Southern Rain: Q & A Time!

Hello, friends! I thought it would be fun to conduct an interview before the release of my upcoming novel, Southern Rain. My sister, Hannah (long-time first reader, long-suffering sounding board, and editor-extraordinaire), has compiled a list of questions, and you’ll see a few others which were asked by friends! Do you have any questions? Ask them in the comments or send me a DM on Instagram, and I’ll answer that, too! Happy reading!

Hannah: Charleston is a great setting. Is this typical for you?
Tara:  Yes! My books are set all over the South. I try to pick locations which best suit the characters and storylines, so you’ll find a variety of settings in my books, some in amazing cities and some very rural.

Hannah: Do you relate to your main characters?
Tara: Hmm, that’s a tough one! I’m very different from Adrian, but his family kind of reminds me of mine, and we’re both vegetarians! Adeline is much more laid-back than I am, but any time she’s feeling awkward, you can be sure I’m channeling myself (or my sister!)! I admire John Thomas very much as a character, so he’s maybe more aspirational. And with Shannon, there’s a strong front which covers a lot of fear, and I think we can all relate to that.

Hannah: Are any aspects of the stories based on your own experiences?
Tara: I would like to say that I went to Charleston and met a handsome stranger, but alas… 😉 For the most part, no, the stories aren’t based on my own experiences, except to the extent they draw on human emotions.

Hannah: What themes should readers expect from this novel?
Tara: I think courage versus fear, coming of age, and coming to terms with our past as the future is kind of thrust upon us are a few. And of course, love! (And all of its complications…)

Hannah: What makes your books good?
Tara: Basically, I write what I want to read. I seek out elements that have you page-turning and try to channel that throughout the whole book. Now, opinions might differ, but what makes a really good book to me is one that focuses on the subtleties of human emotions, possesses lightning chemistry between characters, has the occasional spontaneity, and deals with real-life issues, or at least feelings to which we can all relate. I deeply believe in humor, just as much as I believe in dealing with difficult topics with seriousness and empathy, since both are a reflection of real life, at least for me.

Hannah: Do you conduct research for the historical parts?
Tara: I like to read books or articles for the details that make a story feel more realistic or grounded to the era. I also visit historic sites like house museums or battlefields. Those can help you with the feeling you need to create. I’m bad with dates and easily forget specifics, so I always have a timeline pulled up on my laptop.

Marisa: When did your love for the South and the Civil War Era begin, and what caused you to become fascinated with that time period?
Tara: My mom was a 5th and 6th grade history teacher while I was growing up, and she was the BEST at inspiring kids to have a love for history. But funnily enough, I started out with an aversion to the Civil War. I adored history but remember looking at pictures of the battles in our textbook and feeling horrified. All those lives lost, the country ripping apart, and so many desperate stories. There was a happy ending (the end of slavery), but there were a lot of sad stories surrounding the freedmen’s lives, too, and I guess I was just too tender-hearted to make the Civil War Era my focus.
Until… I needed to fulfill my history credits at Tennessee Tech, and one of Tech’s fabulous history professors was teaching his nearly famous course on the Civil War and Reconstruction. I thought, “Well, I hate the Civil War, but it’s history, which is better than, you know, Algebra, so I’ll take it.”
He really brought the Civil War alive for us. It was an intensive course, with multiple books, articles, papers, etc., and we were required to learn battle movements and plans for all of the major battles and recite them in narratives on our tests. We covered all aspects– the home front, the lives of the enslaved, theories that developed in the post-war era… It was really a wonderful course, but I still wasn’t sold.
Then I got a Civil War story idea while touring a plantation in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. (This was several years ago, and a different story from Southern Rain.) While I was writing it, I would tell people, “This isn’t my kind of book. I hate the Civil War. Why am I writing this?” But when I was finished, my sister sat down and read it in one sitting, and I began to see the possibilities.
After that, I wrote a series which follows several siblings in Civil War Era Virginia (which I hope to publish once the Torn Asunder series is complete!). The Virginia series is my favorite thing I’ve ever written, and I think setting a family drama in that era and researching minute details for so long is what finally sparked my fascination with the Civil War. The opportunities for drama are boundless in the Civil War, the range of human emotions breath-taking. We see the best and worst of humanity, and, as an author, that’s exciting to explore. I realized that if I could get a little braver in dealing with a very tough time period, there was a wellspring of experiences to be discovered and retold.
And as for my love for the South– I’m Southern-born and bred, so that helps! There is a lot of rich culture in the South which is fun to dig into. But mostly, I really wanted to write characters who resonated from my experience. And, for me at least, that meant sticking close to home. But my historical male lead in Southern Rain is Massachusetts-born and bred, which I loved, so you never know where I might take you in the future! (P.S. Marisa, I gave you a really long answer – sorry! 🙂 )

