What Genre Am I?

My first series was a time-slip contemporary/historical with romantic elements. My next novel was sort of a niche Southern fiction/small town/humor with romantic elements. I think some of my initial audience was drawn to the immersive Civil War themes of the Torn Asunder Series, with some happening to fall in love with the modern characters along the way.

There is no question that, for marketing purposes, it would have been great for my next project to sort of resemble my previous series in some tangible way, in order to build on the following in that direction. I was aware of that and actually made the conscious decision not to do that.

I am independently published, and currently not trying to be published traditionally. One of the great advantages of that is literary freedom. I have observed authors propelled in a single direction, only much later in their careers to try to change directions, and their audience is confused and even sometimes angry or let down. My group and I made the decision to go ahead and rip off that Band-Aid so there wouldn’t be any expectations that would be a cap on creativity or authenticity of what I am wanting to put out there in the moment.

But obviously, that’s a lot of trust to request from your readers. Some of my Torn Asunder readers who were historical fiction-oriented didn’t translate to Thank God for Mississippi, and that’s okay. Thank God for Misssissippi has a sort of Southern/small town/humor following that is separate that won’t necessarily always translate into my later works.

Right now, I’ve got in the pipeline a few books that are very different: one being a Southern contemporary with a historical tie-in through letters that is quite muted compared with Thank God for Mississippi, another set in 1840s Virginia, and another being a post-Civil War romance quite different in tone from Torn Asunder.

There are two threads to what I write: Southern and romantic. I’m not prepared even to always say Southern (although that will be the bulk), but I do think romantic will always be key because that is what propels me as a writer. So I can’t promise anything in the way of precise consistency in genre, theme, decade, or mood.

But I do promise you that you will have an enjoyable, page-turning book in your hands, every time. And I’m hoping readers make that leap with me.

Q&A: Thank God for Mississippi

Hi Readers! I am excited to share the official Q&A for Thank God for Mississippi with you! I always open these to readers and anyone with an interest. We have some great questions, and I categorized them by topic. Starting off, there are questions about the writer (moi!), followed by questions about TGFM itself, which lead into questions about small town and Southern life, Southern literature in general—and then we bring it back to the book. The questions were very wide-ranging this time, but I think they’re all pertinent and related. Enjoy!

Q: What is your favorite part of writing?

A: I think…the storytelling. I love the process of sparking an idea, then considering how to tell it in a way that is effective, then the feeling of getting it right (if I do), and then sharing that and having readers connect with it… I love it!

Q: What is your least favorite part of writing?

A: The nuts and bolts stuff. The actual writing at the keyboard is not necessarily the most fun part, but it’s fine as long as the story is going well. But if something isn’t working, it can be very frustrating. I have always wished I could mentally beam the story out of my head onto the paper, because sometimes you can hit it right easily, but sometimes it takes a lot of work and stress to get it right, and occasionally you never can fully replicate what you had in mind. I also very much dislike editing, but I do a lot of it before it ever goes out to first readers and then a lot after they give feedback. Totally necessary, but not necessarily the fun part!

Q: Do you have any tips for new writers?

A: Maybe not tips, because I truly think every writer’s process is different. But I can tell you my process! I usually formulate the ideas almost totally in my head. I have a sort of “Go” button in my mind when I know the story is complete enough to actually put pen to paper, so to speak. If I outline, I only do so minimally, with a handful of words to serve as my guide for plot points so I don’t forget any of the ideas. There are usually about 10-12 scenes that I have in mind that serve as a sort of mental outline. In between them is not just blank; there is a muddier sort of impression/feeling of what’s supposed to be happening that I need to recreate. When I sit down to write, I usually do best if I can have days and hours for huge writing binges. The creative juices and stories flow most naturally for me that way.

Q: Do you send reviewers copies of books in exchange for reviews or participate in any books-for-free programs like NetGalley?

A: No (thanks for asking!). I’m committed to earning organic reviews from spontaneous readers because I think that leads to the most honest reviews.

Q: What is your favorite genre?

A: Probably Regency. I had always loved Jane Austen (the movies most of all), and then Julie Klassen came onto the stage, and I devoured her books at the end of high school and beginning of college. I discovered Georgette Heyer my freshman year of college. I remember so many happy evenings spent consuming her prolific collection, generally while also consuming Zaxby’s. 😂

Q: Is there a playlist for TGFM?

A: Yes! The book is set in Middle Tennessee, so music is a huge inspiration for the book. I am going to release the playlist on the blog in just a few days.

Q: Tell me about the title!

A: Well, first the book is set in Tennessee, not Mississippi. My main character’s name is Mississippi, and there is also an inside joke that some in the South will already recognize, and you can find out what it is by reading the book!

Q: Why Tennessee?

A: I originally began to set TGFM in Alabama to give myself mental space for creativity, since I live in Tennessee. But then the storyline just got very realistic, and I realized that, similar as the cultures of the two states are, there could be some differences. If I was going to get so involved, I might as well know I was going to get it spot on. Also, I happened to think: why shouldn’t Tennessee get some airtime? 😂 Alabama seems to show up a lot more in movies. So I thought: let’s just get really close to home here and speak from true experience.

Q: What genre(s) would you put TGFM in?

A: Probably most prominently contemporary romance. Thank God for Mississippi is a little hard to categorize because the romance element is subtle, and there are also hints of women’s fiction, mystery, humor, and Southern commentary. I wasn’t sure how TGFM would come down on categorization, but the element most first readers have wanted to discuss was the romantic, so I think that is telling as to categorization. Readers of clean romance will find it comfortably within that wheelhouse. I discuss suitability for young readers, along with faith elements in my books in an earlier Q&A here.

Q: Are your main characters typical of your writing?

A: I actually think you’ll find them quite different from my other books. They really take on a persona all their own. Mississippi is a unique character—very gritty and determined, unafraid to speak her mind but also struggling with the same insecurities we all have. The male lead, too, is a character all his own—kind, sophisticated, and full of joy and humor. 

Q: What is Mississippi’s job in the book?

A: Mississippi was employed both in a professional and personal capacity by Hammondsville’s district attorney, who needed help because he was elderly and blind. She helped out at work with documents, drove him, and lived in a cottage on his property. He passes away, and then she holds over for a little while until the new DA (who happens to be his grandson) can get his feet under him. That’s where the story takes place.

Q: What is the best thing about the book?

A: Mississippi is serving as Joseph’s guide in many ways. So you get a lot of training and commentary on the South, and of course, there are a lot of hijinks along the way. The chemistry between the two main characters works, and so it’s just a really fun ride.

Q: How would you categorize the romance in the book?

A: As you might expect from a Georgette Heyer groupie…subtle, but compelling. 😊

Q: Is Hammondsville a real town or based on a real small town?

