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Publishing is a tough career. Writers have to work so hard and learn so much to maintain a successful career. So what would you do if everything was going great and then wham! You’re asked to make a choice between truth and your career? Guest Tamera Alexander shares her experience.
About Tamera Alexander
Tamera Alexander is a USA Today bestselling novelist and one of today’s most beloved authors of inspirational historical romance. Her works have been awarded numerous industry-leading honors—among them the Christy Award, the RITA Award, and the Carol Award—and have earned the distinction of Publisher’s Weekly Starred Reviews. Tamera and her husband reside in Nashville, Tennessee, not far from the Southern mansions that serve as the backdrop for many of her critically-acclaimed novels. Learn more about Tamera at her website tameraalexander.com.
Thanks to our sponsors on Patreon, we’re able to offer an edited transcript of the podcast!
Erin: Welcome listeners. We are so glad you have joined us today in the deep. We have a guest, Tamera Alexander! Yay! Of course, we’ll let Karen do the introductions.
Karen: As many of you know, Tamera Alexander is a bestselling, award-winning author of wonderful Southern historical novels. Many of her Southern works are based on true stories, such as the families who built and lived at two of the most popular Southern plantations in Tennessee, Carnton and Belle Meade.
Both plantations are popular tourist attractions, and Tammy has had the great joy and honor of conducting reader weekends and tours in both places. Someday, I’m going to go get me on one of them thar tours. As a true Southerner, Tammy writes what she knows, and that authenticity shines in her work, as does her faith in God.
Her greatest hope is that when a reader turns that final page, she prays, they will have taken a step closer to Christ. Tammy and her husband and their two rambunctious, Australian terriers, who really are as adorable as it gets, make their home in Nashville. So, Tammy, welcome.
Tamera: Hey, gals! Thank you so much, Karen and Erin. This is wonderful to be with y’all again. I’m just grateful. I’m grateful for all you do and grateful to be with you.
Karen: Thank you.
Erin: We’re thankful to have you again. And so, what we want to know now, today, what does that mean to you?
Tamera: It means something quite different and maybe even deeper than it was when we talked earlier this year. When we talked earlier this year, I had no idea what was coming, which is quite, you know, that is normal in the Christian walk. You don’t know what’s coming, but God does.
That truth was a real buoying factor for me. What happened was my book Colors of Truth was scheduled to release this spring. And it was delayed until July of 2020. Then on shipment date, when all the books were supposed to ship, they’d already been printed and all that, I get a call from my publisher and they have decided to delay the book yet again.
There were concerns over the Southern setting. Which it is. It is about Carnton, an antebellum mansion. The story ranges from the mid Civil War to the end of the Civil War, and then 10 years after. So definitely within the Civil War and the antebellum era.
You may remember back during the summer, not so much now, but during the summer, there was a lot of rioting and Civil War sites were being attacked and all the statutes torn down.
Tamera: So there was a lot of concern about that. The Colors of Truth, the actual title was also a concern. That wasn’t my original title, but that’s the one that we came to to settle upon.
Long story short, they delay. I try to talk them out of it. I look at this and I think, you know, history is history. We do not need to try to pussyfoot around it. A lot of history is sinful, because guess what? We are sinful. Our ancestors were sinful. Our descendants will be sinful. We are sinful creatures at our core.
Tamera: So I thought, “Don’t try to whitewash it. Don’t try to make it what it’s not.” Which is their right. They said no. And they decided to delay it again. But then I got a call probably not three weeks later. They called with a specific request for me to change portions of the history of the book.
I tell you what, God had done a work in me last year that I am not proud of. I was just at Carnton this past Sunday and shared this story. I’ve shared it with readers before, but it really ended up being a wonderful conversation at Carnton on Sunday.
So what they did was they asked me to change, and I’ll get back to what happened a year ago in just a second, but they asked me to change the history. We were on a zoom call, and it lasted for probably a couple of hours, but nothing within me really wavered. I listened, and I truly thought, “Okay, Lord, if there’s really something here that I need to address, show me. Show me, show me, show me.”
