Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

A Novel That’s a Tarot Writing Prompt: Story Archetypes

LIKE THE YOUNGEST SON OF FAIRY-TALE FAME, the tarot Fool leaps into whatever wild undertaking has captured his imagination—and thus begins his journey. Similar to Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, or Christopher Vogler’s THE WRITER’S JOURNEY, the quest the Fool embarks upon is called “the Fool’s Journey.” On his path, he meets—and is schooled by—the other cards in tarot’s major arcana, figures like the Magician, the High Priestess, and the Hermit.

The impulsive young hero at the center of THE STOCKHOLM OCTAVO, a historical novel by Karen Engelmann, is an eighteenth-century secretaire named Emil Larsson, who is also on a Fool’s journey of sorts. Emil’s journey starts when mysterious psychic (and Swedish Royalist) Mrs. Sparrow lays tarot cards for Emil in a pattern she calls “the Octavo.”

This layout consists of a central card, which represents Emil, surrounded by eight additional cards, that, Mrs. Sparrow explains, signify people and events Emil will encounter as he fulfills his destiny. Dealt randomly into their positions, these eight cards stand for what she calls a Companion, a Prisoner, a Teacher, a Courier, a Trickster, a Magpie, a Prize, and a Key. It’s up to Emil to distinguish who is whom and which is which!

Tarot writing prompt

As befits an idea that sustains a 400-page novel, this is a long-ish prompt. You might dive in and work through all the steps in one go (long weekend, anyone?). Or perhaps you’d prefer to proceed as Mrs. Sparrow did, when she doled out her reading for Emil, one card at a time, over eight consecutive nights.

Alternatively, of course, you can just dip in when you’re stuck mid-draft and need some literary fuel to get your story back on the road.

PICK AND CHOOSE: To start, you’ll need a pool of images to choose from. A tarot deck is ideal, but so is a stack of intriguing pictures torn from magazines. (If you’re going the magazine route, find at least twenty pictures to work with.) Sort through your images and find one to represent your main character, your Hero. Lay that image on a flat surface with room around it for the rest of its Octavo.

UPSIDE DOWN, BOY YOU’RE TURNING ME: Next, lay the rest of the images face down. Blindly, choose eight images from your upside-down deck or stack of magazine pics. (The point is to make yourself pick these eight images randomly.) For now, set these images aside without turning them over to peek.

ARTS AND CRAFTS TIME: Write the titles of the following eight story archetypes (which differ somewhat from those Mrs. Sparrow assigned to Emil’s cards) on eight small sticky notes:

  • Prize (what the Hero wants most; that for which he quests)
  • Herald (the character or event that reveals the quest to the Hero)
  • Antagonist (also, “Villain”; a person or force hostile to the Hero, which actively attempts to stop the Hero from completing his quest; does not need to be a person: for instance, might be a forest fire or a political situation)
  • Guardian (also, “Threshold Guardian”; ensures your Hero is worthy of crossing the threshold into their quest, proper; to do so, creates obstacles to the Hero early on that test the Hero’s mettle)
  • Sidekick (a best-friend archetype, who, notably, gets sidelined somewhere in the thick of the action)
  • Precious Child (a vulnerable story element; could be an animal, child, or family farm, for instance, which the Hero treasures and which the Antagonist threatens, raising the story stakes and tension)
  • Trickster (an unreliable, self-dealing character who creates story confusion; whose side is the Trickster really on? Maybe even the Trickster doesn’t know for sure.)
  • Mentor (a character whose story-relevant knowledge and skills are far more advanced than the Hero’s and who guides the Hero at pivotal points in his quest; notably, the Mentor must be absent at the story’s climax, so the Hero has to face the Antagonist in that final battle on his own)

Turn over your eight set-aside images, now, and randomly affix the archetype-stickies to them. (This randomness makes the story more true to our experience, as we seldom know what role a new acquaintance will play in our life or what effect an unforeseen event might have!)

