Monday, November 29, 2010

Tarot and The Big Muddy

Mystery author Tina Whittle is my guest today.  I've had the pleasure of getting to know Tina through The Mojito Literary Society where she is one of the founding members.  She always has something intriguing to share and I find myself waiting for her blog pots on interviews, book reviews, wine pairings, and even quantum entanglement.  Yes, I said quantum entanglement.  Totally blew me away.  Today she talks about how tarot cards have influenced her writing.  Grab a cup of coffee, tea, or your favorite chocolate and enjoy getting to know Tina.


In her mystery-writing manual How to Write Killer Fiction, Carolyn Wheat describes the middle part of a novel as “waist deep in the big muddy.” She’s not exaggerating. When my novel The Dangerous Edge of Things reached its midpoint, the Big Muddy almost sucked me under. I had no idea what these people I’d created were up to — their motives and goals and secrets were a treacherous mucky mire. My plot was crumbling, and my book along with it.

Seeing my dilemma, a friend offered to do a tarot reading for me. I was curious, but skeptical. After all, what could a deck of fortunetelling cards accomplish that storyboards and plot outlines hadn’t?

But I was desperate. So tucking my skepticism into my back pocket, I sat across from my friend as she divined the intricacies of my novel. First, she had me shuffle the deck; then she laid out the cards in a pattern called the Celtic Cross.

“That which covers you, that which crosses,” she explained. “Above and below, before and behind.”

She tapped the first card, a calm masculine figure seated on a throne, a gleaming rapier upright in his hand. “The central conflict involves the King of Swords,” she said. “A man of strength and power and intellect, someone who holds the power of life and death in his hand. Often solitary, sometimes ruthless, but ultimately fair and objective.”

I was stunned. She was describing Trey, my male protagonist, like she‘d sneaked a peek at the character synopsis. Then other cards turned up. The Queen of Cups— submerged unexpressed emotion, perhaps jealousy. The Knight of Wands — an energetic ally with charisma and passion. Justice reversed — a situation riddled with bias and prejudice. And then, in the final position, The Magician.

“It all ends with a single choice,” my friend said, “a big one, the kind of choice you have to believe in with everything you have.”

And as I stared at those cards — at the swords and wands and clear-eyed figures — I suddenly understood what my intuition had been trying to tell me all along. I’d been going at it backwards. Instead of letting the sequence of events flow from my characters’ desires and goals, I’d imposed a series of events on them. No wonder my book was drowning — I’d put a straightjacket on my characters and tossed them in the whitewater.

This is a common pitfall in the tug-of-war between the free-wheeling creativity of the subconscious and the controlled order-making of the conscious. As a writer, I understand the challenge of moving between these two modes of operation and the frustrations that occur when you can’t do it easily (writer’s block being the most common).

But this is why tarot, or any divination deck, is such an effective tool in the creative person’s toolkit — it provides a channel of communication between your conscious and subconscious minds. As your own responses to the images in the deck bubble up, you try out different scenarios, look at situations from a new perspective. Facts rub together in new ways, creating sparks.

Think of it this way — your subconscious is a vast library, with lots of information on the shelves and more coming in every day, but unless you have some way to find what you need when you need it, it can be pretty overwhelming. Tarot is like a very smart, very friendly librarian who knows you well enough to bring you exactly what you need — all you have to do is ask.

My first tarot reading was so successful that I went on to become a professional tarot reader myself. I now counsel others seeking creative solutions to life’s challenges. Thanks to the cards, my soon-to-be-published novel was completed successfully. And even though my hero remains an intellectual King of Swords, I tucked a tarot deck in his desk, just to remind him that sometimes he should put away his graphs and flow charts and open himself to the mysterious powers of intuition.

Tina Whittle is a mystery writer living and working in Southeast Georgia. The Dangerous Edge of Things, her first novel, debuts February 2011 from Poisoned Pen Press. Set in contemporary Atlanta, The Dangerous Edge of Things is the first book in a series featuring gun-shop owner Tai Randolph and corporate security agent Trey Seaver. When not writing or reading, Tina enjoys golf, sushi, and spending time with her family (one husband, one daughter, one neurotic Maltese and three chickens). You can find her at

"If you’re wondering who can give Stephanie Plum a run for her money, meet Tai Randolph." --Kirkus Review

The Dangerous Edge of Things is available at your favorite independent bookseller or from Poisoned Pen Press. Also available for pre-order through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Borders.