I had already camped in Psalm 139, praying about God showing me my wicked way, and saying, “If there’s anything in my book that needs to be changed, let me know. Reveal that to me.”
So long story short, I decided I could not. I just said, “I cannot change the history.”
I worked with the curators. I worked with historians to get the history right, to tell the right history. It wouldn’t be historically accurate to take away the struggle of some of the freedmen and women from that era and make them agents of their story six months after the civil war, for a 74 year old woman, who’d been a slave all of her life. And asking me to do things to her and for her and change her character—and keep in mind, there were already two books in the series that were published—I just couldn’t do it.
So I said, “I’m sorry. I just cannot do this.”
And that’s when they said, “Well, we cannot take this book. We will not take this book.” So, there was an odd pause. An awkward pause.
Erin: ‘Cause what does that really mean?
Tamera: Right. What does that mean? They said, “We just don’t think this book will sell. Not in this current culture.”
I said, “Okay.” So bottom line is they canceled it. So what does that mean? That means the book is canceled. It’s like they never took it. It’s just canceled. And I had book three already that I had signed with them, but they let me know that book three was also canceled.
It definitely left me a little bit spinning. I mean, literally, you just feel the rug kind of pulled out.
Tamera: I’m close to a lot of writers, but there’s a specific group of women, some of y’all may know, I call it the Coeur d’Alene group. Karen, you’re part of that. We meet every summer and share, but throughout the year we also have an email loop. They are really my prayer warriors.
I did not share with writer groups widely about this at all, but I shared with that group for them to come alongside me and to give me wisdom. So as I was going through this, cause what I told you in like three or four minutes, was really months. It was several, several weeks of going through this and working through it.
They really helped me to stay grounded, but I tell you, it did leave me reeling. If you go back, I made a video for my readers. I made one as soon as I found out about the delay, and it was really odd because, you know, you’ll make notes before you make a video. I did little bullet points: Okay, I want to cover this, cover this, cover this. I had not intended in that video to say anything about, you know, “Some of you are writing, asking me, are you frantically having to change the novel and rewrite it?”
Of course I said, “No, no.” Which, I’d planned to say that. What I didn’t plan on saying, but what came up, was my publisher was not even asking me to make that change. At the time, they hadn’t.
Honestly, it blew me away, just blew me away that this would even happen. But it did. So the next video I made, I think I was a little bit shell shocked. I was still processing it quite honestly, gals. I was still processing it myself. And I don’t name my publisher by name. It’s not hard to find out. They published the first two books in the series.
Tamera: But this is not about them. It’s truly not any more. For a while there, of course, it was just sorting out all of the details with them.
Karen: I’ve got to let you guys know that several of us in the group of writers offered to go beat people up for Tammy, and she wouldn’t let us do it.
Tamera: Not even. No. But anyway, it was a real faith building experience for me. I am way better now, you know, when we’re speaking now, than I was then. It’s not that I didn’t think God was in the midst of it. I just didn’t know what he was doing. I had no idea what he was doing.
So I had a very quick indie publishing crash course because I was determined to meet the October date. I found out about this, it was right at the first of September. So I had roughly a month to learn how to indie publish and to do all of that.
Erin: This is the awkward thing. You are in the middle of this contract with a publisher. You’re trying to meet, you know, you’re trying to keep an open mind to do what they see is the best thing for the book. At the same time, you’re trying to do what you see as the best thing for the book. And then you’ve got your readers that you’re trying to deal with because you want to meet their expectations.
I’m just sitting here trying to picture you on a video call to tell your readers that they don’t want the book that they want. That’s a very tricky place for an author to be in. You don’t want to bad mouth anybody, but how did you sort that out and be true to what you thought was right, and honor everyone you could?
