#VaLoveFest 2016 at the Virginia Festival of the Book

With the fabulous Eloisa James! Squee!

Two weeks ago, I was privileged to attend the #VaLoveFest panels at the Virginia Festival of the Book, but couldn’t post until now because of an editing deadline. #AuthorProblems.

If you’ve never been to #VaLoveFest, mark your calendars for the next one (March 2017), because WOW do you ever get to see big names (Eloisa James and Maya Rodale, anyone?) and hear amazing insights into all aspects of romance.

Here are a few pictures and quick summaries from each session, for those not able to attend.

Panel 1: Series Writing: For Women, by Women, with Betsy Ashton, Ellen Butler, Avery Flynn, and Tracey Livesay

L to R: Avery Flynn, Betsy Ashton, Ellen Butler, panel moderator Kim Dalferes , and Tracey Livesay
L to R: Avery Flynn, Betsy Ashton, Ellen Butler, panel moderator Kim Dalferes, and Tracey Livesay.

Tracey Livesay on how she plans out a series (or doesn’t):

Betsy Ashton takes a highly organized approach:

Avery Flynn affirmed:

Ellen Butler sometimes writes more in a series because:

These women shared great insights about the joys and trials of series writing. And Avery Flynn summed up how many a writer feels upon completing a book with this gem:

Panel 2: It’s Raining Men, with Grace Burrowes, Cristin Harber, and Marliss Melton

Back row: Panel moderator Kimberly Kincaid and Grace Burrowes. Front row: Cristin Harber and Marliss Melton.

Grace Burrowes nailed the description of a romance novel hero:

And how does a romance author craft the perfect hero? Marliss Melton had this great tip:

Though we were talking men, it’s true every hero needs a heroine. So how does an author choose? Here’s what Cristin Harber had to say:

At the end of the panel, I think authors and audience agreed with Grace Burrowes‘ statement:

Panel 3: Screening of Romance Industry Documentary Love Between the Covers, followed by a talk with Eloisa James and Maya Rodale

Eloisa James and Maya Rodale talk the state of the romance industry following a screening of Love Between the Covers
Eloisa James and Maya Rodale talk the state of the romance industry following a screening of Love Between the Covers.

If you haven’t yet seen Love Between the CoversI highly recommend you seek out a screening. It’s a fabulous inside look at the romance industry; a celebration of a genre written largely for women, about women, and by women (though with male readership at 16% and rising, and an increase in gay romance, we’re not without our male counterparts!).

Both Eloisa and Maya agreed:

and that:

After the documentary, Eloisa and Maya graciously signed books, and I snapped a picture of Regency Royalty:

L to R: Regency romance authors Eloisa James, Joanna Bourne, Maya Rodale, Grace Burrowes, and #VaLoveFest organizer and Regency romance author, Sue London
L to R: Regency romance authors Eloisa James, Joanna Bourne, Maya Rodale, Grace Burrowes, and #VaLoveFest organizer and Regency romance author, Sue London.

Panel 4: Getting Published With Women’s Fiction & Romance, with Jenny Gardiner, Tracee Garner, and Linda Grimes

Tracee Garner, Linda Grimes, and Jenny Gardiner
L to R: Tracee Garner, Linda Grimes, and Jenny Gardiner.

Sunday, we turned our focus even more to the business side of books, discussing paths to publication in women’s fiction and romance.

Tracee Garner encouraged us:

Indie author Jenny Gardiner shared lots of great insight, including:

Traditionally-published author Linda Grimes acknowledged:

Regardless of which path one chooses, all three authors agreed:



We capped off the day with a Crime Wave and Romance Group Book Signing at Barnes & Noble. It was a marvelous weekend!


Thank you so much to all of the authors and panel moderators who gave so generously of their time, energy, and knowledge.

Thank you to #VaLoveFest organizer Sue London, for making it all happen.

And thank you to the Virginia Festival of the Book, for including us in the celebration of authors, readers, craft, and basically all things book!

