Find a Christian store

Interview with Tamera Alexander

Tamera Alexander is the USA Today bestselling author of numerous books, including A Lasting Impression, A Beauty So Rare, To Whisper Her Name, and From a Distance. Her richly drawn characters and thought-provoking plots have earned her devoted readers worldwide, as well as multiple industry awards. She writes what some of her readers have termed historical "grit-lit," which is Southern historical fiction/romance set in post-Civil War Nashville. She also writes Colorado Territory historicals set in the wilds and grandeur of the Rocky Mountains where she lived for over seventeen years. At the heart of each of her books is a female and male protagonist at crucial turning points in their lives. As each story has unfolded in her writing, Tamera has taken the couple's journey with them and hopes you'll enjoy taking each of these journeys too.

Welcome, Tamera! It's a pleasure to feature you this week. What are your writing goals for 2015?
Hey Alexis! I love talking about writing and appreciate this opportunity to chat!

I’m currently writing the third (and last) standalone novel in the Belmont Mansion series that follows A Lasting Impression (bk 1) and A Beauty So Rare (bk 2). Next, I’ll dive into the third standalone novel in the Belle Meade Plantation series that follows To Whisper Her Name (bk 1) and To Win Her Favor (bk 2, which releases in May). I’m enjoying writing these Southern mansion novels rife with real history and real people.

You were born and raised in Georgia, but moved to Colorado. And now you live in Music City (Nashville, Tennessee)! As a writer, what is your favorite feature of Music City?
The rich history, of course. Not only in relation to music, but in relation to Southern history both before and after the Civil War. History has always been my favorite subject.

The settings of your books tend to take place where you’ve lived. Why do you choose to create stories around familiar settings? Do you plan to write stories that are set in places you’ve never resided or visited? Please explain.
Authors don’t necessarily have to have visited the places they write about, but I believe it adds a layer of authenticity when they do. Plus I love writing about little known history. The bits and pieces of time gone by that only locals know, which you typically only discover in person. So while there are still lots of historical places to write about, I’ll keep exploring them…and writing.

But remember, though I’ve worked hard to recreate the Belmont Mansion of the 19th century, and same for the Belle Meade Plantation, I still haven’t visited back then. I can only experience these settings in current day. Yet through careful study of the past and customs prevalent in that era, through pouring over 19th century letters and journals of the people who lived and worked in these homes, I can transport myself—and hopefully, my readers—into the heart of Nashville in the 1860s and 70s.

Not only are you a bestselling author, you are very active in your church, plus you’re married and have two children. How do you balance it all? Is there a Bible verse or motto that helps you stay sane?
The right balance is difficult to achieve and something I constantly struggle with. Because I love to do it all! Therefore, I routinely reevaluate and prioritize. It helps that Joe and I have an empty nest now, but that wasn’t always the case. I’ve learned that, bottom line, you can do almost everything. You just can’t do it all at once.

Life is full of seasons, and it helps me to remember that when I have to say "no" to some things I absolutely love doing. In actuality, I’m really saying "not right now." That said, not everything I want to do on God’s agenda for my life. Better to seek what’s on His agenda for my life rather than my own.

And that’s only done through much prayer and seeking, and "running with endurance the race that God has set before us." (Hebrews 12:1-3) Not the race of my own choosing, but the one He has chosen for me.

You are an inspirational romance author who specializes in historical fiction. Why did you choose to base your writing career upon that specific genre and category? And who or what is the inspiration for your books?
Easy answer—I’m a lover of history. I adore researching history and the lives of real people who lived—their struggles, accomplishments, failures. Though scores of years separate us from our predecessors, human nature remains constant. We can learn so much from those who have journeyed this road before us if we’ll only listen to history.

What is the most challenging part of writing historical fiction? And what do you love most about storytelling?
Every story I’ve written has begun either with a question I’m wrestling with in my faith walk or in a current day issue that’s snagged my attention and won’t let go. Many of our current day issues were also “current day” in times gone by. And being fascinated with history, I enjoy exploring how we as individuals, as nations, and as a world—have addressed these issues in the past, with the hope that what is learned might aid us in the future.

Growing up in Atlanta, I developed an early appreciation for the postbellum era of America’s history, as well as the history of America’s west. Through the years, that appreciation matured into a deeper love and respect for the people and events of the 19th century. I take great pleasure in weaving a backdrop of real history with a fictional story into my novels, integrating real events and people into the fictive dream.