Q: Hammondsville is fictional and is not meant to replicate any one town exactly. It’s meant to be a sort of an amalgamation of small Southern towns that would be easily recognizable to people from towns of similar populations. I happen to be from a small Southern town of about Hammondsville’s size, so I did draw on my experiences there and what I know of several other small towns.

Q: What is the best feedback you have gotten from first readers?

A: The comment that has excited me the most is that Mississippi is a strong role model for girls. I hadn’t even thought about that, because she’s so atypical of a heroine. But when I considered it, I thought: yeah, we definitely need more Mississippis in the world!

Q: Do you take on the tougher aspects of living in the South in TGFM?

A: Yes, I think so. I just came at it from a really realistic point of view. My goal is never to paper over anything. I also don’t want to overlook positive aspects. So you get the good with the bad, the funny with the sad, and there’s no shortage of any of it.

Q: You said you strove to strip the book of anything inauthentic. What was the creative process like to write about a small Southern town without any of the cutesy fluff?

A: It was interesting. I have actually never read a book like TGFM that is really authentic to the Southern experience I have lived. They may be out there and I just haven’t come across them. But it felt like there was no rubric. It was different to create a portrait of a small Southern town that would be instantly recognizable to people actually from those towns, without any of the bells and whistles or immediately perceivable charm. So I had to get creative, and somewhere along the way, I realized in this instance creativity just meant digging deep and being real. There will be something comforting to readers about the raw honesty of the whole thing, I think. It just feels like it’s your life, and if they can be the hero or heroine of their own story, you can, too.

Q: What is one small town Southern theme TGFM covers?

A: One is the decision of whether to stay near family and community, or to leave for opportunity and living a more fast-paced life. Everything you have been taught about being prosperous urges you to “get out,” while the ties of home draw you to stay. I think most every young person from a small town has to grapple with that decision at some point in their lives, and make that decision for themselves.

Q: What is the best thing about living in a small town?

A: The community. You are never alone. You don’t have to walk through anything—illness, deprivation, loss—alone. They will be there, and they will bring a casserole. 

Q: What is the worst thing about living in a small town?

A: The community. You are never alone. 😂 There is usually someone “up in your business,” as we say. Privacy is not a given. Gossip is. 

Q: Are you a big fan of the Southern literary greats?

A: Of course, in many ways. But I am very middle-brow. I’ve talked about this before in another Q&A, I think. I recognize the contributions of the greats, I know their worth and powerful impact, and I’m sure in some ways I’m influenced by them—but I don’t particularly enjoy reading them. I find almost anything termed “literature” boring. Of course, I acknowledge that the sole purpose of literature is not to be page-turning. But as a novelist who loves the readable quality that sparks and holds your interest, neither high-brow perfection nor low-brow fluff is going to get me there. So I tend to like my reading a little elevated, but completely grounded to reality. I like real-life stuff, and I do think that is a benefit of Southern writing in general—being hugely grounded. Southern writers are real and raw, almost shockingly so at times, and they have a way of cutting to the chase.

Q: Who are some Southern authors I should read?

A: I may not be the person to ask after the last answer, haha! Some authors I have read are Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, Harper Lee, Mark Twain, Toni Morrison (not from the South, but somewhat in the Southern tradition), Margaret Mitchell, Bobbie Ann Mason… There are so many more, of course. If you are a fan of Christian fiction, I’ve really enjoyed Deeanne Gist and some by Tamera Alexander. I know many love Fannie Flagg (I just haven’t gotten to read her yet).

Q: Which Southern stories really stand out to you?

A: The quirky ones (which is most of them!). I’m still scratching my head over A Rose for Emily (Faulkner) and Good Country People (O’Connor). Shiloh (Mason) stays with me. And I think it’s impossible for any Civil War writer to escape the influence of Gone With the Wind (Mitchell), whatever your feelings about its modern resonance or lack thereof.

Q: You talked about how movies often get the South wrong in another Q&A. Are there any Southern movies that get it right?

A: I definitely haven’t watched every Southern film out there, but I can think of a few. Sweet Home Alabama is pretty spot-on. I haven’t watched them recently, but I remember Walk the Line and O Brother, Where Art Thou? really going over well in the South. The accents are pretty horrendous, but there’s a lot that Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil gets right, too. For kids, The Princess and the Frog is great (although I have it on excellent authority that there are scary bits!).

Q: What do you think about stories set in the South, written by non-Southern writers?

A: Sure! I’m very open to that! It will be a greater challenge, probably, to get it right. Part of my Torn Asunder Series was set in New England, and I felt like I had to do my homework doubly. I was a bit nervous I would get something hugely wrong. Of course, if you do get something wrong, it’s not the end of the world, but it can be hard for perfectionists. But as long as you’re willing to take that on, absolutely I think there is room at the table. A number of people have done this quite successfully. 

Q: What are you excited to share about Thank God for Mississippi?

A: The humor. I think we so need that right now.

Q: Anything else we should know about the book?!

A: I will say that we have talked a lot about this being a small town book. But I think a lot about an interview with Ronnie Dunn on CMT or something that I saw a long time ago. I may not get it perfectly right, but the gist of it was: He was talking about his song “Red Dirt Road,” and he said he had a guy come up to him and say, “Man, that’s just like how it was where I grew up.” Dunn said, “Where did you grow up?” And the man answered, “Brooklyn.” So, while I do believe the book will resonate with people who are from small towns, it’s really a book about home, and that is for everybody.

Public Service Announcement – Alex Rider Series has been adapted for TV!!!

I don’t know if you are familiar with the Alex Rider books, or if the popularity of the series was a phenomenon limited to my age group. I remember the series being the star of our school book fairs, starting roughly around 2002 when I would have been in the 5th grade. As millions of children across the world remember the Harry Potter Series as being the stories of their childhood that made them readers, so I remember the Alex Rider Series. I had always been a reader, but looking back, these are the books that made me a passionate reader.

Set in London, the series follows a schoolboy of extraordinary ability who, following the death of his uncle, a spy, is recruited by MI6. They are written by Anthony Horowitz, who now has some James Bond credits under his belt. I know it all sounds very fantastical, but it is somehow believable. The action and adventure, which usually bores me, is splendid, and, for the most part, the plots are really sound. The character of Alex is enormously layered and compelling.

I can’t remember how I got started on them. I think one of the boys in my class may have told me I needed to try them. I started Stormbreaker in 6th grade and was blown away. I told my best friend, and she tried them and was similarly transported. Everyone who read them told their friends, and pretty soon we had a wave of Alex Rider fanaticism in our grade at school. Even people who weren’t readers were so absorbed in them that they didn’t want to put them down when our classes began. We—boys and girls alike—carried this fixation with the books on up to the 8th grade. They were so popular that our librarian had to begin keeping them behind her desk with waiting lists. If you’re a reader, you probably are familiar with the delight a new book being published in a series can bring. When Ark Angel came out in the 8th grade, there was a pretty deep waiting list. I, who loathe line-cutting, snuck into the library (perhaps taking a cue from the teen spy himself?) on the day we knew it was arriving at the school, and looked at our librarian with puppy dog eyes. She laughed and said, “It’s on my desk, Tara.” 

