Today I ran across a blog post that asked, "If you had to choose between teaching and writing, which career would you pick?" The question was obviously of interest to me, since I've had careers in both, but I was particularly intrigued by one of the responses to that question. It was written by another college professor turned historical fiction author and self-publisher. So here, with her permission, is Mary Lou Locke's answer. I've abbreviated it slightly from her original post, but you can read the whole article here.
"A few years back, probably one day while I was slowly making my way through a stack of midterm essays I was grading (my least favorite part of teaching), I started to add up all the students I had taught over my more than 30 years of teaching, and I came up with the startling figure of 10,000. 10,000 separate college freshmen, who had sat in one of my US history and US women’s history classes over the years. . . . short, in my career as a college professor, I had gotten the chance, and even sometimes succeeded, in both entertaining and teaching over 10,000 students.
"But it took me nearly thirty-five years to reach that number of people.
"It took me only a year and half to reach an equal number of people through the publication and sale of my historical mystery, Maids of Misfortune.
"As I have written before, I first came up with the plot of Maids of Misfortune while working on my history doctoral dissertation. I had been working for four years researching and writing a 375-page manuscript entitled, ‘Like a Machine or an Animal’: Working Women of the Late Nineteenth-Century Urban Far West, San Francisco, Portland, and Los Angeles, and I knew, even if I was fortunate enough to ever get it published (I wasn’t) that at the most, if it was a real winner and history professors decided to assign it to their graduate students, fewer than 500 people would ever actually read it.
"It was then I became intrigued by the idea of using a mystery series, as Ellis Peters was doing in her Brother Cadfael series, to show readers what life was like for a specific group of people, who lived in a particular historical time and place, in my case–women who worked in late 19th century San Francisco. I wanted to tell these women’s stories, make their lives real, and do it in a way that also entertained. That was my dream. So, when people who have read Maids of Misfortune consistently comment on how well I portrayed Victorian San Francisco, how they had never thought about how difficult a servant’s life could be, how interesting it was to see how an independent woman maneuvered through the social mores of the nineteenth century, and how they can’t wait for the sequel, I smile, my dream finally realized.
"10,000 people have bought Maids of Misfortune. And I didn’t have to grade a single essay."