Award Winning Author Winnie Griggs





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Tamera Alexander, Shelley Gray, Dorothy Love and Elizabeth Musser


August 2015

SPECIAL NOTE: This month we're doing something a little different. I'm welcoming the four authors involved in the Among The Fair Magnolias novella collection into my spotlight.









WG:      Welcome ladies. Let's start by learning a little about each of you personally.

WG:      Please tell us some basics.

TA: I'm Southern through and through. Atlanta born and raised, I've lived in Texas and Colorado through the years, and now Joe and I have found our way back to our treasured Southern roots. We currently reside in Nashville and are empty nesters, along with my faithful writing companion Jack, our nine-year old Silky Terrier. If it's Southern and sweet, I've either baked it or dreamed about it-or both. And I have a special place in my heart for ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers,, and organization that helped me hone my writing craft early on at the outset of my writing career. The relationships and connections I made there are ones I still cherish and nurture today.

SG: I grew up in Houston, Texas, and though it's been many years since I've lived there, I still consider myself pretty Southern. Through the years, I've lived all over, Arizona, Colorado, back to Dallas, and now I'm in Cincinnati, Ohio. We have two children in their twenties. One lives in Denver, and another in Louisville. My husband and I have truly embraced being empty nesters! We're always plan-ning a new trip to take. Before I started writing, I taught 6th grade. I started writ-ing one day for fun, never intending to do anything with it. Then, when we moved to Cincinnati, my husband encouraged me to join our local RWA chapter, Ohio Valley Romance Writers. That changed everything for me!

DL: Like Tamera, I'm a Southern girl, born and brought up in Tennessee where many of my extended family still live. Currently I live in San Antonio with my husband of 41 years and an 8 year old golden retriever named Jake. I'm passionate about Southern history and especially women's history. The writing bug bit when I was nine, and a teacher praised a story of mine. In the mid 1980's I enrolled in the Short Course in Professional Writing at the University of Oklahoma. That was the class that set me on the road to writing. I quit my day job (Not recommended!) and never looked back.

EM: I'm a Southern gal, originally from Atlanta, GA and now living in Lyon, France. Yes, France. Ever since I was a little girl, I have had two passions in my life: to write and to love and serve Jesus Christ. As a child and teen, I always had stories running around in my head and my teachers encouraged my creativity. I majored in French and English literature in college and had the opportunity to spend a se-mester in Aix-en-Provence, France. There the Lord opened my eyes to the beauty of France and also the spiritual apathy and post-modernism of this country. In my senior year of college, I attended a missions' conference with 17,000 other college students, and there, much to my surprise, felt God's call on me to serve Him in France. For the past 25+ years, my husband, Paul and I have served as missionar-ies with International Teams, helping establish and build up French evangelical churches. Now, we are more specifically involved in pastoral care for our mis-sionaries throughout Europe, so we travel a lot.

In 1994, after writing all kinds of stories and articles and after about 20 years of praying that if God wanted me to do something more with my gift of writing, He'd show me, I attended my first Christian writers' conference-Write to Publish-held at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. There I met with an editor from a publishing house. It turned out that I actually knew him-wonderful Dave Horton-and he'd served with International Teams in France years earlier. God put me at the right place at the right time and I received my first contract for a novel from Dave about 4 months later. That is the SHORT version of the story. I have been blessed to have two part-time jobs (which sometimes both feel 'full time') for these past 20 years-writing and serving the Lord.

Paul and I have two young adult sons who were raised in France and then returned to the US for college. We also have a wonderful daughter-in-law and three precious grandchildren. It never gets any easier to live far away from family, but the Lord continues to provide for us in such amazing ways, as only He can.

WG:      Do you have a 'mood setter', something (music, ritual, environment, etc) you use to get you going when you sit down to write?

TA: It's called a deadline. Very motivating little creature. I also love instrumental music and have several playlists I listen to depending on the scene I'm writing. Exercise pants, t-shirt, and sports bra are also a help. And frozen Diet Dr. Pepper. My needs are few. Wait, I think I just heard my husband choke…

SG: I like Tammy's answer! Actually, I make sure I write 10 pages a day almost every day. I write down those ten page numbers that I hope to get to and cross them off as I type. It's silly, but there's something about knowing I have 4 or 6 more 'X's to cross off that gets me motivated. Whatever works, right?