Tamera: This is where I think I’ll take us back to last year. This is what happened last year, latter March of 2019. I had already been writing the book and my dad, he had had dementia for about a decade, and he was entering his last months. We knew they were his last months, but you know, with dementia, you never know. We had had false alarms: This is it…well, no, it’s really not.
In March, Kelsey and I were going to go on a trip. I knew I was going to have a two week chunk where I would not be writing. My agent called and she said, “Your publisher is wanting to know where you are on the book.”
It would have been due in December, and Dad ended up passing in August. That’s another whole part of this book was that I was writing this book in the midst of that last year with him, which was just full of so many blessings. So many of our moments ended up making it into the book, which was just, again, it’s just such a God thing. So they called and they asked, “Where are you in the book?”
I was very much behind. I was not where my personal writing schedule needed to be, and I said, “I’m at 15,000 words.”
My agent said, “You’re at 50,000 words? You’ve only got 50,000 words?”
I knew in that moment I should say, “No, you misheard me. It’s even worse.” But what I did, gals, is I said yes. I said, “Yes, that’s what I’ve got.”
Because in my mind, I thought, “I’m going to count my notes, and all the notes, thats adds up to it, too.”
No, no. It’s a lie. I only had 15,000 words. To make matters worse, literally, I’m packing to go on this trip, I’ll be headed to the airport in about six hours.
She said, “Go ahead and send it to me. We’ll see what you’ve got, and we’ll share it with the publisher.”
The publisher wanted to see what I had. Well, at that point I knew. I thought, oh, and I just felt horrible. I already felt horrible.
I’d already confessed to my family. I was in tears, and I’ll be honest. I hated to leave Dad. I’m thinking, “What if he dies while I’m gone on this trip? I don’t need to be going on this trip.”
The trip, as God would have it, was to the Holy Land. I lie to my agent about how much I have done on this book. And little do I know, and this doesn’t excuse me at all so don’t hear me saying that, but another author had done that the previous year.
Karen: Oh dear.
Tamera: They were attuned to this and they said, “We have found that you authors sometimes give the truth scope.”
I said, “I think that’s a nice definition for the term lie.” And it is. I heard someone this morning in BSF, we were talking about Abram and Sarai at the time before God changed their names. Do you remember when Abram lied about Sarai? He said, “Oh, she’s my sister. She’s my sister.”
Well, she was his half sister. So he based the lie in truth. But someone said, “Well, it was a half-truth.”
And I said, “The thing is with the Lord God, you go back.” And that’s what I did as I finished writing Colors of Truth. Colors of truth. I looked at every Scripture in the Word of God, both Old and New Testament that dealt with truth, that dealt with honesty and authenticity. There is no half anything.
Karen: That’s right.
Tamera: There’s no half lie. There’s no half truth. There is falsehood. There is lying, and there is truth, and there is authenticity and realness.
So, I called my publisher. I called my agent. I asked their forgiveness, but I’m on my way to the airport. They’re like, “You know, we get it, we get it. You were stressed. Just go on the trip and we’ll sort it all out. And we know that you’re good for it as far as the book and everything.”
But I needed with my personal schedule to be much farther ahead than I was. So, I go on the trip and don’t you know that every turn, it felt like in that trip, God met me with justice and righteousness and truth and falsehood. I mean, there were so many times during that trip that I was just on my knees. At En Gedi, on the field where David slew Goliath, near the tomb of Jesus.
I thought, “Oh my word, Lord, you are just tilling my heart.” But it needed to be tilled because in that moment, when I decided—and it’s all a decision. I’ve heard myself, say it, you know, I didn’t intend to lie, or I didn’t really mean to do it.
Yeah, I did. And, yes, you did.
I know Paul says, “The things that I know I should do, I don’t do. And the things that I don’t want to do are the things I do.” I so get that. I lived it.
So, speed ahead. Now God is dealing with me. In this book Colors of Truth, it’s all about lies we tell ourselves, lies we tell to each other, and lies we tell to God. Good luck with that last one, by the way.