With the charming Maya Rodale!
With the charming Maya Rodale!

2015: A Year of Giving Thanks, Meeting Romance Idols, & Making New Friends

2015 has been a very good year for me. I am so thankful. 

This year, I:


Eloisa James with Margaret Locke
The ever-charming Eloisa James and I.
The fabulous Sabrina Jeffries!
The fabulous Sabrina Jeffries!
With Pamela Morsi!
With Pamela Morsi!
With the gracious and knowledge-generous Valerie Bowman
With gracious & knowledge-generous Valerie Bowman.
With the exuberantly charming Cathy Maxwell.
Sue London getting silly at the West Virginia Book Festival
Sue London getting silly at the West Virginia Book Festival.


  • met a ton of new people, and, even more amazingly, new fans! I, little ol’ Margaret, now have fans. What, what? But, yes, I do, like the oh-so-fabulous Annie, who even had lunch with me when she was in town.
Annie is a riot, y'all, and we had so much fun at our far-too-brief lunch in October!
Annie is a riot, y’all, and we had so much fun at our far-too-brief lunch in October!
Long-time friends supported me, too, including my grade-school friend Heather, whose animals apparently also want to read A Matter of Time!
Long-time friends supported me, too, including my grade-school friend Heather, whose animals apparently also want to read A Matter of Time!
Some fans read my books out loud to their babies!
Some fans read my books out loud to their babies!
... While others forced their kids to do things like this!
… While others forced their kids to do things like this!
  • solidified relationships and friendships within my Shenandoah Valley Writers critique group and more, and basically surrounded myself with writer friends the whole year through.
Maggie and Rebekah helped me celebrate debut day!
Maggie and Rebekah helped me celebrate debut day!
And these fine characters cheered me on, critiqued my work, picked me up when I felt down, and celebrated my successes!
And these fine characters cheered me on, critiqued my work, picked me up when I felt down, and celebrated my successes!
  • had the loving support of my family, including my very own computer-science-professor-in-shining-armor husband, who read BOTH of my books, just to support me (and help me find typos). He’s that awesome of a guy.
My real-life romance hero.
My real-life romance hero.

Yes, it’s been a very good year. 

And I owe so much of that to you all.

  • Thank You Word CloudThank you to everyone who took a chance on A Man of Character (and now again on A Matter of Time!).
  • Thank you to the friends and family who’ve supported me, and the new readers who’ve picked up one of my books this year.
  • Thank you to the book bloggers and reviewers who graciously gave their time to review my books.
  • Thank you to Tessa Shapcott, my editor, for her invaluable guidance, and to Joy Lankshear, my cover designer and formatter, for making my books look better than I ever imagined they could.
  • Thank you to the fellow writers I’ve met on Facebook and Twitter, whose companionship brightens my day every day, and whose wisdom is lighting this crazy, twisting and turning path I’m on.
  • Thank you to the people who’ve liked my books enough to join my street team, Locke’s Flock, or to review them on Amazon or GoodReads, or even just to tell someone else about my books and/or me. All of those seemingly little things make a HUGE difference.

Simply put, I wouldn’t be here without you, and I wanted to express my gratitude as 2015 closes out and 2016 gets ready to begin.

What does the next year hold?

The West Virginia Book Festival – My Experiences as Author & Reader #wvbookfestival

AMOCSueLondonThis past weekend I was privileged to attend the West Virginia Book Festival in Charleston, WV, headlined by no less than Neil Gaiman, and featuring such spectacular author-speakers as Homer Hickam, Jodi Picoult, Jeff Shaara, and Jacqueline Woodson. The wonderful Jane Friedman also presented a seminar on self-publishing for authors, which I was thrilled to attend.