RING AROUND THE ROSY (-CHEEKED HERO): Now, lay the stickied images around the one representing your Hero. Bravo! You’ve created your Hero’s Octavo!

READY, STEADY, GO! Write one scene for each archetype. Through your Hero’s eight in-scene interactions, be sure to show how his quest is affected by each of the people and/or situations represented by the image and archetype it’s been assigned.

Since these archetypes are present in most stories, once you’ve written your way through all eight interactions, you might find—voila!—you are well on your way to a draft of a novel or novella! Certainly, it’s a good weekend’s worth of work (because you and I both know the lawn—and the dishes and the bills and the litter box—can wait ’til next week).

Novel-writing inspiration (and blog-posting appreciation!)

If you’re new to the idea of story archetypes, a quick digest of a few of them is available at Graeme Shimmin’s site. You’ll find a more in-depth consideration in this Hillsborough Community College PDF.

Or dive deep into Christopher Vogler’s THE WRITER’S JOURNEY. (You won’t be sorry. Tired, maybe. But not sorry!)

There’s a lovely NEW YORK TIMES book review of THE STOCKHOLM OCTAVO by Susann Cokal.

Thank you to U.S. Games Systems, Inc. for their kind permission to use images from the RIDER WAITE SMITH TAROT for my Octavo example. I’m also grateful to Illustrator Dylan Meconis, whose image of Luther as the Fool accompanies this post.

Finally, thanks to George and Sal, who knew I wouldn’t be able to resist a story based on a tarot spread.

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Tarot Deck Review: The (New) Illuminated Tarot

THE ILLUMINATED TAROT is a tarot deck that’s been created using just the 52 cards of a standard playing card deck (plus a 53rd card for The Fool), rather than the 78 cards that usually comprise a tarot. I’m not a playing-card reader, but I am an avid tarot reader, so I wasn’t sure how the deck would work for me. But the imagery in this tarot/playing card deck is so gorgeous—and the price so reasonable—that I was happy to take a chance on it just to see the images up close and personal. And they fulfill their on-line promise beautifully, in hand.

Bright, graphic, and personality-filled, the cards are a joy to look at. I assumed they would be standard playing card size, but in fact they are oversized cards. At 5″ high by 3.5″ wide, their proportions are closer to playing cards than to a relatively longer, narrower standard tarot. Their generous size allows the viewer to see all the details of the artwork (which is a particular pleasure for someone with aging eyes).

So, how does deck creator/artist Caitlin Keegan get a 78-card tarot into 53 cards? Very cleverly! First, she eliminated the four Knights, leaving her court cards as Jack (Page), Queen, and King. But all the other cards are there! Really! By finding some very sharp connections between the Majors and the Minors, she makes 21 of the cards to do double duty. For instance, the Ace of Wands is also Strength: That card illustration (did I mention clever?) shows a lion holding a wand in its mouth.

Some of the connections work better—that is to say, more immediately—for me than others, but all of them make me think, most bring a smile of recognition and understanding, and one, Seven of Swords/Chariot, brought tears to my eyes. (Not sure why. I do have thing for horses, though.) I won’t list any of the other pairings, as it would spoil the fun of discovering them for yourself.

Not that you’re left to decipher the “translations” on your own! Keegan provides a beautifully designed, full-color “little white book,” which reveals where the doubles appear. Her card meanings (key words, only) do not adhere strictly to standard Rider-Waite-Smith meanings, but stray a bit here and there, perhaps toward Crowley, maybe toward playing-card divination. However, although I’m neither a Crowley-style reader nor a playing-card reader, I found the images expressed themselves clearly to me. (Still, the combining of images and meanings make this a deck best suited for experienced readers.)

I did a quick four-card reading for a friend, to test drive the deck, and WOW! It really delivered! So smart, so spot on, and so easy to interpret. I was surprised and impressed! And, like every deck worth its salt, it gave me new insights about the cards drawn.

Like the playing cards their graphic vibe borrows from, many of the cards are mirror-image reversible. And the suits are Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, and Spades, rather than tarot’s Wands, Coins, Cups, and Swords.

