Deb’s Dozen: To Win Her Favor: well-researched location, believable characters, and a compelling story.
Tamera Alexander has long been one of my favorite writers. Whenever I begin to read one of her books, I can count on a well-researched location, believable characters, and a compelling story. In addition to all that, Tamera is a genuinely nice person willing to share her life and story with her fans.
Q: To Win Her Favor is the second in your Belle Meade Plantation series. Can you tell us where the story picks up in the series? Is it directly connected to the first book?
Each of the Belle Meade Plantation novels are standalone novels, so each tells a complete story. However, you might just catch a glimpse
Coming in July is a Belle Meade Plantation novella—To Mend a Dream. To Mend a Dream continues the story of a secondary character we meet in To Win Her Favor, Savannah Darby. Savannah is Maggie’s closest friend and while we learn about Savannah’s struggles in To Win Her Favor, the culmination of her story is told in To Mend a Dream, a novella in a Southern novella collection entitled, Among the Fair Magnolias (written with authors Shelley Shepard Gray, Dorothy Love, and Elizabeth Musser).
Q. You are a resident of Nashville, which is a city rich with culture and history. Is this why you chose to set your series there?
I’ve always had a love of history. Southern history, specifically. Being from Atlanta, I grew up around antebellum homes, so when I was in Nashville on a business trip in 2004 with my daughter, we toured the Belmont Mansion, and I knew then I wanted to someday write about Belmont’s fascinating history (A Lasting Impression and A Beauty So Rare). Likewise, when I learned about Belle Meade’s thoroughbred legacy, the ideas started coming (for To Whisper Her Name and To Win Her Favor). I’m honored to write about these two Nashville estates and their real history. It never gets old for me.
Q. How many times did you visit the actual Belle Meade Plantation while writing this book?
Oh gracious, I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been out there (Belle Meade is only twenty-five minutes from my house). Just two weeks ago, I met a book club of about thirty women at Belle Meade. They were from Alabama, having a girl’s weekend out! After they toured the mansion, we walked down to the old Harding cabin, one of my favorite places at Belle Meade, and where Belle Meade all began. No visit to Belle Meade is complete for me without stopping by that cabin. It has such a presence about it.
I’m grateful to Belle Meade’s director, Alton Kelley (a descendant of the Harding family who owned Belle Meade in the 1800s) and to Jenny Lamb (Belle Meade Educational Director) for opening up the family files, letters, and artifacts to me. I couldn’t write these books with such historical detail about the house, the family members, and the servants without Belle Meade’s assistance.
Q. How much of the novel is based on actual events and how much is from your imagination?
The backdrop of the novel—Nashville’s history, the Belle Meade mansion, outbuildings of the estate, the family members, and most of the servants at Belle Meade—are from history. I often take documented historical events—such as parties, horse races, or catastrophic occurrences—and weave them into the fabric of my stories. Then I intertwine a fictional story that follows the journey of a male and female protagonist within that story world. In To Win Her Favor, that’s Cullen McGrath and Maggie Linden.
The basis for Cullen’s character is founded in the history of Irishmen who came to Nashville in the 1850-70s, and who faced very real prejudice from Nashville residents. Likewise, Maggie’s character was inspired by accounts of women who were formerly landed gentry (from wealthy families who were major land owners) but who lost everything following the war and the changes that conflict brought. The rest of the details are filled in by asking myself the question writers constantly ask themselves, “What if…”
Q. How was this book different from other projects you have worked on?
To Win Her Favor is definitely one of the more passionate stories I’ve written, and I don’t mean that solely in a romantic sense. From the start, this story was simply more evocative because it delves into the intimacies of a marriage of convenience, and also explores prejudice within a marriage—in addition to examining the prejudices between former slave owners and former slaves. Passions run high between the characters in To Win Her Favor. Everyone was learning how to be with each other in that time period, learning where the new boundaries were, where everyone fit.
As I read and researched for To Win Her Favor, I often found my own emotions stirred by real events that occurred in Nashville during Reconstruction. At times, the accounts were repugnant and heartbreaking. Yet at others, they were remarkably soul stirring with fresh whispers of hope.
View vignettes filmed on location at Belle Meade Plantation, the setting of To Whisper Her Name and To Win Her Favor, on the Belle Meade Plantation novels page on Tamera’s website.