Sunday, December 27, 2015

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Fool

Don't let The Fool fool you-- this is not a card of foolishness. It is a paradoxical card, betwixt and between, neither here nor there. A card of beginning, yes certainly, but also of ending. For a new journey cannot begin until the old journey is behind us. And yet there is a moment -- a singular fleeting instant -- with one foot firmly on fresh ground and one toe still touching familiar territory.

This is the Fool. Card Zero. It is also the turning of the year, fireworks and countdowns and Auld Lang Syne

May the Fool be with you this New Year's Eve as it melts into New Year's Day. May this liminal moment reveal to you all the blessings of the passing year even as the yet-to-be blessings shimmer on the horizon. May both gratitude and hope be yours this midnight, and all through the coming days.

Happy 2016!

Monday, December 21, 2015

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Sun

Tonight at 11:48 PM (in the Northern Hemisphere), the Winter Solstice will occur. Scientifically speaking, it marks the moment when our sun's daily maximum elevation in the sky peaks at its lowest point of the year. As such, it is indeed a moment. Split second. Impossible to capture or even witness. And yet it happens.

We're having a cold spell here in Georgia before the temps return to the mid-eighties for Christmas, and the sun sets each night on a clear horizon. I make a cup of tea and sit on my front steps. Dead leaves carpet the ground, but I know that underneath the fragile crispness there is solid slumbering earth. The tea is warm on my lips and tongue, its steam rising and hanging briefly before my eyes, like a veil between me and the fire of the sunset. It feels newly kindled, this sun, clean and reborn, even as it sinks into indigo night.

I feel the turnings, circles within circles. The sun will go down, and then one day it will rise sooner and stronger. The moon wanes, the sun waxes, and the stars move across the sky, silent and true, each constellation a celestial migration. These illusions of human perspective mark me as a part of the cycle. For the moon does not grow or shrink, the sun blazes as steadily now as it did at the height of summer, and the stars are still and constant. It is Earth that tilts and whirls, the same earth that feels so steady beneath me. Another illusion, this steadiness, for the Earth and I are plummeting through space at 66,000 miles an hour. I hold my breath, dancer and dance, the Earth my partner. The stars are at the tumbling edge of the expanding universe, and I ride that wave as well. And I offer thanksgiving, a wordless circle of gratitude that extends in rings around me.

And so here is my wish for you during this moment of turning: May your long nights be rejuvenating, and may the Sun rise on a life of love and laughter, peace and joy, for you. May its warmth be on your shoulder, and in your heart. May it inspire and sustain you as you do the good work.

Monday, December 14, 2015

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Knight of Cups

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
from "Ode on a Grecian Urn" by John Keats

Here is your message for the week, delivered by that most ardent and devoted of suitors — the Knight of Cups. All the knights of the tarot are quest figures, searching ever searching, their eyes straight ahead, their vision steady and fixed on a singular goal.

Our chivalrous Knight of Cups is perhaps the most emblematic of his company, for the golden chalice he holds links him with the Holy Grail of Arthurian myth. You might think him the poster boy for the quest achieved. After all, there's the cup, tight in his hand. Problem solved. Treasure found. Next adventure, please!

Hold your horses. The quest isn't for the cup itself — it's for what the cup contains. And that, oh creative one, is still a mystery.

You have clues that this is the case. Notice his winged helmet, and the slightly less obvious winged spurs. Our knight is cousin to Hermes and Mercury, two of the more tricksterish gods to ever tamper with mortal affairs. They are also messengers, heralds of news and tidings and sudden developments of a surprising nature. And since Cups are the suit of emotion and imagination — the somewhat feverish but always fertile ground from which creativity is born — you can bet this knight will deliver something . . . interesting.

He is a dreamer, the prince of that tribe. He is gentle and compassionate. He is often haunted, sometimes melancholy, but always deep. And he's got something for you in his chalice, something for you and you alone, a message and a gift and a quest all rolled into one. This is the season of advent, after all. The season of approach.

Listen. You can almost hear the distant hoofbeats, coming closer.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Wheel of Fortune

This week, you might want to grab your favorite lucky charm and avoid breaking any mirrors. The Wheel of Fortune is rolling an interesting turn your way. And you know what they say: Round and round and round she goes, and where she stops...well, that's the crux of the issue, isn't it?

Does the Wheel spin in a preordained pattern, one that is fixed and predictable if we could just suss out the mechanisms behind its clockwork mystery? Are its various stops and starts dependent on our actions, the perfect consequences to our choices? Is it destiny or free will that fires those gears? Or is the Wheel a mystery even to itself?

Methinks it's a little of everything. Fate is a giant ship, very hard to steer once a course is set, but it can be steered with the right application of physics at the proper time. Butterflies can indeed stir hurricanes.

Notice, for example, the four figures in the corners of this card, representative of the four fixed astrological signs: Taurus, Leo, Aquarius, and Scorpio. Every single one has a book open! They're all reading! For what is our existence but a novel, and we are both its subject and its author. And -- good thing too -- we're not allowed to skip to the end and see how it all turns out.

So what does this mean for us? After last week's Magician, where we were urged to take some kind of action in the world, the Wheel of Fortune is spinning our actions into...something. And it's going to be something surprising and unexpected. It's going to make you go "hmmm" or "huh?" or "what the...?" Artist and writer Thalia Took uses the phrase "gifts of the tricksie gods" to describe such somethings. Sometimes trinket, sometimes treasure, sometimes trash, sometimes trap, always unanticipated, maybe even miraculous. Because, yes, even miracles have the law of odds in their favor.

What do you do with this something? I can't tell you that. I can't even promise you'll notice it. You may have to keep your eyes wide open for this one. But if you do spot your unusual gift, I suggest you unwrap it. Take the gamble that Lady Fortune is offering. As writers, every time we commit to a new project, a new idea, and new way of doing things -- even a new software program -- we're rolling those cosmic dice. Sometimes the stakes are small. But sometimes they're quite high. Either way, you can't win if you don't play. That's the only guaranteed outcome.

