Welcome, book lovers! Have you discovered Tammy L. Gray’s new series? I can’t get enough of looking at that banner, especially now that I’ve read Until I Knew Myself. Every time I look at the banner, I’m reminded of all the emotions I experienced as I read it, and I find myself itching to get my hands on the next book in the series.
But since that’s not going to release until 12 July (yes, you should put that date in your diary!) I’ve settled for having a chat with Tammy. 🙂 But before we do that, here’s a little bit about Until I Knew Myself. (And if you want to read my review, you can do that here.)
~ About the Book ~
RITA Award-winning author Tammy L. Gray delivers an unforgettable new series following five struggling friends in search of the true meaning of family through secrets, betrayal and the unexpected influence of an outsider…
Tyler Mitchell grew up an orphan, taken in by his best friend’s family when he was only sixteen. Even though ten years have passed, and he’s been given everything he should ever want—a loving home, an adoring girlfriend, a successful career, and lifelong friendships—Tyler has always felt a foreigner in his own life.
When a surprising phone call reveals the death of his biological grandfather, Tyler’s seemingly perfect life starts to unravel. The people he loves most in world have kept from him the greatest secret of all—knowledge of his father’s family.
Now hunting for more information about his past, Tyler discovers nothing is quite as it seems. And the definition of family is far more complicated than choosing between blood and loyalty.
~ About the Author ~
Tammy L. Gray lives in the Dallas area with her family, and they love all things Texas, even the erratic weather patterns. She writes modern Christian romance with true-to-life characters and culturally-relevant plot lines. She believes hope and healing can be found through high quality fiction that inspires and provokes change.
When not chasing after her three amazing kids, Tammy can be spotted with her head in a book. Writing has given her a platform to combine her passion with her ministry.
~ Interview ~
Welcome to my blog, Tammy. Let’s start by taking a little ‘flight of fancy’. How would you finish these sentences:
If I could assign one household task to the fairies forever, it would be…
This is so easy for me to answer that it’s scary. If I had a fairy, I would never do laundry again. It’s my nemesis. The one household chore on my list that seems to grow daily until it overflows and creeps along my bedroom floor. It’s definitely my cycle of insanity.
Oh boy, can I relate. Especially to the creeping along the bedroom floor. And the kids’ bedroom floor… 😣
If I could say one thing to my younger self, it would be…
To enjoy every season. I think I spent a lot of my younger years pushing myself to be more and do more, and didn’t fully appreciate the beauty of where I was right then. Now, I really try and just appreciate each day, good or bad, and recognize that it is its own unique gift.
If I could be an Olympic athlete, I would compete in…
Curling! Actually no, just kidding. If I could do anything it would be the Decathlon. Those women are like ultimate warriors. Just being able to compete in so many hard events is incredible.
True. But then I think about all the training… Yeah, nah! Lol!
Okay, so let’s talk Bentwood Series. Where did the idea come from for this series?
I found myself gravitating toward TV and books series with strong friendship connections and loved the interpersonal dynamics. So naturally, as I brainstormed, I felt inspired by this idea of a core group of semi-functioning friends and an outsider who comes in and brings wisdom and healing to the group. I also really like variety in my stories and this series felt unique and challenging.
Group dynamics can definitely be challenging, and I love the group you’ve created for this series. (You can meet them all here.) How did these characters come to you, (eg, as a unit, one by one, in bits and pieces) and who has been the easiest/most difficult character for you to get to know?
One by one, but also as a unit because I wanted them to complement each other. There’s a little bit of me in all of the characters, but probably the one that took me the longest to understand was Journey. While I loved so many things about her beautiful personality, I am a lot more like April, so I couldn’t necessarily relate to her struggles as easily. But that is also why I recognize the importance of surrounding harder people with more open, loving ones. They make us better.
The Bentwood Series is aimed at a crossover audience. What does this mean?
As you can imagine, Crossover is a hard word to define. I think this is because the Christian bubble and the secular world often feel like two different universes. But what I’ve realized over time is that God doesn’t see this segment here and that segment there. He sees the entire world as a whole and within it, there are pockets of light dispersed among the masses. I want to be that pocket of light, and to do that, I have to engage and interact in a way that doesn’t isolate me from the masses.
Sometimes in Christianity, we forget that we are foreigners, so our language is different, our culture is different, and how we express ourselves is different. New statistics show that 35% of graduating seniors have never even been exposed to Christianity. So to expect a book to be a crossover novel when the only change made to the story is removing Bible references is a little naïve. What is “sin” to us, is normal life to them. What is “strange” to them, is normal life for us. We’re almost at a point where we have to speak through a translator.