Apparently the series is hugely admired in England. Obviously, it was really popular with my age group at my particular school. I’m not sure of its influence in America beyond that. My brother, who is just two grades ahead of me, thinks he missed the phenomenon entirely. My sister, who is six grades behind me, read and loved the books, and all of her grade did, too, but sometimes I wonder if that was because a lot of people in my class happened to have little siblings in her class. When a class I recently spoke to asked me what I liked to read, I told them about the series, and they weren’t familiar with it (although, I think their teacher, who is wonderful and was also my teacher, planned to introduce it to them!).

Anyway, obviously, I know the series has sold millions of copies in the U.S., so obviously a lot of kids were reading it. But I don’t hear it spoken of very often these days. There was a movie some years back based on Stormbreaker, which I think critics are pretty hard on, but I didn’t mind it when I watched it as a child. I’ve been away from the series for a long time and actually didn’t even know Horowitz has added subsequent novels (the last one I read was Snakehead, and I thought the series was complete).

But imagine my delight when my sister called me and said, “Did you know there is an Alex Rider series on Prime?!” So obviously, I watched it. There are currently two seasons available. The first series skips over the plotline from Stormbreaker and goes straight into Point Blanc, which happens to have been my least favorite of the books. (It involves a cloning storyline, which was a rare departure from conceivable reality for the series.)

Anthony Horowitz was an executive producer, so I felt pretty good about it going in. The casting, I think, was incredible. It was like actually watching these characters from my childhood come to life. Alex wasn’t exactly as I had pictured him looking, but Otto Farrant, himself a childhood fan of the novels, inhabits the role beautifully and really gets the character. Mrs. Jones, Alan Blunt, and Jack were other phenomenal casting jobs. The spirit of the novels that makes them delightful and readable is there, and overall, I am very impressed.

A few things that were interesting to contemplate as I watched… The streaming adaptation was not made just for kids. It is almost told from an adult perspective, and they apparently did that both for the sake of casting the audience net as wide as possible and for allowing the series to sort of grow up with people like me, who grew up reading the books. It was interesting, and not totally ineffective. It may have even been the best thing to do. I am a bit of a purist, however, when it comes to really good books being adapted for the screen, so… I wouldn’t have minded a less omniscient viewpoint.

In addition, when I was Alex’s age and reading the books, I knew Horowitz was careful to include the moral discussion about employing a teenager as a spy, but those discussions just sort of washed over me. He was a teenager, sure, but he was capable, and he was doing it for his country. Now, of course, watching the series, my eyes are kind of wide at the audacity and moral repugnance of the fictional MI6 characters using a teenage child in this way. I just thought that perspective shift, while not at all out of the ordinary as we grow up, was interesting to note. 

I remember the books made it plain that Alan Blunt (the boss) made the decision in a cold-blooded, clear-eyed way because it was the best way he could do his job, with the ultimate goals being good ones, but still, he was willing to use Alex with varying degrees of humanity over the course of the series. I wish the series had dug into that moral dilemma a bit more, and into the characters of Blunt and Mrs. Jones, as the books did. It just seems odd that the writers, who were giving a more adult brush to the series, missed that opportunity. I think this may be something that they intend to rectify in future seasons, however. 

Season 2 is based on Eagle Strike, which was a good book. Season 3 has been announced, so it looks like the show will go on!

All in all, I’m delighted to take this journey back to a lovely time during my childhood, and to the lovely books that sparked my reading passion. Go watch the series on Prime!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

I haven’t been on in a while, and I thought I would drop in to let you know what I’ve been up to as the year draws to a close.

For me, 2021 has been busy. In my day job (as a lawyer), we moved our entire office after renovating a building in a two-month timeframe. Whew! This was the chief reason the blog went dark for a little while. I joked to a relative during that time, “I may have said I was busy before in my life, but I lied. I’ve never been this busy.” 😂  And yet, through the process, and now at its conclusion, we saw God’s provision every step of the way and end the year bursting with gratitude for that and for the people we have the privilege to serve.

I’ve spent a lot of time with my family this year. We’ve had a couple of tough diagnoses and medical emergencies. Those have been hard. But we’ve had some wonderful things, too. Through it all, I am thankful. It’s hard to communicate the extent to which you see God’s love and mercy in the difficult things as well as the beautiful, but it’s there, and I do.

Here at Tea & Rebellion, we have been able to squeeze in some content that I have enjoyed producing. I’ve introduced you to my next book, Thank God for Mississippi, with some fun content relating to what you can expect in the book. With the help of my sister, we did some posts in our “Ask the Historian Series,” where we navigated the thorny issues plaguing history today, in a way that we hope was clear-minded and helpful. I posted some reviews about what I was reading and watching. A project I hugely enjoyed was collaborating with Lance Elliott Wallace to produce a Q&A on Southern life and culture. And I started the year by releasing a Q&A and a series of “History Behind the Story” posts for Charleston Tides

As to the books, since that is what readers always have the most interest in…! We released Charleston Tides in February (I say we because it always feels like such a team effort, and I am grateful for all who help!). I finished Thank God for Mississippi this year, which will be published next year. I also completed drafts of two more books, one a historical novel set in 1840s Virginia, and the other a modern book, which is still fresh off the press, so more on that one later! The Monday after Thanksgiving, I made Southern Rain free on Kindle. This resulted in an entirely unexpected viral download that saw Southern Rain climb to #8 in Amazon’s Historical Fiction Kindle Store for a day. Of course, this was a boon for Southern Rain and the entire series, which has created a ripple effect that is still going on. I am fully cognizant of God’s provision and direction in the area of my writing as well, and I hope nothing I have said implies that any of this would have been possible without it. 

All in all, a crazy, busy year, but one which I will look back on with gratitude—for provision, for hope, for strength, for personal growth, for new beginnings, for small blessings, for family, for good books and good friends, for daily reminders of what it’s all about, and, not the least, for you, Readers.

Happy New Year.

Q&A: Charleston Tides

Hello again, friends!  The third book of the Torn Asunder Series will be available soon! To celebrate, here is a Q&A about Charleston Tides.  Some questions are about the book, some are about writing in general, and some are about me! (Just a word of caution, if you haven’t yet read Southern Rain and Northern Fire, there might be a few spoilers for those two books. However, there shouldn’t be any spoilers for Charleston Tides, and I encourage you to read the Q&A before you read the third and final book of the series.) Here we go!

Q: Which was your favorite storyline: modern or historical?

