September 21, 2009

Secrets of the Tarot

No story featuring Gypsies would be complete without fortune-tellers. Whether consulting crystal balls, reading palms, or divining Tarot cards, they add an air of intrigue and drive the narrative forward with revelations and warnings.

For my story, I chose the Tarot. I have the classic Rider-Waite-Smith deck and books to help interpret layouts. I made the reading simple, a classic three-card pattern: past, present, future. My main character, Roza, asks a question and the cards answer.

Let me say first I don't attribute any supernatural powers to the Tarot. Each card can be interpreted several ways and more often than not the questioner will make an intimate connection when prompted by the reader. Nothing spooky about it.

I selected cards that reflect what I've already written, what's happening in the story now, and things to come. The results:

Past = The Three of Swords (heartbreak)
Present = The Moon (obstacles)
Future = The Tower (tumultuous change)

Now I have a scene that confirms events thus far, indicates Roza will overcome distractions if she believes in herself, and hints that the resolution may not be exactly what she expects. It also establishes a bond between Roza and the fortuneteller, both teen girls, which could be important later.

I'm hoping it will be as intriguing to read as it was to write.


  1. This would be a creative way of plotting a book. Lay down a few cards and have the character take that journey. Obstacles. Change. Death. Can the cards name the characters too? :)

  2. Heidi,
    I like your idea for plotting.
    The classic interpretation of the Tarot is symbolic, but there's nothing to stop a creative writer from using some of the cards as generic characters (The High Priestess, The Magician, The Lovers, etc.) and building a story from that.

  3. You should write a book on THAT! How to Write a Book Using Tarot Cards.

    It'd be a best seller.

    After all, it's non fiction. :)

  4. LOL - I'll just add it to the scads of ideas in my files. ;-)

  5. That's an interesting and unique way to do it. :) I love gypsy stories! What interested you in writing about gypsies in the first place?

  6. Danyelle,
    I've always been intrigued by Gypsies, so I guess they were bound to end up in my writing. They're so passionate. I love their music and wish I could play it on my accordion. (I'm terrible about practicing these days.)
    My great-grandmother claimed my olive skin and curly hair came from our family's connections to the Romany. Of course, Grammy could have been pulling my leg, since all my sisters are fair. And my mother was a Latina, so there's ample reason for my looks.
    I don't go into too much detail as far as Gypsy lore in my current book. But I have an idea for a companion story that will feature them prominently.

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  8. I, too, am intrigued by Gypsies, their music and culture. Have been since I was a little girl.

    I agree, there's nothing supernatural about the cards. They're like like a Rorschach that sometimes results in a self-fulfilling prophecy. :)

    I use several staged tarot reads in my WIP, but for one scene I did a real spread and interpretation assuming the mind-set of my character. Her interpretation was very different than if I'd been interpreting the same cards for myself. The cards don't tell us, we tell them. Nothing spooky there.

    So, what kind of accordion music do you play? (I'm a Cajun/Zydeco junkie)

  9. VR:
    Do you know the Gypsy poet, Papusza?

    I've always loved the Tarot precisely because it's so malleable. Give me a card and I'll make it fit.

    I'm a beginning accordionist, so I've only "mastered" an early book of mostly dull songs which I play at a tempo a bit livelier than a dirge.

    I've been given a lead to a Zydeco musician who plays at the CotatiFest but I can't commit to the amount of practice it would take justify lessons again. Love Clifton Chenier and Beausoleil. Who do you like?

  10. Can't believe you asked about Papusza. I don't know a lot about her poetry, but Colum McCann's novel 'Zoli' is on my reading list for this new project. There's not much information about Nazi persecution of Gypsies during WWII, and much of it is written in the abstract.

    Sounds as though you play the accordion with the same level of skill I play guitar. :)

    I adore Clifton Chenier and Beausoleil, also Steve Riley, Buckwheat Zydeco and Zachary Richard. I really am an addict.

  11. VR:
    I have a few of Papusza's poems in my book on Polish Gypsies by Jerzy Ficowski. Amazing woman.

    Never heard of "Zoli". This is for your NaNo project? Gypsy persecution continues to this day, unfortunately.

    Have you ever gone to the Zydeco festival in Santa Rosa? You've said you love New Orleans, so I'm assuming you heard live music there? I know all the musicians you mentioned except Steve Riley.

  12. "Zoli" is a novel based on Papusza's life. I had hoped to read it for my NaNo project, but still haven't got to it. It's not just that Gypsies are different, it's that they don't assimilate - that scares people. They will probably always be persecuted, because fear breeds prejudice.

    I've never had the chance to attend the Zydeco festival in Santa Rosa. There used to be an event called New Orleans by the Bay in Mountain View, but it seems to have disappeared. Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys definitely fall into the Cajun category. Steve is a superlative accordionist, although sometimes I wish he wouldn't sing. :)

  13. VR: I read Amazon's summary of "Zoli". Intrigued.

    Funny you should mention Cajun musicians who branch out into song. I like Tom Rigney, a Cajun fiddler, as long as he sticks to fiddlin'. Unfortunately, he seems enamored of his own voice.

    Posting at 2:06 a.m.? When do you sleep?


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