Iacta alea esto! Let the die be cast!

Monday, November 30, 2015

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Magician

I peeked at the cards this week with some nervousness. The past few readings had been about heartbreak and hard lessons, and I was ready for some forward movement, some active purpose. Some magic maybe, a little sprinkle of the quirky and serendipitous.

Boy howdy, did I get my wish -- The Magician, the card of manifesting change in the world according to one's will. Now this can be as simple as picking up a broom and sweeping the floor. Ta da. Magic. But it can also be much more complex and rewarding, especially concerning creative matters.

Let me quote to you from the book right at my elbow at right this exact moment -- Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic (See? Serendipity?): "Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred. What we make matters enormously, and it doesn't matter at all. We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits. We are terrified, and we are brave. Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege. The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you" (emphasis mine).

Because through is the key here, the Magician's secret. He has one arm upraised to the heavens, the source of inspiration. He has another pointing down, into manifestation. He's a lightning rod for creative energy. And when you see yourself in the same manner, when you tap into the creative process, you are allowing the work to move through you into being. You are the channel. You are the conduit. You are the connection. Think flow. Think current. Think electricity.

This week, open yourself. You already have the skills (think how many hours have you already put in at the keyboard, how many words have already moved through you onto the page). You already have the desire (or you wouldn't be reading this). All you need to do is plug in.

Say yes to the Muse, however she comes to you this week. Say yes to your own genius. Say yes to the magic.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

This Week's Writerly Tarot: Strength

We have been in this particular lion's den before. But since this is not a story of vanquishing and over-powering, our return is entirely proper. For once you have befriended this lion, you may come back to it as many times as you wish, as often as you need to be reminded of what soft control looks like.

I was myself reminded of this kind of control this deep, unwavering, and yet gentle kind of strength in this week's Brain Pickings with Marie Popova, who shared excerpts from novelist Nicole Krauss' response to Vincent van Gogh’s 1884 letter to his brother. Van Gogh's letter explores fear, especially the fear of the blank canvas and the unknown. Krauss' letter, separated from Van Gogh himself by over a century, offers the following observation, a perfect summation of the Strength card:
 "And yet even if we could scrape away the many forms our fear takes and get to the underlying source our mortality, our division from the infinite — we would still discover that our fear is not based on actual knowledge, unlike the part of us that chooses to be free. Bravery is always more intelligent than fear, since it is built on the foundation of what one knows about oneself: the knowledge of one’s strength and capacity, of one’s passion."
This week, treat your fear as if it were a wild animal in need of comfort. Kneel before the part of yourself that wants to lash out, recognize this impulse as a protective one, and treat that creature with all the compassion you can muster. For compassion is no weak thing it has muscles and stamina. It is strong enough to be gentle. And so are you.

This applies to all your life, not just your creative endeavors. Whether you are sitting down to the page or sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner, remember that we must have compassion for everyone editors and mean aunties, critics and cousins alike but most importantly for that wounded and roaring part of ourselves. Because if our inner lion is not cared for properly, it might just eat somebody alive.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Writerly Tarot: The Three of Swords

There is nothing equivocal about this card. It is sorrow, piercing and heart-rending. For though we process life in our head, our heart must channel the pain, and it does this physically. Viscerally. It is our birthright, heartache, and the Three of Swords is its avatar.

I am in no way surprised to see it this morning. It is actually a small comfort, to have the hurt named and pictured. These readings are meant for everybody who finds their way here, for the community of writers and readers and creative folk I am so lucky and blessed to be a part of, but each card is first and foremost a message for myself. Each represents a piece of my own life, my own process. But if there is one thing I have learned, it is that the personal is the universal. When you share the truth about yourself, you are sharing the truth about the whole of us.

And I am in mourning today, with the rest of the world, for Paris and her people. For all the lives lost in blood and terror, this week and all the days previous. For the fear that first shouts, but then creeps, and then eventually marches. How do I send my child into such a world? How do I tell her to open her arms to it when today there is only aftermath? The natural inclination is to pull the blades from our heart and stab them into something else. Someone else, some guilty person, for surely someone deserves this burden more than we do.

But no. No. We strive to move past pain, but we must learn to sit with it, our own pain and the pain of others. And then we must learn to walk around with it throbbing within us. Laugh with it. Love with it. Sorrow is a tide, rising and falling. Ancient, powerful, and as endless as the ocean.

How are we to respond today, to this freshly broken world? We do our work. We show up. We open to the whole of this morning and this day and this life. I believe that creative work is a particular kind of prayer, that it connects us to that which is bigger than us, and to each other, in ways that are profoundly spiritual. This I believe. And so this I practice, today especially.

In his poem "A Brief for the Defense," poet Jack Gilbert insists that "we must risk delight . . . We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil."

This week, risk delight. Go to the page or the easel or the wheel or the dance floor with stubborn gladness. A pierced heart is an open heart. Honor the wounded places. Do your work. And blessed be.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Writerly Tarot of the Week: Justice

This week, Lady Justice comes calling yet again (you can read about her previous appearance here). Despite my careful and thorough shuffling, cards do show up more than once, sometimes back to back (it's bound to happen a traditional tarot deck has 78 cards, so some are destined to be repeat visitors). In my tarot philosophy, a card that shows up more frequently than the law of averages would dictate usually has one of two messages to share:

1. The energy is repeating itself, only in a new transmutation.

2. The energy is the same as it was previously, but I haven't figured out everything I need to figure out about it, so until I do, it will keep repeating and repeating, like blows to the head, until the information finally sinks into my thick hard skull.

This week is #2. Alas.

So I am returning once again to my own ideas about justice and fairness. I am questioning my beliefs about what it is to be deserving. I am pondering karma, that ancient engine of cause and effect, reckoning and consequence. I am doing these things especially with my creative endeavors, because there's nothing guaranteed to make one feel like a plaything of destiny than sending one's work into the larger world.