I’ve written stories about art forgeries, plant grafting, insane asylums, the founding of widows and children’s homes, champion thoroughbred horses and horse racing in the 19th century, being buried alive, murders in mining towns in the Colorado rockies, sharper shooters in the Civil War, the history of photography and the first female photojournalist’s trek into the Rocky Mountains, pregnancy outside of marriage, second chances at love, prostitution and child abuse, and adoption and U.S. Marshals, among other topics. And the challenge, for me, lies in making each story fresh and real, getting into the characters’ skin, so to speak, where you see the world from their point-of-view and experience the joy and pain of their personal journey.

Another challenge in writing is discipline. Discipline to write a set word count everyday. Every week. Discipline to keep at it even when the muse isn’t particularly generous that day. Each story is a journey, one in which I learn life lessons along with my characters.

Writing is a form of worship for me. I take steps closer to Christ as I write, and I pray that as readers read, they’ll take steps closer to Him, too.

When did you “know” you were a writer? Share the story.
I first considered writing a novel in 1999. But I need to go back a bit farther to really get to the “seed” of where all this started for me. In 1995, my mother-in-law, Claudette Harris Alexander, shared a book with me, one she thought I would really enjoy. I was busy and let time go by without reading it. She asked me again if I’d read it. Several times. I said no, but that I would. The best-laid plans, as they say.

Very unexpectedly, Claudette died that same year from a brain aneurysm. Weeks passed, and as I was cleaning bookshelves downstairs, I happened across that little volume and immediately sat down and read it. Claudette was right! I felt an immediate connection with the thread of hope woven through that gentle love story—Love Comes Softly, by Janette Oke, originally published by Bethany House Publishers in 1979.

That sent me searching for more inspirational fiction published not only by Bethany House, but elsewhere in the Christian Booksellers Association market (CBA). I devoured it, and developed a strong interest then in historical fiction.

A couple of years later my husband and I were driving back to Colorado from Texas late one night. I finished a novel, turned to him and (only joking at the time) said, “I think I could write one of those.” Without blinking, he said, “Well, do it!” Competitive at heart, I nodded and said, “Okay!”

My first novel made it to the final pub board at Bethany House Publishers in 2001, after which I received a very nice rejection letter—which they were right to send. That story needed major work!

Writing that first story was a learning experience for me that I took to heart. I then determined to set about seriously studying the craft of writing. Then I took two more years to write another book which eventually landed me my first three-book contract. My first published novel, Rekindled, debuted in 2006, and is still one of my bestsellers.

Tell us the story of how you got an agent and landed your first book deal.
It was 2004 and I was at the Mount Herman conference in California. I met Deidre Knight there and we immediately hit it off. She offered to rep me and I agreed. Then later, as I grew as a writer (and Deidre had her own writing career she was pursuing), I decided a change was in order and reached out to Natasha Kern at Natasha Kern Literary Agency. I’ve been with Natasha since 2007 and truly wouldn’t want to do this without her. Especially in this ever-changing world of publishing. A solid, trusted agent is worth her weight in gold!

What can you tell us about your latest work in progress?
I’m currently writing the third (and last) standalone novel in the Belmont Mansion series that follows A Lasting Impression (bk 1) and A Beauty So Rare (bk 2). Adelicia Acklen, the richest woman in America in the 1860s, was the mistress of Belmont Mansion and she loved three things: beauty in art, beauty in nature, and beauty in music. So these novels follow that theme.

If you could be the leading lady in any of your books, who would you be? Why?
Oh gracious… This is a hard one. I absolutely love Alexandra Donelson, the heroine in the novel I’m writing now. She’s a violinist in the 19th century when symphonies were comprised only of men. But Alexandra somehow manages to break that glass ceiling—and more. Then there’s Maggie Linden of To Win Her Favor who grabbed my respect and admiration from the get-go. Her determination and fiery spirit; her ability to train and ride champion thoroughbreds. It was such fun slipping into her skin!

If you could have one of your books made into a movie, which one would you choose? Why?
The first that comes to mind is From a Distance, one of my Colorado books. But only because a producer has indicated interest in that one in the past. I think its story and characters would translate wonderfully to the screen. But I’m not holding my breath. Historicals are expensive to make and I realize it’s a very long shot. But a girl can dream…

What role does your faith in God play a role in your writing career and creation of your characters?
My faith in Christ instructs every story I write. It gives me the freedom to explore both the hopeful side of this life and of characters’ choices as well as the painful, ugly parts that make us cringe.

