In school, my study method of choice was “The Cram.” The further behind I got, the more motivated I was. So, maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised to find myself writing two books at the same time. (Can somebody get me an appointment for a mental evaluation?)
When I was invited to answer questions about the Next Big Thing, i.e., my “work in progress,” I was torn about which one to talk about. Of course, I waited until the last moment (see above) to make a decision and get to it, but after staring at the fork in the road for a while, I decided to go with Robert Frost and choose the path less traveled or, in this case, the work less known.
Extra Bonus: This post is part of a “blog chain.” That means you get a wealth of blogs and exciting new writers to explore! I was invited by Debra H. Goldstein. Be sure and check out her blog and those of the next links in the chain listed below the interview.
Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:
1.What is your working title of your book?
Last Chance for Justice:
How Relentless Investigators Finally Solved the Birmingham Church Bombing Case
2.Where did the idea come from for the book?
In 2004, recognizing that time was passing and people from the civil rights era were aging, Birmingham held an event called “The Gathering,” where everyone associated with the 1963 Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing–victims’ families, civil rights supporters, investigators, attorneys, and the community–came together to tell their stories. I attended and heard the two FBI investigators who worked the last case (late 1990’s) speak. The inside story was fascinating, and I realized so many people had misconceptions about this case—the bombing that killed four little girls and had a major impact on the course of history. There were three major investigations of the bombing over the years; the final one took five years, involved thousands of files, and some real heroes to bring the last two living suspects to justice. I thought: This story needs to be told! About five years later, I got that opportunity.
3. What genre does your book fall under?
It’s non-fiction. My debut novel, Noah’s Wife, is historical fiction so, fortunately, I had experience doing research for a major project, and I certainly called upon it in writing this book!
4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Ha! You are asking the wrong person this question. I barely remember the names of my family! I need two determined, but somewhat quirky good guys to play the lead parts.
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
In Last Chance for Justice, a Birmingham Police detective and an FBI agent team up as reluctant partners on a 37-year old cold murder case, the last chance to solve a brutal bombing that killed four innocent girls and changed history.
6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Chicago Press Review is publishing the book! We hope to have it out by the Fall of 2013, in time for the 50th anniversary of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing.
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Three years. Interviews began in July of 2009 and continued until 2011, when I began trying to organize the notes. (Just thinking about that task makes me shudder. The actual writing was absorbing, but I am not an “organizer” by nature.) The first draft of the manuscript was “finished” in the spring of 2012. I continued to work on it until late 2012 and expect to do more work when the editor gets his hands on it.
8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Many people have written on the subject of civil rights, both historically and personally. Frank Sikora was a Birmingham reporter who wrote Until Justice Rolls Down, a book about the case, and he went into depth regarding the first conviction (1977). My book covers that, but focuses on the last case (1997-2002) and the two investigators assigned to it. It contributes unknown details to the story, because I had the opportunity for in-depth interviews (approximately 20-25 hours), in addition to critical written documents, and because I was able to bring my own understanding of law enforcement into the writing.
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
As I mentioned, hearing the stories of the two men who actually worked the case sparked my interest, along with the realization that one of them was someone I knew personally. More than that, writing this book was a reconciliation of two divergent aspects from my personal background. I grew up in Montgomery, Alabama and my family strongly supported civil rights. (The Ku Klux Klan burned a cross on my grandparent’s front yard for their involvement in the bus boycott.) I was only a child during the years of tension, but it is a part of my heritage. I also (to the great surprise of my family) became a Birmingham Police Department officer and spent a career there. It may seem an odd coupling, but both backgrounds gave me a unique perspective.
10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
On September 15, 1963 four young girls primped in the basement ladies lounge of the oldest black church in Birmingham, Alabama preparing for their church Youth Day. Without warning, a powerful explosion ripped through the outside wall, snuffing out their futures and setting the community ablaze. Everyone knew members of the white-robed Ku Klux Klan were responsible, but by the 1990’s, over a decade after the bombing, only one suspect had gone to prison. When the homicide case was reopened in 1997, no one thought there was any real chance of convicting the remaining suspects, especially the FBI agent and Birmingham detective assigned to the case. Over time, their initially chilly relationship grew into a close partnership and together they built a case on the two remaining suspects and helped answer questions that have long haunted the case:
- How was key evidence uncovered that convicted the last two suspects, Bobby Frank Cherry and Thomas Blanton?
- What was the mystery behind the FBI informants who claimed they saw the bomb being planted?
- Why did it take so long for justice to be achieved?
The book should be available in the Fall of 2013. If you’d like to stay in-the-know on it, sign up for my quarterly Newsletter HERE.
Now hop on over to these great writers are doing:
The Sun Singer’s Travels (Malcomb R. Campbell)
T.K. Thorne is a retired police captain (Birmingham, Alabama), director of City Action Partnership, and an award-winning author of fiction and non-fiction.