. Then there was the occasion when I gave one very minor character in Maids of Misfortune (who had been one of those unnamed minor characters) a speaking part in my last major rewrite. When Annie ushered him into a room, he bowed and said, “I am Ambrose Wellsnap.” And there he was—fully formed, from my imagination to the page, and I wouldn’t have dared give him any other name. It’s a very silly name, and he is a pretty silly character. But I would swear he was the one who picked it, not I!

In Uneasy Spirits, it was the two spiritualists, Simon and Arabella Frampton, whose names just came, without any conscious thought, into my head. And in Bloody Lessons, it was Able Cranston, Nate Dawson’s new law partner. I can look back and speculate that I chose the name “Able” because I wanted the new law partner to be someone who Nate would look up to and learn from (who knows why his last name was Cranston?) But the choice itself was not conscious, nor can I imagine ever changing his name the way I did poor Kathleen’s. He was much too forceful a personality from the start, even though he only shows up in one scene. Then again, Kathleen is now such a real person to me now that I know she won’t ever let me change her name again (at least until Peter McGee gets her to tie the knot.)

Oh, and that reminds me of another problem––what to do with Annie Fuller’s name if (or when) she marries Nate Dawson. But I suspect that is a subject for a whole other post.

So, for the other authors reading this: How do you choose names for your characters? And readers, how important are names to you and do you have any kinds of character names that bug you—and take you out of the story?

Two-Day Sale of Victorian Mystery Books on Kindle

I don’t usually just post when I am doing a promotion, but I am experimenting this time with a pre-Holiday promotion of my two Victorian San Francisco Mystery novels so I thought I would let you all in on the experiment.

Uneasy_Spirits_600x900_72dpiUneasy Spirits, the sequel in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery Series is FREE on KINDLE for two days, Tuesday-Wednesday, December 11-12, 2012.  Here is the link for the U.S. Kindle Store, and the U.K. Store.

A second part of the experiment is to offer the first book in the series, Maids of Misfortune, for 99 cents for the same two days that the sequel is on sale. While I know there are lots of people out there who already have Maids of Misfortune and are going to be glad to pick up the sequel for free, I wondered if those who are new to my work would be inclined to get the first book in the series at the same time if it was discounted. Here is the link for discounted Maids of Misfortune in the U.S. Kindle Store, and the U.K. Store.MAIDS_800x1200x72dpi

If you don’t own a Kindle, try the Kindle ap.

Meanwhile, if you love historical fiction, here is a list of the books that are free or discounted from the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative to which I belong. Check them out, and the other fine historical fiction ebooks by the Cooperative members.

Cheers!

M. Louisa Locke