Justice is here to remind me that she has the eternal tally sheet well in order, thank you very much. She doesn't need me nudging her in the ribs, highlighting certain details that might have slipped her mind, scribbling helpful notes in the margins. Her balance scales do not require recalibration (and they especially don't need my thumb helping things equal up properly). All that she requires of me is that I keep my own balance book neat. And all that requires is the attention and intention of my entire lifetime.

Previously, I said of Justice, "You already have the long-enough lever she's simply showing you where you might stand." That sounds exactly right for this week too.

So . . . to work.

Monday, October 26, 2015

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Hermit

Last week the fair came to town in my part of the world. I spent hours in this fishbowl of sensation -- the spastic neon lights, the cacophony of screams rising and falling, the midway hucksters calling and cajoling, the air saturated with fat and sugar and dust.

I am so relieved to see The Hermit.

He reminds us that there is a time and place for being in the outer world, but that perhaps we've been toiling in those hectic fields for too long. If you are a writer, you know that we tend to be solitary creatures, highly introverted, soothed by our time in our inner world. We cannot live in seclusion, however, no matter how attractive it may seem (and with the din of mechanical amusements still ringing in my ears, it seems very attractive). We must venture, yes. But we must also return.

The Earth herself is moving into the dark time, the cool time, the time of shadows. Humanity has created a million ways to pretend this isn't happening. We turn up the lights, sing louder, drape tinsel, laugh and plan and move hither and yon, busy and busier.

This week, consider the bear. Bears know how to hermit better than anybody, so start planning the ways that you can honor your inner ursine this coming autumn and winter. Plump the cushions in your cave. Make ready to spend some time in luxurious hibernation. It is a fact of our culture that one must carve away solitude, carve it like Michelangelo freeing the angel from the marble.

But do carve. Because the angel is there. And The Hermit promises to help you find it.

Monday, October 19, 2015

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Two of Wands

I often tell people that the skills I use for tarot reading are the same skills I use for mystery writing -- the ability to tease a narrative from what may at first appear to be dissimilar pieces. 

In writing, the human imagination seems to generate the pieces, but really, we can only pull from what we experience. We're exposed to hundreds of thousands of sensory bits and data bites every day -- our brain selects which ones to pay attention to, which ones to file away in either the subconscious basement or the conscious information desk. It chooses these in the same way that the tarot querent pulls cards from the deck. Both tarot reading and writing involve selecting parts from a larger, chaotic whole and then connecting the dots into order and meaning.

So what have we to herald this week? The Two of Wands, a card of beginnings, especially in creative endeavors. A card of choice. It's come up before -- you can read that original post here -- but the tarot is a tool of context. A card doesn't mean the same thing every single time it shows itself. Its signature, its energy, remains the same, but the influence of time and place create subtle differences in the expression. Just as they do with us. We are different minute by minute. And so is the tarot.

This week, the Two of Wands feels very conflicted to me. The Wands are the suit of energy and passion, of moving forward. The Two, however, suggests a hesitation, a pause, a moment of stillness completely at odds with its nature. Move forward? Wait until the perfect moment? Is there such a thing as a perfect moment?

The tarot has no answers. But it does let you hold the questions up to the light and consider every facet.

This week, what is pulling you forward? What opportunities shimmer on your horizon? What is holding you back? Is it uncertainty? Fear? The need for more information?

The Two of Wands suggests that you ponder all the possibilities, but not for too long. Ponder too long and the choice will be made for you instead of by you. Flip a coin if you must. And trust that as it spins in the air, heads over tails and heads again, your heart will reveal what you hope the answer will be.

Monday, October 12, 2015

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Four of Swords

Here's another card I picked myself, this one for the post-Bouchercon week -- The Four of Swords.

This is not cheating, of course. Sometimes it's good to let the Universe choose cards for you, especially in situations where you might be confused about the paths before you, the contributing factors behind you. Situations where you'd like to get a perspective beyond your own.

But sometimes you know what you need. And in those cases, the tarot is an excellent tool for reminding yourself of that.

This week, I'm reminding myself of the Four of Swords. Rest. Recuperation. Silence. A return to stability. Swords are about conflict and mental activity, but fours represent foundation. Think four corners. Think squares.

And think graves.The prayerful person in this image is an effigy atop a tomb. But don't be frightened. This isn't a card about death, not exactly. But for busy people, taking time away from the busy-ness can feel like death. The stillness can feel like an end. It is necessary, however. It is required. It is part of the cycle.

So for this week, the Four of Swords. The stillness of marble. The silence of statues. The fine and private place that in the tarot, and in life, serves as the cradle of rebirth. May it be yours this week, and may you emerge refreshed and renewed back into the wild rush of life.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Six of Wands

What a bountiful way to begin the week! For here we have in our hands the Six of Wands, a card of hard-won recognition and well-deserved achievement. See the laurel crown? See the cheering crowds? There's a whole bunch of hip-hip-hurrah packed into that one scene.

Sixes represent midpoints in the journey, spaces where there is both much in the past and much in the future. They carry with them a sense of integration and balance, of the celestial spheres orbiting elegant and proper in their cycles.

As such, it is a very "in the moment" card. Your choices in the past have brought you here, and your choices now will carry you forward, but now -- in this singular unique now -- there is cause to celebrate. And because this is the suit of wands -- the suit of creativity and passion -- chances look good for the writers of the world to experience a tossing of confetti this week.

As a mystery writer, I am especially delighted to see this card pop up. I'm heading for Bouchercon, the largest mystery convention in the world, where many of my colleagues are up for prestigious awards. Such ceremonies are the Six of Wands energy in action, and I'm excited to know that some of my friends will soon be riding that high horse to victory.

I won't be one of them. I'm not up for an B-Con award this year. But -- and this is crucial -- I'm still celebrating.

Such is the nature of the Six of Wands. This week you're the rider on the beribboned and bedazzled horse. The next you're in the crowd, cheering as another receives the accolades. Whatever your role turns out to be this week, show up. Be wholehearted and open. Rejoice without envy or smugness; these are the grit in the gears of abundance. The Universe is a generous place. Be grateful for all its gifts, including that of supportive community.

And most of all, trust the horse. The horse is saying, here's looking at you, kid. And the horse is always right.

