Of Mice and A Girl

A mouse propelled me into crime. I was twelve years old, and I didn’t like what I was seeing . . . or smelling. Most sixth grade science classes use frogs to dissect, but for whatever reasons, our teacher decided on mice, little white mice to be exact, with pink noses, tiny paws, and bright eyes. The mode of demise was to drop them into a large, acrid jar of formaldehyde and watch them drown in the awful stuff. Then we got to cut them open, a nasty business, but by then they didn’t feel anything.

Photo by José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53959809

It was the jar thing that got to me. It never occurred to me to confront the teacher. I was way too shy. Most of the time, I felt disconnected from my classmates who viewed me as a bookworm, and therefore, suspect and strange. I failed cheerleading in the second grade, not able to comprehend why I was waving a pompom and jumping up and down. Reading and horses were my passions. The lone friend from third grade who fit that bill had been sent to a private school.

Boys were simply alien creatures, far beyond my ken or reach. Not so for the girl who sat behind me in science who opened my astonished eyes to the existence of a new world. Science was definitely not Sheryl’s forte. She majored in boys. In exchange for science homework answers, she let me read the carefully folded, passionate letters from one of her multiple boyfriends. One, I recall, left me breathless, if not from the content, simply that he wrote it in the middle of the night inside a closet by candlelight.

Sheryl was as disgusted at the mice, both the dissection and mice in general, as I was impressed and awed by her romantic exchanges, but I didn’t have the chance to plot with her. Instead, I debated internally with my discomfort, eyeing the box that held more victims waiting for torture in the following class periods. Not acting would make me an accomplice to more killings. But stealing was wrong, right? I balanced on the edge of a moral dilemma.

With the ringing of the bell signaling the end of the period, I made my decision. The teacher stepped outside into the hall to take up his monitoring duties. I dithered with my books and papers, nothing that would arouse suspicion since I always seemed to be the last person ready to go anyway. The rest of the class poured out, eager for the next period (the end of which they would just as eagerly await). Heart kicking in my chest, I casually walked behind the teacher’s wooden desk, squatted, opened the case, snatching the first ball of squirming white fur that came to hand.

The rest of the day, I sweated, certain my theft would be uncovered, but the plump little guy curled up in the pocket of my sweater and slept. I didn’t dare share my crime with anyone, even Sheryl, maybe especially Sheryl, who was a node in the school communications network.

When I finally got home with my illegal gain, I officially named him Copernicus—after the 16th Century astronomer who proposed the radical theory that the planets revolved around the sun—giving homage to his science origin, and put him in an old birdcage. My father, as usual, was oblivious, and any objection could have been easily overcome by claiming mother had already approved, a tactic I had perfected on both of them. But my mother only raised her eyebrows at the new pet. I glibly lied, telling her the science teacher had purchased too many and didn’t mind me taking one home, and she didn’t ask too many questions.

Copernicus spent happy days crawling from one hand to the other, his tiny paws tickling; or curling up at the back of my neck under my hair for a nap while I read; or exploring the vast landscape of my bed. My dog, Samson, a collie mix, was fascinated, watching him down his long nose without blinking as long as the mouse was in eyesight, seeming to understand that any overt move would break the spell. Gradually, Copernicus seemed to lose his fear. At once point, they actually touched noses. I watched Samson almost as carefully as he watched the mouse, but Sam never gave any indication of aggressiveness. In fact, I think he was in love.

Then one day, things went terribly awry.

Copernicus was missing from his cage. I saw movement in the corner under some scraps of newspaper he had torn from his bedding. To my surprise, it was a nest containing several tiny, naked things, and I realized that Copernicus had been Copernica all along. With the births, she had lost her girth and squeezed through the bars of the cage.

Alas, I found her under the bed. Cause of death was a mystery. Other than being wet, there was no sign of any wound or broken bones, not even her neck. She was just dead. She had to have crawled there on her own, because Sam was too big to fit under the bed. I suspected at some point, however, he had put his mouth on her, perhaps to try and bring her to me. She may have had a heart attack or a problem related to giving birth. I will never know and only hope it was a better death than drowning in formaldehyde.

