03 Jul Interview with Tamera Alexander
Tamera Alexander is a bestselling novelist whose works have been awarded and nominated for numerous industry-leading honors, including the Christy Award, the RITA Award, and the Carol Award. After seventeen years in Colorado, Tamera and her husband have returned to their native South and live in Nashville, Tennessee, where they enjoy spending time with their two grown children, and a ten pound silky terrier named Jack.
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EASLEY: This is Michael Easley inContext. Welcome to the broadcast today.We’re here today with Tamera Alexander in studio. Thanks for coming in today.
ALEXANDER: Thank you for having me. It’s nice to be here.
E: It’s a delight to have you. Tamera is the USA Today bestselling author of Rekindled Revealed and Remembered, the critically acclaimed Fountain Creek Chronicles historical series with Bethany House Publishers. Her second series, Timber Ridge Reflections (From a Distance, Beyond This Moment, and Within My Heart) continue her signature style of drawing thought provoking characters into poignant settings.
Tamera, you started out writing because you were driving one day with your husband and..?
A: We were coming back from Texas from a road trip. I’ve always loved reading, but his mother had given me a copy of a book. I had kind of looked at it, didn’t care for it, didn’t care for the cover. But I did finally come around and read that novel. Oddly enough, it was after Claudette, my mother in law, had passed away very suddenly of an aneurism. Two or three months after that, I happened across that book, and she had asked me while she was alive, “Have you read it? Because I think you will actually love it.” I never had, judging it by the cover. I sat down though, shortly after she had passed, I ran across the book and absolutely loved it. It was a simple book, Michael. It was Love Come Softly, by Janette Oke and people might have seen the hallmark movie now because that’s pretty popular. I loved it. It showed me after all or my years of being raised as a student of the Word and been into the Bible through BSF, and Precepts, this simple love story gave me a view of God’s unconditional love, a hands on application type, that just really moved me. So I started reading everything Christian Fiction I could find, which back then was like two shelves. It was really not around then, this is 1995. Skip ahead two years later, and Joe and I are driving on a road trip back from Texas and I finished the novel and I said, “I think I could write one of these. I think I could.” I’m a Business major, Business, Marketing and Management, but I always loved stories. What are the odds of this happening? Probably not very good. But how will I ever know if I don’t try? So I sat down, it’s a dark and stormy night, Snoopy’s at the typewriter. Eventually after my first book was rejected and then I kind of put that one in the drawer, so to speak.
E: How did your first rejection letter feel?
A: It felt like a kick in the gut in a certain sense. So when that rejection came, that old voice, kind of rose up inside and said, “See, see.”
E: Sure, sure.
A: But thank God through those years, He had put people in my life and I’d been to counselors and sought counseling for that and He had healed me of so much of that and really I was able to differentiate between that voice and really what the truth was.
And honestly the truth was, I had gotten to the third round of the pub board, as they call it, the Publishing board before it was finally rejected.
E: That’s pretty big.
A: I thought, “Wait, I got to the third round. I got a long way on the, “Hey, what if I tried this?” And so then I thought, “What if I go back and really try to learn about writing, and how to craft a novel and learn how to write? So that love of story then kind of kept me at it and so I took another two years still working outside the home, doing the soccer mom thing at this time, but my hours to write were 2pm-2am.
A: That was life. I was raising a family so after the kids went down, that was kind of my time and I could run on less sleep in those years, not quite as little anymore, but I could do that then. So for the next two years, then I wrote the next book, which would be “Rekindled” which is my first published book.
E: Now, let’s go back to your business and marketing training, so you’ve got a paint by numbers approach. If I do this, then this will follow.
A: Right, and that does not work well in writing a novel. Now, there are novelists, who are plotters, as we call them and then there are seat of the pantsers. I think my mentors were, I know they were. They were seat of the pantsers, you know the mentors, the writers, that I connected with early on. But yet everything else about my personality, about my approach to things, business approach, is very analytical. I love lists, planning, all that kind of stuff. And what I did all those years, before I started writing was corporate conference coordination. For five and six thousand people; I can coordinate a conference with one hand tied behind my back, I’m just wired that way. But writing,
E: Type A.
A: Yes, writing has me gripping the wheel in fear. Truly, I still sometimes sit and look at the laptop and think, “I do not know what I’m doing? Do I really know what I’m doing?”
E: That’s a spiritual life lesson for all of us because I think we have certain strengths in our wheelhouse we feel comfortable in, but when we step out into something else, maybe it’s “by faith,” maybe it’s because we’re taking a risk. It doesn’t work the way, that thing we have confidence in tends to work.
