Aside: I came back from Europe with the Mother of all Head Colds. Have spent all week wandering around in a drug-induced haze . . . sigh. Can’t wait until this bug runs its course . . .
Two years ago, at the convention formerly known as CBA, I roomed with Robin Lee Hatcher. She asked if I minded if a friend of hers dropped in for a couple of nights. Of course I didn’t mind, and that’s how I met Tammy Alexander, who dropped in with her curling iron and charmed her way into my heart.
Shortly after that, Tammy had her first book published . . . and her second and third. She’s a wonderful writer and I wanted you to know about her series and her newest release, Remembered.
Q: Hey Tammy, thanks for joining us. I’ve only given a slice of your history, so tell us a bit about yourself and your writing.
A: I’ve always loved writing and dreamed of being a writer when younger, but never thought I had any talent at it. So I tucked it away…until God unearthed it again a few years back.
The first novel I wrote in 1999 is one I targeted specifically for Bethany House and their historical line. It got to the final review board but then was ultimately “passed over” in early 2002. There were problems in that novel and in my writing that I needed to work on, so they were right to let that one slip through their fingers! After that experience, I realized that if I was going to have a good shot at this publishing thing, I needed to get serious about learning the craft and addressing the weaknesses in my writing.
I joined American Christian Fiction Writers (www.americanchristianfictionwriters.com), and began dissecting novels—books that I’d loved and read multiple times—with the goal of finding out what made them ‘tick’ for me. I prayed that God would bring people into my life who would help me become a better writer by telling me what I needed to change, how I needed to grow. And He did. I’m so thankful for those writing partnerships.
Q: It’s an old question, but I’ll ask it anyway. Where do you get your ideas?
A: I see stories in most everything around me — news headlines, snatches of conversations I may overhear, scriptures that hit me in a new and fresh way, and in music. Just the other day I heard a new song from a favorite artist of mine (Alison Krauss) and it prompted me to thinking about a subplot that I could write into the book I’m working on now. You just never know where story ideas will spring from!
My motivation behind Remembered was a trip to Paris that my husband and I took in May 2006. I “met” Veronique Girard (figuratively, of course) in a cemetery in northern Paris, and as Joe and I strolled the old cobbled walkway of Cemetery Montmartre, this young woman (the daughter of a French Fur Trapper from the 1840s) came alive for me. And….the first scene in Remembered is set in that very cemetery.
Q: Oh, I LOVE Allison Krauss! Haven’t gotten an idea from one of her songs, though . . . yet. What is the best historical novel you’ve ever read and why?
A: Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. It changed the way I view God and his love for me. Never before have I ever seen his unconditional love so clearly.
Q: I love that one, too. Can’t read a chapter without crying. Did you have any experiences that prompted your love of fiction and historical fiction in particular?
A: As far back as I can remember I’ve loved history. When I was nine years old my family took a trip to Europe. It was a fabulous experience, even though there were eight—yes eight!—of us (four adults and four kids) touring Germany, Holland, and Switzerland in a Volkswagen Bug (I rode in the cubby hole in the back and ‘fake smoked’ bubblegum cigarettes, remember those?). Touring the castles in Germany was a defining moment for me, though I didn’t know it then.
I remember standing in one particular castle on the Rhine River, touching the stone walls, and thinking to myself that I wished I could know the lives and details of the people who had lived there. When I was older I read a ton of Regencies, and when I studied American History in high school, I fell in love with the American Frontier 1840-1880s. And the rest, as they say, is history!
Q: How much time does it take to research your stories – what balance would you say there is between research and actual writing?
A: I research for four to five months before starting my novel and often start researching my next book (reading at night) while I’m writing the current one. Which isn’t confusing because right now my books are based in Colorado Territory 1860s-1870s. I’ve been told that a writer should research a ton, and then put about 1% of the research in their books. I’m not sure about the accuracy of that percentage but I do know that in a final edit I’ve often removed interesting historical facts (well, I thought they were interesting, LOL) because they didn’t serve to advance the story. And if something doesn’t serve the story, it must go!
Q: Yes, indeedy. Describe for us, if you will, your writing style, as in plotter vs. seat of the pants, and do you put more time into developing characters or plot or are they equal?
A: I’m more of a seat of the pants gal. I know where I’m starting and the general direction of where I’m going. I most always have the last scene of the book clearly in my mind at the outset, or else very soon thereafter, as well as all the plots and sub-plots. I write historical fiction/romance which is typically more character driven but my love for suspense keeps the plot moving at quick pace too. I love both the external and internal twists and turns.
Q: Was there a person who inspired you to write?