Hannah: How do you (or do you?) stay unattached/unbiased in historic movements or historical characters’ moral actions?
Tara: So much of what our historical characters do or believe can be mind-boggling or even morally wrong to our modern eyes. So the writer has two choices: tell the story like it would have been or sugar-coat the past. That’s not always an easy decision to make, but for the most part, I try to tell the truth. It seems like the best course, and largely, I think that’s the reason readers of Historical Fiction pick up a book: to be transported to another time and place and maybe learn something along the way. For the big questions of morality, I let the peers of the characters judge them as they would have during the time period in question. An example would be Lydia Bennett being engraved on our memories as a flighty girl because everyone in the Regency Era would have said so. A more modern pen might have taken a more sympathetic look at the full picture (she was young, her father was absent-minded, her mother was driving her to be married, etc.) and ultimately ended on a more forgiving note that really wouldn’t have been accurate to the Regency Era. But we want that accuracy as readers of Historical Fiction, or otherwise, we would be reading modern books. Slavery is the obvious example from Southern Rain, and, of course, it takes everything within the modern author not to be heavy-handed with the message, “This is an affront to human dignity!” But I think the facts send that message more effectively, so I try (try!) to take my emotions out of it and let the story tell itself.

Hannah: Did anything in this book challenge you or take you out of your comfort zone?
Tara: Yes! This is the hardest book I have ever written for reasons too numerous to undertake, but largely because the chemistry between the two main couples was delicate, and I kept smashing it and having to fix it. As for my comfort zone, two things immediately come to mind. 1) There were some storylines dealing with feminine health, and proper Southern ladies don’t talk about that. (Okay, I’m seeing that that is funny now and will try to get over my missishness.) 2) There was a storyline which felt a little too edgy for me, definitely out of my comfort zone, but when I prayed about it, I got an enthusiastic, “Yes, go for it!” So, yeah… Sometimes, you just take a leap of faith!

Hannah: What distinguishes you from other historical/romance authors?
Tara: I find that the publishing world pushes authors to write what is called high-concept. Basically, that means you have a cute story hook that will propel the whole story. (Example: With one month left until the big baking competition, Chef Laura is on a mission to find the perfect cake. The only problem is that so is her chief rival, Chef Tom. Will love ensue as they work toward their goal?) On the other end of the spectrum, you have full-fledged literature, which I call high-brow. Those are great, too, and they look deeply at the questions of life and humanity. But my favorite kind of book is those which pull some elements from both: the readable quality of high concept with the depth of literature. So I call my writing style middle-brow: enjoyable reading with a dose of grounded reality.

Hannah: Do you write Christian Fiction or General Market?
Tara:  I would say General Market. I am a Christian, and you will always find Christian elements in my books. I have always tried to be sensitive to whether I am called to write on the Christian market, because I do think that is a calling. I love Christian fiction (a good 70% of my shelves are filled with it!), and really, my books could, for the most part, sit on a Christian Fiction shelf and not be out of place. However, one day, I was gearing up to enter a Christian contest, which, if won, could offer a very lucrative deal. I was plowing ahead, mind you, no prayer involved, or at least only minimal reflection (anyone else have this tendency?). I spent hours formatting my submission to the guidelines, writing a cover letter, proof-reading with a fine-tooth comb… Only to feel, at the last minute, right before I hit “submit,” that unmistakable pull that said, “Don’t do that.” And of course, when we feel that, obedience is always the best course. I closed my laptop, and that was that. So, for the time being, I feel led to market to a broader audience.

Hannah: What age group or audience do you target?
Tara: I think there’s something for everyone in my writing. As far as age – I do deal with some heavy topics: emotions and sin and life and the fall-out from all of that which reflects the human experience. There is romance, but it’s more of a camera panning away variety than a panoramic view. There are a few (as we say in the South!) cuss words because, á la Rhett Butler, there are times when, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a darn!” just doesn’t cut it. Would I have let my sister read it when she was a young teen? Yes, even though I was a helicopter-older sister about what she read. But I would encourage parents to read first and then make that decision on their own, since everyone feels differently. And, as always, if there are any questions, just contact me, and I will be happy to answer!