A: And that’s so true. At this time of my life, Joe and I were in a church in Colorado, and I remember we had been looking for a study to do on Wednesday nights, and we had decided on Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God, and one of the tenants, the seven tenants in that was God is going to lead you to do something. If it is from God, He is going to lead you to do something that you’re going to think, “There is no way I can do this.” And you’ll be right. There is no way you can do this without Him in you. That’s what God keeps reminding me,in the novel writing process, “You know, you’re right, you cannot do this without me, and craft the stories that I want you to craft.”
I’m anywhere from thirteen months to write a book. My publishers would like them a little faster than that, but I’m just a slow writer and the books are long. They’re longer and chalked full of the Tennessee history and that type of stuff.
E: Let’s talk about historical fiction because there are those of us that like novels and maybe we don’t even differentiate between history books, and historical fictional, and pure fiction. Tell us a little bit about how you approach something from a historical fiction grid.
A: Very good. I love history and I would pick up a history book. I just devour history books. I love historical fiction in that and some historical fiction more than others, and I’ll use my own books as examples. My first seven books are based in Colorado territory, against a real Colorado history, in that virgining in the land, and the growth, the mining towns, the ranches and all that kind of stuff, but it doesn’t necessarily have real people who lived back there, so it’s against a backdrop of history where the Antebellum novels that I’m writing right now, or Antebellum Mansion novels, Belle Meade and Belmont, they are against real backgrounds, real houses, and real people who lived, populate the novels. So to me both of those are historical fiction, but one of them is historical fiction taking it a lot closer to history and a lot harder to write because you are dealing with real personalities and real history that’s not bendable.
E: You don’t want to be a revisionist?
A: No, no you want to write the truth, and yet you’re writing a fictional story on top of that.
E: Because you don’t know all the details.
A: Yeah, and honestly people don’t read historical fiction to read history per se. My readers always tell me, “I love reading your books because I learn so much history.” But they may not be the type of person who, most people are not going to say, “I’d love to read a history book.”
E: When you write, are you writing for a woman reader?
A: My target market is largely women. I do get some men and they say they are fans of Louis L’Amour. They have long been Louis L’Amour readers and they will pick up a book. They say they won’t read it on a plane because of the cover, which that doesn’t bother me at all. I totally understand.
E: That’s what brown paper bags are for,right? To cover your book.
A: Or now we have kindles so it doesn’t matter.
E: There you have it. Now, you’ve got a new book, Beauty so Rare. You’ve got a beautiful website at Tameraalexander.com. Let’s hear a little bit of the YouTube piece, promo piece, that’s done very well on your sight.
E: So your books, this one included, have set up kind of a cottage industry for these mansions, fans they want to come see?
A: They have. And that is very rewarding as a writer and as a lover of history, people have never heard of the bought mansion or the Belmont Mansion or the Belle Meade Plantation so they make sojourns, reader sojourns. As a matter of fact, I’ll often meet ten, sometimes thirty women, who have come on a girls weekend out from somewhere, and I’ll meet them at the mansion at ten o’clock on a Saturday morning and we’ll tour the mansion. Both of the mansions now have set up what we call the novel tour, meaning say for Belle Meade. If you’ve read the Belle Meade novel then you just call and say, “I want that tour” and they’ll give you the regular tour, but they’ll also give you an extra fifteen or twenty minutes of some behind the scenes, like the old harden cabin, and there’s a certain portion of the mansion that is offices, that are offices now. They were used at that time, they were used in the novels. So readers love that kind of stuff and I love that they love going to those places. Keeping history alive, that’s great.
E: My wife dragged me up to Prince Edward Island a number of years ago and they had grown up with the Anne of Green Gables books, the VHS. We go to this place, and I’ve never read it, I’ve watched a couple of the episodes. And I was like, “Wait a minute, this is all fiction. There’s not even one historical fact here. The place is a fake.”
A: We’re kindred spirits. It’s fake. You’re like, “Where’s the statue of Anne?”