A:  I think more about the historical, but if I had to choose, it would be the modern.  I love the coastal feeling of it, and there can be something sort of magical about a contemporary tale.  The chemistry between Adrian and Adeline was always compelling for me.

Q: Do you think the modern and historical storylines overlap?

A:  I do!  There is something almost indefinable that binds the two stories together.  I have had several people tell me that they feel a close link between Shannon and Adeline.  There are several ways their stories intertwine: relationships that began quickly, the complications of parenthood or its void, fear of the uncertainties of love… There are several more, but for me, the strongest thing was that there was always something similar in the mood and tone of the two stories.  And of course, there is the house, which is the same setting for both stories for a large portion of the series; Ravenel-Thompson House is almost a character in itself!

Q: Do you have a favorite moment in the series thus far?

A:  I really liked the brief vacation to Sullivan’s Island that Adeline, Adrian, and Jude take in Northern Fire.  I also enjoy the moment that Shannon finds out it is John Thomas on the ship in Northern Fire!

Q: Are any of your characters based on people in real life?

A:  Nope!  I’ve always heard all of the fun stories about Jane Austen including her quirky neighbors and friends in her books, and I think: she could never get away with this in the South!  Part of the joy of writing to me is the creation level of it.  I don’t think it would be very fun to pattern characters after people I know because it would turn into mimicry, which takes the creative process out of it.[1]

Q: What kind of music would your main characters listen to?

A:  I think Adrian listens to Frank Sinatra and Michael Bublé in the series.  Adeline strikes me as a Colbie Callait/Jason Mraz girl, maybe with a little Fleetwood Mac thrown in?  For John Thomas and Shannon… I don’t know: Schubert? Chopin? Tchaikovsky? 😉

Q: What was the most difficult to write about Shannon?

A:  She has a bit of a crazy side. We all do, though, so that’s okay! Her character very much begged me to let her spiral, and I had to do several rewrites just to calm her down. She also has this deceptive air of retiring fragility, coupled with a very powerful mind, and you’re like: Who are you? I finally realized that she was just that: a very feminine, very intelligent woman, who had been taught (and rather liked) to appear weak, while also being strong-willed. That made her very elusive as a character. A lot of readers actually don’t like Shannon, and some sort of state it as a criticism. The thing is, you aren’t necessarily supposed to like Shannon at first. She’s very self-centered and very flawed. The series is partially her journey of setting aside the things of the past, of childhood, and emerging into adulthood and peace. But that doesn’t mean you’ll always like her. And that’s hard for me, too. I like characters who always make responsible decisions!

Q: We left Shannon on the ship, asking John Thomas to take her back.  Should we expect to see him do so with open arms?

A: I struggled with determining how he would react to her leaving.  My sister (plot doctor extraordinaire) said, “The one thing I do not want you to do is have him beg her to come back.” I agreed.  It was a tricky situation all around.  I don’t want to give too much away, but basically, there is nothing simple about their reunion!

Q: What would you say this series is “about?”

A:  Probably most prominently, women—their trials, internal and external, and how they overcome them. 

Specifically, too, women in the Civil War.  There is a tendency in war novels and history to make it appear as if little of the burden fell upon women, as if they had minimal roles in the play at all.  No one can deny the huge burden that did fall upon men—something to the tune of 750,000 deaths… But at least 50,000 civilians died violent deaths during the war, many of them women.  And that’s setting aside deaths that women had always faced from childbearing, etc.  They were actively engaged, actively facing the consequences of political decisions, and living in a country at war. Women faced hardship from every possible front during the war.

Shannon loses three people dear to her.  I specifically wanted them all to be women.  Two died from illnesses related to womanhood and one, Phoebe, from violence.  I wanted to portray that this was a woman’s war, too, and also that women of this time had been at war, so to speak, before the battles ever began.

Q: I have noticed that your blog is non-political, but there is a lot of discussion of political parties in the historical part of the series, particularly Charleston Tides.  Should we expect any correlation to modern parties?

A:  The short answer is no. 

The long answer: it would be really tough to write about the Civil War without exploring the political parties of that day. If you watch the year of 1860, the split was very much a political one, and if you read primary sources, people considered loyalties during the war to be wrapped up in party loyalties.  In the memoirs of John O. Casler, who lived in divided Northern Virginia, he relates that he didn’t know if he could trust a neighbor when he was home on leave. His terminology was: “I didn’t know what his politics were,” meaning that he didn’t know which country or government his neighbor supported during the war.

Do I think there is any correlation to the political parties of today?  Not really.  For the first time during the Civil War we did have our two-party system finally boil down essentially to “Democrats” and “Republicans.”  I have heard some historians say that the Democratic party started with Jefferson, continued with Jackson, the Democrats of the Civil War era, and right up to today, and that the Republican party started with Lincoln and continued until today.  On the other hand, I have heard historians say that the Democratic and Republican parties switched platforms in the early twentieth century. 

I don’t totally buy into either theory.  Trying to match parties and people up across roughly 250 years just doesn’t work.  We tried it in one of my political science classes.  The conventional wisdom through scholarship which traces party history was that Republicans of today should align with Alexander Hamilton and Democrats of today should align with Thomas Jefferson.  Yet, when we read their ideologies aloud, the reaction was overwhelmingly just the opposite. 

Political platforms are, to a large extent, based on current issues and events.  I think that people make parties what they need them to be in their own time, based on the world as they find it in their era. You can trace certain roots of party heirship and ideology to the past but not in any way that deeply affects platforms of today, or that is particularly traceable in a two-dimensional, two-party way.

So when I’m talking about “Democrats” or “Republicans,” in the series, I am talking about the parties just as they were in the 1860s, nothing more. I do not find anachronistic historical fiction that projects modern politics over historical events to be particularly compelling.

Q: Was there anything that really surprised you over the course of your research about the Civil War?

A:  I originally shied away from the Civil War because it was such a terrible conflict.  The more I know about it, the more terrible I find it to be!  The sheer number of deaths, the battles, the diseases, the violence, the hardships, the starvation, the fear…  I think much of this is true for most people involved, North and South, enslaved and free.  It’s hard for us to imagine that a war of this magnitude happened during the Victorian Era.  I keep thinking there will be a way to make sense of it all, but it just gets more horrific the more I read about it. 

On a more optimistic note… There is some really fascinating history about the newly freed men and women of Charleston in the year after the Civil War.  My sister, who is in grad school for Public History at the College of Charleston, helped me with this research.  1865-1866 was a huge moment of empowerment for formerly enslaved communities in Charleston.  This was something I was not expecting.  If I had been writing without the research, I would have portrayed it very differently.  I think you’re going to enjoy reading about this history in Charleston Tides!

Q: Has there been any reader feedback which surprised you?