Hannah: Why did you choose this book – out of all your completed manuscripts – to be the first published book?
Tara: Well, the simple answer is that I felt led to do so. I have other manuscripts which I would have felt more comfortable putting out there, but I felt that pull with Southern Rain, and I am trusting that God has a plan!

Hannah: What do you hope the reader gets from this novel?
Tara: This is a little hard because Southern Rain is part of a three-book series, which I kind of see as one unit. So you may not see the whole picture when you end the first book, but I’m thinking you will by the third. And I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll just say generally that several themes do present themselves, and I think you’ll see them. If you don’t, that’s fine: reading is all about what the reader gets from the book, not what the writer intends.

Hannah: What font do you write in? It says a lot about a person. 😉
Tara:  Calibri (Body) 11. I know, so lame. But I love it. No, I’m kidding, it’s just what auto-filled to my Word document, and I got really used to looking at it and couldn’t change when I tried.

Kelly: What is the one book that you’ll read again and again?
Tara: Can I pick two? A Bride Most Begrudging by Deeanne Gist and Bath Tangle by Georgette Heyer.

Kelly: On a Friday night, what would we find you doing?
Tara: I’ll usually be watching something on Amazon or Netflix while eating Chipotle. After that, I usually turn the TV off and write if the muses are speaking or read if my eyes aren’t too tired from work. Or sometimes I go and stay with my mom, and we chat and watch British mysteries!

Hannah: What types of books can we expect to see from you in the future?
Tara: Of course, there will be two more books in the Torn Asunder Series, which will be available in the Spring of ’20. After that, like I mentioned above, we’ll be sticking in the Civil War Era (unless something changes!) with a three-book series set in Appomattox, Virginia, which focuses on five siblings and their experiences in life, loss, and love during the Civil War. After that, we might visit Jacksonian America for a family drama, revisit the Civil War, or maybe something modern– who can tell? I’d love to hear readers’ thoughts as we go!

Again, if there’s anything you’d like to ask me, just fire away! Hope you enjoyed the interview!

Release Date: Southern Rain

Hello, friends!  My first novel, Southern Rain, will be published September 13.  I can’t wait to share it with you! Here’s the synopsis:

Charleston, Modern Day
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Adeline Miller, a preservationist, gets a call from a Charleston psychiatrist who wants her to restore his Battery Street mansion to its former glory. Thinking this might be her big break, she relocates to Charleston, moves into the third floor of the mansion, and gets to work. As she begins to discover secrets from the past about the family who once lived there, her future begins to get a lot more complicated than she ever expected.

Charleston, 1859
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Shannon Ravenel, the daughter of wealthy rice planter King Ravenel, is destined to marry into South Carolina’s elite planting class. That conclusion is thrown into question when her brother brings home his friend from the Naval Academy, Massachusetts-bred John Thomas Haley. Love aside, can a planter’s daughter and an abolitionist’s son forge a future in a nation that is ripping apart at the seams, or does fate have other plans for both?

Available on amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle formats September 13.
P.S. The Kindle format is already up for preorder!  Here’s the link:

Hiding Your Light

All of my life I have been shy.  I would be asked, “Would you like to do this?”  My response: “Sure, I’d love to do any behind-the-scenes work you have! Cooking, cleaning, crafting – I’m on it!”  I never even imagined taking the lead – leading the Bible study, being the group President, deciding the angle for a case  in law school – even if I was the most qualified, the most capable, had the best vision.  It actually never crossed my mind.

Until I started to grow with God and He began to challenge me.  The first way was in baring my soul in a tell-all letter to the class a year junior to mine about my experience with growing with God during the period leading up to taking the bar exam.  The words began spilling out of me, raw and real, revealing long-held secrets and things kept private because I felt they were either embarrassing or shameful.  It felt wrong to be vocal.  It felt un-classy.  It felt like I had ripped my heart wide open and laid it on the table for all to see.  Only my conviction that God had called me to do it forced me to hand it over.  And of course, the response was overwhelming.  It helped people.  God had planned it.  It was meant to be.  And it made me wonder what else I had missed out on.  What other plans God had for me because I was an under-the-radar kind of gal.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being quiet or doing behind-the-scenes work, and I’m certainly not advocating for pushiness.  I’m simply saying that there are certain gifts that God has given you, and that, at least in those areas, you are supposed to spread you wings and let the fullness of what He has given you, of what he has called you to be, take root, or so I am learning.