Produced by Potter Style, an imprint of the Crown Publishing group, the beautifully designed deck and book are housed together in a useful, equally well designed hard-shell box that hinges on the left side. A ribbon lies across the well for the cards, which facilitates removing the cards easily.

My only disappointment is the card stock. It’s too “paper-y” for my taste, feeling a lot like cardboard, rather than playing-card or tarot stock. However, I’ve riffle-shuffled the cards pretty thoroughly, and they held up just fine … so far. But for sure I’m going to purchase another copy. Just in case. And because it rocks.

Tarot Writing Prompt: What the Heart Wants

THE HEART WANTS WHAT THE HEART WANTS. It’s true. And the heart is so strong willed (remember, it’s a muscle!) that, even when the mind votes otherwise, the heart often gets its unruly way.

In Patti Smith’s new book, M TRAIN, a collection of dreamy, journal-like essays (which I bought to inspire my own writing practice—and look! it did!), she talks about renting a space in New York City in which to open a cafe, a long-held dream of hers. She was preparing for the necessary renovations, but, Smith writes,

In the end I was obliged to abandon my cafe. Two years before, I had met the musician Fred Sonic Smith in Detroit. It was an unexpected encounter that slowly altered the course of my life. My yearning for him permeated everything…. We endured a parallel existence, shuttling back and forth between New York and Detroit, brief rendezvous that always ended in wrenching separation. Just as I was mapping out where to install a sink and coffee machine, Fred implored me to come and live with him in Detroit. Nothing seemed more vital than to join my love…. Saying good-bye to New York City and the aspirations it contained, I packed what was most precious and left all else behind….

We’ve all done it. Abandoned something that held great value for us “just” to satisfy the demands of our heart. Sometimes painful, sometimes wildly fulfilling, these experiences can provide potent creative fuel.

Tarot writing prompt

Remember such a situation from your past (or imagine one for a character) and write about someone reneging on a well-laid plan to follow the call of their heart. Make it a fair fight. Let us know how important the plan was—and how compelling the call. And don’t forget to include the consequences. Because there are always consequences.

This post was inspired by The Lovers card of the tarot deck, which can refer to the need to make a choice between two desirable options. Typically, a Lovers-like decision will be life-changing. Therefore, in such a circumstance, we do well to listen closely to what our heart has to say about the matter—and also to consider the cost of following its lead.

In this version of The Lovers, from The Cat’s Eye Tarot, the big tabby is glancing out the window at a lone, black cat, who is making his nonchalant way across a stone wall. This suggests that the tabby has made a choice between the safety of his domestic life, which he lovingly shares with the other tabby, and the more risky life of freedom the black cat is enjoying. (Image used by kind permission of U.S. Games Systems.)

Writing Prompt: The Peter Principle

HERE’S A SECRET. Peter Elbow, author and professor of writing, is a crazy genius. dvd_jacket_301The spine of my worn, torn copy of his WRITING WITH POWER is cracked at Chapter 9, “Metaphors for Priming the Pump,” from frequent consultation. In that chapter, Elbow lists wild ways to help you get at a topic.

These include (but are not limited to!), “Questions to help you write a self-evaluation,” “Questions to help you write about a place,” and “Suggestions to help you write about a problem or dilemma.”

Writing prompt

Just to give you an example, let’s hop to “Suggestions to help you write about a problem or dilemma,” and see what we can make happen.

  1. To start I’m going to name a dilemma. (If you’re playing along, go ahead and jot down a problem facing either you or your character.)
  2. Dilemma: My unshaded front yard receives unwavering Florida sun. I dislike too much sun. Therefore, I dislike—and neglect—my yard.
  3. Now, I’m going to consult Elbow’s write-about-a-problem list. (If you’re still playing, consider these suggestions to apply to your stated problem.)
    1. The problem is that God is angry. At whom? Why? What did that person do to make God angry?
    2. Assume the problem is a problem of numbers. Try performing the following operations on it: addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, percentages, moving a decimal place.
    3. Assume the problem is sabotage.
  4. I’ve picked an approach: Assume the problem is sabotage. (Because, of course!)
  5. I’m going to write my little heart out about my too-hot-to-bear yard, as if it were an issue of sabotage, and see where it takes me. (Still playing? Pick a suggestion, apply it to your dilemma, and write your little heart out with me!)

