T.L. Gray serves as a pastor’s wife in Ennis, Texas. It was her desire to help young girls know and experience Christ’s unconditional love that led her to write her debut novel, Shattered Rose. Her books are about flawed characters who struggle in the world. She loves writing stories that offer hope to the broken, with the intention of taking the readers on a journey where they both cheer for and want to shake the hero/heroine. She aims to depict culturally relevant settings while presenting an inspirational message that will stay with readers long after the book is closed.
Welcome T.L.! Tell me a bit about your journey to salvation.
I was 23 before I became a Christian, and it only happened after I had hit a point in my life when I was at the “bottom of the pit.” I had grown up in a good home, with morals and values, and we even went to church, sometimes regularly, sometimes not. If you had asked me growing up if I was a Christian, I would have easily said, “yes.” I had Christian friends, was fairly conservative in my beliefs and hung with a relatively “good” crowd, but I didn’t have a personal relationship with Christ.
The problem with living a “Christian” life without a relationship is that eventually, life stinks. Something happens to mess up your perfect world, and there is nothing of substance to grasp onto.
That happened to me in college. I broke up with my boyfriend of four years, my roommate got married and moved out, and I was left floundering with no idea of who I was or what I was about. At the same time, I moved in with another girl who introduced me to the college nightlife. Soon, I got involved in a new crowd and completely left any conviction I might have had.
I graduated college and the Lord picked me up and moved me to the middle of nowhere in San Angelo, Texas. In a moment, all the things I had used to fill that void in my life were stripped away and I was left emptier than ever.
Then one evening I spent the night crying on the phone to my best friend while drinking a liter of wine…alone. When I woke up and saw the empty bottle facing me, I thought, “This can’t be my life.” It was in that moment when all the seeds that had been planted since childhood started to grow. I knew the answer…Christ.
And now it will be exciting to watch how the Lord uses your story to reach others! Where did you get the idea, as well as continued inspiration, for your novel?
My new series is called Set Apart and its purpose is to show how even though our past may shape us, it does not define us. Right away I knew Book 1 (Mercy’s Fight) would be about one of my favorite characters from my previous series, Matt Holloway.
He came from an abusive home, got in trouble as a teen and spent two years in juvie. Yet, he turned his life around and was devoted to helping others heal. His only fear was love. He was terrified that his past would destroy anyone who dared to love him.
Once I knew I was giving Matt his own story, I decided to bring in a children’s center in a very rough part of town. My little boy has a friend who comes from a difficult home life. We’ve sort of adopted him into our family and he’s one of our greatest joys. He inspired me to create Marcus, a ten-year-old boy, who is in a terrible situation and immediately steals your heart.
My books are character-driven, message-centered novels, so once I had characters I loved and my message clearly defined, it was really easy to start writing.
Who does your intended audience include? Believers and nonbelievers? In what ways do you believe your story reaches each?
I consider myself a crossover writer, filling the huge gap between mainstream and Christian romance.
My work is relevant, contemporary and often “New-Adult” centered. I like heat, chemistry and a fast-paced story. I consider myself a coming of age writer, exploring deep subjects and struggles in every book, yet keeping the content clean enough to pass on to your teenage daughter.
There will also always be an inspirational message in my books because I believe God is at the center of any true healing.
As a pastor’s wife, I’ve seen more masks than I care to count and behind each one is a story. Usually a story of heartbreak, struggle, failure and victory. In Christian circles, we tend to only show people our shiny parts, not the ugly, rusted sin that mars all of us.
My characters epitomize the word, “flawed” which is probably why we can all relate to them. Nothing is more beautiful than when we see a person expose all their challenges and mistakes, and then watch what amazing things God can do with each one of them.
Tell me a bit about your main characters, especially the rusty parts. Who did you have the most fun creating? Why?
Matt is a tatted up, former bad boy, who is as Alpha male as they come. He’s strong, confident, and has a heart of gold. He also has a past that will break your heart. But he’s a fighter, through and through.
Grace is just the opposite. She comes from a life of luxury, where she was adored by both of her parents. Raised in a Christian home, she had never really experienced heartbreak until her fiancé of 4 years cheats on her. Determined to find her way, Grace moves to North Carolina, but she is naïve and completely out of her element.
I honestly loved both of these characters for very different reasons. Matt was just fun to write because he’s fearless. Grace was fun because she loves so freely that you instantly want to be her best friend.
The best of all, though, was creating the chemistry between the two of them. I love stories where opposites attract and pull the best out of each other. They definitely do that.
Aw, I already adore Matt & Grace! What message do you hope your readers will take away after reading your novel?
Most people have been victimized in some way or another. For some, it’s horrific and life altering. For others, it may be self-induced pain. Either way, I want my readers to know that they can live victoriously, despite being a victim. That God is in control and he can and will use our past to do amazing things with our future.
The life verse for this story is 2 Cor. 12:9. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”
Tell me a bit about your journey to publication.
It has truly been a wild ride.
In November of 2012, I decided to write my first book. I finished it a few months later and started the daunting process of looking for literary agents. After a million rejection letters, I spoke to my bother who is a media marketing specialist. He is a major fan of self-publishing and encouraged me to move forward and publish my book independently.
So, in April 2013, I self-published Shattered Rose, and have since published two more books in that same series. The response to my books was unexpected and an incredible blessing as each have made it into the Top 100 on Amazon at some point.
My intent was to move forward and do my next series the exact same way. But, in March 2014, I received a call from Waterfall Press, a new Christian imprint of Amazon Publishing, and they wanted my book. After pinching myself, we negotiated and in April, I was officially signed on as their first Christian fiction author.
Mercy’s Fight will be my first traditionally published book, and I am super excited to take this journey.
Congratulations! Are you planning a sequel? Please tell me a bit about it.
Yes! There will be a Book 2 in the Set Apart series. Like my other series, all books are stand-alone, full length novels, but carry the same theme throughout.
Book 2 is about Cody James. He is one of the young men that Matt trains and he experienced severe bullying when he was a freshman in high school. Book 2 starts at Cody’s senior year and addresses the horrific effects of physical and cyber bullying that is so relevant for our youth today. It also shows the challenges of peer pressure and how to use one’s influence to make a difference in people’s life.
I’m about halfway finished with this manuscript, and I love the story. Even though my characters are younger than usual, 17 and 18, their lives and choices mirror so many of our own.
Thank you so much for visiting today!
Recovering from a past shaped by violence, Matt Holloway has sworn to live a different life than his parents did. Matt has found a purpose that keeps his lingering pain and fear at bay—helping others to heal. Yet the nightmares continue to haunt him.
Grace has lived a life of luxury, sheltered by her family’s money and connections. But when a betrayal forces her to question everything, she leaves her family and accepts an ambitious position she may not be ready for.
When the two first meet, they cannot deny their instant, intense attraction. But while Grace is willing to take another risk with her heart, Matt remains chained by his past and struggles to trust their future together. Fighting to save the children they’ve pledged to help, Matt and Grace learn that only by surrendering can they overcome the pain in their past and find true courage and love.
To get to know T.L.’s characters better, pre-order Mercy’s Fight, scheduled to release August 19th, on Amazon.
And to get to know T.L. better, follow her at Twitter @tlgraybooks, on facebook.com/tlgraybooks, and at http://www.tlgray.com.