E: Totally, totally. She didn’t live in that room? So now we’re talking about Belle Meade and Belmont: these are real mansions. These are real lives. Bring in your perspective on the spiritual aspects of this. So these are great stories about people, oh by the way, or…
A: So for me, they are spiritual journeys, and whenever I write, it’s a form of worship. It’s a form of my worship. Worship is not just Sunday morning as we all know. Worship is everything we do. Writing is most definitely a form of worship for me and, God as I’m writing, He takes me on these journeys. My husband will often come to the office, he’ll open the door and he’ll start to ask a questions and “You’re either very intense or sometimes you’re crying.” These characters, these journeys, are very real to me and for the first Belmont Mansion novel, A Lasting Impression, that was all about authenticity. All of my novels have started from a question that I’m wrestling with, all but one. In my very first one, I dreamed of the opening sequence, as is in yet that opening sequence in Rekindled. But all the others have come from a question I’m dealing with, or a struggle in my faith walk. A Lasting Impression really explores the question of authenticity. What does it mean to be authentic in your faith? Authentic with others? Authentic with yourself? What does that mean? As a novelist, you take that and then you really need to juxtapose it with the actual history and Adelicia Acklen was the richest woman in America in the 1860’s. A lot of people don’t know that and she loved all of that, and she loved all of the art, but she loved original things. Then I thought, “Ok, just as a novelist you play the what if question. What if then, this struggle of authenticity was going on in my life, and just within myself.” I thought, “Alright, what if you have a forger, who suddenly finds her way into Adelicia’s house. So that’s to me is kind of how the spiritual journey and the fiction and then God just weaves it in ways that I, you know. I wish I could be more of a plotter, as we call a plotter, and I’ve tried, but I tell writers you know for me I know that, “Just picture we’re in a car at night and your lights are on and I can see about as far from here as there, now I always know my destination. Always. Whenever I start a book, I know where I’m going to end up.
E: You have an end in mind?
A: I do not necessarily know how I’m going to get there, which keeps writing fresh and keeps me wanting to keep writing because I think if I knew everything, every point along the way, it might get a little old.
E: Fill in the blank.
Jerry Jenkins, who is a dear friend, says he “Often writes to deadline.” He says, he “Puts himself in a chair and he writes so many pages to Friday before he goes home. Well, what’s your experience? What would you say? You find more writers where they get in this creative mode and they just go crazy, or do they write to deadline?
A: If you are a contracted author, I think you write to deadline. I think you have to. You can’t wait until the muse strikes. I am a great procrastinator. I can procrastinate simply because, you’ll think, “Ok.” and you’ll kind of fool yourself into thinking, “I’ll think about the stories as I’m doing this” but really you just need to get your butt in the chair and just write. And having written, is the greatest thing ever. Writing is just flat work.
A: Its not fun. People think, “Don’t you just love it?”
E: But there are times, there are times. When you are coming together….
A: Yes, there are moments, epiphany moments when everything comes together, the stars aline. Those are the moments that honestly, just makes it all worth it, and in the moments once the book gets out that readers they will connect with characters.
E: Yes, I want to come back to your feedback, but I want to talk about the artist in you and in others, because there seems to be that, I love the way you describe it, that muse, but it’s a lot of hard work. Whether you are a songwriter; whether you’re a lyricist; whether you’re an author, or writing a biography that’s based purely on fact and not historical fiction or not a fictitious approach, it’s work.
A: It is. It is work. It’s something you really have to be determined to do. You have to be a self motivator, even on deadline, you’ve just got to keep it in the chair and have a set amount of words per day if that’s how you work, or scenes, or whatever it is, and really stay at it. There’s really no other way around that. Now, you can do things that will inspire you. Sometimes, when I was first starting out, I used to say,”Ok, I’m going to sit here until I get it done.” If I sat there for twenty or thirty minutes and I’m literally stuck, I get up and move.
E: Take a break.
A: I get up and move. I don’t start cleaning. I’ll tend to just go. I’ll go up on the treadmill, and just even for fifteen or twenty minutes walking, or go outside if it’s nice; Movement helps, washing dishes, or driving a car. I don’t know what it is that ….
E: Clears your mind.
A: Yeah, it does. It clears the block. Then it’ll come, and then reading history, going back and reading accounts, reading autobiographies, or biographies. Yeah, it’s wonderful.
E: I think that’s the hardest part of any budding actor, or artist, writer is that they see a romantic end out there. It’d be great to be a writer; it’d be great to be a musician, or songwriter, but they don’t realize that there are very few, and it’s the first time a wonder hit. It’s a lot of labor, and a lot of sweat, and a lot on the floor.
A: It is and it’s a lot of self doubt and this is coming from, like I said, I could coordinate conferences. I’m very confident in that part of my life, but writing often has me not so.
E: Do you see a difference between someone criticizing an event you organized, versus criticizing a book you wrote?
A: It’s a lot harder. That book is far more personal.
E: It’s a piece of you.
A: I’m a little bit different than some of my other author buddies. I was speaking in West Virginia not long ago and we were on a panel and they said, “Is the book your baby?” I said, “You know I’ve got two babies. Books are not my babies, books are products. I know that from the very start, but they’re in the products of my heart, but still they are a product that is going to be sold. It is a commodity. The next two writers got up behind me and said, “No, they’re my babies.” I was like, “Oh, are you kidding. You are killing me. You are killing me.