So, that in a sense is what I’m trying to create. I want my books to feel familiar to those who read them, and then within that familiarity, introduce a speck of light that may get them thinking or asking questions. Maybe even questions that lead them to pick up a Bible for the first time. My novels were never intended to convert, but my hope is that they can tear down walls between our world and theirs, and possibly lead someone to a much greater book one day.
That idea of ‘tearing down walls’ is something that I have come to appreciate in fiction more and more over the last few years. What kinds of things are you hoping to get readers thinking about?
Mostly, I hope they find a connection to the characters and the wounds that those characters feel. In Shattered Rose, my character has a horrible sense of self-worth and ultimately finds the beauty of unconditional love. Those who relate to Avery will want what she finds, and I often get letters from readers telling me how that book made them completely revisit their faith.
In Until I Knew Myself, Tyler feels like an orphan. A guy who has everything, yet feels no sense of belonging or satisfaction. I won’t give away the ending, but he eventually finds that sense of home and acceptance through a character who is my representation of Christ. It’s subtle, but within the pages, I always point to Christ as the redeemer of any wound or struggle.
And by keeping it mild, a reader may be willing to take this journey with me even if they have a predisposed negative view of Christianity. If I can change one person’s perspective from negative to positive, then I feel like I’ve made a kingdom impact.
Wow. Yes! I think sometimes we forget that seeds have to be planted and watered before they can grow. And sometimes those seeds stay buried for a while before they begin to see the light. Changing someone’s perspective from negative to positive is kind of like tilling the soil to get it ready for planting, isn’t it?
So that said, what are some of the challenges in writing for a crossover audience?
That you never really give the opposite ends of the readership what they want. I get criticized by general market readers that there’s too much religion, and then criticized again by Christian readers that I don’t have enough overt Christian theology. It’s a very hard balancing act, and often I just let the characters and story dictate how deep or light the spiritual message is. If it’s a heavier subject matter like in My Hope Next Door, I’ll add more Christ because He is the ultimate healer. If it’s a lighter subject matter, I may do an allegory or just introduce one character with faith like I did in Until I Knew Myself. There really isn’t one formula which means you never quite know if you’re doing it right.
I can imagine that would be quite tough at times! Given that challenge, why have you chosen to write a series for a crossover audience?
Probably because of my background. While I’ve been a Christian now for 18 years and married to a pastor, I didn’t surrender to faith until I was 23 years old. I didn’t grow up in a “Christian home.” I never personally read the Bible until I got curious once in college. Sure, we went to church on occasion and my parents weren’t atheists or anything, but overall, we lived a very normal, secular life. I grew up listening to Guns and Roses, not Michael W. Smith, watching R rated movies, reading books like Flowers in the Attic. My first Christian novel was by Francine Rivers when I was 29 years old. So all that to say, my perspective is a lot like my books…crossover.
I guess in a way, I’m writing to people like me. People who have darkness in their past, but now recognize the light or are still searching for a light. People who can’t relate to stories that predominately feature strong Christian families and lifestyles.
I think there are a growing number of readers who need that kind of Christian fiction, too. Something that meets them where they are, but also draws them towards the light. So, how do your Christian beliefs shape the way you approach these themes?
I would say that every one of my books has been inspired by either my personal testimony or by how Scripture has impacted me during a particularly hard season. I have three main goals in my writing:
- To honor Christ in the message
- To uplift Christianity and the church
- To offset the cliché way Christians are often portrayed in secular books and movies by making them three dimensional, flawed and grace-filled.
I love all of those points, but especially the last one!
What are you enjoying most about writing this series?
All the dynamic characters and story lines.
I think that goes for me, too! What has been the most difficult thing about writing this series?
Managing all the dynamic characters and story lines. 😉
Lol! I’m happy to leave that in your capable hands. I’ll just enjoy the end result. 🙂
So, what’s coming up next in the series?
I am actually super excited about the second book in the series, even more so than the first book. April and Sean are both such strong characters and their romance is intense, which I love. I learned a lot from writing the first book about the characters, the town, and my purpose with this series, so it makes continuing the story with all of them a lot of fun.
The Truth Between Us releases July 12th.
It’s definitely in my diary! I can’t wait!
Thanks so much for chatting with me today, Tammy.
~ Giveaway ~
Tammy is offering one lucky reader an eBook copy of Until I Knew Myself. To enter the giveaway, check out the character profiles for the six friends here and comment below to let me know who you’re most looking forward to meeting OR let me know what’s got you excited about this series. Then go to the rafflecopter form to enter: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/bd61d44b27/?
* This giveaway is run through Rafflecopter and is open internationally. For full terms and conditions, please see my disclosures page.