The sun beats down on my tiny plot of green. Only it’s not green. It’s brown. Baked. Rimmed with twigs and sticks that used to be shrubs—and punctuated by a few upright posts that once were magnolia trees. Clearly, my yard has been sabotaged. I believe someone comes every night and pours acid into the soil. But why? What have I done to deserve this? I’m such a good neighbor! I pick up bits of paper left behind by the recycling guys. I pat all the dogs and coo at the babies. I even pay my HOA bill on time.

Still, it’s obvious. I have an enemy. And a clever one. One who knows that all I want is green and quiet and shade to meet me when I walk out my front door. One who wants me to be miserable for some reason. One who wants me to put my house on the market and move out . . . so they can move in?

Yes, that’s it! One of my neighbors covets my little sun-baked house and yard. But who could it be? Lorraine, three doors down? I’ve noticed her squinting proprietarily at my place when she walks to the mailbox. Her son recently lost his apartment. Could Lorraine have her eye on my house for Matthew?

Or maybe it’s Kevin. A) Kevin hates cats—and I feed the ferals in our ‘hood. B) Kevin’s own house is lopsided. (And who knows what else is wrong with it.) Maybe Kevin wants to walk away from his crooked little abode and set up housekeeping in mine, which, while unfortunate in its orientation to the sun, does at least sit evenly on its haunches.

Oh! No! I’ve got it! It’s Angela!! I wouldn’t buy Girl Scout cookies from her bratty little Missy, and this is payback! Plus, my kitchen is twice the size of hers, so if she forces me out, she’ll have room to set up her own cookie-baking operation (or meth lab; I have my suspicions about Angela) and give the Scouts a run for their money!

* * *

So. How did that go for you?

For my part, while I have yet to resolve my desert-yard problem, I did have a lot of fun. And I could imagine continuing forward from here with A) a mystery about a woman who is actually the target of neighborhood sabotage, or B) a drama about a woman drifting into clinical paranoia, or C) a psychological thriller about a woman who is both clinically paranoid AND the target of sabotage!

The larger point, however, is that I wrote something quite different than I usually would have (if I’d written at all!) because I was dragged so far from my typical literary course by Elbow’s suggestion my brain had to leap a hundred hurdles-worth of synapses just to begin.

For that, and so much more, I am grateful to Peter Elbow, whose own struggles with writing resulted in him finding around-the-back hacks to get (more! fresher!) words on the page every time.

Survival: Omegaland Tarot Review

OMEGALAND TAROT, CREATED BY JOE BOGINSKI, lives in a post-apocalyptic Pacific Northwest (at least, it looks like the PNW to me). Characters in the deck are cartoon-ish, with sometimes-exaggerated limbs.They are placed in harsh situations, and there are topic-appropriate references to violence in the deck—although few images are really gory. Still, despite the desperate times depicted throughout the deck, I find the characters very human—and the deck, overall, surprisingly warm (and, somehow, reassuring).

As a tarot, OMEGALAND is brilliant in its close interpretation of the imagery of the classic Rider Waite Smith Tarot. index150px-Wands07 For instance, the OMEGALAND Seven of Wands shows two armed men in a lookout tower, protecting their encampment. Below them sit five of their “tribe,” also armed.  Compare this to the standard RWS Seven of Wands, in which a single armed man on high defends his territory!

And Temperance? Just as in the RWS illustration, a figure pours water from one container into another. Unlike the RWS version, though, in OMEGALAND, the figure filters the water as she pours! (Clean water is a big deal when you’re a survivalist!)