It is much harder to have a book criticized,however, Michael, I’ll be honest. It has gotten less so, the more novels you write. I stopped reading reviews a long time. I don’t read my reviews online. If anybody sends me, I read every reader letter, everything that comes directly to me. I don’t go out to Amazon and read all the reviews, however, my husband Jo does. He’ll sometimes give me a really great one, or he’ll sometimes give me this one that is just horrible.
E: So it becomes humor?
A: Yes, because everybody has an opinion. Everybody does. I decided long ago that I want to write for an audience of one. I want to write for Him, and do my best, and take that constructive criticism when it comes from your editors. Then you have to give the best from where you are right then, but then you let it go and know that if you had three more years to work on this novel, yeah, it might be better, but you need to do it and get it done.
E: At some point, you’ve got to stop.
A: Yeah, and then do the next one, and learn and grow.
E: From writing as an author in your own experiences as well, obviously what? One in three women in your audience have probably been abused at some fashion or form as a child, or young girl? Obviously, that’s a part of your story as well as many women’s’ stories. That’s got to fit in there somewhere?
A: Actually, it does and I kind of didn’t see it coming as I was writing my second novel Revealed. It’s a reformed prostitute story and I thought through all of my years that I had dealt with a lot of that stuff. I had in a sense, but one thing I’ve learned is that when it impacts your life, it really becomes part of who you are, just like you have a scar and you cut your hand and you carry the scar until we get those new heavenly bodies. It’s the same things here. You still remember the incidents, but God uses those to heal others. I got a ton of reader mail after that book Revealed saying,“You know you never say that you were in the book, but the way that you have describe scenes from the emotional, from the heroine, from the female protagonist point of view, you had to have been.” That opened the dialogue there. I just didn’t realize it was that transparent, but apparently it was and I’m really glad that we were able to dialogue on that and I’ve spoken on that several times, but yeah that’s something unfortunately that is extremely prevalent.
E: What’s the difference, Tamera, between and it’s not just specifically women who’ve been hurt, but people, who’ve gone through some devastating injuries, some deep scars, in your estimation the difference between those who process through it, you never get over it, but you heal to a measure and you live as oppose to those who don’t?
A: Well, that’s a big question. I think the main thing has got to be and there’s just one word that comes in my life is surrender. You’ve really got to accept the sovereignty of God. Nothing filters into my life that doesn’t first filter through the loving hands of my Heavenly Father. Nothing touches my life that doesn’t first filter through His hands. He’s either sovereign or He’s not. He knew when that man walked into the bedroom repeatedly. God saw it. God allowed it. You look at the painful things that kids are going through now a days, and you think, “If I were God, I would stop it.” So, I think it’s the surrender to God’s sovereignty and knowing that it’s not just this pathetic surrender of “Ok, this happened.” But it’s kind of like remember in the Old Testament, the hate with which he hated her, was greater than the love..
E: The Rape of Tamar.
A: Yes, the Rape of Tamar was greater than the love with which he had loved her. The pain that comes from the experience, the joy on the other side of God’s healing and then not just that healing is good, but what is really the most is the healing, that then that pain brings healing to others. That’s the greatest joy. Honestly, when I think of that part of my life, I think, “That’s the greatest joy is helping others come to healing.” For me it’s a surrender to God’s sovereignty and realizing there’s really bad stuff that happens in this life, and we’re promised trouble in this life. Jesus said that, but take heart, but I’ve overcome the world. We’re promised, we read in Matthew today in my BFS group, every Wednesday; we’re promised, when Jesus said, If you give up anything in this life, you’ll get it back one hundred fold. But look over in Mark in that same passage, two little words, And persecution. You’ll get all this and persecution. So to think that we should get through this life unscathed and everything, this world is not our home.
E: That’s a romance novel.
A: That’s a secular romance novel.
E: Yeah, that’s a secular romance novel.
A: That everything has a happy ending, and everybodies great. But part of that is that’s our refinement, that’s where we’re going to have the faith that shines like gold.
E: We’re a fallen people and a fallen context waiting for someone to restore and it takes a long time because I’ve learned that lesson. We have had the pleasure of having Tamera Alexander on the broadcast today. You can find out more about her at Tameraalexander.com. You can see all of her books online. They’ve got some fabulous youTube clips, stories behind the stories. I encourage you to visit there. Tamera, thank you so much for coming by today.
A: Thank you so much for having me. Thanks!
E: Hope you’ll join us on the next broadcast. This is Michael Easley inContext.