The episode was life changing. Although I liked science, I opted for Latin to avoid having to kill and cut on animals. The following year, I required major surgery to take out an appendix that had grown around my spine. It took two weeks to recover, and I did poorly on a Latin test. I did well in Latin, but it wasn’t because I could translate. Instead, my classmates and I were the recipients of a fellow student’s translation copies. Not sure where he got them and highly doubted he translated them himself. He would never say. In any case, since we knew in advance what excerpts of Julius Caesar’s The Gallic Wars we would be tested on, I simply memorized the hard parts and was a consistent “A” student in class. The hospitalization and recovery period, however, cut off my access to the translations.

Whether the teacher knew what was going on or just put my poor performance off on my illness, I never knew. For whatever reason, she offered me an independent reading project as extra credit, which I eagerly agreed to. The book was A Pillar of Iron by Taylor Caldwell, a historical novel about the Roman philosopher, orator, and statesman, Marcus Tullius Cicero, who stood up to the corrupt politicians of his day, refusing to be bought off or to dishonor his beloved country or abandon his ideals. He was assassinated. The story and its ending, which occurred while I was sitting on my bed—still my favorite reading spot—sent me into a bout of hysterical weeping that scared even my little sister. She ran upstairs for mother, who was not available. Reluctantly, I am sure, my father responded to the crisis.

Sitting on my bed, he approached the problem logically. “What is wrong?”

I was unable to answer.

“What is wrong, baby? Whatever it is, we will fix it.”

More crying. Probably snot running.

Becoming more and more concerned at my tears, my gasping for breath, and inability to respond as to the source of the problem, my father’s worry was evident. Being an engineer by education and mental alignment, he was ill equipped to handle his daughter’s distraught emotional state. Finally, he gave voice to the worst disaster he could think of, the nuclear option. Although I had just turned thirteen, he asked, “Are you pregnant?”

I shook my head and managed to say in halting gasps, “They . . . killed . . . him!”

Appalled that the worst scenario he imagined might, in fact, not be the worst, that we might be dealing with a murder, possibly in my presence or, at the least, of someone I knew, he demanded, “Who? Who was killed?

“They . . . killed . . . Cicero!” I sobbed.

“Cicero? Who is Cicero?”

Eventually, I was able to explain, but I never forgot the power of words and story. It sparked within me a desire to be a writer, a flame that has continued to burn for many years. Now it is a habit and passion I doubt I will ever forsake. And if not for a mouse, I might have never have realized it, or perhaps I would have chosen another path, hopefully not a life of crime, but you never know.

Still, the mouse episode remains an illustration of life’s complexity and mystery.
Copernica had good days, days she might not have had. But maybe she was lonely without her fellows, in spite of her rescue and Sam’s attentions. I also don’t know why she decided to try a jailbreak. Perhaps she wasn’t ready for motherhood. Who can know the mind of a mouse? But she died because of me. I wasn’t able to save her newborns. I couldn’t decide if I had done the right thing, stealing her and being the proximate cause of her death. With all good intentions, sometimes things go wrong. Does the end justify the means or nullify the intent? Is a good deed still good if the consequences are not? Is a crime a crime, or is it—as everything else seems to be—entirely relative?

I’m still pondering, a fact that works its way with regularity into my writing.

T.K. is a retired police captain who writes books, which, like this blog, roam wherever her interest and imagination take her. Receive this blog in your email when a new essay, story, or rambling is posted by putting your email under “Follow My Blog” in the upper right section of the page. Want a heads up on news about T.K.’s writing and adventures (and receive two free short stories)? Go HERE.  Thanks for stopping by!






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The Collapse of Compassion

In police work, tragedy was a daily affair. I learned how to erect a professional wall between my personal emotions and what I encountered—abuse, rape, murder. Without those walls, I couldn’t have functioned effectively. I couldn’t take every abused child home. I couldn’t even ensure the abuser I put in jail would stay there and never hurt another. I survived by focusing on my job and trying to do it the best I could, while staying alive myself and trying to ensure the same for my fellows.

I didn’t change the world. Did I affect lives? I think so.

The tragedy in our world is still a daily affair and still overwhelming—war, famine, disease, disaster. I still have barriers because I can’t absorb the hurt of every other human in a personal way. For years, I couldn’t bear the thought of the Holocaust and refused to visit a Holocaust museum. Frankly, I feared fully acknowledging the weight of what had happened would disintegrate me. What if I couldn’t put myself back together? (Eventually, I visited the amazing Yad Yashem–The World Holocaust Center in Israel and I survived.)

Those of us who are fortunate enough to have security for our basic needs can be assaulted by guilt and confusion when we’re confronted with stark poverty, rampant disease, the results of natural disasters, or abuses humans visit upon one another. We are told by TV ads that a cup of coffee a day can buy health for a child on another continent or a new life for a pitiful dog in a cage. How do I drink my coffee without a crush of guilt?