Describe your writing space. What makes it special to you?
I compose on a laptop so I move around a lot. My favorite place to write is either in the keeping room (an old Southern term for a den off the kitchen) or in nicer weather on the screened-in deck out back. Lovely!

What words of wisdom do you have for aspiring authors?
Don’t shortchange yourself by rushing to publish something that isn’t ready. Take the time to hone your skills and polish your craft. Give God your best, whatever path you choose toward publication—indie, traditional, or a hybrid model. It’s an exciting—and challenging—time in the publishing world. Never stop learning. And accept that you’ll never arrive. Enjoy the journey.

Who is your ultimate favorite author and what is your favorite book by that author? Explain why.
This will sound cliche, but the more I study the Bible (this is my fifth year in Bible Study Fellowship [BSF]) the more it becomes my favorite book. And the longer I live, the more I turn to its pages for comfort and guidance. So the Bible—and its Author—are definitely my ultimate favorite.

Regarding To Win Her Favor, what is the significance of the book's title?
When writing a series, you typically follow a cadence for the titles. So once we decided on To Whisper Her Name—a story where a prideful, self-sufficient hero is taught lessons in gentleness from a real-life horse whisperer who lived at Belle Meade—the cadence was set.

Book two, To Win Her Favor, is a marriage of convenience story where Cullen McGrath, the hero, is made an offer by Gilbert Linden, the father of the heroine (Maggie). It’s an offer Cullen can’t possibly accept, yet can’t afford to refuse. So once Cullen manages to win his father-in-law’s favor, all that’s left…is to win hers.

Who are your main characters and what are their struggles?
Margaret (Maggie) Linden, a Southern belle and former gentry all but stripped of her land and wealth, is grappling to hold on to what’s left of her world—her father, her thoroughbred, Bourbon Belle, and her home. Cullen McGrath, an Irishborn son far from home, comes to America to escape a horse racing scandal that nearly ruined him. Maggie is determined that Bourbon Belle will become a champion, but the one man who could help her has vowed to stay away from thoroughbred racing forever. In a phrase… Game on!

What was your favorite part of the creative writing process when creating To Win Her Favor?
My favorite part is watching all the story threads come together so fluidly, which is not to my own credit but rather is due in large part to Stan Williams (The Moral Premise guy) who I’ve worked with on my last four books. Stan’s brilliant at story structure and at threading a consistent moral premise throughout a story, something I do intuitively but not always consistently.

Therefore, my decision to hire him to help me "see my story" from beginning to end. Understanding and applying the moral premise to my writing makes my stories deeper and more meaningful. I highly recommend Stan Williams ( for writers seeking to strengthen their understanding and application of story structure.

How do you hope your readers will be impacted by this book?
The inspiration for To Win Her Favor had its start in a question: How does prejudice influence our lives and choices? In the nineteenth century, many Americans harbored animosity toward foreigners, and though I wanted to give an accurate historical perspective on the issue (specifically about the Irish in Nashville), I didn’t want to only give a historical perspective on prejudice. Because heaven knows, its insidious nature is alive and well.

An early reviewer of this story wrote my publisher and what she wrote pretty well encapsulates how I hope readers will be impacted. She states, "To Win Her Favor is a moving and exciting book, and highlights the subtleties of prejudice that many of us (myself included) have been guilty of glossing over. I appreciate a romance when it goes deeper… When an author deals with the tough questions and real emotions and then doesn’t give cliché answers."

Reading that made my day.

So it’s my prayer that as readers read To Win Her Favor, they’ll take the same journey I did in exploring their own hearts even as they experience the stark reality of prejudice in Cullen’s and Maggie’s journeys. We have a long way to go in healing the prejudicial wounds in this country, in this world, and that healing will only come through the powerful presence and Name of Jesus Christ and in having a relationship with him. He can change hearts. He can move mountains.

Complete this sentence: I want my legacy to be ________ because __________. that points others to Christ because, from beginning to end, it’s truly all about Him.

Thank you for sharing with us, Tamera!

For more great interviews, visit our Author Interview Archives.

ACFW Members, click here to apply for an author interview!

Developed by Camna, LLC

This is a service provided by ACFW, but does not in any way endorse any publisher, author, or work herein.