The way this has currently manifested itself in my life is that I am on the brink of publishing my first book and I didn’t even want to advertise.  I didn’t want anyone to know I write.  It almost kept me from pursuing publishing at all.  Bare my soul to the world, reveal my inmost thoughts- bah!  I had refused for years even to have a personal Instagram page and had recently deleted my personal Facebook page.  And then one night, as clear as anything, I felt that God wanted me to start an Instagram for my writing.  Puke.  It made me want to puke.  Me, promoting my blogs, sharing travel thoughts, literary musings, and news about my books?  Never, never, never.  Set aside the idea that if I could imagine something I would like to do with my time, it was precisely that.  It just wasn’t the way I was hard-wired.  But I did it.  And it has turned out really great.  I’m enjoying it, growing in confidence, and revealing my soul to the world one layer at a time.

After the gut-wrenching realization that I needed to post a picture of myself (and doing it, and surviving) the next thing was the decision about whether I would publish my book under my long-used pen name, Juliet Wilkes, or whether I would use my real name.

You see, there are certain advantages to using a pen name.  It’s cool, it’s secretive and…Mark Twain.  Need I say more?  Most writers struggle with being honest in their writing, and that’s a lot easier to do if no one’s ever going to know it’s you.  You can say whatever you like, slip under the radar, lead a secret life.

Only God didn’t want my life to be led in secret.  He didn’t want my talents to be hidden.  They’re not really mine, you see.  He gave them to me to use, for reasons, some of which I know, and some of which are still a mystery to me, but all of which are good.

One day the entire day through, that line from This Little Light of Mine kept playing in my head.  Why did I keep hearing “Don’t hide your light under a bushel” over and over in my head?  It was really helpful, and I found all sorts of ways it might be applicable to my life, but it never occurred to me until I was discussing the question of the day with my sister (whether to use my pen name) that it was directly applicable to that situation.

And so, as soon as realization struck, my decision was made.  The pen name was going to be more of a hindrance than a help, a way to hide when God wanted the piece of him which I can display through my writing to shine.

As for my shyness?  I’m just going to have to get over it.  And I am, with God’s help.  I grow bolder every day.  If you struggle similarly, the greatest help is the conviction that this is what He wants, if you feel it.  Because there’s no arguing with that feeling.  It’s like the adage a child might say: “Mom says.”  Once you accept that and put your trust in Him, it gets a little easier, day by day.

Here’s to letting God shine through us and never hiding who He wants us to be.

-Tara

Review: John Adams

Looking for something cozy to watch on these warm summer nights? I can’t think of anything better than the series John Adams. Based off the biography which bears the same name by David McCullough, the series stays true to history and the characters and is just a delightful experience, spanning from the Boston Massacre to Adams’s July 4th death in 1826.

Adams is portrayed beautifully by Paul Giamatti, and Abigail is exquisitely brought to life by Laura Linney. I love the portrayal of Jefferson (Stephen Dillane), too, but the show-stealer was Tom Wilkinson’s Benjamin Franklin, whom you’d just love to have a cup of tea with.

The series takes you from the halls of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, to Paris, to the newly constructed White House. The scenery is beautiful, the attention to detail laudable. I cannot praise the cast or directors, all of whom had obviously intricately studied their subjects, enough.

The series won four Golden Globes and thirteen Emmys, which is apparently more than any other miniseries in history. It originally aired on HBO but is now available via Amazon Prime. Now go watch! You won’t regret it!

Review: America’s First Daughter

I cannot say enough about America’s First Daughter. As I was just beginning to read it, I looked at my sister and said, “This is the most well-written book I have read in…” I couldn’t remember when. Usually, the highest compliment I give a book is that it was a page-turner, but I need to take just a moment to honor the craft that Kamoie and Dray put to use in this book. The words flowed like honey. The characters sparkled. The descriptions drew you into the time period. The emotions were beautifully displayed. The scenes were well-chosen. Your trust in the authors is complete.

Now, about the actual story. I can’t say it better than Erika Robuck did in her great quote which is on the back of the book: “Not since Gone with the Wind has a single-volume family saga so brilliantly portrayed the triumphs, trials, and sins of a family in the American South.” That is a powerful appraisal.  Full disclosure: I love Revolutionary and Early Republic history, I love Thomas Jefferson, and I love the American South. But I think you would like this book even if you liked none of those things.

Now, don’t go into it expecting a traditional historical romance. There is romance, and it is beautifully done. But it isn’t neat, isn’t always happy, and it doesn’t necessarily leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. And there’s a lot more than just romance. I would liken this book to Nancy Moser’s fabulous Washington’s Lady, although that book is a little easier to swallow for its sweet, real-life affection between George and Martha. But the books are similar in that they don’t allow you to feel sheltered from the hardships that, historically, men and women faced. People die. Marriages break. People live in despair. And life goes on. I hope I haven’t scared you away because this book is well-worth your time. I just wanted to make sure you were buckled up for the ride!

