Let’s Talk with Tina Whittle

Dealing Death and Demons and Star-Crossed Lovers
Tina Whittle

Yes, that is a gun in his pocket.

Yes, that is a gun in his pocket.

It’s one of my favorite pieces of writerly advice: Raymond Chandler’s observation that when things slow down, bring in a man with a gun. Which is not surprising. It’s an iconic image, a man with a weapon, layered with all kinds of subtle and not-so-subtle signals. It represents competence and authority, danger and masculine control. You see it featured in movie posters and on book covers, just one piece of a symbolic code. Man plus gun equals power.

It’s a unique feature of the human animal, this language we speak of symbol and image. As a writer, I work with such images to create character and setting, tone and mood. As a tarot reader, I work with images too. The difference is that when I read tarot, the story I’m creating isn’t fictional – it’s the truth, as real as the person I‘m reading for. And sometimes the images in the cards can be as startling as the proverbial man with a gun.

Sink or Swim Time

Sink or Swim Time

Take The Tower for instance. In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, this unsettling card depicts a lightning-struck stone tower stark against the night sky. Fire erupts from the windows as the top of the tower crashes to the ground, the inhabitants of the tower – two human figures – tumbling along with it. It is a card of obvious and sudden catastrophe, and represents those times in one’s life when something huge is crumbling, when the very foundation is breaking apart beneath your feet. There’s no denying this energy – something is going down, and going down hard.

Imagine seeing THAT card in front of you. You asked an innocent question about your promotion and suddenly – bam! There it is, the proverbial disaster waiting to happen.

There are other visually disturbing cards in the deck as well. Perhaps most distressing of all is Death, depicted in the Rider-Waite-Smith as a skeletal rider upon a white horse, his banner held aloft, and all the things of this world crumbling underneath the horse’s hooves.

Everyone's Last Appointment

Everyone’s Last Appointment

“No, thank you,” some people tell me when I offer to read for them. They don’t want to risk turning over a card and seeing one of those ghastly omens. No way, no how, no ma’am!

One interesting thing I’ve discovered is that my mystery reading friends are the most open to the messages in the cards, even the disturbing ones. I suppose the same impulse that led them – and me — to the mystery genre, both as a reader and a writer, also led me to tarot. I don’t mind exploring the dark side of things – after all, a shadow is just substance plus light.

Mysteries take us to the heart of the shadow. They wade into chaos and return with order. The villain is revealed, and justice is served. But the mysteries that really catch my interest, the ones that hit me deep, are the ones that leave some questions on the table. The mysteries that make you ponder the human condition, the human heart, and the human soul.

I’m currently working on the fifth book in the series about that man with the gun – he’s now my co-protagonist, my narrator’s partner in both romance and crime solving. And so even though he is true to his image – masculine, direct, powerful, cerebral – I tucked a tarot deck into his desk, just to remind him that sometimes even men with guns have to look below the obvious to see the truth.

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Comments

  1. What an interesting gift that you can read Tarot. That would add a unique slant to a mystery.

    • tinawhittle says:

      Thanks, Nancy! It’s incredibly helpful to me as a writer. I have one secondary character who reads, but my protagonists are total skeptics. Alas for them.

  2. Yes, some us (and our characters) just can’t resist poking at those shadows. And there is nothing like The Tarot for a little fair warning. Looking forward to seeing where Tai and Trey ‘s curiosities lead them next.

    • tinawhittle says:

      Thanks, Eloise! I’ve always appreciated how you balance the light and shadows in your own work.

  3. tinawhittle says:

    I love to use the tarot to heap problems on my characters! (if you really want to pile on, Edward Gorey made a set that is positively horrifying, not a good outcome in it). Plus it’s good for figuring out characters too. I didn’t understand my latest villain’s motivations until I saw the Devil and the Four of Pentacles come up, and I went aha!

    I’m bringing tarot cards to the next conference I go to — we’ll all get readings and see what’s up.

  4. Great advice. The last chapter I wrote was flat–as in get out the defib paddles, stat. Time to up the stakes.

  5. maggietoussaint says:

    What a great post, Tina! I like Raymond Chandler’s advice. Oftentimes if things get slow in my books, I just have another crime/murder/bad thing happen, but a man with a gun would work fine too! I’ve had exactly one Tarot reading in my life and it was at a writer’s conference!