I wore dual hats for the two days of the festival – one as reader fangirl, and one as author. You see, fellow Virginia Romance Writer Sue London was there featuring her marvelous Haberdashers series, and she graciously allowed me to display A Man of Character in her booth. I even got to spend a few hours hanging around to sign copies for anyone who wished one (and to my utter delight, there were some people who did!). It was my first big book festival signing (I’ve been blessed to hold signings at the Artisan Galleries in Massanutten, but the two venues are quite different). I met several enthusiastic book aficionados, sold a few books, and several readers signed up for my newsletter – hooray!

Speaking of which, congratulations to Carla W. for winning a copy of A Man of Character! Maria G., Elizabeth S., Debbie S., and Holly W., thanks for signing up for my newsletter. Even though you didn’t win a book, I hope you’ll stick around to find out more about my books and me!

NeilGaimanI wasn’t alone in my adventures, either – luckily for me, fellow friends and Shenandoah Valley Writers Foy Iver and Rebekah Postupak were in attendance. After a delightful dinner together on Friday, we listened in awe as Neil Gaiman charmed the entire audience with his humor and insights, and even read us a story.

Saturday morning that reader hat was firmly fixed to my head as I hit the famed used book sale, and scooped up a rather insane number of romances for under $20. Woo hoo!

My camera was blurry, but who cares? Foy, Rebekah, and I still managed to ham it up for this silly selfie.

HomerHickamThen it was off to hear the charming Homer Hickam speak – he’s really quite entertaining and funny, and the stories he told about his folks were both amusing and touching. My favorite anecdote was when he talked about meeting Harper Lee. She appeared at an event at which he was scheduled to speak, where she said to him, “So I hear you wrote a classic?” “Yeah, that’s what they say,” he responded. “Your readers will never forgive you,” was her comment. Something about that struck a real chord in me – we do tend to associate an author of a famous book only with that book, and anything else they write likely pales in comparison, right?

JodiPicoultI missed Jeff Shaara and Jacqueline Woodson, as I was chatting with Sue at the romance booth while also meeting and greeting folks, but finished off the festival by listening to Jodi Picoult speak. It’s with great embarrassment I admit that I’ve only read one of her books — House Rules — but I have a number of friends who love her stories, and after hearing her talk about some of the subject matter and research methods for a few of her hard-hitting books, like 19 Minutes, many more of hers are on my list.

Book Festivals are fun, y’all. When I’m there, I truly sense I’m with my tribe, my people. I felt that both as a reader and as an author, and it makes me even more determined to get to RWA and any other romance festivals I can find — and has me anxiously awaiting the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville next spring.

Thank you, Sue, for allowing me to join your party!

Sue and her husband setting up shop. They are both so very warm and charming, y'all.
Sue and her husband setting up shop. They are both so very warm and charming, y’all.

Thank you, Charleston and West Virginia, for a fabulous weekend!


This photo doesn’t do the stunning scenery justice, but I have to admit, I literally whooped and hollered at the gorgeous fall foliage draped across the mountains.

Writer Wednesday: Meet Sue London

Sue LondonHoly cow, ladies and gents. Sue London has joined me today for Writer Wednesday. Yes, Sue London! *the crowd goes wild*

I’ve had the privilege of meeting Sue in person, as we’re both members of the Virginia Romance Writers, and she’s been a key figure in the romance panels of the Virginia Festival of the Book, which I’ve attended twice now (awesome; y’all should go next year).

She is a hoot, y’all. I hope you enjoy learning more about her and her fabulous books!

What inspires you to write?

Is it inspiration? There’s the underlying need. If I could get away with not writing I would probably avoid it because I’m terribly lazy. I’d rather watch tv and eat ice cream. But the need pushes. The ideas come. The stories. The emotions. Suddenly, without knowing quite why or how, something is scribbled inside a notebook or typed on a screen. It’s incomplete. Chaotic. But the need is satisfied. Is that the Muse? Is it inspiration? If so, it has no interest in a writing career. It would be happy enough scrawling on walls.

Along with the need, there is also for me the desire. I wanted to be an author from a very young age. But in the typical innocence of youth it was more something I wanted to be than something I wanted to do. As any published author can tell you, there is actually quite a lot of doing and very little being to be had.