Monday, September 28, 2015

This Week's Writerly Tarot -- The High Priestess

Yet another week in the heart of Mercury Retrograde (for more on that, read last week's post), so there's probably still a goodly amount of chaos and confusion going on. Here at Whittle Central, we've seen inexplicable oven malfunctions, computer weirdnesses, and miscommunications galore.

So what's a writerly type to do during such a time? The High Priestess has a suggestion.

She's not a woman of words, after all. The knowledge she possesses can't be transmitted that way. There is no search engine that can get to it, no library that can shelve it. You can't even ask for it. It simply happens, deep inside.

This card is rich in symbol -- the pomegranates, the twin pillars of Mercy and Severity, the full moon on her brow, the crescent moon at her feet, the Torah open in her lap, the equal-armed cross on her chest, the blue robes lapping like the edge of deep water. Deeply textured symbols all.

As a writer, you understand the power of layered meaning, how similes and metaphors are fluent in languages of both surface and depth. This week, let your life be a unwritten book. Let the symbols you find speak to you, creating a pathway of stepping stones into a brand new understanding.  How do you know a symbol when you see one? Chances are good that if you notice it, if it grabs your attention in some way, it's a symbol. If you see repeated symbols, then pay VERY close attention. Take notes if that helps, but don't expect them to make a road map for you. The realm of the High Priestess is terra incognita, best explored through faith and intuition.

You may receive a revelation about your creative purpose. You may glimpse a road not yet taken. Your current work may open itself in a surprising and exciting way. You may get the clues to a Mystery.

However you approach the process, remember -- this is not a left brain activity. This is right brain creative work. It can be messy. It can be frustrating. But it is always a felt experience.

Feel it, people.

Monday, September 21, 2015

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Ace of Swords and The Star

It's a two-tarot-cards-for-the-price-of-one deal this week, and boy howdy, do we need it.

If you follow the stars, you know that we're in the first week of the last Mercury Retrograde of 2015, which will be ending on October 9th. Mercury retrograde occurs when the planet seems to be moving backwards in the sky, and until it appears to move forward again, all kinds of muckety-muck can foul the gears, especially in all endeavors travel and technology and communication related.

Which sounds like a nightmare to all you writerly types, I know. E-mails getting lost or misunderstood, computers hiding files or catching on fire. Flat tires and delayed planes and trains not training properly. Ugh.

However, if you switch up your perspective, the energy of Mercury retrograde can be used in an effective manner. My brilliant friend Sara Amis refers to it as "the scapegoat planet" because every ill wind for these three weeks gets blamed on Mercury heaving itself backwards in the sky. As if planets do that. No, people do that (remember, a retrograde only looks backwards, which makes it a perspective challenge, not a roadblock challenge).

So yes, switch it up. Relax into lateness as an exercise in non-resistance (you Buddhists out there know what I'm talking about). Back up your files as a practice in prevention. Appreciate the weirdness and odd quirks that flavor your landscape. Mercury retrograde is a great time for anything with an re- in front if it -- redo, revise, reorganize, revisit. Recover. Reconstruct. Remember.


The tarot has some tools to help you. This week two cards came up, one drawn by me -- the Ace of Swords -- and the other a "jumping card" -- The Star --  which is a card that makes itself known in other ways, like falling out of the deck.

For a well-needed dose of mental clarity, there's the Ace of Swords (see its previous appearance for further details). Use it to slash away all that does not serve, clearing the space for you to bring forth that which does. Caveat to the wise -- the chaotic energy of Mercury Retrograde tampers with communication, so re-check your words before they leave your mouth or keyboard. Make sure that the Swords' penchant for cutting truths and sharp assessments doesn't slice too deeply by erring on the side of diplomacy and compassion.
From the Tarot Art of Thalia Took

Luckily, The Star asserted itself, so there should lots of good nurturing energy to help you do that. The Star is a card of hope and balance. It asks nothing of you but to be fully present in the moment -- a moment that has both grounding and flow -- and search for a light that will guide your way.

Because there's always a light. And it remains fixed and steady, especially in times of flux. Seek yours, and set your feet to the path forward.

It's just a retrograde. Fasten your seatbelts. You'll be fine.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Writerly Tarot: The Seven of Pentacles

If anything can capture what life is like during the final stages of revision, it's this card. Pentacles are the suit of hard work and foundation, so that's why it's up today, because that's where I am. I plucked it deliberately from the deck and posted it where I could see it (you are allowed to do this, you know. Choose for yourself sometimes. The tarot approves of choices).

This card and I are old friends. It shows up whenever I'm deep in the nitty-gritty details, like this week. It's a card of assessment. Of both pruning and fertilizing, the peculiar ying-yang of creation and destruction that the final stages of a writing project require. Our gardener is gazing fondly upon the fruits of his labors. But he can't gaze forever. That's a hoe in his hands. There is hoeing to do.

Yes, you must kill your darlings (or reconcile them to the Next file, which isn't the same thing but which serves the same purpose). You must also nurture your darlings, tend them and train them up, talk sweet to them. How do you do both things at the same time?

Oh, don't ask me. I can barely see straight this week. My head is swimming with words. But this is my North Star, my compass heading, this balancing act of contemplation and cutting and creating in equal measure. Releasing David from the marble, as it were. And I think it is important work, whether one is Michelangelo or a mystery writer. Everybody gets a block of stone.

So this week, know that creation requires both endings and beginnings, but most of all, it requires choice. Roll up your sleeves. You've got work to do.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

This Week's Writerly Tarot -- The Knight of Swords

If this Knight had a slogan, it would be He Who Runs With Scissors.

Just look at him, hellbent for leather, sword high, galloping straight to glory.  Or something. Knights are quest figures, and as such, they don't do standing around very well. Their eyes are always on the horizon, and since this Knight is of the Sword variety (the suit of mental energy) the prize he's after is of an intellectual nature. Maybe evanescent, maybe even intangible, maybe spun of air and wind, but a prize to be obtained nonetheless.