As smart as his tarot interpretations are, Joe Boginski is every bit as much an artist as he is a tarot-ist. He attended New York’s School of the Visual Arts, and exhibited the original OMEGALAND drawings—11×14″, colored pencil and ink on paper—at Fernando Luis Alvarez Gallery in Stamford, Connecticut.

For OMEGALAND, Boginski employs a color palette I would call “moody”—lots of soft browns and greens punctuated with brighter colors. There’s a wonderful consistency to the artwork throughout the deck—excepting the Nine of Swords. That particular card is illustrated by a figure shown at a much different angle and seen from much closer proximity than any of the other figures in the deck. (In fact, Omegaland’s Nine of Swords reminds me very much of the Dreamer Nine card—Nine of Swords—in Emily Carding’s Tarot of the Sidhe.)

Card titles and suit names are standard, but the imagery is true to the survivalist theme: Wands are represented by rifles and pistols; Cups are canteens or other water containers; Coins are cans of soup(!); and Swords are crossbows.

For tarot readers and collectors, this deck offers lots of good basics: Nice card stock and  a smooth satin finish give it a good shuffle. Cards are generously sized—at 2.95″ x 4.75″, they’re a bit wider than the norm. The fun, non-reversible backs show an image of a boarded up doorway. Soft-edged borders add to the scenes, rather than detracting—and card titles are written in a great font!

There’s also a quirky little illustrated bit of “masking tape” at the upper left corner of each of the Minors—including the Courts—inscribed with a single number, or a letter and a number, that signifies points for the Omegaland game. And about that game. . . . The deck includes six extra game cards, and the LWB dedicates the last dozen pages to instruction about the game. Which I haven’t played. Which I probably won’t play. But don’t let that stop you!

Published by US Games Systems, Inc., this fab deck is available in all the usual places.

Thanks to Tarot by Arwen for her excellent video review of the OMEGALAND TAROT. Her review pushed me over the edge (into Amazon’s waiting arms).


5 Paths to Amazon Success!

REMEMBER WHEN AN “AMAZON” search retrieved an aerial photo of the Amazon River, first? It wasn’t that long ago, folks! Now, intrepid authors must navigate—as much a challenge as navigating the river whose name the mega-bookseller bears.

As with the river, if you’re going to launch your (literary) raft on, it’s good to have an experienced guide! I’ve beat the bushes and found a backpack’s worth of articles by writers who know how to swim—not sink—in the shifting Amazonian rapids.

  1. In “How to Get a Truckload of Reviews on Amazon,” author-marketing guru Penny Sansevieri shares ways to find quality reviewers for your book—important because more reviews = greater visibility!amaindex
  2. In “How to Launch Your Book,” Tim Grahl, author of YOUR FIRST 1000 COPIEStakes writers through a step-by-step process to turn your own contacts into reviewers.
  3. On Savvy Bookwriters, there’s a discussion on book covers and book category placement: “How to Improve Your Amazon Sales Page.”
  4. Novelist Lindsay Buroker offers strategies for maintaining momentum in “How Do You Maintain Steady Books Sales.”
  5. And if your book is languishing online? Indie book distributor Smashwords’ post on “Six Tips to Bring Your Book Back from the Doldrums” might help!
* * *

lexi_leaderboard_728-90And speaking of reviews, writer pal Jon Fore’s latest fantasy adventure, SCROLLS OF THE HARLEQUIN, has just been released! He’s offering free e-copies to any of my readers willing to give it a review. If you’re interested, contact Jon at


The Urban Legion

FIRST, A HOSTILE VOICE INVADES the (pretty) head of restaurant critic Lynn Grady. Then a (sort of handsome) stranger appears, blocks the voice with an improvised tin-foil hat, and recruits Lynn for a hydroponic-farm-to-fork tasting gig. 51K7minh0lL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_In the fun-house logic that rules Dave Agans’ THE URBAN LEGION, this leads naturally to a vicious attack by French waiters, a high-tech underground war, and the discovery of a consumer-products conspiracy. You’ll never feel the same about food courts or airport restrooms, once you’ve read THE URBAN LEGION!