We follow Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph from childhood through her father’s death. She was an amazing, flawed, strong woman, and it was a joy to view the world through her eyes.
I consider that this book has four great triumphs and three minor downsides.
One triumph is its portrayal of Patsy’s husband, Thomas “Tom” Mann Randolph. I haven’t seen such a deep, honest, and rich psychological study of a character in fiction perhaps ever. The authors “go there” with Tom in ways which have you shifting uncomfortably in your seat, cringing, hating, and yet, remarkably, still feeling sympathy.

Another triumph is Sally Hemings. What an amazing woman! We can’t know what her relationship with Patsy was like, but this felt spot-on. The choices she made, her relationship with Jefferson, and her status at Monticello were on point based on my research. But to give her a personality, a character based off what we do know about her – that gave the book real value.

Another value of this book is rescuing William Short from disappearing into the abyss of history. He was a remarkable, radical figure which has hitherto been rather lost to American knowledge.

The last triumph of this book is perhaps its greatest. I think a lot of historical novelists are afraid to tell the truth as seen from their characters’ eyes. I have felt those pressures: do I say what my character in this era really would’ve thought or modernize their point of view to what we think today so that no one feels uncomfortable? The fact of the matter is that we as historical novelists are dealing with people who lived sometimes hundreds of years ago, who have their own set of experiences and beliefs that are often quite different from ours. This book fearlessly explores that dynamic, dealing with hard topics empathetically and respectfully through Patsy’s eyes while not masking her flaws or the era’s. In this book, we see the truth about history and human weakness and the effects of sin. We see joy and love and hope, too. We see the truth, ugly and beautiful.

Now for my minor grievances (no book review about Jefferson would be complete without a listing of grievances, would it?).

One is that the character of Thomas Jefferson himself often didn’t feel fully fleshed out. For Patsy’s youth we really dig into his psyche, but after that, he kind of felt like a character to fill a chair at the table. I wish he had been a little more dynamic so that we could understand Patsy’s utter devotion and sense of responsibility. Related is another point about Jefferson, which is not a criticism, but a caution. One danger, I think, in seeing things through Patsy’s eyes is that readers might walk away feeling like they know the man Jefferson, but I don’t think that was the purpose of this book. Everything dealing with him was done respectfully and accurately, but since we have only Patsy’s perspective, and since she is no different from anyone else in that she always worried her loved ones weren’t quite capable without her, we don’t get the full impression. For that full impression, and for a non-fiction which reads as fast as good fiction, I would highly recommend Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson and the Art of Power.

Another thing, which is totally unimportant, is that I don’t think the portrayal of James and Dolley Madison was the best. That was not the focus, and you can overlook it.

Finally, this book took forever to finish. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to condense an entire life, and such a life, into one volume, but it was really long. It is actually larger than it looks because the pages are quite thin and full. It was also emotionally and historically heavy, which is really the only explanation for why it took me three times as long to read a book that was beautifully written and held my interest. I was ready for it to be over, but I certainly didn’t feel like I wasted my time. It was, on the whole, a very moving experience.

Five out of five stars, which I don’t give lightly. Now go read it!

-Tara

Sabbath

Rest is something we struggle with, isn’t it.  It seems to be one of those Earth-dweller conditions, like fighting sin and enduring suffering.  We always feel tired.

I thought when I got out of law school everything would normalize.  I’m less stressed, but I’m actually more tired.  An eight-to-five schedule plus a two hour daily commute with only three weeks’ vacation takes its toll.  I’m sure you can relate.  I hear it all the time, from students, teachers, factory workers, truck drivers, doctors, and parents: I’m tired.

There are lots of great books out there on this subject, and I won’t re-cover their ground. And I’m afraid I can’t give you a fix-all solution.  But I will show you what the Bible says and offer a few practical solutions that I’ve used in my own life to ease the struggle.

First, let’s go right to the source.  “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall have labor and do all of your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work…”  Exodus 20: 8-10.  I never realized until my most recent read-through of the Old Testament how many times God has to say, “REST!”  I think he knows that our tendency is to plow, to produce, to keep busy.