A:   One thing that has been kind of funny is a generation split about Adeline’s situation.  My younger readers think she’s totally on the right track: she needs to be cautious, take her time, not trust too easily…  But my older readers get so frustrated with her: Why can’t she see Adrian’s a good boy?  Why can’t she just make the leap already?  I love these sorts of conversations!  They’re things you would never think about as you’re writing.

Q: Does being lawyer impact you as a writer, or vice-versa?

A:  Well, just from a thousand-foot level, being a lawyer takes up most of my time.  My clients come first, so writing has to happen once everything is finished at work.

But as far as the two jobs sort of feeding each other…  At first, being a writer made legal writing a little tough.  In creative writing, you get to be flowy and wordy, whereas in legal writing you have to be concise and to-the-point with short sentences and paragraphs.  But when you think about line edits and trying to convey clarity to your readers, my legal training is something that is helpful to fall back on.

My writing is also the thing I do that keeps my life balanced.  The legal profession is notoriously stressful from day one in law school until retirement.  But with writing, I have this sort of creative or imaginative outlet that gives me a release and keeps everything in perspective.

Q:  Is there anyone who has been especially helpful to you in the course of publishing the Torn Asunder Series?

A:  My hometown and my friends and family have been a huge encouragement.  I don’t know if it’s just because they’re incredibly kind people or if the themes really resonated because we’re from the same place, but they have been so loving and have said all of the things that any writer really needs to hear.  So, to the people closest to me… Thank you, from the bottom of my heart!

Q: Where do you plan to take us next—a new series, a stand-alone, modern, historical?

A:   I am definitely taking you somewhere—that’s about all I can tell you!  I have several completed manuscripts, and it’s a matter of choosing which one to run with next.  I am going to take a few months just to regroup, start the editing process, and make sure that I get you the best finished product I can!  I will post updates periodically on my blog, so stay tuned!

And thank you, Dear Readers, for taking this journey with these characters!  It has been a fun ride, and I can’t wait for the next one!


[1] I do bend my rule just slightly and sometimes draw inspiration from real life for characters who are children because children are really easy to get wrong in writing.

Naming Our Characters

Naming characters is one of my favorite things to do when I’m starting a new book. It can also be a really difficult process, though, and I have author friends who get stuck in this phase and throw their hands up in frustration. I’ve been working on honing my naming skills over the past eleven years and thought I’d share some of my techniques!

The most important thing is that the name works for you. It has to wash with the character in your head, or it just doesn’t click. A closely related tip is that the name has to work for the character. Sometimes the name makes the character, and sometimes the character makes the name. Usually, I try to choose names that really suit the person, kind of like you would do if you were naming a pet. An example of this is Shannon’s cousin, Marie, from the Torn Asunder Series. The name just always suited her, so that was easy. An example of the character making the name would be if you had a really bold girl but decided to give her a soft, feminine name, just for the contrast. I’ve seen this work really well.

Using an obviously unsuited name can also work if you want to try out an unusual moniker. I’ve had characters in the past that I’ve done this for, and I think, “Wow, you really pulled that off!” On the flip side, not every name is made for every character. For instance, my historical male lead, John Thomas, was originally Cameron. This is a bit of a modern name, but I knew I could get away with it because it is a surname, and a lot of people gave their sons family surnames back in the day.  However, the name didn’t fit him. It was as though the name tried to make him something he wasn’t. His character even started to change a little from the way I had imagined it in my head. This is the power of naming.

You can also see by my experience with the John Thomas/Cameron debacle that naming can help you get to know your characters when their personalities are still fresh and undeveloped in your head. Through that process, I was able to learn that John Thomas was a little quieter and kinder than I had begun to draw him. The character begins to revolt against the wrong name, and it’s a really helpful tool to keep in your back pocket.

So how did I arrive at John Thomas? It’s hard to remember precisely after so many character names, but I’m pretty sure that John Thomas’s name was inspired by Stonewall Jackson’s. A lot of people don’t know that the famous General was actually Thomas Jonathan Jackson. I always thought the name had a rather nice ring to it. So I kind of flipped it and brushed it up for my character. Why the use of two names? People did this during the Civil War Era. Also, I could never think of one name that fully encapsulated his character.

A name is also a good opportunity to show that you’ve done your historical homework. You probably don’t want a Kayla in 1860. But it’s not always easy to think of good historical names or to know what names were common to your particular era. The best place to start is to pull up census records for the era you want to use. A lot of census records list ages, so you need to look for someone who would have been born in the same decade as your character. There is also a great website that compiles censuses by birth year and lists the most popular names of each decade. It can be found here:

https://www.galbithink.org/names/us200.htm.

I use that site all the time. Remember, if you’re writing a twenty-year-old character in 1850, you need to go back to 1830. Only think how much naming trends change in twenty years in the modern world!  They didn’t change as much, historically speaking, but you can definitely see certain fashion trends as you scroll through censuses. Another tip is to study real people from your era and look at what their children, their sisters, their uncles, etc. were named.

My books also include enslaved characters. For their names, the process is a little different. The censuses also included and counted the enslaved since slave states got a boost in representation in Congress based off the number of slaves held. Obviously, then, you can find historically accurate names for the enslaved from censuses. But you have to find a census from a slave state, and I have often found that historical records from Southern states are a little spottier and more difficult to locate for various reasons. Another good option is to get onto the websites of house museums where there was once an enslaved population. Museums will often do highlights on particular enslaved people or families. The one tough thing about that is that house museums tend to focus on a particular era. For instance, Virginia plantations most all tend to spotlight the Revolutionary Era. So, another thing you can do is read biographies or diaries of slaveowners. Typically, the names of the enslaved will come up. If you have a really hard time tracking down slave records, you can just fall back on the names from the general census from the appropriate era. The names didn’t tend to be too different. For instance, Thomas Jefferson’s rolls list an enslaved woman named Patsy at Monticello, and his daughter was also Patsy.

Okay, so let’s wrap up the conversation on first names with some of my choices from the Torn Asunder Series. Shannon was originally Mary until it struck me that “Shannon” really suited her. Therefore, she became Mary Shannon and is called “Shannon.” Historically, a lot of people gave even their girls family surnames as middle names, so I thought I could get away with that. Frederick’s name just always suited him. “Adeline” (my modern female lead) fit her. It was kind of sweet, kind of quirky, kind of old. Adrian (my modern male lead) kept trying to be “Aidan,” which would have worked for him, but I kept forcing him to be “Adrian” for reasons I can’t now remember!

Now, let’s talk surnames.

I think the most important thing in surnames is remembering that you’re dealing with people who have a family history. I recently read a book that featured a historical character from Tennessee, and he had a last name that was distinctly of Germanic origin. My initial reaction was, “No, he’s not from Tennessee.”  As I sat and wondered why that had thought popped in my head, it hit me that there just weren’t a lot of people of Germanic origins in Tennessee in the era the author had chosen. There were a few, though, and people can obviously move from their original state. I kept waiting for the book to explain the character’s family history, but it never did, and that was when it hit me.  I googled the author’s state, and most of the people there are of Germanic origins. Bingo. It was just an oversight or an assumption, which could happen to any of us. There’s just so much to get right when you’re writing, and it’s impossible to cover it all.