DL: I need two things in order to write: long blocks of uninterrupted time and silence. Chai latte helps, too.

EM: I need silence. When I am home in Lyon, I go down to my writing chalet (tool shed) which sits in our front yard. I am surrounded by photos of the people and places I love, my books on literature, research information, my laptop and a big cup of English Breakfast tea (in the morning) and some other hot tea in the after-noon.

WG:      Do you do a lot of up front plotting before you start or do you just dive in?

TA: I do some plotting, but am by no means a full-blown plotter. I love the discovery of the story and characters as the journey unfolds. It's like a driving a car at night with your headlights on. I can see "that far" in front of me-and I know the ulti-mate destination.

SG: I do a little bit of plotting, but mostly I just write. It's a messy process but it seems to work for me.

DL: I sketch out a basic outline so I know where the set pieces need to go and what the end will be. I often think of the final scene first. But the story usually changes during the telling.

EM: I do some plotting-I usually know the beginning and ending of the story, but I love watching my characters surprise me as the story continues. I also do quite a bit of research-I say I write 'recent historical inspirational fiction'-and I want the historical details to be accurate. Often I take a long walk when I'm feeling 'stuck' and plot out a scene as I go along. Sometimes, I get 2-3 scenes at once, and not necessarily in order. I repeat the basic ideas again and again in my mind as I walk until I can get home and jot them down on the laptop.

WG:      What do you see as your own personal strengths as a writer?

TA: It's hard to see your own personal strengths, so I'll glean from what editors have told me about my writing through the years. They share that I'm strong in charac-terization and in dialogue. That they feel as though they become the characters when they're reading my books, which pleases me to no end. Because, personally, I want to become that person in the story when I read, not just watch what char-acters do from a distance. Then there's the reader who wrote that they read my first novel and thought it was fabulous. Then they read the second one and said it wasn't nearly as good. Then they read the third and thought it was horrible, and that "something was terribly wrong." So, go figure.

SG: I think my best strength is characterization. I like getting to know my characters and enjoy making them feel real.

DL: Reviewers have called my writing "brilliant", "memorable" beautiful" and "amaz-ing." I think I am best at inhabiting my characters and in building a fictional world which is usually a historical setting that I have researched within an inch of its life.

EM: My editors and readers tell me that what they appreciate most about my writing is how real the characters seem and that I tell a compelling story which deals with real issues. I often receive comments that my story makes them think about issues and encourages them in their walk of faith. These are compliments that are very dear to my heart. I also hear that my Southern settings feel authentic.

WG:      Do you have any advice to offer writers still striving toward publication?

TA: Keep writing. Keep reading. Give your dream about writing to God and let him do with it as He will. In His timing. Because there's nothing better than being cen-tered in the middle of God's will for your life, and nothing more miserable than being outside it. #BeenthereDonethat

SG: The best advice I can give is to actually write, not blog, not social media, write. The next best advice is to actually listen to advice and criticism. I've gotten better because many people have been kind enough to share how they thought I could become better.

DL: Study your craft. Write something every day even if it's just a few sentences. Read other writers you admire. Read widely across every genre.

EM: My formula is: write, write, write and pray, pray, pray. I spent 20+ years writing and praying before I ever tried to publish anything. I also would say-attend a writers' conference and become savvy about being professional. Study your craft, read widely and give it all to the Lord, daily.

WG:     Is there a specific 'ah-ha' moment you've had as a writer that you would like to share with us?

TA: I distinctly remember as I was writing a scene in The Inheritance, I literally pushed back from my desk and stared at my laptop, because I hadn't seen a certain person coming around the corner and into that scene. It drove home to me that characters in novels really do become living, breathing creatures-at least in this writer's non-psychotic (I promise, at least most of the time) imagination.

SG: I'm a terrible clock-watcher and page counter. So the best moments for me are always when I lose track of time and simply write. It doesn't happen every day, but it usually happens at least once a book! Those are the best writing days.