And he's put some planning into it, yes, he has. Swords love strategy and vision, logic and reason. But for the Knight of Swords, this most masculine energy of a most masculine suit, nothing is a pure and clean as the rush forward, the wind against his skin (notice he has his visor up, because sensing this, seeing this, is more important than whatever protection he'd get from such armor.) All the planning, all the foresight . . . it all serves this moment.

The horse, however, begs to differ.

I've always thought his gallant steed has a slightly different perspective on this whole rushing-into-battle thing. He's looking not ahead or at his Knight -- he's looking sideways at us -- and I detect a hint of "oh sheesh, nope, don't wanna go there" in his horsey eye, reluctance in his gritted teeth. But go he will -- when this Knight has the reins, the only direction is forward and the only speed is fast. How well he'll fare once the battle starts remains to be seen. Our brave horse might be returning riderless.

So whatever writerly adventure you undertake this week, whether it's finally sending that manuscript off or reaching out to that perfect agent, do it both big and well. Remember -- martial planning is a beautiful thing, but combat looks very different on the field than it does in the officer's tent. Sure, the charge forward is exciting. Just be certain that you have your sharpest sword, the one you polished the night before, and not the gorgeous but flimsy one. Be sure your sensible support staff is with the program. And just in case there's an unpleasant surprise around the corner, you might want to lower your visor. Just saying.

Tally ho, my friend.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Four of Cups

You know the routine. And that's the problem.

The Four of Cups describes a situation that is somehow both stable and crawling with tension. That's what happens when you take the number four, which is associated with structure and regularity  (think squares) and combine it with the active flowing nature of the Cups (think fountains and geysers and other gushy things). A mismatch in energies, like when a Virgo and Aries try to go on a date.

Often called the card of Divine Discontent, the Four of Cups represents those times when there's nothing wrong exactly -- no blood, no fire, no drama -- but a sludgy gray ennui holds you down nonetheless. You may try to procrastinate your way out of this feeling. But unlike the time wasting that happens when we're trying to avoid hard work, this kind of wasting happens when we've stopped setting ourselves to deep, satisfying work.

Straightening your desk won't help. Neither will checking your e-mail, or emptying the paper shredder. This is a soul problem, my friend, and it needs a soul solution.

It would be very helpful if the Universe provided such a solution as obviously as it does in this image. Look! A golden chalice filled with meaning and purpose! Take it, you fool! Drink and find your true destiny!


I've never had the clouds part and a literal arm come out holding literally anything. Thank goodness, I suppose -- that would send me right off. But lacking such direction, what are we the divinely discontented to do?

First of all, this kind of situation has Cups written all over it. The suit of emotion and feeling, it emotes and feels. The Four tries to contain that feeling, which leads to stagnation, so to break the cycle, we have to spill something. Get a little messy. Let the jostling liquid parts of you slop over the edges.
How to properly greet your Muse
 (art by Thalia Took)

Forget your routine, just for a minute. Yes, I know, all the how-to-be-a-writer books tell you to make an appointment and the Muse will show. But the Four of Cups indicates that your Muse may be tired of being summoned to your desk every morning at nine, as if she were some kind of cosmic personal assistant. As if she didn't have better things to do. Maybe she needs a little courting, a little surprise, a little shiny newness? Maybe she needs an enthusiastic welcome (see the image at left). And maybe, when she does come, she'd like to be asked what she'd like to do for a change.

Last week's card was the call of rebirth -- this week's card suggests you're avoiding answering that call until a more appropriate time, when you've finished whatever it is you've been so diligently persevering at. Like the taxes.

Stop that this instant. There is a freaking chalice of purpose and destiny hovering in your vicinity. Maybe it's within your reach. Maybe it's not. Reach for it anyway. It's the reaching that matters this week.

So what are you waiting for? Reach.

Monday, August 24, 2015

This Week's Writerly Tarot: Judgment

Don't worry. Despite this card's title, it isn't judge-y. If you are a writer or artist or creative person of any stripe, you have enough of that to deal with from your own Inner Critic.

No, this card refers to Judgment Day, the prophesied moment when the angel Gabriel sounds the heavenly trumpet and the dead rise again, clean and rested and rejoicing. As such, it is more properly titled Rebirth or Resurrection. It's also one of the Major Arcana, and as such is A Very Big Deal.

In other words, don't ignore this one. Like the trumpet call, it requires response. But first, it requires deep listening.

Clarion calls are not always easy to hear. Sometimes the noise and din of our daily lives drown out that clear ethereal tone, even one blown through an angel's trumpet.

Take a moment. Make yourself still and quiet, as silent as the grave. I know -- this can feel like death to people accustomed to accomplishing much, people with detailed to-do lists, people who Get Things Done. But it's the only way to hear that clean high note.

You will know it when you do. It will pull you with the force of magnetic north and full moon tides. It will require a powerful surrender, but if you choose to follow, it will be irresistible.

That sounds like a paradox, and it is. Ponder such if you will. And then get ready to do the work. Because work is required, and that puts some people right back into the tomb. Not all heed the call of purpose and joy. Some prefer to sleep as if dead and merely dream beautiful dreams.

But not you. I'm quite sure of that.

This week, the Universe is calling. It is a personal call, directly to you. You already know what it means. You already know the good work that is waiting for you, whether it's the page or the clay or the blank canvas. Choose it. Choose it now. Give it five minutes. Make it real. And feel the rush as if you were suddenly lifted on the wings of angels.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Ten of Swords

Let's get one thing straight -- nobody's gonna literally take ten literal swords in the back. Probably not anyway. The Swords are known for their sharpness, their double-edged efficiency, their ability to -- pun absolutely intended -- get to the point. But they hardly ever foretell a stabbing.

Regardless, we may feel as if we've got ten of them in the back. What to do?

First of all, take a deep breath (well, as deep as you can with a symbolically punctured lung). Due to the dual and often dramatic nature of the Swords, this card comes with a plethora of potentialities. Depending on the context, it can signal finality, betrayal, martyrdom, and/or overkill.

