A mother of two grown children, award-winning inspirational romance author Tamera Alexander navigated the corporate world before she began writing full time. Tamera is the author of eight novels, and her home near Nashville gives her great access to the history surrounding Belmont Mansion, the setting of her current series. A Lasting Impression, her eighth book and the first in this new series, came out in November.
Serena: Welcome, Tamera! Your novels are consistently nominated for awards in the inspirational market. Do you have any plans to cross over into the general market?
Tamera: I'd love for my novels to "cross over" into the general market, so to speak, and to be placed alongside other general market historical fiction on the shelves, but that's really the call of the individual bookseller. And going "general market" wouldn't change what I write. I write historical fiction/romance novels from a Christian worldview because I'm a writer who's a believer in Christ. Reader's consistently tell me that they appreciate the "subtle" faith thread in my novels, and I appreciate the same in what I read as well.
People read novels to be swept away into another world and to take journeys vicariously through the characters in those stories, not to hear a sermon. Authentic spiritual growth must stem from the character's choices and mistakes, from their character arc and journey. It must be organic. In the end, I always take steps closer to Christ as I write, and my greatest hope is that readers will do the same as they read.
Serena: What does a typical writing day look like for Tamera Alexander?
Tamera: I typically check e-mail and work on the administrative and marketing side of writing for the first couple of hours then dive into writing. I'm definitely writing no later than 10a.m. But my most productive hours to write tend to be 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., so my schedule varies, which is a great thing about writing. But it also demands discipline, too. Deadlines sneak up faster than Christmas!
Serena: Your favorite activity to indulge in on a day off is ...
Tamera: I love, love, love going to movies, and I don't mind going by myself either. I typically skip the popcorn but always grab a drink. And sometimes I indulge in DOTS. (I know … but I love them.) Something else I love doing, but don't do often enough, is antique shopping. Finding those neat little off-the-beaten-path antique shops and scouting out something old (but new to me) to treasure.
Serena: When you're on a deadline or stuck in your writing what helps push you through "the wall"? Music? Snacks?
Tamera: I love Adele, Mandisa, Alison Krauss, The Band Perry, Taylor Swift, Brad Paisley, Downhere, etc. … so my music tastes vary, but when I'm stuck I usually go for a walk or head upstairs to the elliptical. I used to make myself sit there at my desk and stare at the blinking cursor until something came to mind, but I've learned how self-defeating that is for me. So, like the Sundance Kid (in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) who said, "I'm better when I move," I've found that I am, too. Movement tends to break the bottleneck and feed the muse.
About snacks: I rarely eat at my desk and if I do, then it's a controlled portion. No "whole bags" of anything because the bag will be gone and I'll be thinking, "Who ate all those Peanut M&Ms?"
Serena: You've written two other trilogy series, but since your protagonists in A Lasting Impression got their Happy Ever After, it makes me wonder if the next books will move us forward (or backward) in time to introduce new characters. Any details you can share without risking a spoiler?
Tamera: The three novels in the Belmont Mansion series – A Lasting Impression being the first – will be far more "stand-alone" in nature than my previous series in order to capture more of the real history surrounding the mansion. We'll see glimpses of characters from previous books, of course, but each novel will have a new male and female protagonist. And, of course, Adelicia Acklen will be in all of them. She wouldn't have it any other way.
Serena: From reading the novel it is clear that you have a fondness for Belmont's history, as well as its famously controversial Lady Adelicia Acklen. What was the most surprising thing you learned in the course of your research for this novel?
Tamera: Two things immediately come to mind. Though, being a student of history, I can't say the issues were "surprising" to me. The first pertains to the inequality between the sexes. As a widow, Mrs. Adelicia Acklen (mistress of Belmont) could sign her own legal documents. But once she remarried, she had to have her husband sign her court papers for her, even though she had a marriage contract stating that all the property she brought into the marriage would remain hers.
The second issue is much graver – that of slavery and the recently emancipated slaves. Writing about this topic always brings a deep sense of unrest. As well it should. And that unrest only escalates when one realizes that global slave trading is even more prevalent today than it was back then. To quote Not for Sale by David Batstone (2010), "More slaves live in bondage today than were bartered during the four centuries of trans-Atlantic slave trade." And the majority of these today are children. It's heartbreaking.
Serena: If Adelicia Acklen stepped out onto her balcony to survey the modern landscape, what do you think her impression of what Belmont has become, and of Nashville in general, would be?
Tamera: Adelicia was a forward-thinking woman, but she was also a woman of the Victorian era who worked to "color within the lines" of propriety while also working to get what she wanted and to keep what was hers. She was fiercely loyal to family, appreciated her privacy, and most definitely enjoyed the finer things of life. I think she would be amazed at the growth of the city of Nashville since her passing in 1887, but I also think she'd be quite disapproving of the manner in which society as a whole has declined in relation to morality and ethics. Of course, you have to balance this with the fact that she owned slaves. Social norms often blind us to our own inequities and injustices, don't they?