Far more often than not, I simply shake my head. There is a label for this—collapse of compassion. We simply cannot emotionally process the ills of the world.

n The Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama–perhaps the world’s model for compassion–recalls an event where he was in severe pain. On the way to the hospital, he passed a man on the side of the road who was clearly in worst straits than he.  The lesson he took from this was one of perspective on his own pain, but when I read this passage, I wondered why he didn’t stop and help the man, despite his pain.  Wouldn’t that have been the truly compassionate thing to do?

The Dalai Lama must see people worse off than he every day. He also hears of the world’s wrongs. I imagine at some point he too has collapse of compassion. It is a survival mechanism.

We tend to perceive and process everything, including our values and morality, through the lens of circumstances and group psychology. The death of thousands or millions is an in-absorbable statistic that leaves us bewildered at how to exercise compassion in the face of the enormity of the pain or the impossibility of changing it. So we turn a blind eye. According to Max Fisher and Amanda Taub in a recent NYT article, “It’s not that we can’t care about a million deaths, psychologists believe. Rather, we fear being overwhelmed and switch off our own emotions in preemptive self-defense.”

But we can identify with the pain of one person, especially if circumstances present a doable solution that doesn’t cost us “too much.” If we discover a homeless child or dog on our doorstep, we are more likely to open our door than send money to a far-away charity of possibly dubious nature or to be a “drop in the bucket” of a crushing need. If the Dalai Lama had not been rushing to the hospital, he might have stopped to see if he could help the man on the side of the road. When the media covers stories about a single person’s tragedy, we are more primed to react, to actually do something.

Our values of compassion are deeply rooted in our cultural and evolutionary heritage, but they are  called on in a way that is outside the framework of their evolutionary origins. For most of our history, we have lived in small communities that could absorb the needy stranger or widow, but today we are exposed to and confronted with problems on a global level—refugees from terror and economic scarcity at our borders, victims of warfare, disasters of fire, flood, wind and earthquake. All of these have been with us for millennia, but we have previously only faced them on a local level. Now we are aware (bombarded) on a daily basis, of what is happening in the world and with that comes a seemingly overwhelming burden of responsibility, so we switch it off.

Our first commitment is to our own well being and security. It makes no sense to let ourselves or our children starve in order to feed the homeless. My father told me often to remember the story of “the richest man in Babylon.” He taught to give yourself (save) the first 10% of whatever you make and that preparing for the future security for yourself and your family is a noble and worthy goal.

On the other hand, religious leaders have warned about clutching all of what we have too tightly (“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”) And they have provided a practical response in the 10% tithe rule. In Judaism, this is expected of everyone, even the poor, because giving is such an important part of becoming a fully-realized member of the human family.  It is not important how much, just that we do it.

Another piece of ancient knowledge from ancient Judaism—”Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

The conflict and guilt and helplessness we feel at tragedy is human. Our walls are also human. Our inaction is human. Our actions to fix the things we can is human. How we choose to respond is an individual decision. There is no “right” or “wrong” way. You may volunteer coach. You may run for political office. You may be a philanthropist. You may speak out about the ills of the world or your community. You may, like the Dalai Lama, focus on being a joyful, compassionate human being and sharing how to do that. You may pick up trash along a river bank. You may write stories.

Just find your way.

A retired police captain, T.K. has written two award-winning historical novels, NOAH’S WIFE and ANGELS AT THE GATE, filling in the untold backstories of extraordinary, yet unnamed women—the wives of Noah and Lot—in two of the world’s most famous sagas. The New York Post’s “Books You Should Be Reading” list featured her first non-fiction book, LAST CHANCE FOR JUSTICE, which details the investigators’ behind-the-scenes stories of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing case. Coming soon: HOUSE OF ROSE, the first of a trilogy in the paranormal-crime genre. 

She loves traveling and speaking about her books and life lessons. T.K. writes at her mountaintop home near Birmingham, Alabama, often with two dogs and a cat vying for her lap. More info at TKThorne.com. Join her private newsletter email list and receive a two free short stories at “TK’s Korner.

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Your Brain on Words

Human beings were not designed to read.