N. R. Williams said...

Interesting way to get through the muck. I generally have a pow-wow with my critique partners to gleam suggestions and make a decision.
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Tina said...

My muck-getting-though motto -- whatever it takes. Wine. Spa treatments. Bad TV. But tarot is my favorite. Thanks for dropping by, N. R.

Maria Zannini said...

That's a fascinating way to figure out the characters' path. Very cool!

I've always wanted to try another reading ever since this little old lady at a party told me I was going to be published. I laughed. I had no aspirations to write. None whatsoever. My career lay in a different path.

But she insisted. Darn if she wasn't right.

Congrats Tina! Now you need to write a series about a tarot reader who solves mysteries. :)

Tina said...

You know, Maria, I did write this short story about a tarot reader presented with a mystery (and a hot cop). Maybe I should drag it out . . .

Thanks for dropping by! And yes, sometimes tarot is spooky, but I make myself pay attention no mater how outlandish the reading seems. Congrats on your success -- may it continue!

Angelina Rain said...

That is so cool that you use tarot in writing. I’ve always been fascinated in tarot cards, although I don’t believe in their predictions; they are fun to look at. Your book sounds interesting, I will have to get it when it comes out.

Tina said...

Thanks, Lia! For me, tarot works equally well outside of its traditional use as a fortune-telling device -- in fact, a lot of my clients don't get into tarot's more "woo-woo" aspects; they just need some help getting their subconscious to talk to their conscious. And like you said, tarot IS fun to look at, and most people's intuition responds well to pretty pictures. Thanks for stopping by!

Sherri said...

I'm still getting the feel for the Tarot and always find it interesting to hear authors use it. Looks like I have another book to add to my reading pile :grin:

Donna Cummings said...

I've had tarot readings before, but not for my writing--I'm very intrigued by that. :)

Sometimes my brain feels like a room filled with overflowing file cabinets, and the librarian just stuffs new info in whichever drawer she can find. LOL So I like the thought of using tarot to access that information in a more useful fashion!

Joanna St. James said...

i've never done a tarot reading before i stil don't know what to make of it.

Tina said...

Sherri, it's so good to hear from another tarot enthusiast.There's so many ways you can use it as a writer -- for plotting, for character development, as a general creative juice-up.

Donna, I think we share a mental librarian. Tarot has really helped me dig into those stacks and make some sense of them.

Thanks for your comments!

Tina said...

Joanna, a tarot reading is an excellent experience. Getting one done is fun, but you can do it yourself too. All you need is a deck and a good guide (like Joan Bunning's Learn the Tarot at, which is one of the best how-to guides out there, plus it's free).

Kristabel Reed said...

And here I've been banging my head against the keyboard all this time! Might have to rethink that, it does tend to leave funny little squares on one's forehead. I never would have guessed tarot. I like having my cards read, but for a story? Huh. I may have to look into that. Or possibly study up on it. Thanks for the idea!

Janni Nell said...

What an interesting post! Tarot cards solving plot problems. I'm so intrigued.

Tina said...

Kristabel and Janni, I hope you both do look into it more. A tarot deck is one of the best creative investments I ever made (now if only I could find a forehead proof keyboard!)

Thanks for dropping by, and for your comments!

Linda Leszczuk said...

Very interesting. I've never tried a Tarot reading. Maybe I need to find out what I'm missing.

Tina said...

Linda, I highly recommend tarot as a tool for all kinds of personal growth and creative exploration. And if you don't have a reader near you, I've been very happy with's readings. not as personal, ut very informative. Thanks for stopping by!

Susanna Ives said...

I'm a lucky duck because I've had several readings done by Tina AND I've read her book "The Dangerous Edge of Things" way before the Kirkus Review gave it that starred rating for "remarkable". Trey is the King of Swords. A hot-looking badass with a slight brain damage problem. I highly recommend this book. Unfortunately, it doesn't come out until February (ahhh! can we wait that long?)

Liz Fichera said...


Thanks for being such a super-cool guest today. I've loved learning more about tarot through your posts. Please come back anytime!!

Tina said...

Thank you, Susanna. And thank you, Liz, for hosting me today. Your blog attracts the coolest people!