Serena: How do you think she would react when she saw the modern skyline of downtown Nashville (especially the "BAT TOWER" – LOL)?
Tamera: Great question! Understanding how much Adelicia loved the centuries-old cathedrals and castles of Europe, I have a feeling she might be slightly less impressed with Nashville's infamous Bat Tower. However, understanding how she loved to shop (and she did!), I think she'd highlyapprove of Nashville's new Nordstrom.
Serena: I've heard it rumored that at one time there were tunnels beneath the gardens at Belmont – and some that may still be in use by the university's maintenance staff. Did you "unearth" any truth to these rumors?
Tamera: I'm actually working to "unearth" those rumors now, for the second Belmont novel. So let's just say that where there's smoke, there's fire. And I'll also add: I definitely do NOT like cramped, dark spaces!
Serena: Claire, the protagonist in A Lasting Impression, is an artist who can identify certain artists' work on sight. Are you also an artist or art aficionado?
Tamera: I wish. I love art, always have. But winning at Pictionary is my greatest claim to fame in the drawing sense. And that's being generous.
Serena: Have you developed any new artistic interests or hobbies as a result of research you've done for this (or any other) novel?
Tamera: I fell in love with the five statues Adelicia purchased on her Grand Tour of Europe in 1866, along with the artists of that period as I researched the history of the Belmont Mansion. I had a similar experience with the history of photography as I wrote From a Distance (part of the Timber Ridge Reflections series), which chronicles the journey of the first female photojournalist in America and how she set west with her glass plates and chemicals to capture the beauty of the Rocky Mountains in 1870s Colorado – something unheard of for a woman at that time. The story in From a Distance is based largely in the early history of women who served as pioneers in the field of photography in America.
Each book in the three-book Timber Ridge Reflections series all deal with "women firsts" in America (first female photojournalist, first female college professor, and first female rancher in Colorado).
Serena: Would you care to share a favorite line or scene that didn't make the cut for your final draft?
Tamera: Understanding that I cut almost 20,000 words from the final manuscript, you'd think something would immediately come to mind. But it doesn't. I can tell you that I usually don't lose "whole scenes" in a rewrite. But I DO pare them down considerably.
Serena: In the Author's Notes at the end of the novel, you mention a kinship with Claire's hard-won conviction that she would continue to paint even if God were the only one for whom she would ever paint. Are there any specific practices (or people) you include in your writing life to help keep pride at bay?
Tamera: In September, I co-taught at the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference (ACFW.com) with my writing critique partner Deborah Raney, and I was asked a similar question. Oddly enough, "pride in writing" is not an issue for me. On the contrary, the stories that finally make it to the printed page of my books don't ever seem to be as good as the story that was "inside of me," if that makes any sense. Which always leaves me wanting to do better the next time and to make the next book better than the last.
I've written eight novels so far and, while they've garnered industry acclaim, I realize I'm still very much an apprentice at this craft and have a lot yet to learn. But that's part of the joy of writing. AND the frustration (smile).
Serena: Who are the contemporary authors whom you most esteem? And why?
Tamera: I'd rather not name specific authors I esteem most since there are too many to list. That said, I greatly appreciate the talent of Francine Rivers (especially her Redeeming Love) and I adored Kathryn Stockett'sThe Help. Incidentally, The Help audio book is the best audio book I've ever listened to. It's fabulous! I found Randy Alcorn's Safely Home to be a life-changing novel, and The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis is an annual read for me and has been since college days.
Serena: How do you feel about the future of the print book and traditional publishing?
Tamera: The only thing I'm certain about is that nothing in today's publishing world is certain, and that challenges (and thereforeopportunities) abound. I believe readers will continue to want to read and that there will be plenty of choices out there for them, but the venues through which we buy books (and find the authors we like – which is huge) has changed. And continues to, daily, it seems. It's definitely an exciting time to be in publishing!
Serena: What are you most thankful for this year?
Tamera: For the hope found only in Christ. And for family and friends. Always, always.
Serena: The holidays are approaching – does your family have any literary-inspired or unique traditions?
Tamera: I love the holiday season and the opportunities it brings to spend extra time with family and friends. I always look forward to Christmas Eve; even as a child that was a favorite time. On Christmas Eve we'll attend one of the candlelight services at church, which is always meaningful. Then we'll head home to enjoy a pot of chili and a pan of cinnamon rolls warm from the oven before diving in to play cards and then maybe watch a movie. We just enjoy being together. Oh! And we'll open gifts. We traditionally do that on Christmas Eve.
Serena: Anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
Tamera: I enjoy keeping in touch with readers so if you've read A Lasting Impression or another of my books, I'd l love to hear from you (email@example.com). We can also stay connected via my website (http://www.tameraalexander.com/), Twitter (@tameraalexander), and Facebook. I also host monthly giveaways on my website. No catch. Just enter for a chance to win free autographed books. It's my way of saying thanks!
(this interview originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)