The best thing to do is look at immigration patterns. For historical fiction, unless you’re doing it to make a certain point, it’s best not to stray too much from the area’s human ecology because you run the risk of straying from accuracy in naming. For instance, if you’re writing a book set in New Orleans, it’s best to use mostly French surnames, toss in a few Spanish, and add a dash of English. In Tennessee, immigration patterns show the bulk of the population was from England, Scotland, and Ireland. Always, there will be surnames that stray from the norm, and by all means, it’s great to show those. But do it with intention.

I would just like to make a note here that research should also be done if you have characters who were formerly or currently enslaved. You have a lot of options, including the following: having no surname while enslaved, having a family surname even while enslaved (if permitted), keeping an original African name, taking on an African surname after freedom, taking on a name that meant something special to the individual like “Freeman” or “Ransom,” and taking on the former owner’s surname. You can see the potential for so many wonderful stories and choices. To explore those stories through naming is a particularly profound opportunity.

Also, if your historical story includes a Native American character, similarly there needs to be some research on various naming methods. Sometimes Native Americans would choose to take on a European name either because they were fathered by a European American or as a measure of assimilation. Sometimes Native Americans would choose to keep traditional names.

Obviously, for modern storylines, some of this goes out the window because we live in a much more mobile and diverse society.  But I still think it can’t hurt to do a little research. Even your modern characters have a family story, and I think their backgrounds ring truest when you take a little time to research what that story might have been.

As for my surname choices? Charleston has a strong French Huguenot history, and Ravenel is a French Huguenot name I heard again and again on a nerdy historian’s tour of Charleston.  So I plucked it right from history.  My historical male lead is from New England. Obviously, there were a lot of people of English descent in Massachusetts in the nineteenth century, so I pulled a list of English surnames. “Haley” appealed to me because of Alex Haley’s powerful connection with the history of slavery in light of John Thomas’s abolitionist roots.  So names can also be symbolic or literary while still being historically accurate!  My modern male lead is also a Ravenel due to his family connection back to the historical portion of the series.  My modern female lead is a Miller.  A girl-next-door name, no?

How do you choose your character names? Any good tips? If you’re not a writer, how did you name your kids or pets?

Character Pictures

I ran a poll on my Instagram story as to whether readers like to see the pictures or portraits which inspired characters or whether they instead like to imagine characters for themselves.  As of writing this post, the post is at 70% for seeing the pictures and 30% for imagining.

I have had experiences in which it was super fun to see the author’s inspirations.  I’ve also had experiences in which the author’s imagination and mine were so different that I was a little thrown off!  So my Instagram friend Tammi suggested that I post the pictures I used for my characters on my blog so that people who don’t want to see them don’t have to. I thought that was a great idea.

So just be forewarned… Pictures will follow for my character inspirations.  You can quit reading now if you want to, and I won’t be offended. 😉

One more a caveat:  It’s been so long since I first saved these pictures that I have no idea where they came from or who the people are.  One was pulled from an ad for a legal research site.  LOL!  So I credit the pictures to their owners, whoever they may be!

Okay, without further ado, here are my inspirations…

Shannon:

Shannon

John Thomas:

John Thomas.PNG

Frederick Ravenel:

Frederick

Marie Ravenel:

Marie

Where are the modern people, you might ask?  I actually left Adrian entirely to my imagination and didn’t base his appearance off of a picture.  Adeline was kind of the same way.   I also left most all of the side characters to my imagination, too.

Occasionally, though, I will see someone, either on TV or in real life who reminds me of a character, and that’s always fun.  There was a contestant from Season 2 of the Great American Baking Show of whom I remember thinking, “Oh, hey, she looks a lot like Adeline!”  Her name was Amanda Faber.  I remember that she was a great baker!  LOL!

If you are a writer, do you ever meet your characters in real life, either in appearance or personality?  If you are a reader, have you ever imagined someone totally differently from the author?  Do any of the pictures above represent my characters as you imagined?  I’d love to hear from you!

Q & A: Northern Fire

Hello again, friends! My sister, Hannah, and I sat down for a Q&A about Northern Fire, and I have also included some questions from some wonderful readers. Some are about the book, some are about writing in general, and some are about me! (Just a word of caution, if you haven’t yet read Southern Rain, there might be a few spoilers for that one! However, there shouldn’t be any spoilers for Northern Fire, and I encourage you to read the Q&A before you read it.) Here we go!

Hannah: What was the inspiration for Northern Fire? Was it hard to narrow down your ideas?

Tara: It’s all very hazy now, but I think the inspiration for the Torn Asunder Series came to me while I was taking a walk during my two-month intense isolation/study time for the Bar Exam. I had this idea for this historical heroine who leaves her husband, an absolutely shocking thing for the Civil War Era, and I really wanted to know how that would play out. Hmm, could I pair it with this modern storyline about a preservationist that had been floating in my head? Yes, I could! It’s not usually hard to narrow down your ideas because something always comes to you passionately and has to get out.

Hannah: What kind of audience do you expect to read Northern Fire?

Tara: The tendency is to say women who love Historical Fiction/Romance, but several men have read and liked Southern Rain, too. I think, between the history, the modern romance, and the Women’s Fiction dimension, there is something for everybody. I will refer you to the Q&A for Southern Rain for information about young readers/parents’ discretion, which can be found in its own special tab on my blog at http://www.teaandrebellion.com. As always, you can contact me if you have any questions.

Hannah: What should the reader know going into Northern Fire?

Tara: I think I always underestimated the series, in that, whether modern or historical, I thought it was going to be lighter than it was. There are some heavy topics, which may be difficult for some people. There are a couple of sad scenes and some overarching struggles that may be relatable for a lot of people, in both good and tough ways. I think the advantage of having a book that tends towards heaviness is that, wherever there is pain, there is also a lot of depth.

Hannah: How do you deal with difficult subjects? How do you strike the balance of far enough/too far?

Tara: It’s sometimes hard to know how much is too far. I have learned that a good rule of thumb for me is that if something makes me uncomfortable, I should probably take it a step further even from there and push the boundaries a little bit to experience the truth of the story. When a book does tend towards heaviness, the great balancer is always hope. Human life is so difficult, but there is such beauty in it, too. It’s important not to overlook either.

So many readers: Why don’t you just give Shannon and John Thomas a baby already?!

