T. K. Thorne ventures into crime fiction: An interview about House of Rose.
Where did you come up with the idea for a story about a police-witch in Birmingham, Alabama?
To start with, let’s get something clear: I’m a retired police captain with the Birmingham Police Department, but I’m not a witch, at least not on my good days. Murder, mystery and mayhem weren’t on my list as a reader or writer because they never felt like entertainment; they felt like work. But spice that pot with a bit a magic, and I’m in!
Who knows where book ideas come from? Sometimes you can put your finger on it, but this time, I was just brushing my teeth when three little words popped into my mind, along with a powerful sensation that some kind of story was lurking about. I had no idea what it was, other than the words were spoken to a police woman. So I quickly spit (toothpaste) and rushed to my laptop, where I learned the words were connected to a beautiful young rookie named Rose Brighton who saw something impossible while she was chasing a suspect down a dark alley, a chase that ended with her in the middle of every police officer’s nightmare—she’s shot a man in the back.
I was intrigued. Why did she do it? How was she going to put her life back together and figure out what really happened and who she really was? The mystery of the three words has turned into three Magic City books—House of Rose, House of Stone and House of Iron. Those, by the way, represent the three elements that are needed to make steel and are uniquely found in proximity in Birmingham, Alabama, the reason the city grew so rapidly and was nicknamed The Magic City.
So this is your first venture into the crime genre?
House of Rose is my first crime fiction foray. My two previous novels are ancient historical fiction structured around the stories of two unnamed biblical women—Noah’s Wife and the wife of Lot in Angels at the Gate. I have written a nonfiction book, Last Chance for Justice, about the behind-the-scenes investigation of the 1963 Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing. Writing that story prepped me for House of Rose by requiring that I call on my experiences and knowledge as a police officer. I’d been out of the field for many years, but the feelings and perspectives of being a law enforcement officer is something you never loose. It’s possible that writing that story laid the mental groundwork for writing about police work in a novel.
What do you enjoy most about writing process?
I truly love having a strong character who takes the reins and speaks and acts on his/her own. It’s a joyful experience to have figments of my imagination spring to life in a way that feels independent of me. Of course, I know that’s not what is really happening, that I’m in the grove of allowing things to flow from my subconscious, but it is still magic and what drives me to create.
I also enjoy what I call “brain #2,” where the craft of writing comes in, and I can take the raw stuff and shape it into something effective. It gives me satisfaction to use my skills to make the story experience something seamless and engaging for a reader.
Do you consider yourself a southern writer?
Since I was born in Alabama, attended college in Alabama and all three careers were in Alabama, I don’t see how I could be anything else! I do love to travel and was entranced to visit the locales of my first novels in Turkey and Israel, but House of Rose is set in Birmingham, Alabama, on the Southside, which is where I first became a cop and lived for a decade. It was fun to have my character visit the restaurants and landmarks I know so well. It feels as if I am sharing those places with friends.
How did you become a writer?
Writing, at it’s heart, is story-telling. The first stories I created were for myself to keep the monsters from emerging when the lights went out. Stuffed animals went to bed with me, particularly a beautiful rabbit with long-lashed eyes that shut when you turned her on her back. I named her “Peter” because, at age four, that was the only rabbit name I knew. Peter, I decided, had magical powers that could protect me from the monsters, as did Spot, who was red with white spots and button eyes. The stories I told myself expanded into scenarios and interactions between the stuffed animals and how they fought evil. Later, I became the neighborhood children’s director for the play-stories we enacted. It was fun—since I assigned the roles, I always got to be the queen! That was the beginning. It’s never stopped. As a police officer, I often day-dreamed about plots and characters as we patrolled deserted night streets. It kept me entertained until the adrenaline-interludes which provided some of the fodder for my stories.
I understand you’re also working on another civil rights book about Birmingham. With that and two ancient historical novels, this new book is a totally different genre for you. Why do you decide to cross genre lines?
Crossing genre lines has always been verboten or at least, not recommended for writers who want to pursue successful careers. That’s why nom de plumes were invented. It was thought (by publishers) that readers would be confused and disappointed if they followed an author thinking they were going to get romance and it turned out a new book was a western or a literary work, like a reader can’t tell the difference! I give readers more credit than that. Why should I assume they are limited in their interests or aren’t willing to try something new, especially in the hands of an author they trust? I personally love being surprised by something fresh, being stretched by new experiences and ideas. Everything is fodder for my mind and when things go into that dark, chaotic space, they come out in my writing. That’s what creativity is—the juxtaposition of the strange and the familiar, the known and unknown, all mixed together in the exploration of what it means to be a human being. In it’s own way, that’s what this new book—House of Rose—does.
Last question—So now that you’ve got me really curious, what were the “three little words” that were a catalyst for this trilogy?
“You’re a hero.”
T.K. Thorne’s childhood passion for storytelling deepened when she became a police officer in Birmingham, Alabama. “It was a crash course in life and what motivated and mattered to people.” In her newest novel, HOUSE OF ROSE, murder and mayhem mix with a little magic when a police officer discovers she’s a witch. Both her award-winning debut historical novels, NOAH’S WIFE and ANGELS AT THE GATE, tell the stories of unknown women in famous biblical tales—the wife of Noah and the wife of Lot. Her first non-fiction book, LAST CHANCE FOR JUSTICE, the inside story of the investigation and trials of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, was featured on the New York Post’s “Books You Should Be Reading” list. T.K. loves traveling and speaking about her books and life lessons. She writes at her mountaintop home near Birmingham, often with two dogs and a cat vying for her lap.