Conversely, and ironically, he knows that we long for rest.  He had to have felt the yearning in this Psalm: “…Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!  I would fly away and be at rest.”  Psalm 55: 6.  It was almost, seemingly, in direct answer to this desire that Jesus spoke on so many occasions.  “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, and you will find rest in your souls.”  Matthew 11: 28-29.

There are two types of rest: physical rest and soul rest, and I think Jesus is speaking to both.  The physical reasons you need rest are obvious: pull up any medical article on the dangers of lack of sleep.  For the mental side of your health, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that if you don’t take the time to step back, the consequences can be dire.  Listen to your body.  Watch for signs that you need to slow down.  And of course, this is all intimately connected with spiritual rest.  If your soul is burdened, if something is weighing heavily on your heart, you can be exhausted and run-down in another way, one that is just as dangerous.  And that can spill over into the physical side.  And, to complete the circle, the physical side can easily spill over into the spiritual.  Happily, the consequences of resting are just as connected as those of not resting.  “For anyone who enters into God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.”  Hebrews 4:10.

God wants the best for us.  He wants us to be in an optimal condition to serve him and serve others.  He wants us to experience rest and utter peace.  And so he requires from us a Sabbath. Whatever that day may be, we need a day of rest and rejuvenation, mind, body, and soul.  Some of you may be thinking, “Oh, yes!  I go to church on Sunday morning and Sunday night and do a thousand acts of service!”  No, no, no.  That is no Sabbath.

I’m not saying don’t serve your church.  I’m saying spend time in prayer about the things you’ve been called to do, about what God thinks you can handle physically and spiritually.  And ALWAYS remember that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  Mark 2:27.  Rest.  Your Sabbath is for your rest, for recharging your body, and aligning your soul with God.

We have come to a point where we seem to take how much we can do, how many boxes we can check, as a badge of honor.  If you’re having trouble fighting that feeling, think of how many times the Bible says for us to rest.  This is not a recommendation, like your mom saying, “Honey, you should really get some sleep.”  It is a commandment.  And we’re not supposed to break it.  Hebrews calls it disobedience if we do.

That’s not to say there are not times when we simply are not able to rest.  I’m not disregarding that.  I’m also not saying there won’t be times when the Spirit will prompt you to go a little further, do a little more.  An example is Jesus’s frustration when the disciples, obviously exhausted, couldn’t stay awake to keep watch with him just before his arrest.  That was a time to rise to the occasion, and there will be such times in all of our lives.

But I do know that a lot of things we call impossible are not.  We could set them aside if we truly wanted to.  We can say no.  I also know that Jesus promises that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.  He only asked one hour of his disciples that night.  He won’t ask more of you than you can physically, mentally, or spiritually bear.

So rest, my friends.  And go out and be the person God has called you to be.  Do it for yourself, do it for your family, and do it in obedience to a decree as old as time.

-Tara

Writing Playlist

As promised, I am sharing my Spotify playlists for my current work-in-progress, which features both a modern portion and a portion set in 1859 on the cusp of the Civil War.  As you can see, I favor a lot of instrumental and choir music while I’m writing, mix in a few that remind me of the characters or the situation, and top it off with some “mood” songs (songs that reflect the proper mood for the story).

Historical Portion
The Story of My Life – The Piano Guys
Gracie’s Theme – Paul Cardall
Echo – Helen Jane Long
Rather Be – Jasmine Thompson
A Thousand Years – Jasmine Thompson
Demons – Jasmine Thompson
Home – Jasmine Thompson
Through The Dark – Helen Jane Long
Baptism – Paul Cardall
Wintersong – Scala & Kolacny Brothers
Storms in Africa – Enya
Delicate – Taylor Swift
Hold Me – Fleetwood Mac
Beethoven’s 5 Secrets – The Piano Guys
With Or Without You – 2Cellos
This Land – Has Zimmer
Willow – Jasmine Thompson
Everlong – Scala & Kolacny Brothers
Be Thou My Vision – Audrey Assad
Crash Into Me – Scala & Kolacny Brothers
Paradise – Midnite String Quartet

Modern Portion
Half of My Heart – John Mayer
Vultures – John Mayer
Your Body Is a Wonderland – John Mayer
Over My Head – Fleetwood Mac
I’ve Got You Under My Skin – Michael Bublé
I’m Yours – Jason Mraz
Lucky – Jason Mraz
Begin Again – Colbie Caillat
I Do – Colbie Caillat
Everything – Michael Bublé
Riptide – Vance Joy
You and Tequila – Kenny Chesney
Wonderful World – Sam Cooke
Night Changes – One Direction
A Sky Full of Stars – Coldplay
Something Just Like This – The Chainsmokers
One – Ed Sheeran
Tenerife Sea – Ed Sheeran
Hey, Soul Sister – Train
What If – Colbie Caillat

See anything you like?  If you’re an author, what is your favorite genre to listen to while you’re writing?  If you’re not an author, what’s you’re favorite album right now?  Have any good suggestions?  I can’t wait to share with you the book these songs inspired!