Tara: So sorry! This is probably the number one question I have gotten. It’s touching that everyone is so worried about their happiness. When I first started reading clean historical romance about twelve years ago, I found some truly talented authors, and many of those books have beloved spots on my shelves. But I noticed a recurring structure: boy meets girl, usual struggles ensue, they get together, happy ending equals healthy baby. That didn’t quite ring true to me. Historically speaking, a lot of couples struggled in conceiving (George and Martha Washington, James and Dolley Madison, Andrew and Rachel Jackson) or in carrying to term (Louisa Catherine Adams, Mary Church Terrell). Sometimes the mother died from something as simple as severe morning sickness during the pregnancy (Charlotte Brontë). If you could have a baby, the birth was an extreme ordeal for which you could thank God if both mother and child survived (Stonewall Jackson’s first wife died from a hemorrhage just after giving birth, and their child was stillborn). Lots of men had two families because the first wife died in “childbed” (Theodore Roosevelt). Many women made it through the birth only to linger and die from puerperal fever or physical complications (Thomas Jefferson’s wife) days, weeks, or months later. Of course, for those who did not have as many difficulties, families were often large due to lack of effective birth control methods, and I think that is perhaps where the idea that “everyone in history had eight kids” comes from. But even for those large families, it is difficult to think of a historical figure who did not lose a child to a childhood illness. All of that is a long way of saying that I’m not sure the notion, historically speaking, of a happy ending culminating in a modern-type birth where there are no worries quite passes muster. I kind of wanted to represent the full range of historical experiences in this story. Shannon struggles, while Marie has a whiplash-inducing honeymoon baby. And, while I won’t tell you here whether Shannon and John Thomas have a baby, or even whether they reunite (this is all just a matter of plot), I will tell you that their ultimate peace, if they find it, will be in acceptance of whatever situation in which God places them, of themselves just as they are, and of God just as He is, which is what I think we all must find before we can get down to the more trivial business of daily happiness.

Hannah: What do you think it takes to make a strong male character likeable, but also real? Do you think John Thomas and/or Adrian apply?

Tara: My sister and I (ahem) talk about this a lot. For me, a main male character (“MMC”) has to be loyal, and his love cannot waver. He also has to be gentle with the female character, physically speaking—there can be no love where there is any sort of fear. I don’t mind a good argument, but I don’t like a lot of yelling or any verbal abuse. I also like the MMC to be capable and to have a good grasp on his situation. I like to write male characters that you know are good ones, deep down. I don’t think that’s an unrealistic expectation at all (and if it is, we’re better off alone, girls!). Other than that, I think the sky is the limit! I love writing all different sorts of male characters. It’s totally okay for them to have their own struggles. They don’t have to be superheroes. Do John Thomas and Adrian apply to my criteria? Funnily enough, I’ve had several people tell me they don’t trust Adrian yet. So I hope this isn’t a spoiler when I say that: yes, they meet all of my main criteria. I will say that they both surprised me with the depth of their emotion by the end of the series, which I loved.

Hannah: Do you relate to Shannon or Adeline personally?

Tara: I always say that there is a little bit of me in all of my characters. I relate to Adeline’s love for history, desire to keep the peace, and awkwardness. I don’t relate to her laid-back personality, or her ability to not overthink things, unfortunately. I think every human being can relate to Shannon, since she kind of represents the human condition, that knot of tension that grows in all of us from childhood on, through numerous and varying causes. She also represents the choice we have of letting those dark forces overtake us or of overcoming them through the only way I know how—clinging to God.

Hannah: You put a lot of work into side characters. Do you ever wish the main plot had followed them instead of your MMC and MFC?

Tara: I know you’re asking this because you love Frederick and Marie. Sometimes, I wish I had made Frederick’s story on equal par with Shannon’s. However, sometimes, there is something enticing about a side-character only when the person is a side character, so I think it worked out fine.

Tammi: What other interests do you have, in addition to history and crafting stories?

Tara: That’s a great question! My day job is a lawyer, and I’m fortunate enough to work with my brother. I do a lot of property law, but my favorite thing to do is estate planning. I read a lot of historical fiction. I watch pretty much any historical drama that comes on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu. I really enjoy Audible for books that I would love to read but don’t really have time to dig into, like historical biographies and religious/theological books. I have been studying Contemplative Prayer and have found a lot of meaning in learning to listen for God’s voice in new (to me) ways. I love antiquing, particularly buying old furniture. Of course, I absolutely love touring historic homes. I just bought an old house, so there is always something to keep me busy. The History Chicks Podcast and Ben Franklin’s World Podcast have become something I love to have on in the background while I’m cleaning or working in the house.   I like to listen to music and have several playlists on Spotify. I played piano in another life and would like to get back to that soon. I like Royal Watching and follow the “From Berkshire to Buckingham” Instagram page and blog for fun analysis. I love going to plays and am fortunate to have three excellent amateur theaters nearby. I’ve recently gotten back into shopping/fashion in an effort to step up my wardrobe. And I have been dieting for about four years now and in the course of that have picked up a lot of healthy eating habits, so I’m always looking for great vegetarian or organic options.

Josette: What is your favorite historical book?

Tara: I always have trouble narrowing this down because I love so many. For historical fiction, I’ll have to give you four, loosely in order of my preference: A Bride Most Begrudging, by Deeanne Gist, Bath Tangle by Georgette Heyer, The Silent Governess, by Julie Klassen, and America’s First Daughter, by Laura Kamoie and Stephanie Dray. For books that were written in historical times, I would have to say: Persuasion, by Jane Austen, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Brontë, and The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery.

But if I had to pick an absolute favorite, that would probably be A Bride Most Begrudging. I’ve read it so many times, expecting it to disappoint as I get older, but it never does.

Tammi: Do you listen to music while you write?

Tara: I make a playlist on Spotify for every book or series. Sometimes I listen, and sometimes I prefer silence. I always play a song which I’ve chosen as a kind of theme for the book when I write the last scene and just push replay over and over until the scene is finished. I really like music with choir or strings and piano. I love The Piano Guys, Scala & Kolacny Brothers, Paul Cardall, Helen Jane Long, and 2Cellos. I had never heard of a lot of them until I started listening to the Scala & Kolacny Brothers Pandora Station (after hearing their music for the Downton Abbey trailers), and now they’re some of my favorites!

Tammi: How much time do you spend writing each day?

Tara: I used to spend about an hour or two writing every day, even while I was in law school. Now, sometimes I’m not able to do that because of eye strain from said law school. So I usually end up writing on the weekends. I like to write in bulk and might write for eight hours one day and none for the next four days. If I’m really feeling inspired and am able, I usually write for about two hours per day.

Tammi: Where do you write?

Tara: In my living room. I like a room with lots of windows and light. I have a desk that I wrote three novels on in college and still sit there sometimes, but I often write on my couch now.

Tammi: How did you become interested in writing historical fiction?

Tara: My mom would bring me home Christian Historical Fiction books that she had bought on the sale shelf at our local Hastings bookstore. I absolutely devoured them (Deeanne Gist, Julie Klassen, Lynn Austin…) One day, I said, “I just love these!” And my mom said, “Why don’t you write one?”