When you think about it, the act of reading is an astonishing accomplishment. It’s a complex mix  that involves:

•    Recognizing symbols
•    Relating them to sounds and spoken language
•    Extracting meaning

And we’ve only been reading for a short time (5000 years)—too short for the brain to have evolved for that purpose. The conclusion of scientists is the area of the brain (the left occipital-temporal cortex, if you’re interested) that seems to coordinate this amazing process has reorganized itself to take on the task.

We’ve known from people who have experienced brain damage, such as from a stroke, that the brain can rearrange itself, a process called  neuroplasticity. When one area is damaged, new areas can take on a task that was previously relegated to another area. Researchers have long thought that this flexibility lessens with age. But this region changes even in adults who are learning to read, showing that “this area is responsive to learning throughout life. [Italics mine.]

If you are—[clearing throat]—beyond the stage of youth, as I am, that is very cool news!

But wait, there’s more!

Reading a novel, according to cognitive neuropsychologist David Lewis, is more than an entertainment or distraction. It’s “an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.” In other words, when you read a novel, you become the person you are reading about in a very physical way.

Another neurologist Gregory Berns, says, “neural changes associated with physical sensation and movement systems [happen while people are reading and] suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist. . . . We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”

So there’s a reason why when you’re reading that good book, you loose awareness of the present. Your mind is putting you in the world of the story!

Studies have found that learning new skills, including reading or a second language creates new white matter in the brains of children and adults. White matter acts as a kind of fast neural subway, connecting different regions of the brain to one another. It plays a role in language ability, memory, and visuo-spatial construction.  Diseases of white matter are linked to cognitive and emotional difficulties. (By the way, other activites also result in increases in white matter functioning, including meditation, weight-resistance training, and practicing a musical instrument.)

Since the beginning of time, stories have allowed us to test run situations and experience emotions without the real consequences of living them. Reading may even make us more human, enriching our skills of empathy. One study found that readers of literary fiction excelled at tests involving understanding other people’s feelings.

Reading makes us generally more intelligent. In fact, recent scientific studies have confirmed that “reading and intelligence have a relationship so close as to be symbiotic.”  Reading  increases fluid intelligence—the ability to solve problems, understand things and detect meaningful patterns. It also helps with reading comprehension and emotional intelligence.

“Reading helps you make smarter decisions about yourself and those around you.”

And here’s a final thought, going back to the idea of the human mind figuring out how to see and process written words by rearranging the organization of our brain. I don’t know about you, but that puts brains pretty high on my list of amazing things. But here’s the mind-blowing part, courtesy of scholar Maryanne Wolf—that reorganization, in turn “expanded the ways we were able to think, which altered the intellectual evolution of our species.”

I feel the honor and responsibility of writing something like Last Chance for Justice, the nonfiction story of the Birmingham church bombing case, an incident that changed the path of civil rights around the world. But sometimes I wonder if I am making any kind of difference when I write fiction, and perhaps fellow novelists feel this too. Now we know. As a writers and storytellers, we are helping to make minds healthier, humans more human, and advancing the intellectual evolution of our species.  That’s good enough for me!

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 a dog and a cat vying for her lap.

More info at TKThorne.com. Join her private newsletter email list and receive a two free short stories at “TK’s Korner.








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Women: Not So Mere

Who knew? The women’s movement to win the vote in the United States (which didn’t happen until 1920) began with book clubs!

In my life, “feminism” has been a word often expressed with a sneer, the struggle for equality  seen as an effort to shed femininity and be man-like. Burn your bra at the peril of rejecting your womanhood. But my role model, my mother, was as feminine as they come and yet stood toe to toe with men in power. She never finished college, having to quit to care for her ill father, but she continued to learn and read and surround herself with other women who used ideas and knowledge to challenge the status quo, a legacy that began long ago.

Despite the pressure on women to focus on family and household matters, women throughout history have organized to read and talk about serious ideas, even in the early colonial days of American history. Anne Hutchinson founded such a group on a ship headed for the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634. Reading circles or societies spread throughout the 1800s, including the African-American Female Intelligence Society organized in Boston and the New York Colored Ladies Literary Society. The first known American club sponsored by a bookstore began in 1840 in a store owned by a woman, Margaret Fuller. In 1866 Sarah Atwater Denman began Friends in Council, the oldest continuous literary club in America. In the South, blacks slaves were punished if they were found even carrying a book, although some surely passed books and abolitionist tracts in secret, despite the terrible risk.