Tamera: But I tell you, my mind was kind of blown. This was fall now. I had already said goodbye to Dad. We walked him home. God was so good in that he let me be by Dad’s bedside with my brother and my step-mom, Esta. We were with him when Dad breathed his last, and I was able to be with Mom when she breathed her last. That was just such a blessing. I’ll tell you what, you see blessings.
Sometimes part of this whole experience at times—I know we are washed and we are clothed with Christ when we come to Christ and in Romans it says we are baptized into his death and raised to newness of life, and we are new creatures. And when God looks at us, he no longer sees us in our sin, but he sees Jesus Christ. But there are moments, ladies, when God lifts the veil, I think, and I see myself and who I would be without him. And that was one of those moments.
All I thought about in that moment—and this is how Satan can come in and twist our thoughts—was, “I don’t want to upset them with where I am. Because I know I can get it done. I just need to get through. I need to go to Israel and get back and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”
So I thought, “I don’t want to make them feel badly, and I don’t want to upset everything. So I’ll just do this.”
That’s why he is called the father of lies. When we lie in that split moment, we are following his lead.
Tamera: So now, a lot of people ask how I had the courage to say, “I’m not going to change anything in this book. I will not rewrite history.” Oh, literally, for the love of God. He has taken me this last year, and he has drilled and engraved truth on my heart. To tell the truth. To tell the truth. Do not stray from the truth.
He says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Not a truth, not a way, not a life. The truth.
So when that came to me, it was a balancing in that moment because I thought, “Okay, I just have a great admiration, esteem, for historians and for the history, for the real history. And yet, I don’t know everything. So you think, “Okay, let’s look through this. Let’s sift it like the wheat from the chaff.”
But once we got done I thought it would take out the heart of the truth of the story and the truth of this woman, this character who is based on the real cook, the real housekeeper who worked for the McGavocks, who was a slave most of her life, who in 1866 was now a freed woman.
Yes, she had been emancipated. But this is roughly in January of 1866. We’re talking six to seven months after the Civil War. Yes, the emancipation proclamation was signed in 1863 and all that. But this woman was still very much enslaved. Very much enslaved. And to say that she could strike out and just do this and go looking for this thing—this part of the plot of the book that I don’t want to give away—was not realistic.
They were saying it would make it a more exciting book. And I thought, “Perhaps in some ways, but it wouldn’t be truthful. It would not be truthful. And specifically to the history at Carnton.”
So all of that is a long story to show why, when it came to, “Would you change the history in this story and change these things?” it was not a hard decision because God had already been dealing with me on a personal level on speaking truth and telling the truth.
I’ll tell you, there’ve been countless times since, socially, where you’re…someone said recently, “Well, if you say you have another appointment and you don’t really have another appointment, you just don’t need to go, that’s not really a lie.”
Yeah. That’s actually, what you just said right there, is the definition of lying. What you don’t have, you’re saying you do have. That is a lie.
Yes, we want to spare other people’s feelings and all that, but there is a way to be a more truthful person. Just say, “Listen, I would love to come. I have had a killer of a week. I love you dearly. Let’s get coffee in the next the month or so, but I just cannot. I don’t have the bandwidth for that right now.
What I found was everyone has understood, as far as those social things that you try to skirt by, that often we skate very close to “non-truth.” As we call it, we like to dress up what we do.
I just find it is freeing. It is so freeing to be truthful.
Move on now to the publishing and all that, as far as the readers. I loved what you said, Erin, about how you’re walking kind of a balance with being true to history, being true to your readers, and wanting to please your publisher. And I did want to please them.
I just found out very quickly when you’re at the throne of Christ and you truly feel like, okay, here are your choices: you be true to what God has called you to do, or you do this.
I think for all of us, the or? You lost me at or.