Writing Tips for Novelists

I often get asked how I write best.  I think people expect me to say, “On an island, surrounded by palm trees, with soft music flowing in the background.”  The truth is, my brain is a glutton for punishment.  If I treated it to the island of palm trees, it would completely shut down every creative nerve I have.

But to back up, I thought it would be fun to give you a few insights into my writing life and style.  I consider writing as having two phases, the most important having nothing to do with pen and paper or laptop or actually writing.  There’s the “thinking” phase and the “typing” phase.  Most creativity comes, indeed most of the story is written, during the thinking phase.  That’s when you have a spacey look in your eye, when your family and friends notice you’re not answering their questions exactly right. That’s where the magic happens.  I need 70% of my writing to happen in this phase, or I usually know the story’s not ready to be penned.  This is where you let the inspiration flow.  Often it happens (because of the brain’s rebellious spirit) when I’m still writing something else.

I don’t know about other authors, but I find it is particularly important not to cage my brain.  Don’t outline furiously.  Let it flow organically.  I usually do minimal outlining (i.e., if I “outline,” I write about ten words in chronological order so I don’t forget the general flow) and only write specific lines down if the wording as I have thought it out in my head feels particularly right. Don’t get hung up on a particular story development or plot and sit there and dwell and dwell on it, whether you’re stuck or you’ve just had a grand inspiration.  If an idea comes to you that is particularly delicious, don’t overthink it and carry it to all of its natural conclusions.  You need to leave something to keep the spark alive.  Pull back.  It’s like not wearing out your favorite song.  Leave something to be explored. 

Taking good ideas that thrill you and fleshing them out should make up most of that 30% that’s left for the typing phase.  Thinking and typing happen simultaneously during a lot of the typing phase, and that’s when the juices really get to flowing and you take your story over the edge.  That’s what saves the typing phase from being drudge work.  Sure, you’re having to spend long hours in your chair writing out things that are already in your head, but if you save some of that deliciousness and let it unfurl during the typing, the story will excite you anew, and you’ll pound it out in a couple of months.

So what about that island of soft music?  No can do for me.  During the thinking phase, I do listen to music that inspires me, but once the typing phase starts, the room must be totally silent.  I also work best under oppression, or when my mind is supposed to be entirely devoted to something else.  Are you laughing at me yet?  For example, my first week of law school basically called for me to be a performing monkey/robot.  No time was allotted for me to do anything I wanted to do (barely even squeezed in a shower), and yet, in the spirit of rebellion, my creative juices flowed like never before, and I feel like I wrote half a book in my head.  Also, sometimes at church.  Yes, I know that’s naughty.  But there’s something about knowing you’re supposed to be concentrating on something else that makes creativity sparkle.

I also need total privacy.  if I felt like someone could see what I was writing, I wouldn’t write honestly.  If I asked for someone’s opinion, I wouldn’t go with my instincts.  And honesty and instincts are the very backbone of a good writer.  Now for a few more tips as you picture me writing away in a drab, silent room…

Tips:

-Make a Spotify or Pandora playlist for your book, think of the mood of the book, take that mood one extreme further, and reflect that in the music.  If your book is spunky, play really spunky music.  If your book is serious, go for Downton Abbey trailer material.  Get the idea?  Not all of the music has to be time/place appropriate, although some of that is good.  For example, there’s a Fleetwood Mac song that that reminds me of my Civil War couple, and that’s on their playlist.  But I also add in a lot of instrumental pieces to keep me grounded in the era.

-Have someone to bounce ideas off of when you get stuck.  Occasionally that person will have some brilliant idea to fix it all, but usually the answer is already within you.  You just need to tap it.  Make sure it’s only one or two people, though, and someone you trust implicitly so you don’t lose your honesty and instincts.

-Think about your emotions.  Are you feeling it?  If you’re not, your reader very rarely is, and you’ve gotten off track.  Go back and try to find where.

-Sometimes something as little as one sentence can throw your entire story off.  You’ve described something wrong, set the wrong mood… Don’t always look for huge things.

-For writer’s block: pray.  I mean it.  I’ve been there.  There are no quick fixes.  God will show you a way through when the time is right.  And you’ll probably learn something along the way.