Mandy Shunnarah recently wrote about research she did on this subject in college, sharing how the turn-of-the-century women began with classical ancient history and gradually became informed about political and policy issues of the day. The clubs created opportunities for connection and community and provided a conduit for organization and action. Undoubtedly, progressive organizations like the League of Women Voters, which formed in 1920, were an outgrowth of those clubs.

My mother, Jane Katz, was a longtime League member and a lobbyist for the state League. I have memories of her sitting at her electric Smith-Corona and typing away at tedious lists that tracked status and votes on legislative bills of interest to the League—education, the environment, constitutional reform, judicial reform, ethics reform, home rule.

I remember her taking me to a site to show me what strip mining actually looked like when a coal company was finished ravaging the land. She worked hard for the Equal Rights Amendment, which had as much chance of passing in my state (Alabama) as a law against football. I followed her to the state legislature while she talked to white male senators about why a bill was important and I will never forget how they looked down at her condescendingly. It made me angry, but she just continued to present her points with charm, wit, and irrefutable logic. The experience turned me off to politics, but gave me a deep respect for my mother. I know she would be saddened that many of the issues she fought for have yet to come about, but she would be proud of today’s many strong women’s voices speaking up for the values she so believed in and fought for. She and my grandmother began my love of reading and books. Today, it’s estimated that over 5 million book clubs exist and 70-80% of the members are women.

A special childhood memory of my parents chuckling over a New Yorker cartoon my father cut out and showed to friends—Two stuffy businessmen are talking quietly. One says, “But she is a mere woman!” The other replies, “Haven’t you heard? Women are not so mere anymore.”

I’m not a politician. I’m a writer. My mother died decades ago, and sometimes I feel guilty not following in her footsteps. But I think she would have been proud that the women in my books are not “mere.”

It is a gift and a closing of the circle connecting me with my mother and all her predecessors to know the heritage of feminist activism—the striving for a society where women’s thoughts, ideas, and work are equally respected—began with a group of women, perhaps a cup of tea, and a book.

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 a dog and a cat vying for her lap.

Follow My Blog at the top right of this page.

Join my private newsletter email list and receive two free short stories at “TK’s Korner.”


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Einstein, Oz, and Ms. Poppins

This glorious spring, scientists finally took a “real” picture of a black hole. All the ones we’ve been seeing have been artists’ renditions because black holes are really not visible. They swallow light. Creative astrophyicists used a multiple array of telescopes hooked together to get an image of light bending around the massive gravity pit, just as Einstein predicted!

Einstein was right about so many things—space/time, gravity, quantum physics, even a big something scientists of his day scoffed at and he decided he was wrong about—the cosmological constant. Okay, he was a little off, but the concept was not, and modern physics has gone back to it. Albert used math, but first he used something we all have and think too little of—imagination.

Einstein visualized what-if’s.  What if I could ride on a wave of light? What if I were inside a plunging elevator? All in his mind.

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”—Albert Einsten

It makes you wonder if we are so busy stuffing knowledge into children, we are neglecting to teach them to use their imagination. But children are born with creative genius. The better question is, what are we teaching them that stifles that creative thinking and problem solving?

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”—Einstein

I’m not going to admit how old I was when I finally accepted that I would never be able to cross the Deadly Desert and find Oz. I cried my heart out, believing that I had lost something precious and irreplaceable.

But I was wrong.

What was the Deadly Desert really, but that pesky voice that says, “No you can’t,” or “That’s impossible.”

If anyone ever told Einstein it was impossible to ride a beam of light, it’s an awfully good thing that he didn’t listen. And neither did the scientists who took a picture of nothing. Maybe, instead, they both listened to Mary Poppins, who said:

“Everything is possible, even the impossible.”

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.

Join my private newsletter email list and receive two free short stories at “TK’s Korner.”

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What is “Normal”?

When I was writing my historical novel, Noah’s Wife, I realized my central character had Asperger’s Syndrome (on the autism spectrum). At first, I rejected the idea, but a wiser part of my mind prevailed, and I let her be who she was. I added researching the condition to my digging into the ancient Mid East culture, geology, and archeological findings that shaped the background for my novel about the wife of Noah.

Na’amah’s disabilities turned out to be strengths I never suspected, and I wrote in the author notes that I thought it was possible we were looking at this condition from a prejudiced and skewed perspective. Maybe we all carry genes that can express these abilities and difficulties in various ways, and they are part of our evolutionary inheritance. I thought I was going out on a limb, so stumbling on this video (link below) about neurodiversity was of great interest. Maybe we need to take another look at how we define what it means to be human.