Tammi: When did you start writing?

Tara: When I was seventeen, pretty much right after that conversation with my mom. 🙂 That’s been about eleven years now. My first manuscript was written in a composition notebook and was set in Nineteenth Century England. It was terrible. 🙂

Tammi: When did you develop your love for history?

Tara: My mom was a 5th and 6th grade Social Studies teacher during my childhood, and my dad likes history, too, so my siblings and I grew up in a very history-friendly household. My mom would tell us fascinating historical tidbits. My parents knew how to make history fun, taking us to Washington, D.C. and Charleston when we were little, with the emphasis always on history. I remember one Sunday, they took us (after wrangling us all to church and back, no less!) with the grandparents to Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville. I remember when we walked through the door and the docent directed our attention to the ruby glass above the door. “Pretty,” she said, “but there to serve no other purpose than displaying the Harding family’s wealth.” Me: Oooh. My brother and I found that fascinating. Then came the time for the trip down to the mausoleum. (I should note that in Middle Tennessee, mourning customs were heavily followed and are always a huge part of most any tour.) I was petrified. I was not going down there. Luckily, my grandpa felt the same. Skirting the cooling pad (yes, where they laid out the bodies—it was just lying in the hall, for crying out loud!), he found a bench and said, “Sissy, I think I’m going to sit right here.” My response: “Me, too, Pa!” That trip is one of my fondest childhood memories.

Matthew M.: How did you get interested in the American Civil War?

Tara: I actually started out with an aversion to the Civil War. I always liked history, but I remember looking at pictures of the battles in my 5th grade textbook and feeling horrified. I kind of stayed away from the Civil War until I needed to fulfill my history credits at Tennessee Tech, and one of Tech’s history professors was teaching his nearly-famous course on the Civil War and Reconstruction. 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… After that, I wrote a series which follows several siblings in Civil War Era Virginia. I think setting a family drama in that era and researching minute details for so long is what finally tipped me over the edge for the Civil War. The opportunities for drama are boundless, 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!

Matthew M.: Do you use any primary source material for your novels?

Tara: Yes, I absolutely love getting my hands on a letter which gives special insight to the time period. You can find some great letters in online archives, and I have a book called War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars by Andrew Carroll, which has been great. I also find that docents are excellent to read you parts of letters when you tour historic homes. And touring historic homes is something I love to do to get a feel for the time period, and, if it’s close enough to my setting, the place. Seeing an antique from the time period can really ground you in the era, too. I also read diaries and recipes from the era, and I look at a lot of photos or portraits for the fashion.

Reaching out beyond that, I also look at scholarly works or biographies. For the Torn Asunder Series, some of the books I read in preparation were:

At the Precipice, by Shearer Davis Bowman
The Civil War at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds
An Antebellum Plantation Household, by Anne Sinkler Whaley LeClercq
Grant, by Ron Chernow

Hannah: Not all authors enjoy the subjects of their own books. Would you devour this one?

Tara: I would read it, yes, and I think I would enjoy it. I have written other books that are more to my taste. I think this one is geared more towards my sister’s taste (wink). But there is, I hope, always an element that I strive to put in my books that makes you want to keep reading or read the next one. Can I tell you a secret? There’s another cliffhanger in Northern Fire! Gotta run now before readers attack me!

Stop by the Southern Rain FAQ Page for some more questions answered about the series and my writing in general. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me!

Northern Fire – First Details Revealed!

Book 2 of the Torn Asunder Series: Northern Fire – First Details Revealed!

Since Southern Rain was published in September 2019, the No. 1 question we have gotten is: “When will the next book be out?” I’m happy to say that Northern Fire will be available in the Late Spring of 2020!

Northern Fire was intended to be a sequel in a two-book series. However, ever since I conceptualized the story arc for this series, I knew there would be some difficulties determining the number of books in the series. So I just decided to write the story in its entirety as if it were going to be only one book and see how it worked out.

A few technical difficulties arose: the historical storyline took such a different path halfway through that it felt like it should be two books, while simultaneously the modern storyline was skipping along happily as one succinct-feeling book (the trouble with dual storylines!). But the biggest problem was the word count. The No. 1 complaint I have gotten about Southern Rain is that it is so big, which has me continually smiling since I’m a nerd who loves big books. But even trimmed down significantly, Northern Fire was finishing out at about 30,000 words more than Southern Rain.

So, with a wince of apology, I gave the behemoth to my sister, who is always my first reader, and told her to fix it. You can find ways to trim it down, right? – Okay, bye!

So she put on her harshest critic’s hat and set about finding scenes to shear. Her response was that we didn’t need to change a single thing. Nothing could go. Everything was necessary to tell the story in its full capacity. And we’re agreed that it has to be divided into two books, right? – Okay bye!

My sister, who has been my first reader and first editor for nearly ten years, has absolutely never led me astray in literary matters, and I knew I should trust her instincts. So there you have it! You will be getting two books, both roughly consisting of 70,000 words, rather than one book consisting of roughly 140,000 words. This will make Books 2 and 3 a little smaller than Southern Rain, but I’m guessing that won’t be a negative for most!

So what will the books cover? I don’t want to give anything away, since we haven’t developed the official blurbs yet, but here is the time frame:

Southern Rain covered:

Historical: October 1859 – November 1861
Modern: A few months

Northern Fire will cover:

Historical: December 1861 – April 1865 (roughly the end of the war)
Modern: The next few months

Book 3 (Title to be released at a later date) will cover:

Historical: April 1865 – November 1867 (well into Reconstruction)
Modern: The next few months

We’ll be releasing the blurb for Northern Fire soon and revealing more information over the coming weeks and months. In addition, we’ll be doing an FAQ interview for Northern Fire to follow up on our FAQ interview for Southern Rain. In the meantime, stay tuned! We’ll be giving a release date for Northern Fire soon!

-Tara

History Behind the Story Series

To celebrate the release of Southern Rain tomorrow, I am launching a series of fun articles dealing with the history behind the story.  I thought it might be fun to look at some the circumstances that molded the plot lines for the book and give you an opportunity to ask any historical questions you might have.  Right now, I’ll give the list of topics I’m planning to cover.  Let me know if there’s a topic you would like to see that isn’t mentioned, and I’ll cover it, too!

  1. French Huguenots in South Carolina
  2. Enslaved People of the Lowcountry
  3. Fashion on the Brink of the Civil War
  4. Societal Rules and Quirky Charleston Customs
  5. Kissing Cousins – Did People Really Marry Their First Cousins?
  6. A Break-down in Civilities – Rhetoric Before the War
  7. The Congregationalist Church in New England
  8. Abolition in New England
  9. The Navy Before the Civil War
  10. Rose O’Neal Greenhow