Congrats, Dave! And thanks for your note: Hi, Jamie. It’s been a while since you did a comprehensive analysis of THE URBAN LEGION. You’re mentioned in the acknowledgments. Thanks for all the help!

Tarot Writing Prompt: Impressionists Tarot

A. Read on!

I liked the IMPRESSIONISTS TAROT so much, I let my inner fan girl loose to write the Amazon review, below.

Wonderful, moody, readable deck 883dd73f9256945937fe89e99c5e36da

I just got a new Lo Scarabeo deck, the IMPRESSIONISTS TAROT, by Corrine Kenner, art by Arturo Picca. I loved the images I saw, so despite having been disappointed in several recent Lo Scarabeo purchases, I went ahead and bought the IMPRESSIONIST TAROT KIT.

OMG! I really love it! The images are not appropriated directly from Impressionist paintings. That is to say, they are not prints of original paintings. Rather, Picca has either painted copies of the originals, adding minor adjustments to make them tarot-appropriate, or he’s used the artists’ styles and borrowed aspects of specific paintings as inspiration for his original work.

The KIT (not the deck-only option, as it was first released) includes a WONDERFUL companion book by Corrine Kenner, in which she discusses the artists whose particular works/styles the card images are based upon.

Overall, it feels like a moody, emotional deck to me. One Amazon reviewer complained about the card stock, but while it is thin, it doesn’t seem problematic to me (and I’m quick to hate bad stock). Another reviewer mentioned the colors, saying they seemed muddier than they associate with Impressionism. And I have to say, there is a less-than-bright quality to the colors, notable, since the Impressionists were known for being “painters of light.” (However, since originally writing this review, I got a second copy of this kit, and the printing was distinctly brighter and sharper in the newer version. Hmm.)

As always, my aging eyes wish the images were larger. And while the borders are quite visually impactful (they’re created to look like museum frames), I think they serve the artwork well, rather than distracting from the card art, too much. Finally, the card backs, which look like the back of a framed painting, are fabulous!

Tarot writing prompt

But what about you? Is there a book you love (or loathe)? A film? A writing product (lap desk, editing program, particularly awesome pen)? If so, shout out your appreciation (or criticism) in a good, old-fashioned, online review. It’s a fine way to hone your persuasive writing skills. Plus, it’s always fun to see your name in—well—pixels.

I am Calico Jones

BRILLIANT MYSTERY WRITER ELIZABETH SIMS indexhas a new, short e-book—a collection of four short stories, titled, I AM CALICO JONES, from her imprint, Spruce Park Press. AND her short story “Untold Riches” is available in another new anthology, LESBIANS ON THE LOOSE: Crime Writers on the Lam, from Launchpoint Press. AND LEFT FIELD, the fifth in her Lillian Byrd series, was a finalist for a ‘Goldie’ at the recent Golden Crown Literary Society‘s conference in New Orleans! Way to go, Ms. Ez!

Writing Prompt: Got Journal? Tarot’s Kelly-Anne Maddox

FOR WRITERS, THE SIMPLE (NOT EASY!) act of writing every day keeps us in the game. Not working on a creative project? A daily, intrapersonal chit-chat keeps our writing arm loose and warm. Work with meWhether we call it “journaling” or “writing practice” or “morning pages,” daily writing knits us closer to our selves. Then, when do write for public consumption, we’re already in the habit of uncovering content unique to us.

In fact, author Heidi Julavits’ latest book, THE FOLDED CLOCK, collects two years of her daily jottings, each launched by the flood-gate-opening phrase, “Today, I …” Listen, as Heidi discusses her process with DIANE REHM.

Writing prompt

Need encouragement? 750 Words: Write Every Day offers a playful way to a consistent daily word-count. And Kelly-Ann Maddox’s excellent video Tips for Journaling and Automatic Writing reveals detours around journaling resistance, shares tried-and-true approaches to automatic writing—and includes a rock-star list of resources to blast your journaling practice into the end zone!

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