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An Unexpected Dream Come True

It’s not something I talk much about, but for many years I was in the closet as a writer. I collected so many rejections, I could have wallpapered my house with them, or at least, my bedroom. Everyone said short stories were the way to break in, but my stories kept getting turned down.  If I dared admit I was a writer to anyone, their next question dashed me down—”Oh, what have you published?” I could only imagine what it would be like to be a real author, signing books for my fans, having a best seller.  I felt like a failure, but I’m pretty stubborn, and I just kept writing and submitting. I wrote five novels before one was published.

When I held that first book in my hands, I cried tears of joy.

My fourth book recently came out and it was still exciting to open that box and hold it in my hand.

Then a few days later, it made its debut at an elegant downtown Victorian mansion. I signed copies read from the book, and shared my big night with friends. A dream come true.

Hassinger Danies Mansion B&B, Birmingham, AL

While I was signing books, something else was on my mind. Earlier that day, I had taught a creative writing class (as a volunteer) at Maranathan Academy, a non-profit school that takes “critically at-risk students from a variety of challenging circumstances—bullying and abuse victims, juvenile offenders, poor academic performers, and the health challenged/chronically ill. Students enter Maranathan wounded and looking for a place to belong.” [MA website]

I started the class three months prior, nervous, afraid I’d just taken on something else to fail at, and that I had nothing to offer these kids. I’d never taught poetry, never taught youth, let alone students with the kind of challenges these faced. That first day was hell, and I almost quit. But something made me go back. The students had no idea how to express themselves or even how to sit still. Every class was a struggle, but, gradually, they  started listening and participating.

Something amazing had happened in class the day of my signing. The students had written poems that touched on their deepest pain, something I could not have imagined them doing when I started.  Nor, I believe, could they have imagined doing so, much less sharing it with the other students and faculty. Not only had they learned to write poetry, but they felt safe enough to open the door to their true selves.

It was wonderful to be at my long-planned book launch party, don’t get me wrong, but my mind kept drifting back to the classroom and those kids.  Then I looked up and saw three members of the school faculty in line with books and one of my students!  I jumped up and hugged her.  “You’re my inspiration,” she whispered in my ear.

That gave me more joy than signing my books or making a best seller list or winning writing awards. That was a dream come true that I hadn’t even known to dream.

Chinese proverb:

“If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”

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. 

 More info at TKThorne.com. Join her private newsletter email list and receive a two free short stories at “TK’s Korner.


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Murder, Mayhem . . . and a little Magic

When Officer Rose Brighton chased a suspect down an alley in Birmingham, Alabama, she had no idea the next few minutes would land her in the middle of every cop’s nightmare—looking down at the body of someone she shot . . . in the back. He’s dead and she’s alive, and now she has to explain it, which is going to be a problem because what happened was so strange, she doesn’t understand it herself.  It challenged her definition of reality and her conception of who she was. In the next few days, she would learn that she was a witch of one of three ancient Houses, the prey of one and the pawn of another.

Let’s get something straight—this happens in my new novel, and I’m a retired police captain, but I’m not a witch . . .  at least on my good days.

black cat, House of Rose, Magic City Story

Courtesy of Hannah Troupe on Unsplash

I don’t remember who first said this about writing, but the words have stuck and provide comfort during those days where plots are elusive and the end of the writing tunnel is dark—“You never know what a story is really about until you finish it.”

Does that sound odd? I think most people have the concept that a writer knows what she’s doing from the get-go. I’ll be honest, when it hit me that I wanted to write about a police woman who finds herself in the above situation, I had no idea what the story would entail or where I was going with it.

For me, writing—and reading for that matter—is about the character. I will never forget Harry Potter, Paul Atreides, and Bilbo Baggins, but I’d be challenged to recall all the things that happened to them. Both of the women in my previous novels—Noah’s Wife and Angels at the Gate were so real to me, I went into a little funk when I finished their stories. I missed their voices. Rose was the same way. It felt as if she wrote her own story. I was a side-kick figuring out what kind of trouble to put her in, but she responded on her own.

The sensation of being co-pilot is not limited to writing.  An athlete feels it when she is “in the groove” or “in the zone,” where all cylinders are firing and she is so focused, she can’t miss a shot. An artist feels it, lost in her project. It happens in all our endeavors where we are truly engaged. Time warps. Hours feel like minutes. This is a real physiological state, as measured by fMRI (functional MRI scans) where the resources of the brain are so dedicated to whatever we are doing, there’s not enough processing power in the conscious mind to deal with things like perception of time, discomfort, anxiety, or energy levels.