But there is one thing it writes large, no matter the context:


This week, look around your creative space for something that is over, or in the stages of becoming over. This process might not be an easy one -- in fact, this Ten suggests that it isn't -- but it's happening. In my case, my editor just sent me her final notes for my current work in progress, and yes, it feels like ten blades skewering the corpus of my magnum opus. It's not, of course. I know this. And maybe tomorrow I'll be able to rouse myself off the beach of self pity, pluck the blades from my back, and move forward with the revision like the Big Girl I Am. Toward my very own THE END moment (which will be sweet, so very sweet, and worthy of champagne).

Because -- and this is the key to surviving a Ten of Swords moment -- there's a slice of gold on the horizon. Is it the setting sun, finally going down on a challenging episode in your life? Is it the rising sun, promising a fresh new start? It's both, of course. The sun goes neither up nor down -- we just circle it, our perspective ever-changing.

Today blades and rocks. Tomorrow the good work. This is the promise. Roll up your sleeves and stride out to meet it.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Six of Pentacles

Ah yes. This card.

Some tarot readers say the Six of Pentacles is the only card in the deck that reads the same way right side up as it does reversed. That is to say, it's a card of energy exchange, and as such, it describes a movement, not a static collection of pieces-parts. And movement, especially that guided by the hand of Karma, is hard to pin down into topside and otherways.

Things seem obvious in the image. It's easy to see who's giving (the rich guy) and who's receiving (the beggars at his feet). The scales are balanced. But the card asks you to look deeper. Exchanges never flow one way only, and the act of giving/receiving is no different. It is a relationship, a connection. It is reciprocal. We are all cogs in the Machine of Larger Cycles, each action a tiny whirring gear turning the giant wheels of time and space and human potential. Receiving fuels the engine as much as giving; they are both parts of the same clockwork.

I hear you saying, "Yes, but what does this have to do with my writing? Right now? No rich people with handy portable scales here. No golden coins hovering in the air either."

Well . . . no. We writers may traffic in symbol, but they rarely show up so blatantly in our mundane worlds. And you're so busy, what with all the planning and outlining and submitting and revising and -- you know -- putting actual words on the page, who has time to interpret such an image? Couldn't I just slap a nice inspiring Facebook meme up there?

Oh very well. Here.

Photo by OLU

As for the Six of Pentacles, remember -- no man is a self-made island. No woman either. With apologies to Blanche DuBois, we all exist on the kindness of strangers. For some people, giving is hard (see last week's post on the Five of Swords and scarcity mentality). For others, especially those accustomed to having enough to be a generous giver, receiving is way out of the comfort zone. Both are required, however. They are the yin and yang of everything. Every gift requires a recipient, and you do your part in the great infinity loop when you show up whole-hearted for both roles.

Writers share time and words with readers; readers share time and money with writers. Writers share encouragement with each other, and sometimes more concrete gifts -- a recommendation, a review, a hand up the ladder. We celebrate the sold-out signing and commiserate when That Guy on Amazon writes an addle-minded review.

This week, consider all the actions of giving and receiving that you participate in. Be conscious in them. Be fully present for them in all their joy and squinchiness. There may be a beneficence coming your way. Or an empty hand extended. Or you may be the one reaching out in one fashion or the other.

Regardless, you know what to do. Take a deep breath. You got this.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Five of Swords

Uh oh.

That's all I can say for us this week, writerly folk. Nobody likes to see the Five of Swords pop up. Indeed, the Swords as a whole are renowned for their double-edged ways. Swing them with proficiency and precision, and they're dead useful -- swing them with malice and/or clumsiness, and they're dead dangerous. Which is to be expected for a suit associate with all things mental -- to paraphrase the old saying, a mind is a terrible thing to let loose without any balance from the heart or body or soul.

So now we have the Five, traditionally associated with slander and betrayal, with dirty deeds done and not a small amount of gloating. Also winning. Lots of winning going on here, though it will come at a price, you betcha.

So what to do? Our first impulse is to watch our backs, be on guard for Those Who Have It In For Us. And, okaaayyyyy, there's something of that in this card.

But let's look deeper for a second, shall we? This energy exists only if one has a scarcity mindset, which goes some like this: there's only so much pie, better grab my slice. In the creative world, this translates into only so many readers, only so many good reviews, only so much attention, better grab my slice.

No. Just no.

Being creative is to participate in abundance. The well will not run dry. Do not be envious of others' successes (not even E.L. James's). Do not schadenfreude over others' come-uppances (not even E. L. James's).

Tap your source. Do your work. Honor your process. Share and receive. Let Karma, the Great Mistress of Tit-For-Tat, write the rest of the scene.

Monday, July 27, 2015

This Week's Writerly Tarot: Strength

There are times when you need to push hard and push fast, muster every ounce of willpower you have and exert it with force and discipline.

This week is not one of those times.

This week calls for Strength, a card the demonstrates a more nuanced approach to control, one that might not come easily to mind when confronted with an angry lion. Slavering beasts with pointy teeth bring out the "gotta get that thing in a cage, and quick" mentality.

But notice the woman of this card. No whips, no chairs. She's not combative, not demanding. The lion does not resist her touch; indeed, the creature seems almost tame. How does she do it?

The key is soft control, and that begins with compassion and empathy. Despite their reputation, these are muscular responses, hence the title of this card. The infinity sign above her head is another important clue as to the meaning here -- the quality of mercy is not strained; neither is it finite. There is always an abundance to tap, if we can learn to open our hand and let it flow.

What in your life are you trying to beat into submission? A project, an attitude, a fear? Strength reminds you that the most impressive muscle at your disposal is your heart, not your biceps. Stop wrestling your demons. Befriend them. Pluck whatever thorns you can find from their paws. You might find that monster in need of defeating is actually a pussycat.

Monday, July 20, 2015

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The King of Wands

Are you a mover and shaker this week? Or perhaps you feel more among the shaken and
moved? Either way, meet the gentleman* responsible for whatever seismic goings-on are rumbling in your world, especially your creative one.