You see, I’m caught between the two ideas in your question: “inspire” and “to write.” The thing (should we call it inspiration?) that gets me the “butt in chair” time that is critical to having written is actually obligation. Readers are waiting. A date has been set. A bill is going to need to be paid from the royalties that will result. Is that inspiration? If we use the definition of inspire “to influence or impel,” then yes, I suppose it is. But my ultimate answer isn’t nearly as soaring as the question implies.

Which type of romance do you love most, and why?

SueLondon_AthenasOrdeal_800px copyAs soon as I answer one thing I’ll get distracted down another path. Probably half of the romance books I own are historical? Probably. The rest are primarily contemporary with a salting of paranormal. But that’s genre and I don’t think it really answers the question, at least not for me.

I love romance that is hopeful. I far prefer comedy over drama. I want to believe in a better tomorrow and actively seek any information that promises me that. You can’t beat romance for Happily Ever After.

Name one interesting thing you learned in researching/writing your last book.

My last book was Saving Persephone and probably the most interesting thing (to me) was quite peripheral to the plot. It was listings of women who owned businesses in the early 19th century. I tracked a bunch of them down to ensure it was at least reasonable to say Imogen’s mother ran a shipping company. Based on Rebecca Pennock Lukens, who bought out and ran Brandywine Iron & Nail, I deem it reasonable. If you want to feel under-accomplished, just read about these ladies: Remarkable Women in Business History 

For my next book, Taming Chiron (out on August 25), I’ve had to research the history of science. THAT has proven to be quite a challenge.

Name two things people don’t know about you.

Well, but then they’ll know…

1. I was pretty good at Street Fighter back in the day, especially when I played Chun Li. In fact, I was good at more video games than you might expect for my g.p.a. and number of jobs I had in college. Ah, youth.

2. One of my first jobs was as an artist. You know those paintings and textiles you see in hotels and think “I wonder how many of those they ordered?” I did that stuff. Stack upon stack of mass reproduced modern ‘art’. Yes, in my teens I professionally dribbled paint.

What fellow romance author do you recommend reading, and why?

Oh, there are so many good ones that I would hate to leave anyone out! The classic that I’m enjoying catching up on is Georgette Heyer.

What one piece of advice do you wish you’d had when first starting out?

Shut up and write faster.

[ML: Ha ha, this cracks me up!]

What’s your favorite romance novel of all time, and why?

The Fortune Hunter by Diane Farr. There was a certain depth and gravity to both of the characters that appealed to me, overlaid with all the wit and fun of a comedy of errors.

A bit on Saving Persephone:

SueLondon_SavingPersephoneIn 1805, Robert Bittlesworth’s little sister and her two best friends decided to create a “boys club” because boys have more fun. Most protective older brothers would have discouraged such a thing. But Robert saw opportunity and began training them.

Robert Bittlesworth has worked tirelessly in the Home Office for years, managing intelligence in the war against Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna. He also executed a plan to have his father exiled. Now that plan backfires when one of his father’s cronies kidnaps the Haberdashers… and the first woman he has ever truly cared about.

Imogen Grant of Boston has traveled the world with her mother’s shipping company. She considers herself an exceptional judge of character, but she has never met anyone like Robert Bittlesworth. He is either the very best or the very worst man of her acquaintance. Can she decide which before she loses her heart?

Find Saving Persephone on Amazon.

Wanna connect with Sue?

Website: http://bysuelondon.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bysuelondon
GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4543060.Sue_London
Twitter: https://twitter.com/cmdrsue

Don’t you just love Writer Wednesday and getting to hang out with faboo authors like Sue? I do! Thanks for joining us, Sue! It was a pleasure.


#VALoveFest at the Virginia Festival of the Book

With Sabrina Jeffries!
With Sabrina Jeffries!

For the second year in a row, I was privileged to attend the Love Fest romance panels at the Virginia Festival of the Book (this year extended to two days, instead of just one – huzzah!).