DL: A few years ago I took Stan Williams' class on The Moral Premise. He talked about how a novel is about one thing, an expression of vices vs virtues, and each charac-ter is dealing with that one thing in his or her own way. He shared film clips and talked about how even the setting of a scene is a reflection of the central premise. I don't always succeed in implementing this one hundred percent in my books, especially now that I am writing biographical fiction where the plot is largely out of my control, but Stan's class was a real a-ha moment for me.

EM: I've had many, many 'ah-ha' moments, but one of my favorites was while writing The Swan House. In the novel, a subplot involves missing paintings and the mys-tery is very important to the overall story. But for the longest time, I wasn't sure if the paintings would be found or where they had been hidden. And then, 'ah-ha'! Of course. It was absolutely perfect and I was in tears, because this novel, more than any other, is about the society I grew up in and the prejudices I wit-nessed growing up in 1960s Atlanta. And those paintings were symbolic of so much more…

WG:      When you're not writing, what do you do for fun or what is your favorite self-indulgence?

TA: Movies. I love watching movies. It's all about story. When I'm not writing a story, I love watching one. Baking is also something I adore. It feeds the soul-and my neighbors.

SG: We have always had dogs, so I love to take them for walks. I also love to read, I usually read several books a week. My favorite indulgence is to go shopping. I love to wander through stores, look at pretty things, people watch. It's a nice es-cape from my basement office!

DL: Books. Books. Oh and books. I usually have a pile of them waiting for me when I have time, and I am also a huge fan of Masterpiece Theater. Yep, I'm hooked on Downton Abby and can't wait for the final season next January. I also love Miss Marple, I wept when Hercule Poirot died, and I adore anything historical. I was mesmerized by Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall. Amazing!! Right now I'm besotted with Poldark and The Crimson Field.

EM: I love taking long walks, being one-on-one with young women who are on their faith journey. Love watching movies, especially old movies, and scrapbooking-I have over 50 scrapbooks and started the hobby when I was 17, long before 'scrapbooking' was a word=).

WG:      So let's talk about this particular project, Among The Fair Magnolias.
How much interaction, if any, did the four of you have when writing your stories?

TA: Since our stories are connected by the Southern setting and Civil War time era (1860-1878), writing the collection didn't require tons of collaboration between us. Which makes it even more gratifying that the four stories and blended themes dovetailed so beautifully. #Godthing

SG: My favorite part of working on this novella was our first phone call together! Each of us talked a little bit about ourselves and our planned project. We also talked about our goals for the book. Since my background is romance, I loved hearing how the other authors approached their novella.

DL: What Tammy said.

EM: Totally agree with Tammy. I loved the freedom each of us had to create our own story and so enjoyed watching the way the stories came together to make a cohe-sive collection.

WG:      How did the theme of this collection influence the direction you took with your particular story?

TA: Savannah Darby is a character we first meet in To Win Her Favor, a Belle Meade Plantation novel. And I knew when writing that novel that Savannah had a deep-er story to tell, and I'm grateful for the chance to tell her entire story in To Mend a Dream, my novella in the Among the Fair Magnolias collection.

SG: Though I have written several westerns, I loved the challenge of making my no-vella not just a romance set in Texas, but to show some of the pride and resiliency that I feel Southerners have. It really brought me back to my days studying and teaching Texas history. I loved the whole experience of writing this novella!

DL: Well, it's all about the love story, right? So what could I do but write about a woman torn between duty and love? Abby Clayton's heart belongs to Wade Bennett, but her father wants her to marry a distant cousin. I just love to see true love in action and thus, A Heart So True.

EM: I was actually doing research for a novel that takes place both in modern day and during the late 1800s and had studied a lot about Reconstruction in Georgia. When I was asked to contribute to 'Among the Fair Magnolias', inspired by my previous research, I wrote Love Beyond Limits, a story about a young Southern white woman whose courage and convictions lead her to fight for the rights of the freedmen.

WG:      What excited you the most about working on this novella?