Kings are the cards of action, of exterior, of the wide world. They are the bringers of expertise and resources, the ones who grease the wheels. Wands are the suit of creative energy, the fire and passion that burns within us, the energy we release whenever we put our talents to work. The King of Wands is will made manifest, and as such, he has little time for logic-debating or day-dreaming or detail-obsessing. He's a "get on with it" kind of man.

So your question this week is simple: are you the actor in this situation, or are you the acted upon?

In creative endeavors, we find both types of energy. Being a writer is often solitary work. Most days, you are your very own boss, for better or worse, and the King of Wands urges you to seize the day, make your mark . . . all those fiery masculine activities that are sometimes difficult for people accustomed to working from a desk. Fix your crown firmly on your head, make your plans, and move forward as if the seas of the world will part before you. That's the King of Wands way.

However . . .

There are days when you're not the King. Creative fields have many kings -- editors and agents, publishers and critics -- who often have sweeping control over your life, and the best you can do some days is avoid getting your head chopped off (which is a massive accomplishment, don't ever forget). Of course some days you are granted an audience, an opportunity you must make the most of. Kings can be headstrong, hard to influence, as difficult to turn as a hurricane. But do try. This King may burn fearfully bright, but under the right circumstances, he is as generous with his fire as Prometheus.

Some days you are the King. Some days you meet the King. In either case, remember: forward ho, and hold your head up high.

*In the tarot, Kings represent a very masculine energy, but in the real world, that energy can be expressed by any gender. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Writerly Tarot for the Week: The Ace of Swords

You know what you need? You need a breath of fresh air. And a giant sword.

Here you go! You're welcome!

It's a bracing bit of cool logic, the Ace of Swords, and if your writerly week is starting out anything like mine, you'll want to grab it with both hands. Careful, there. The Ace of Swords is not for show. That blade cuts true and deep and swift. You'll want to bring all your carefully honed attention into play before your wrap your fingers around that hilt.

But once you've got it in hand, once you've tested its heft and edge, here are some tasks you can put this fine piece of steel to:

* Feeling muddled and confused? This Sword will cut through any nebulous gray funk gathering in the corners of your brain like so many cranial cobwebs. Swish and swish! Now doesn't that look brighter? You know better than anyone else what cleans your mental clock (in a good way, I mean). Yoga. Meditation. Sudoku. Get some of whatever works. Get it now.

* Somebody looking to pick a fight with you? This week, a sharp tongue and a rapier wit are yours for the brandishing. One word of warning -- this Sword is particularly sharp, and not especially merciful. Thick twice before you swing it.  I suggest you take your mental and verbal acuity to the page. Let your characters slice and dice each other -- spare your friends and family the bloodletting.

* Having a hard time maintaining boundaries? Finding time? Setting priorities? The Ace of Swords will cut through the clutter, carve out time and space. It will do it clean. But it will not always do it painlessly. Writers often require solitude and separateness to do their deep work, and this Sword will prove an excellent tool in that endeavor. It will provide. Just don't forget to put it back in its scabbard when the work is done, so that your nearest and dearest know it's safe to approach. But keep it sharp regardless -- remember that old kitchen adage about dull knives being the most dangerous? The same is true of swords.

All in all, the Ace of Swords is an auspicious card for any mental endeavor, especially those involving rationality and logic. It's a whoosing rush of pure brain power, and it fuels communication both written and oral. Just remember -- this is a blade that cuts both ways. Wield it with respect. Use it wisely. And don't fall too much in love with its shiny slicing prowess.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Writerly Tarot for the Week: Nine of Pentacles

Ah, now this is better. The Nine of Pentacles is one of my favorite cards, as it is often described as the card of the self-made woman. Just look at her, standing there on her own two feet. She is independence personified, dressed in a richly embroidered gown, gold coins literally rolling at her feet. It's a lush card, and like all the nines, a mix of both past actions and the eventual results of those actions.

But the key to this card isn't the money or the wardrobe -- it's the falcon on her arm.

Make no mistake, that's one wild bird. Fierce. A predator. And yet our lady has him lightly perched on one hand.

Writers court such wildness, but if you've come this far in your creative journey, you know that wildness does not respond to being chased. Wildness comes to stillness. We must learn to be composed and self-contained to develop a relationship with the part of us which flies clean and high. The part of us that swoops in ever-widening gyres, but which -- with trust and proper care -- will always return to our arm.

This week, take some time to make yourself a resting place for your fine feathered Muse. The creative spirit can be fierce and free, but if you cultivate some time alone, in some garden metaphorical or otherwise, it will come to you. And it will prove to be a faithful companion.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Writerly Tarot for the Week: The Seven of Wands (Again) Plus The King of Swords

Apparently, the concept of "lazy days of summer" is lost on you and me, dear reader. For here we are again with the Seven of Wands (previously seen here, warning us of chore creep and reminding us to cherish the real reason we do what we do).

Because we are still beating back the world with our stick. And the world just keeps on coming.

So I asked the deck for a little further enlightenment (we're allowed to do that, you know. If the messages you're getting from the Universe are muddled or muddy or inexplicable, you're allowed to say, "A little clarification, please."). Because apparently there's something still going on here, something we need to be addressing.

I drew the King of Swords, one of the court cards. There are twelve of these in the tarot deck, four for each suit (you can see contemporary echoes of this court in the face cards of a deck of playing cards). In the tarot, Kings represent action and authority, and Swords the suit of mental expression. The King of Swords has a clue about how we should handle all the continuing chaos surrounding us, and his advice has nothing to do with waving a stick around.

This King suggests that instead of rushing about and trying to exert order on a messy world, we should take a step inward into the one thing that we can control -- our own minds. Our brains are our best friends in many ways, but they can also be tricky, demanding, and deceitful. Meditation teachers will tell you that the human mind is like an unhousebroken puppy -- it must be brought gently and firmly to the newspaper where it can do its business. Hitting it with a stick will not help it learn. Treating it with loving discipline will.

So this week, when the chaos crackles and swirls like heat lightning, don't pick up a stick and try to beat the world into submission. Instead, disengage yourself from the situation. Breathe in and out. Soothe your mind until it is as clear and free of thoughts as the blue sky.