Tamera: You lost me at or. The or is not a choice any anymore. So anyway, indie publishing was actually kind of fun. Yes, it was insane at moments. I tried to learn Photoshop, which has a steep learning curve, to fix the covers and stuff because the covers needed some zhuzhing, as we say. I couldn’t do that, so I hired that out. I’m so grateful to Angie Hunt and to Ken Raney who came to my rescue and helped me with the covers.
Then everything else, you know, it really came together. It was a fun experience. And the book, thank you to readers, was number one in American historical, I believe, and American historical romance, religious historical romance, and Christian historical romance.
That’s a God thing, and those are readers who came alongside and who are helping to promote the book even now with word of mouth. I’ve got to tell ya, I’ve never been so grateful for word of mouth, because no longer is there a publicist behind you. But as I’ve learned, and as I shared with y’all just a little bit ago before we came on, God is the best publicist. He really is.
Erin: Right. And let’s be clear here for a minute. We want to be clear. Publishers have the right to publish what they see fit to publish.
Tamera: Absolutely, they do.
Erin: They have the right, let’s just put it that way. And, Tammy, you have the right to follow your heart and what you feel is true. Also let’s be clear, they weren’t asking you to be like, oh, you know, let’s change this fictional bit from red to orange. We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about, they wanted you to say something, create something in history that wasn’t true for history.
Tamera: Those circumstances, yeah.
Karen: Hang on a minute. I do want to say something as someone who has worked in a number of publishing houses.
Erin: Yeah, do.
Karen: They do not have the right to ask you to rewrite history.
Karen: I don’t care what the reason is. I don’t care if they say that it’s going to sell better. They do not have the right to ask you, especially as a believer, as a Christian author, to lie.
Karen: That is something that I believe they will be held accountable for. That was a huge misstep on their part.
Tamera: Karen, you know, since you’re part of the Coeur d’Alene group, with which I said I shared extensively. But I have not shared extensively publicly about the detailed letters, and I won’t, because my goal is not to paint them in a horrible light. They had the right to not publish the book.
Erin: That’s what I’m saying.
Tamera: They have the right to change their mind and say, “You know, we’ve changed our minds.” That’s why you have contracts. And that’s why you have attorneys to work out all those contracts.
Tamera: One more thing. I can almost guarantee you, they did not believe what they were asking me to do would have been a lie. They thought it would have been giving it depth or a different spin. But to me, I could not do that because that would not be truthful to the history that I know happened at Carnton in 1866. That would not have happened there. It would not, especially with a 74 year old woman. I just don’t want to say like they’re over here just making up lies. Not at all.
When I see my publisher, well, we won’t see each other at the Christy Awards this year. But when we see each other, I will hug. I will not shoot daggers across the room because, guys, we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and that bond goes beyond this one.
Was it uncomfortable? Yeah. Was it pleasant? No. But God had it from start to finish. I’m just very, very grateful for the world that we live in now that does enable an author to indie publish. I really am grateful for that.
Someone asked me today, “Are you going to do this indie pub now and never published with another publisher?”
I’m not saying that either. But for these two books, I just need to go ahead and do those definitely with an indie pub, which is Fountain Creek Press, which is my own press.
Other people have asked, “So are you taking books to publish now?” No, I can barely write mine.
If you need a smaller imprint, write me through my website, and I can point you to some really good ones. But that is not what this press is for.
Erin: I feel like your whole story is showing that not only do we do missteps personally, but companies misstep. For writers out there who may be involved with a company, have a publishing company, it might all go great. Or one or both of you might make a misstep. That’s just people, and learning how to deal with it in grace, I love your attitude, Tammy. I love the way that you were able to forgive and move ahead and still understand that these people are brothers and sisters in Christ.
Karen: You do have to be sure as a writer, though, that you don’t publish at all costs.
Karen: I mean, it was hard for you as someone who was established, who was a lead author. That was very difficult.
But for someone who’s just starting out, if the publisher comes to them and says, “Sure, we want to do your book. But you have to make these changes.” And you know as the writer that that’s the wrong thing to do from an integrity standpoint, maybe from a history standpoint, like was the case with you, we have to remember that God is the one in control of our publishing career. Not the publisher, not even us.
