Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Author Tessa Gray
            I grew up in the foster care system, so I had several different homes, but when the dust settled, I ended up living in Osseo, Minnesota, a small town near Minneapolis. As a child, I wasn’t a particularly avid reader, but in elementary school, I loved a series of books about the adventures of three Swedish triplets: “Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka” (I kid you not!) Another series I enjoyed was the Trixie Belden adventures; I even had Trixie Belden paper dolls and spent hours playing with them, making up more stories.
            The genre I love best is women’s fiction because the characters are multi-dimensional with real-life experiences. My favorite authors are Kristin Hannah, Anita Shreve, Nicholas Sparks, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and Debbie Macomber. When I’m not writing, I love to spend time quilting. It’s a fairly new hobby for me, and I find it therapeutic. I’ve been a singer all my life, so I’m always finding myself a gig. I always tell friends, “I’ve never met a microphone I didn’t like.” It’s true…I love entertaining very much. During my early years, singing sustained me. As a life-long educator I realize that every child needs something they excel at, and for me it was music.
            I have a favorite quote that most people are probably familiar with: “An unexamined life is not worth living.” While there’s a great deal of debate as to who said it (Socrates or Thoreau), it remains a staple for me. I teach college students to write argument essays and in preparing them, I insist they constantly reexamine their values systems and explore other people’s ideas. In doing so, we learn a great deal about ourselves. I practice what I preach and incorporate this motto into my own writing, and it helps me create better,  more believable characters that often undergo a complete metamorphosis as the book comes to an end.
            Although I always made up stories in my head as a child (inventing that perfect family I never had!) I didn’t begin seriously pursuing writing until 2004. I generally sit in my family room, staring out into our pasture, watching our goats and miniature donkeys as I write on a laptop. Music, of course, is required, and my taste fluctuates between Celtic, Classical, and Country. Since I’m writing the Dream Catchers series set in the small, West Texas town of Alpine, country music is what I most often listen to know: George Strait, in particular.
            I’m probably not your typical writer because I spend at least a month “thinking” out my storyline and characters before writing a single word. After I’ve thought out the book, I grab my trusty storyboard and get to work. I plan the turning points, black moment, etc. When I’m finished with that, I use different colored sticky notes to plot out every single scene. By the time I begin the book, it’s completely planned out. It changes along the way, of course, but the skeleton of the novel is in place. That’s the teacher in me; I simply can’t help myself!
Cemetery Inspiration

            I must confess that the people and events in my novels are based on often based on real life. Several years ago a recently divorced acquaintance made a trip back to where she was raised and went to pay her respects to a relative buried in a small, Texas cemetery. Coincidentally, a classmate of hers happened to be there, paying his respects to his deceased wife. The two reconnected and they ended up getting married. That image stuck in my mind, and when I wrote LAST CHANCE TEXAS years later, I knew from the beginning of the novel that the couple would meet in a cemetery. Nathan Wainwright is a widower, paying his respects to his wife; Kelsey Malone is an out-of-towner who pays her respect to a distant aunt. When some girlfriends and I took a road trip to the tiny, West Texas town of Alpine, the first stop I made was at the Alpine Angel’s Cemetery. That became the first scene in the book.

            I don’t write every single day and make no apologies. For me, I need a break from writing and that’s often when I either quilt or do some singing. I think life is all about balance and in the end, if you pursue other things and don’t ‘put all your eggs in one basket’, you’ll be a better writer.
            The most important job of writers (in my opinion) is to bring real, true-life characters with enormous depth. The third book of the Dream Catcher series features Jake Crenshaw. Jake’s a washed up rodeo rider who tends bar. He’s not well educated and relies on his enormously good looks to get him the girl. I suspect some readers will be taken back by the fact he’s blue collar, but in the real world, not everyone has a college education. I think it’s so important to write about real people. My books stress hope and change; I know this sounds like a political commercial, but it’s true. People can change at any age; that’s so important!
            My long term plan is to continue teaching and writing. I can’t imagine a time when I won’t enjoy helping young writers find their own, authentic voice. What could possibly be more fulfilling? I do have several things on my “bucket” list. One of those includes taking a line dancing class at a nearby community center. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I can’t wait to start! Next summer I’m flying to Ireland with friends to go back to my roots. My ancestors came to America during the Potato Famine of the 1840’s, and I’ve always been curious about what that part of the world is like. I’d be lying if I didn’t say the Irish pubs and whiskey tours weren’t an additional draw!