-To stay true to a character’s personality, get an image of the character that is the essence of their personality, and keep bringing yourself back to it when you lose them.  For example, female lead in a candlelit room with vulnerability in her eyes. Male lead staring off into the distance, lost in his thoughts.  You get the idea.

-Write to glorify God.  You might think, “How can my small town rom-com glorify Him when it doesn’t even have a religious vibe?”  It can.  You would be surprised how creative He is.  Let Him take you to the next level.

Stop by soon for the playlists from my current work-in-progress!

Death Comes to Pemberley

What can I say?  I hate books and movies that seek to ride in on the tailcoats of fame of authors who no longer have copyrights.  Besides being cheap writing, it usually makes for bad writing, the plot suffering from the confines of what has already been written, already imagined, by another brain, and inspiration, you know, usually comes easiest to the original author of the storyline and characters.

I probably wouldn’t be writing this, though if the book hadn’t achieved enough notoriety to be made into a movie, and it wouldn’t have achieved that without the word “Pemberley” in the title.

Do not look for a perfect re-drawing of Austen’s larger-than-life characters.  They, in fact, bear very little resemblance to them.  Mrs. Bennett, Lydia, and Lady Catherine are so over-drawn and afflicted with bad acting that you’ll just have to ignore them. Darcy and Elizabeth are very little like their characters, either in looks or personality.

So why am I writing this if I only intend to be ugly?

I don’t!

I have a suggestion: Pretend it bears no relation to Pride and Prejudice.  Before I did that, I almost couldn’t get through it.  Once I did it, I actually enjoyed it.  Imagine it’s a story about a young, wealthy, Regency couple, already married, happily, in a moment that crowds in on them filled with chaos.

The Darcy and Elizabeth aren’t bad, if you’re not trying to make them Darcy and Elizabeth (Matthew Rhys and Anna Maxwell Martin).  In fact, they are good actors, portraying delicate emotions in their expressions without speaking, which is what we have come to expect from good British drama. Georgiana and Wickham (Eleanor Tomlinson and Matthew Goode) are great, too (and actually come closest to portraying their characters accurately).  The mystery itself is not terrible, with enough twists and drama to keep you halfway interested.

But the real value in this series is the portrayal of everyday Regency life, both for the wealthy and the not, when we flash away from the courtroom scenes.  Too often, we see the Regency damsel’s courtship, and then she rides off into the sunset with her duke.  We don’t see the ups and downs of actually becoming a married lady of rank, the responsibilities of being a patroness to many. We also don’t usually see the poverty in which many lived.

My sister commented while we were watching this, “Okay, how good would this have been if she had made up her own characters?!”  It would’ve removed all negative comments from this review, and I would have loved it.  But again, I never would’ve seen it at all probably, which could lead to some very scathing comments about the publishing and film industries, which I’m sure you’ll hear at a later date!

Currently available for purchase from Amazon.

Our Favorite Literary Couples

Happy Valentine’s Day!  In honor of this day of love, we (my sister and I) thought we would share some of our favorite literary couples.  Who are yours? Tell us in the comments.  We always love recommendations!

Hannah’s Favorites:
Jane and Mr. Rochester – Jane Eyre
Nora and Sullivan – Now That You Mention It
Anne and Captain Wentworth – Persuasion
Margaret and Mr. Thornton – North and South
Arabella and TurnipThe Mischief of the Mistletoe
Charlotte and RobertThe Temptation of the Night Jasmine
Jade and Daniel – Dancing with Fireflies
Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane – The Lady Julia Novels
Lena and Kostos – The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants
Caroline and Charles – Candle in the Darkness
Brett and Jake – The Sun Also Rises

Tara’s Favorites:
Lizzie and Darcy – Pride and Prejudice
Melanie and Ashley – Gone With the Wind
Natasha and Pierre – War and Peace
Katherine and Petruchio – The Taming of the Shrew
Serena and Rotherham – Bath Tangle
Valancy and Barney – The Blue Castle
Constance and Drew – A Bridge Most Begrudging
Kate and Lucas – The Convenient Groom
Elisabeth and Jack – Mine is the Night
Molly and James – Beyond this Moment
Venetia and Damerel – Venetia
Anne and Gilbert – Anne of Green Gables
Harriet Vane and Lord Peter – The Lord Peter Series
Sophy and Charles – The Grand Sophy
Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe – The Amelia Peabody Series
Emma and Mr. Knightly – Emma

Are yours any of the same?  Enjoy!