We sat down with TK Thorne, author of Noah’s Wife, to get her take on books, her writing process, and more!
booknosh: You’re a retired police Captain who has since written screenplays, an award winning novel, short stories, and we hear you have a nonfiction book in the works. So, were you a policewoman who always dreamed of writing? Was this something you started after retirement? Or have the stories always been simmering beneath, since you were that ten-year-old girl writing about magical foxes?
TKT: A writer is, at heart, a storyteller. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t making up stories–from plot lines for the “lives” of my stuffed animals and plastic horses to elaborate enactments with the neighborhood kids. When I visited my grandmother, she read to me for hours, and I decided early on that I wanted to have adventures like the people in those stories. At an age I’m too embarrassed to admit, I cried when I realized I could never fly over the deadly desert to visit Oz! Then I started reading science fiction and wanted to be an astronaut and meet aliens, but I never thought about being a police officer–that was an accident (and a longer story). I loved it, however, because I never knew what would happen next. I didn’t get to meet an alien, but I did meet some strange people. That experience enriched my writing by exposing me to so much. My first novel came from fictionalizing true stories that I experienced or heard about in street patrol. I called it You Gotta Be Crazy, but an agent had me change the title to Partners. It wasn’t published, and I know it needs work. Maybe someday I’ll get back to it.
booknosh: How do you begin your stories? You’ve traveled to Turkey to research your characters and their history, but did you start with the idea: showcasing a woman who was nothing more than a mere footnote in the flood story? Or the character? Is it a different process from fiction to nonfiction?
TKT: Noah’s Wife was inspired by a poem by Irene Latham. Irene commented that the Bible only mentioned Noah’s wife in passing, not even bothering to name her. That was the spark that made me want to tell her story. What intrigued me was the challenge of using the scientific evidence available to create a realistic setting and chain of events, and then to apply my imagination to bring my character to life. In the beginning, I had no idea if such evidence existed, but I learned about a great flood thousands of years ago, which gave me a time frame. Information from archeological digs for that time period yielded clues about the culture and people of that area. I also explored the development of religion in the Middle East and worked backwards with the supposition that the roots of the Biblical and even Mesopotamian tradition were planted much ealier. Somewhere in the initial stages of that process, I started playing with the characters. From then on, it became an interplay between character development, a plot that used (but was not bound by) the Biblical story, and research. One fed off the other. It was a dance.
The writing of Noah’s Wife originated with an image for the beginning and for the end. After I learned my character’s name in Hebrew meant “pleasant or beautiful,” the first sentences she uttered were, “My name, Na’amah, means beautiful or pleasant. I am not always pleasant, but I am beautiful.” She revealed her character quickly, as well as the fact that she had a form of autism we now know as Asperger’s Syndrome. I hadn’t planned that, but as soon as she opened her mouth, I lost control of the novel… which is only right, as it was her story.
With the next novel, Angels at the Gate, the story of Lot’s wife (also an unnamed woman with scant mention in the Bible), I had the ending image in mind, but no beginning (or middle, for that matter). I kept trying to figure out who my character was and what her story might be. Finally, in frustration, I gave up and decided I would see what the first sentence was and go from there. This young woman immediately announced, “If the path of obedience is the path of wisdom, it is one not well-worn by my feet. I am Yildeth, daughter of the caravan, daughter of the wind, and daughter of the famed merchant, Zakiti. That I am his daughter, not his son, is a secret between myself and my father.” And the story took off from there.
The non-fiction book I’ve just finished was a different process altogether. After many hours of interviews, I picked the scene I felt was the critical dramatic turning point and made it the prologue. Then I just started in a logical place and moved the story forward. The advantage of writing non-fiction is knowing where the story is going. That kind of writing is about getting facts right and making the story clear and the readers’ journey interesting. In my case, there was again a lot of research involved, and my work on historical fiction was a very helpful skill to call into play. I was drawn to this fascinating story and, as retired law enforcement, I had a unique perspective and the trust of the investigators. Whether another non-fiction story will trip my trigger remains to be seen.
booknosh: Along those same lines, you’ve got quite a spread here: how did you decide to write a nonfiction book as a followup to your fiction debut?
