Before Southern’s Magic’s 2011 Reader’s Luncheon, I asked Birmingham author Teresa Thorne to tell blog readers more about her award-winning novel, Noah’s Wife, named the 2009 Historical Fiction Book of the Year by ForeWord Reviews Magazine.
Our correspondence fell into an unpredictable cyberspace wormhole, but I’m delighted to report that we ultimately managed to connect, and thrilled to bring you the interview.
Noah’s Wife is the story of Na’amah, a brilliant young girl with a form of autism we know today as Asperger’s Syndrome. Na’amah desires only to be a shepherdess on her beloved hills in ancient Turkey--a desire shattered by the hatred of her powerful brother, the love of two men, and a disaster only she knows is coming.
Q. To begin, let me admit: I’m both a writer and a fan, and I’m totally intimidated by your accomplishments. You not only have achieved admirable things in real life--you’ve garnered a novel-of-the-year award and earned a slew of other writing credits. And you’re making your home city a better place. And you have a personal life. How have you managed to ride herd on your competing interests?
A. Thank you for your too kind words, Chris. I guess part of the answer is that I am not good at relaxing. I figured that out one day when I went onto my front porch, which looks down into a beautiful valley, and sat in a rocking chair to “practice” retirement (no book; no laptop; no cell phone). It lasted about 30 seconds before I had to get up and “do” something. On the other hand, I rarely watch TV. (I am socially-challenged if conversations head that way.) And I am a terrible house-keeper. (So fortunate in having a husband who enjoys cooking, does laundry and puts up with me working in seclusion for long periods of time.) Another factor that helps is no (human) children in the house, only four dogs, two cats and two horses.
Q. What was the genesis of Noah’s Wife?
A. A friend of mine wrote a poem called “Noah’s Wife.” She was inspired to write it after learning that in the Bible, Noah’s wife is not even given a name and only allotted one line. I thought that needed to be “fixed.” I wanted to write a story that reflected what might have really happened, the source of the Noah’s ark tale, so I started researching it. To my excitement, I learned about a great flood thousands of years ago that transformed a small fresh water lake into the Black Sea and flooded the plains of Mesopotamia. I researched the time period, placed my character in ancient Turkey, and traveled with her for four years to see what happened. It was a wonderful ride.
Q. What was the earliest answer you remember to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
A. An astronaut. I wanted to make “first contact” with cool aliens! Wrote a letter to NASA when I was eleven years old asking what courses I needed to take to be in the space program. Back then, that was impossible for a woman, especially one with bad vision (too many books), so I decided to become a social worker, only a funny thing happened along the way, and I ended up in a 22-year career as a police officer in Birmingham. Go figure. In those days, we always had a partner, and mine usually drove. My job was to look out the window for signs of break-ins or suspicious people. In between bursts of adrenalin, this got boring, and I don’t do boring very well (see above re: rocking chair). So, I would stare out the window, looking alert and daydream about plot and dialogue for a novel. To this day, I do my best “thinking” in a car.
Q. What came first, life experience or the urge to write?
A. My first story came at about age ten, so if you don’t count my first decade as “experience,” the desire to write came first for me.
Q. Among all your projects, do you have a favorite?
A. I can’t pick one, but of my novels, my favorites are Noah’s Wife; Angels at the Gate: The Story of Lot’s wife, my forthcoming novel; and a science fiction novel, Snowdancers of Veld. I was also fortunate to have the experience of turning one of my short stories into a screenplay and seeing it made into a film (Six Blocks Wide). That was almost too much fun!
Q. Would you tell us about your adventures in publishing? I ask because I notice that you have had two publishers--Chalet and Blackburn Fork--in a short time. As many of the Romance Magician blog subscribers are also writers, an account of your journey would be enlightening.
A. Sure. “Adventures in publishing” is an apt phrase. The short version of the story is that originally, Noah’s Wife was picked up by Chalet Publishing, a boutique publisher in Arizona, however, they had to close their doors, so I chose to publish Noah’s Wife myself (Blackburn Fork) because people are still asking for it. Meanwhile, I am shopping a home for my next novel, Angels at the Gate. An agent is reading it as we speak. Keep your fingers crossed for me.
Q. When you consider how easy it is to email and blog, we may be living in a new golden age of letters. Do you have any advice for writers who aspire to be novelists?
A. My advice is old stuff, but true stuff: Read. Write. Study the craft of writing. Don’t give up. Listen to your characters. Don’t baby your characters; they can’t grow if they don’t experience pain. Put things together that you wouldn’t think would normally go and see what happens. When I “discovered” my character had Aspergers Syndrome (a form of autism), it was a surprise, and my first reaction was, I can’t give Aspergers to Noah’s wife! But my character insisted that was right and I listened to her … and she was right.
Aside from the “Big Six” publishers, there are choices now (small presses, self-publishing, eBooks) that were not available years ago. That is a good thing, but don’t be fooled into thinking you can succeed without the work that needs to be done to be the best writer you can be. The path is a hard one, sometimes bitter, frustrating and even painful. But it is also a path of joy, and I wish every writer the amazing experience of giving birth to a “child” with wings to fly out into the world--apart from you, but always part of you.
Thanks, Teresa, for answering the questions, and best wishes with your agent search!
More about the author:
T.K. Thorne served with the Birmingham, Alabama Police Department for more than 20 years in a variety of positions, including as a detective and precinct commander, retiring with the rank of captain. Today she is the Executive Director of City Action Partnership, a business improvement district in downtown Birmingham. Noah’s Wife is her debut novel. A film from her screenplay, Six Blocks Wide, has shown at film festivals in Alabama and Europe. She lives on a beautiful mountain in north central Alabama with her family of people, dogs, cats and horses.
For more information about T.K. Thorne and her work visit her web site, www.tkthorne.com or her blog, T.K.’s Tales, www.tkthorne.wordpress.com. You can find Teresa on Facebook as Teresa K. Thorne, and also as Noah’s Wife.