Spending time in the company of romance authors and their fans is a hoot, y’all. Pretty much every author I’ve encountered has been delightful in person, and many of them have zany, witty, wildly entertaining personalities, as well. I love the romance community.

Day 1 of the VA Love fest was composed of three panels:

Bless Her Heart: Why We Love Quirky Southern Characters in Romance Fiction

Pamela Morsi, Terri Osburn, and Kieran Kramer

Pamela Morsi, Terri Osburn and Kieran Kramer discussed writing those quirky Southern characters we all love. I tweeted from the event (as my form of taking notes). One of my favorite tidbits was this one from Pamela Morsi: “If you’re writing fiction, you’re always writing in a small town, even if your story is set in London.”

They Lived Happily Enough for Now: Challenges in Writing Modern Fiction

Virginia Festival of the Book Love Fest Love for Now
L to R: Kimberly Kincaid, Tracey Livesay, Carey Heywood, Delancey Stewart

In the second panel of the day, panelists Kimberly Kincaid, Tracey Livesay, and Carey Heywood affirmed that contemporary romance plots often look to internal rather than external conflicts, because there are fewer external barriers now. Kimberly Kincaid reminded us that great conflict starts with great characters – and that flawed characters are the best characters, as long as there’s a reason for the flaws.

Wicked, Witchy, & Wonderful: Strong Heroines in Paranormal Romance & Urban Fantasy

Virginia Festival of the Book
L to R: Melissa Marr, Mary Behre, Jaye Wells, moderator Caryn Moya Block

Panelists Melissa Marr, Mary Behre, and Jaye Wells discussed kick-ass heroines during the final Saturday LoveFest panel, as well as gender(ed) issues often encountered in romance. Melissa Marr affirmed that she writes strong heroines to show boys and girls that girls are cool. Jaye Wells says she uses magic in her books as a metaphor for power, as a useful way of showing women that they have power, and helping them determine how to use it.

Day Two likewise had three panels:

LoveFest Workshop: “Screaming To Be Ignored” — Capturing the Reader’s Attention

Virginia Festival of the Book Love Fest Screaming to be Ignored
L to R: Moderator Kimberly Kincaid, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Terri Osburn, Mary Jo Putney, Joanna Bourne, Mary Burton

Day Two of the VA Love Fest moved from downtown Charlottesville to Barnes & Noble, where we gathered to hear writers’ reactions to submitted queries and/or sample pages. Joanna Bourne succinctly summed up what does and does not belong in a query (and reminded us that the best and simplest dialog tag really is “said”.). Other panelists included Rachel Kramer Bussel, Terri Osburn, Mary Jo Putney, and Mary Burton.

LoveFest Workshop: Q&A About the Romance Biz After Publishing

Virginia Festival of the Book Love Fest Romance Biz
L to R: Avery Flynn, Sabrina Jeffries, Mary Jo Putney, Mollie Cox Bryan, Mary Burton

Next up, published authors Avery Flynn, Sabrina Jeffries, Mary Jo Putney, Mollie Cox Bryan, and Mary Burton talked about changes on the publishing front, conceding that digital books have driven word counts down, and reflecting on whether the pressure to publish quickly is driving down quality, as well. Mary Jo Putney reminded us to always put the story first: “Do not sacrifice quality for quantity, for readers won’t buy your next book.” When asked whether they would go the traditional or indie route were they newbie authors starting out today, most said they would follow the hybrid model of doing both.

LoveFest Book Signing: Meet & Greet Romance Authors

With Pamela Morsi!
With Pamela Morsi!

We capped off the day with a delightful “Meet & Greet” session. I got my picture with Ms. Jeffries for the second year in a row (wahoo!), and also with the fabulous Pamela Morsi, and chatted with many more authors.

Thank you to the Virginia Romance Writers, the Washington Romance Writers, and Sue London for sponsoring this year’s panels.

I highly suggest you mark your calendars for next year’s Book Fest and join us at the romance panels. It’s worth it!