And the rest will follow.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Writerly Tarot for the Week: The Page of Wands

Oh, thank goodness! After all the wreckage of the Tower (see last week's post), it's nice to have such a clean, straightforward card to point our way. Because the Wands are the suit of inspiration and passion, of using our will and our enthusiasm to . . . well, whatever ends and purposes we choose. The Pages, however, aren't about the ends -- Pages herald beginnings -- and when you have two fired-up energies combined together in one dynamic card, best find a project to channel that fire and drive, and be quick about it.

Ah, but here's the tricky-tricky about fresh starts -- they can be hard for those of us with our identity bound up in some idea of proficiency. Oh, not you, of course. You understand that ten-thousand-hour arc to experthood. You know beginner's mind like the back of your hand.

But the rest of us -- sometimes anyway -- feel like we just strapped on roller skates for the first time whenever we try something new. That feeling of graceless precariousness can be a bit unsettling. But take a page from our Page -- those boots are made for walking. And that Wand is made for adventure.

This week, look at whatever you might be avoiding because you don't feel quite adequate at it. Is there a query letter you're putting off sending? A proposal you're avoiding? A phone call that needs making? A manuscript that needs feedback? A new skill that's still in the squeaky-hinge stage?

This week, try doing the thing that scares you. You know what they say -- what doesn't kill you makes for a good story.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Writerly Tarot for the Week: The Tower

Oh jeez. It looks like it's going to be one of those weeks. Mercury retrograde and now this disaster.

Because let's face it, nobody wants to see The Tower rearing up from the deck. Other cards may look scary -- Death, The Devil, The Ten of Swords -- but nothing delivers that sinking feeling of "aw crap" like The Tower.

So let's take a deep breath before proceeding, shall we?


Here we go.

The Tower shows up when imminent destruction is on the horizon, and not just any ol' random destruction -- something you have crafted and assembled, something that has value and substance, is tumbling lightning-struck into the sea. And you're tumbling with it (or some part of you is, some piece of your identity). Down down down.

Here's the thing, though -- whatever it is that's crumbling right now, it's outlived its usefulness. Maybe it seemed a good idea at the time. Maybe it was. As writers, our curiosity is voracious and cosmopolitan, free range and full steam. We join this group, sign up for that workshop. We agree to this event, that blog tour. All of these create our authorial "platform," our professional presence in the world. It's a necessary part of being a professional writer . . . but it's not writing. And it's the writing that makes a writer. Neglect that foundational part of your platform and . . . ka-blam.

It's all too easy to create a pretty version of who we are as writers, and then live that version as if it were the reality. Our version is often well-designed and structurally sound. It makes for comfortable living. But no matter how pretty, it's a copy. And this week, it begins its crumble into dust.

What's beginning to fall apart in your life? Is it something you built? Might it have a large chunk of your ego bricked up in one of the load-bearing walls?

If so, the Tower reminds you that you can only forestall the inevitable for so long -- best stay out of the way and let it tumble. Afterwards, you can take a deep breath and go through the rubble. You can try to see to the clear horizon behind, the clean plot of land below.

But for now . . . watch for falling rocks.


Friday, June 5, 2015

Mystery Writing and Tarot on Booklover's Bench

I'm excited to be a new member of the team at Booklover's Bench, joining several of my favorite mystery writers as we share news and prizes with our readers.

My introductory piece for them explains the similarities between my work as a mystery writer and my work as a tarot reader. If you'd like to check it out, you can find it archived here.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Writerly Tarot for the Week: Justice

Unlike her likeness portrayed in our court systems, Lady Justice of the tarot is not blindfolded. No, this lady sees very clearly, and her perceptions are objective and precise, equal parts severity and mercy applied through some cosmic algorithm only she is privy to.

So you may ask, dear creative soul, what does she have to tell you this week?

First of all, Justice is a major arcana, one of the so-called "big" cards of the tarot. I often refer to them as "postcards from the Universe" and they come right to your karmic mailbox, addressed to you personally with indelible ink. Which makes this card a double whammy, because Justice is the card of karma. The card of actions reaping consequences. The card of equations, as carefully calibrated as that scale she holds, as perfectly double-edged as the sword she wields.

In other words, you have only yourself to blame -- or thank -- for whatever is going on in your creative world right now, and the same will be true of tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. Now now, don't get touchy. Sometimes we may feel like a character in a Gothic novel, afflicted with travails and troubles and inconvenient conflicts through no fault of our own. We may want to rail like Job against . . . well, there's your Big Question. Ponder that one on your own time.

Justice is acquainted with all aspects of the current situation, however, both BIG and small. She's not requiring that kind of comprehension of you, of course. But it might help to listen when she clears her throat, look around to see what she's trying to bring to your attention, which is usually some pivot point upon which you can work some exponential results.

You already have the long-enough lever -- she's simply showing you where you might stand.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Writerly Tarot for the Week: The Two of Wands

Ah, decisions decisions. Choice is a fantastic problem to have, one of the finest, but it does come with challenges. Such is the energy of the Two of Wands.

Wands are the suit of fire and passion and soul purpose (get used to seeing them if you seriously pursue any creative endeavor). As such, they are expansive, direct, and somewhat chaotic. Twos, however, are cards of balance and union. Which makes for a peculiar tension in this particular card.

Luckily, we writers know that tension is necessary -- it's the building block of conflict, and it adds a fine singing tone to our work, much like the properly adjusted strings of a violin create its rich soulful music. Real life tension can be a little more nerve-wracking, but it is just as necessary, and just as useful.

Think about your work in progress, your abilities in progress, your creative purpose in progress: what options are you holding? What ideas are you weighing? It's good to be patient, to ponder, to take the long view -- as the Steampunk Tarot explains, "A wielder of fire does not chant 'eenie-meanie-miny-moe.'" But do not dither. You've got some powerful energy at work. Choose and move forward.

(Pro Tip -- sometimes a choice is not either/or. Sometimes the choice is to hold the two options in tension . . . and walk between them).