Whatever we do has to be steeped in prayer and steeped in his integrity and truth. If you try to fudge that so that you can have a publisher and be a published writer, that’s not a career that God is going to be able to bless.
Tamera: No, I totally agree. Something about that, Karen, that has resonated with me for years is to run the race that God has set before me, like it says in Hebrews 12:1-2. I’ve often pictured this, especially because we know a lot of writers, and we are writers, and we start looking over here, especially these younger writers coming up and they’re just so dang cute.
They’re just so perky, you know? Sometimes I find myself looking down at lane four, and oh, she’s so cute. She’s wearing the cutest little yoga pants and her little running pants, and she’s just so cute. She’s just hurdling over those hurdles and just having a great time. And I’m thinking, “Yeah, I fell on that first hurdle about ten years ago. She’s just zooming.”
But you know what? We need to be careful. The rest of that verse is, “Keep your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith.” We need to cheer for each other. Yes, absolutely. But keep your eyes on Christ. Don’t start comparing my track and the race that God has me on with the cute little blonde in lane four or even the writer who is ten years my senior who’s writing over there in the lane next to me, or two over.
Tamera: Don’t compare. Run the race that God has set before me.
Erin, something that you said, Joe and I learned this long ago, my husband and I, early in our marriage. We were working for a Christian university. We learned very early on that businesses can never be Christian.
Tamera: There are no such things as Christian businesses. People are Christians. The Holy Spirit inhabits people, not businesses. I think it’s very important knowing going in and just having a clear understanding of what this partnership is, certainly with a publisher, but with any business, especially with publishing. Publishing is a business, and you need to look at it as a business.
Yes. I hope we’re family, and we’re part of the same publishing family. But the fact of the matter is, if my numbers dip, and if I am not a profitable margin for them, they’re going to kindly and lovingly lead me to the door.
Karen: That’s right.
Tamera: I mean, seriously, because it is a business. Yes, it’s a ministry. Absolutely, it is. But it’s also a business.
Karen: The time has gone by so fast. I know that you have so many other things to share, but let’s do it this way. What’s the last thought that you want to leave with our listeners?
Tamera: Hmm. A last thought to leave. Erin, what you said, “What an attitude of forgiveness,” that was God that has developed that. That is nothing from Tamera Alexander. That is God. I tell you, he deepened my love for his Word over this past year. He gave me a thirst for his Word.
We recently moved and are in a different house. It’s got a lovely view. I get up in the morning at five o’clock, and for the first hour and a half, I just steep myself in his Word. He was prepping me. He knew all along, and that’s the difference.
Karen: Amen. So we never have to worry about what’s going to come in the future. We never have to worry about what we’re going to do as long as we keep our eyes on Christ.
Tamera: And amen.Author @tameraalexander shares what to do in the face of a possible career ending decision. #amwriting #christianwriter @karenball1 Click To Tweet
Book by Tamera Alexander Mentioned on the podcast
Colors of Truth by Tamera Alexander (Affiliate link)
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Thank you so much to our November sponsor of the month, Tammy Partlow. She’s a writer and speaker at women’s retreats. Her book, Blood Beneath the Pines is a tale of prevailing justice, set mostly in the Deep South. Learn more about Tammy at her website: tammypartlow.com
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Such a powerful interview! So inspired by your courage, Tammy, and also very convicted about “fudging” numbers on a WIP with anyone, not just an agent or editor. It’s not “being optimistic” or speaking in faith about something unseen and unwritten. It’s lying, and as you said, there simply are no half-truths. How you have forgiven and taken the high road is perhaps the most inspiring of all. Even with Christians, it isn’t always the choice made in the end. I’m sure forgiving all this was a work in progress for a while, but it benefits everyone in the end. Thank you for being so very upfront on all this.
Amen, Kristi! Tammy inspired me too! : )
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