As I wrote in “3 Steps to Engage the Secret Smartest Part of Your Brain,” our conscious minds are infantile in terms of processing ability compared to our subconscious, what I term our “deep intelligence.” It’s our common perception that our conscious mind (the “I”) generates thoughts. Science, however, is discovering that is an illusion.  Thoughts arise from different modules of the brain before they register in the area associated with consciousness.

This is a little unsettling. If “I” am not thinking thoughts, who is? Like Rose, this fact challenges our conception of reality and who we think we are. The conscious mind evolved, at least in part, out of a need to conceptualize the future and make a plan, so it does have some control functions. What consciousness actually is and how it works, however, is still one of the mysteries of existence. But science is pecking away at it. (Both of these great books talk about consciousness, how it evolved and what we know about it: Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Enlightenment by Robert Wright and The Big Picture: On the origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself by Sean Carroll.)

So science may actually support the statement that we writers don’t know what we’ve written until it is finished. Perhaps the same can be said of our lives, although that is a scary thought. When I think about what my life has meant and what I have touched that might endure beyond me, I flash to my children and my books. I hope there are more ways I will have left the world a little better, but those two things are more than likely what I will think about when I am taking my last breaths. So what I’m writing about means something.

I’ve just finished the third book in Rose’s trilogy. I thought I was writing a fun, intense story about a cop in a deep South city—about murder, mayhem, and a little magic. But stepping back, I realize there is more. As someone who discovers she is “different,” Rose has the opportunity to explore just what being human means, what we are capable of—the darkness and the light.

Maybe that is what all books are ultimately about.  Maybe that is what life is about.

House of Rose, A Magic City Story, T.K. Thorne

Click to order on Amazon.com

House of Rose is now available for preorder at online retailers and from bookstores. If you would like a to write a review, send me an email at tk@tkthorne.com

You can read a short excerpt at The Stilletto Gang where I post on the 4th Fridays with a group of terrific writers.

You are also, of course, invited to the book launch party!





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10 Words in April – Violins of Hope

April is my birthday month. We’re not going to talk about exactly which one. It’s been a hectic month that included working with my editor on my new police witch book, House of Rose. April also is the month for Holocaust Remembrance Day, and in between working on my book, I had the privilege of playing a small role in helping to host “Violins of Hope” in my city of Birmingham, Alabama. It was a unique and amazing experience.

Amnon Weinstein, a violin maker in Israel came to Birmingham this month with his family for a week of concerts and educational programs. Like his father, Weinstein dedicated his life to making and repairing violins. As a child, Amnon never heard his parents speak much about the Holocaust. The trauma of losing hundreds of their extended family was too overwhelming to give it voice, but one day after Amnon’s father had died, a woman came into his shop with a violin that had been through the Holocaust. When he opened it, there were ashes inside. The woman explained that it’s owner had been forced to play it inside a concentration camp while prisoners were marched to their deaths.

Amnon in his workshop with a restored violin Photo courtesy of AICE

Shaken, Ammon looked with new eyes at the numerous violins that had been brought to his father in Israel after WWII because people didn’t want anything that was made in Germany or associated with that country, and he decided those violins had voices that needed to speak and stories that needed to be told.  Some of the instruments, he learned, had kept people alive during the Holocaust, others brought the beauty of music into a dark place and time, and so, they were not just violins of tragedy but violins of hope.

Many Jews in Eastern Europe played the violin, as reflected in the movie Fiddler on the Roof. It is said that the violin is the closest instrument to the human voice and also that it is the easiest instrument to pick up and run with. Professional musicians, called klezmers, traveled from village to village playing for weddings and other events.

Amnon and his family came to Birmingham, a city with its own story of violence and repression of a people who loved music. In April—the season of azalea, dogwood and redwood blooms—the restored violins were displayed and played by students and professional musicians. Youth who had been studying the Holocaust heard Amnon speak and the violins sing. Their voices honored those before, those who who had held them and loved them and drew beautiful music from them, those who had lived and those who had died. I expected to be touched by the music of the violins, and I was, but it was the words that gave shape to the music’s power—that explained the unexplainable.