TA: Finally telling Savannah Darby's whole story (see TA: response to question above), and working with the other authors. I've known Dorothy and Elizabeth for a while now-both women are such blessings. And I enjoyed the chance to work with Shelley which was a real honor for me. Love all these women.

SG: Like Tammy, I had a character who I was passionate about but had never had the opportunity to feature. It sounds funny, but with An Outlaw's Heart, I felt like I had finally given my hero, Russell Champion, the happy ending he'd deserved.

DL: Writing with three other authors whose work I love was really gratifying. Apart from that, the chance to write another story set in my beloved Lowcountry was icing on the cake. I published Carolina Gold in 2013 and still missed writing about Pawley's Island and the old rice plantations thereabout. Getting to go "home" again in the pages of the novella was exciting and fun.

EM: Getting to tell a little more of the story I started in my novel The Wren's Nest (which will come out in 2016 or 2017). I had learned so much from my research of Reconstruction, I was thankful to be able to write another story about that time period.

WG:      Please tell us about your novella in this collection. (Brief overview, any tidbits about your inspiration or interesting research or behind-the-scenes notes you care to share)

TA: We have a treat for you! We got together and made a VIDEO introducing our novella collection. View it here: Among the Fair Magnolias on

Savannah Darby would do almost anything to revisit her family home. So when new owner, Aidan Bedford, a Boston attorney and former Union soldier, seeks to redecorate the house for his fiancée, Savannah jumps at the opportunity. But the clock is ticking. Can she find the box her father supposedly hid there during the war before her as-signment is completed? And before she sees yet another battle lost on the home front. This time, one of the heart.

Russell Champion returns to his small Texas hometown after seven years. He had been sent away when he was just fifteen and suffered greatly. He returns to only give himself closure. Instead he discovers his mother wants to make amends and Nora, the woman he once risked everything for, is in need of him again.

Abigail Clayton knows what is expected of her: to marry her distant cousin Charles Kit-tridge and take her place in society. But despite his many business successes, Charles is not the man her father thinks he is. Besides, her heart belongs to Dr. Wade Bennett, a brilliant young physician engaged in developing new medicines. When her father unex-pectedly announces her engagement to Charles during the Clayton's annual barbecue on Pawleys Island, Abby must decide whether to honor her father's wishes or to follow her heart.

Emily Derracott loves her childhood friend Thomas McGinnis, but she cannot marry a man who doesn't share her strong convictions about the freedmen. Besides, she harbors a secret love for someone else. But the prospect of becoming his wife is not improbable. It is completely impossible.

WG:      Tell us about your other projects or any upcoming releases we can look forward to.

TA: I'm currently working on the third book in the Belmont Mansion series, then will dive into writing the third book in the Belle Meade Plantation series. Love these Southern settings and rich Nashville history. Both books release in 2016.

SG: September and October bring two more Amish Romances set in Pinecraft, Florida. November brings the release of the last book in my historical Chicago Mystery se-ries. It's titled Whispers in the Reading Room, and it's my favorite of the trilogy! Next year brings the debut of a new western historical series set in Texas.

DL: My next release is A RESPECTABLE ACTRESS, an 1870's murder mys-tery/romance set in Savannah and on St. Simon's Island. Inspired by the life of the famous actress Fanny Kemble, it comes out October 13th 2015. I'm working on a biographical novel still untitled that will release in June of 2016.

EM: I have just published The Long Highway Home in Dutch (written in English) and hope to have it release in English in the next year. It's the story of an Iranian fam-ily fleeing their country because the young daughter was found with a New Tes-tament and of a Christian coffee bar outside Vienna, Austria which serves us cof-fee and Christ to the many refugees who come through the door. Based on true stories of our missions' work in Europe and beyond. And The Wren's Nest, also inspired by a true story, takes place in present-day Atlanta and Civil War and Re-construction Georgia and deals with themes of slavery in the 1800s and sex-trafficking in the present. Hopefully it will be released in 2016 or 2017.

WG:     And before we close, tell us how readers can get in touch with you.





WG:      Thanks so much for spending time with me and my readers this month. It was fun 'chatting' with all of you!