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!