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!