Amnon’s wife, Assiel Weinstein, spoke at the commemoration of Yom Ha Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Though she did not play the violin, with ten words, Assi changed my understanding of the meaning of Israel. Assi’s father had been a partisan in Eastern Europe during the war, one of the famous Bielski brothers who escaped to the surrounding forest and waged guerrilla warfare against the Germans who were murdering the Jews of the villages and taking them away to death camps. At the same time, the Bielski brothers established a refugee camp deep in the woods, harboring those fleeing the Nazis, many of whom were old, weak and sick. Assi’s father, who was in charge of food and raiding parties said, “Let the Russian partisans do the fighting. It is more important to save one old Jewish woman than to kill ten Germans.” Hungry, sick, clinging to survival through harsh winters, the group became a community and kept their humanity. The movie Defiance was based on this historical event.

Assi speaking to students Courtesy of Joyce Spielberger Birmingham Holocaust Center

Toward the end of the war, in August of 1943, the Germans gathered enough soldiers to surround the forest, determined to flush out the partisans, the Bielski brothers and their camp of refugees.  Inexorably, they closed in. There was no escape. “All the people wanted to run in different directions,” but Tuvia Bielski, their leader said, “No we stay together. If we die, then we will die fighting, but we’ll do it together.”

Miraculously, two Jews, a forester and a peddler told the brothers that they knew a path through the swamp to an island. Hundreds of men, women and children followed them, as their ancestors had followed Moses, through the swamp to a small island where they hunkered down in absolute silence, waiting while the Nazis came closer and closer. For hours, they were still and quiet, even the children. Assi’s mother was among those who huddled, terrified, on the island, listening to the sounds of shouted orders and bullets flying overhead as the Germans searched all around them, certain they would be discovered and killed at any moment. But they weren’t. At the war’s end, 1,200 Jews walked out of that forest.

After the war, Assi’s mother insisted on immigrating to Israel. She told her daughter, “I came to Israel because I will never run again.”

I knew, of course, that people fled to Israel for safety, but those words were not those of a woman seeking shelter, but a place to fight from and to fight for. She would take her stand there. And with those ten words, I realized that is what Israel is, not a safe haven to hide, but a place to make a stand and a home for Jews, so they never have to run again.

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Remembering the Birmingham Church Bombing

Today is the anniversary of the 16th St Church bombing. In light of all the terrorism in the world, is it still relevant to remember this event? Many more than 4 young girls have been killed in school massacres, movie theaters, the Twin Towers. What about that particular bomb planted in the dead of night at a black church in 1963 makes us pause in our busy days . . . and remember?

I’m not sure I can answer this fully. I do know that it is important to remember the awful cost of hate in any form it manifests and that remembering one incident does not mean forgetting others. But that said, this bombing symbolized the cost of hatred in a way that brought to light how it had festered in our midst for so long and made us face that as a nation, opening a path for real change.

A chance encounter made me think about this:

I’m in beautiful Charleston, SC and stop at a shoe store. Great shoes in this city! Am wearing a hot pink US Marine tee shirt (yes, really) that matches my toenails. An African American sales lady approaches and, noting my tee shirt, tells me about all of her many family members who are in the armed forces, though she stayed home to raise her children. As we chat, she asks where I’m from.

“Birmingham, Alabama,” I say.

“Oh my father went to Birmingham a few years ago,” she says. “My brother’s school also went.”

I give her my “author” postcard, and she wrinkles her forehead. “You’re T.K. Thorne?”

I nod. This is a fun part for me, as people seem astonished at meeting an author. I get the same reaction when they find out this little silver-haired lady (me) was once a police officer.

But she surprises me when she says, “I know your name!”

Click image for more info on book

Sometimes people think they’ve heard of you, so I didn’t think much about it, but she pointed to LAST CHANCE FOR JUSTICE on my card.

“You wrote this book?

“I did.”

“My father went to B’ham for the 50th anniversary and bought two copies of this book! The author was signing them at the 16th Street Church.”

In fact, we had launched the book at the church.

T.K. with investigators Ben Herren and Bill Fleming at 16th Street Church 2013

We chat a bit more and then she looks at me and says, “I feel like crying. Thank you for writing this book.”

I smile.

“No, THANK YOU for writing this book.”

She repeats this twice more before what she is really saying sinks in, and then I feel like crying too. I almost didn’t write this book. There were lots of reasons not to, but I am so thankful that I did. The words “honor” and “privilege” sometimes get bantered about, but at this moment, they really hit me. It was an honor and a privilege, and I will be grateful for having told this story and written this book for the rest of my life.


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