            In addition to finishing up my Dream Catchers series, I’ll be working on four novellas  set  in a fictitious Minnesota town called Crescent Falls. Each novella features one of four sisters (the Hanlon girls) who are forced to deal with their father’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Like all siblings, each one reacts differently to tragedy, using completely different coping mechanisms to survive. Sarah’s story begins in December of 2013, and the other siblings (Maggie, Clare, and Chloe’s will follow in March of 2014, June of 2014, and September of 2014, respectively.)
            The best advice I can give any writer is to write for the love of it. If you want to quit after receiving rejections, you’re really not a writer. I think of writing as fulfilling a mission; giving readers your own, unique message that no one else can give them. It’s an awesome responsibility.
            I’ve been asked to give an interesting fact about myself, so here it is. I’ve sung the national anthem at a Texas Rangers game. In 2003, my women’s quartet, “Forward Motion” was honored to perform and we did well! As I looked up at the huge screen and watched all of us sing that marvelous song, I thought that I was the luckiest person in the world to be able to perform in front of over 17,000 people and have the time of my life! I’ve also been asked about something that would surprise readers about me. This past year I joined the world of Twitter.  Vice President Joe Biden asked people to tweet a question about gun safety, and I responded, as did thousands of others. My question was selected as one Mr. Biden would address at a town hall meeting on February 19, 2013. It was amazing to hear him spend five minutes on my question. I almost felt famous!
            Before ending this discussion, I’d love to present readers with an excerpt from the second in the Dream Catchers series STARS OVER TEXAS which has a September 15th, 2013 release date:
Just put a gun to my head, Blake, and let’s get this over with. I’d rather die than stay married to you.
Meredith Chapman’s stomach pitched violently as she readjusted her seatbelt, preparing for take-of. Her husband of fifteen years sat next to her, his shoulders stooped, head slumped over as he pounded out another text message. Aware he’d probably blow her off, she made one last attempt to get him off the phone. “The plane’s about to take off, Blake. Please turn it off.”  
Blake shot her an angry glare, his piercing blue eyes sending chills through her. “I’m almost done. Quit nagging, will you?”
“Sir, all electronic devices must be turned off.” The meticulously dressed flight attendant leaned over, hands on her hips, and glared at him as she spoke.
As several nearby passengers watched the drama unfold, Meredith smiled weakly; just as she always did when apologizing and trying to run interference for a husband she’d fallen out of love with years ago. 
The attendant’s voice grew louder as she implored him to comply. “Sir, I’m telling you one last time. Turn off your cell phone.”
“Blake, please---“
“Oh, all right.” Slamming it shut, he sank down in his seat, looking like a small child who’d been reprimanded. Without warning he grabbed Meredith’s arm, wrapping his fingers around it so tightly she nearly blacked out. “If you ever embarrass me like that again they’ll be hell to pay.”
And that was the last thing she remembered.

The amazon link to LAST CHANCE TEXAS is:
The amazon link to TEXAS SUNSET is:
Both books are also available in print, as well as e-book versions.
TesssaGrayBooks (Twitter)

Thanks to Tessa for visiting us today
Thanks to you, readers, for stopping by! 


Carra Copelin said...

Tessa, I loved your post today. I find it fascinating to learn about author's private lives and what gives them inspiration. Your series sounds very interesting and will be on my TBR list!

Caroline Clemmons said...

Tessa, so nice to have you guest on my blog.

Lyn Horner said...

Wow! That's quite a dramatic last line to your excerpt, Tessa. Makes me want to find out what happens.

Interesting to learn how you plan out your books. I'm a plotter, too. I must have a framework to keep me on track. Thanks for sharing your writing method.

Ruby said...

Tessa, I loved your excerpt.You sucked me right in. It's amazing how you were able to take a setting and later incorporate it into your story. Thanks for sharing "how you do it."