TKT: While I was writing Angels at the Gate, the opportunity arose to interview the investigators who solved the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, so I was conducting interviews with them while I was writing the novel about Lot’s wife. When I realized that 2013 was the 50th anniversary of that terrible crime, I burned candles at both ends to finish it, and my agent was able to place it quickly. Nonfiction is easier to sell than fiction. My agent is still shopping the story of Lot’s wife to publishers.
booknosh: We always like to hear about what our authors like to read. Since you span a few genres and types, we’ll have to ask: top five currently producing writers? top five all time novels? top short story (writers or collections)? and top nonfiction (authors or books)?
TKT: Current: Rick Bragg (Ava’s Man), Mary Ann Schaeffer (The Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society), Sena Jeter Naslund (Ahab’s Wife), Katheryn Stockett (The Help), JK Rowling (Harry Potter)
Favorite Novels: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, Dune by Frank Herbert, The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, Shogun by James Clavell, The Clan of the Cavebear by Jean M Auel
I haven’t read that many short stories recently, but favorites from my past were Ray Bradbury and Theodore Sturgeon. As for non-fiction, I think it would be Temple Grandin’s books on Asperger’s and Malcolm Gladwell’s intriguing concepts that keep me thinking.
booknosh: We love books, but we always have to ask: top five favorite movies. Just because.
TKT: As Good as It Gets, Dances with Wolves, Bull Durham, Battlestar Galactica (the newer TV mini-series), The Lord of the Rings
booknosh: You have several to-be-published novels in the works — please tell us a little about each, and also how your writing process differed. How do you go from writing about King Author’s Celtic ancestors to a modern-day police drama? Do you have a set writing schedule? How do you come up with your plots, ideas and the time to write so much?
TKT: Most of my ideas come from either an image that arrives with a gut feeling that I need to capture it in words, or a line of dialogue.
After the police novel was finished, I was soaking in the bathtub one night when I had an image of a young girl hiding behind a tree in a dark forest with some awful being searching for her. I started playing with it and felt it needed a real setting to anchor the fantasy elements. Being a great fan of King Arthur, I decided to tell the story of the origins of Merlin and the ancestors of Arthur in The Old One of Thoralyn. I had an agent for it for a brief period, but before she could place it, she left the agency. By then, I was having so much fun, I kept writing books two and three and started a fourth, when it occurred to me that writing an endless series when the first book hadn’t been picked up might not be the best career move. Book one did make it to final consideration at Baen Publishing, and the editor was kind enough to send me a copy of their new edition of Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars (one of my favorites). A vague idea had been tickling my mind for some time about a character who was a genius, and rereading Podkayne made me want to give it a shot. I modified and expanded an old short story of mine into Snowdancers of Veld, a tale about a young musical genius who reluctantly joins her father on a backwater planet, befriends an alien, and solves a mystery. This one is a crossover YA, I think.
I also have a middle reader story about a young boy who is having trouble adjusting to his parents’ divorce and stumbles on a cave where he travels back in time to the classical Creek Indian period in north Alabama. That book, White Feather, was written for my stepson and takes place on our property. (You’d think after researching books from the Copper age to first century BCE to far flung worlds in the future, I could figure out a story in my own back yard, but that one has been the most difficult, and I’m still working on it.)
Meanwhile, back at my day job, I attended an event in 2004 where I heard the incredible story of the final investigation and conviction of the last Ku Klux Klan suspects who bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in 1963, killing four young girls and changing the course of history. I felt a pull to tell this story because I though it was an important one, and I thought my background in law enforcement, researching history, and story-crafting might allow me to give it justice. Five years later, I was asked by the investigators to write the book. (More about this on my blog.)
After my first novel about police partners, I had no interest in writing about police work but–perhaps inspired by writing about the church bombing case–my current work-in-progress is a contemporary southern science-fiction mystery set in Birmingham, Alabama about a rookie policewoman. How did this come about? I was washing my face and three words popped into my head, along with a strong sense that there was a story behind them. I had no idea what the story was (is there a pattern here?) but I rushed to my laptop and started typing!
Noah’s Wife took four years to finish, because of the research involved, but Angels built on that research and took only a year and a half. Last Chance for Justice took three years. Since I have a full time day job, my writing schedule is any time I can grab, but mostly nights and weekends. I don’t watch much T.V., don’t have children in the house–except for attention demanding dogs and cats–and I’ve been writing seriously for almost forty years. When you write that long, you end up with a lot of stories.