A: Several people, some of whom I’ve never met (other writers), have inspired me to write. But one person whom I did know and who influenced me in a lasting way was my 7th grade teacher, Miss Debra Ackey of Idlewood Elementary School in Tucker, Georgia. In fact, I dedicated my second book, Revealed, to her with hopes that a copy of that book will some day find its way into her hands. I’ve contacted the school where she taught and I attended, but they have no record of her current whereabouts today.
Debra Ackey encouraged my writing in what proved to be a very difficult time in my life. I was sexually abused as a young girl (my perpetrator was not someone from my immediate family nor a blood relation), and I was dealing with a lot of guilt, doubt, and repressed anger during those years. Writing served as an outlet for me. Looking back the stories and poems I wrote during those years, it’s easy to see that I was obsessed with death, and the source of those feelings isn’t hard to understand.
With God’s strength and mercy, I’ve long forgiven the person who abused me, and I’ve thanked God often for placing Miss Ackey in my life at that time. She read so many (what I’m certain were) horrible poems on death and dying, and yet encouraged me anyway. She reached through the pain I was dealing with, past the ugliness I felt steeped in, and she breathed new life into my dry bones. I pray she’ll one day know just how much she did for me.
Q: I had an inspirational teacher like that–Janet Williams. Fortunately, I was able to track her down and send her a copy of my book before she moved on to heaven. Do you consider writing a calling or more of a season of your life for right now?
A: I’ve have to say a bit of both. I’m certain God invited me to write fiction for now and yet I’m not certain how long he plans for me to do that. Right now I’m contracted for three more books with Bethany House (another historical series) but who knows beyond that. One thing I’ve learned in my walk with God is that there’s nothing better than being centered in the middle of his will for my life—whatever that brings—and nothing more miserable than being outside of it.
Q: What do you do when you find yourself overwhelmed with all the stuff that goes along with publishing?
A: I have a background in marketing and management so I actually love the business side of writing. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t get overwhelmed. I most certainly do at times. Learning to say no to ‘really good things’ has been freeing, although not without an occasional twinge guilt.
I’ve led women’s ministry for the past fifteen years but recently stepped down. My juggling skills just aren’t what they used to be and my writing time was suffering. My last book was turned in horribly late and that about killed me. It wounded my pride, which in the long run, was a very good thing personally (sure didn’t feel good though). I’ve always “prided myself” on being on time, on having everything organized and “slotted.” I don’t think God wants me to take pride in myself about anything, so that was a good lesson for me.
Writing this last book also came during a time when I had some personal challenges, and I hit the wall creatively speaking. Wasn’t pretty. But God brought me through it. His faithfulness constantly amazes me. He’s so lavish with his grace! My editors at Bethany were wonderful and understanding about the delay (and I kept them abreast of my progress each step of the way so that it wasn’t a surprise to them—HUGELY important to do if you’re ever going to be late).
Q: Do you have a life verse or a mission statement that guides your writing?
A: A verse that God is etching on my heart these days is found in II Corinthians 4:7 – But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
God has given us this treasure—a relationship with him, a promise of an eternity with him—in jars of clay, in broken, marred vessels in order to show that the transcendent power comes from him. It may flow through us, praise his name!, but it originates in the heart of the Giver. Not in the one gifted.
Our gifts, however imperfect and weak, are given to reflect his glory and are made “perfect” when we give ourselves and those gifts over to him. There’s no end to what God can do with someone who makes themselves totally available to him—something that’s easier written than done.
This is actually a theme from my next book (Remembered, Book 3 in Fountain Creek Chronicles with Bethany House) that’s releasing now.
Here’s a sneak peek at the back cover copy:
Though loss is often marked in a single moment, letting go of someone you love can take a lifetime…
The threat of war—and a final request—send Véronique Girard from France to a distant and uninviting country. In the Colorado Territory, she searches for the man who has held her heart since childhood—her father. Pierre Girard left Paris for the Americas to seek his fortune in fur trading, vowing to send for his wife and daughter. But twenty-five years have passed and his vow remains unfulfilled. Sifting through shards of broken promises, Véronique embarks on a dangerous search for a man she scarcely remembers.
His grief finally healed, Jack Brennan is moving on with life. After years of guiding families west, he is now working as a freighter to the mining towns surrounding Willow Springs. What he doesn’t count on is an unexpected traveling companion on his trips up into the mountains, and how one woman’s search will cause havoc with his plans… and his life.
Visit Tamera’s website at www.tameraalexander.com
And her blog at www.tameraalexander.blogspot.com
Have a great day, everybody!