“Paying Homage to Sue Grafton with Bevan Atkinson”Interview on It’s a Mystery Podcast with Alexandra Amor
Bevan Atkinson author interview on KKUP, May 24, 2016 on Afrikahn Jahmal Dayvs’ show.
Author Interview Q&A
What was the trigger idea for the series?
I had been to an old friend’s funeral in Santa Barbara, and as I started the drive back to San Francisco I thought of Sue Grafton and her series, which is set in fictional Santa Theresa, based on Santa Barbara. At that point she had written her alphabet series through the letter S or so, and I thought, “She’s going to finish the alphabet. That’s an amazing accomplishment. But then what’s she going to do?” And I thought of Janet Evanovich, who would never run out of numbers, and how well her Stephanie Plum series did. And just as I passed the Earl Warren Showgrounds it hit me that I read the tarot, and there are 78 cards in the tarot deck, and I would run out of time on earth before I could write 78 books. So on the seven-hour drive home I decided to tackle the 22 Major Arcana and see how that went. I tipped my hat to Ms. Grafton by naming one of Xana’s dogs Kinsey, after Sue Grafton’s detective. And the first book is dedicated to the friend whose funeral I attended in Santa Barbara.
What inspired the characters?
I read a lot of mysteries, and the genre has certain character and plot conventions. I admit to some comparable traits with Xana, but basically I decided she had to be an amateur, and that the tarot would be her way of entering into each story. I love Spenser and Elvis Cole and Myron Bolitar, so Thorne became the thug sidekick a la Hawk and Joe Pike and Windsor Lockwood.
Is there any common theme that runs through the books, or ties them together?
The tarot is the underlying theme of all the books. I start each book by researching the title card, using my own source books as well as internet information, and the plot emerges from that research. The underlying meanings of the card have to be illuminated by the story for me to feel like I’ve done my job correctly.
What do you want readers to get out of your books?
Enjoyment. If they learn something useful to themselves about the tarot meanings that’s a plus, but really I just hope people have a good time reading the story, and don’t throw the book down and stamp on it in a huff over the waste of their time and money.
How does an individual tarot card factor into the story you write?
Each card’s unique attributes affect the plot and the way Xana responds to her experience. Basically the meaning of the card undergirds the plot and the outcome. Just to amuse myself I include things that readers don’t have to know; for instance, in The Fool Card Thorne wears a lot of yellow, wears buff suede boots, and has blond hair, because the color associated with The Fool is yellow. In The Magician Card I made Rolf’s ATM PIN number be Hitler’s birthday. A design element throughout the series is the use of the Hebrew alphabet associated with a specific Major Arcana card. The Hebrew letter shows up in the page headers and in the colophon used to separate chapter sections. On the paperback books the Hebrew letter associated (from the Kabbalah) with the Major Arcana card in the book’s title appears on the book’s spine in the color linked to that card.
What drew you into reading the tarot?
When I was 20-some years old a friend invited me to go to an occult supply store where he was scheduled to have a tarot reading, and when he encouraged me to have a reading too I went ahead and did it, a little intimidated but game nonetheless. Mala, the reader’s name was, and when she laid out the cards she looked at me and said, “You’re going to read the tarot.” I don’t remember anything else about that reading. I went back to my apartment and told my roommate, and she said, “I have a deck, and a book on how to read them. Do you want it? I never use it.” Off I went, and since then every deck I’ve used has been given to me by someone else. The one deck I bought for myself wound up thrown across my bed by burglars and barfed on by my cats. I decided cat barf was a hint and threw that deck out.
Why do so many people think of the tarot as something dangerous or evil or frightening?
I wish I knew. It’s just a bunch of pictures, folks, that can help you pay attention to your inborn intuition, if you allow it to do that for you. But I’ve heard many stories from people who say they used to read the cards for fun and then at some point they got scared and put them away. So I don’t think the cards are a frivolous pursuit, nor should they be treated cavalierly. There is a tremendous amount of information available in the cards about all aspects of human knowledge and development. For me, the tarot served as a way to feel connected to something greater than myself, and that built my confidence in my judgment and allowed me to open a door to Whatever-You-Want-To-Call-It. My take on it is that there are a zillion doors to that place, one especially for each of us to open or decline to open, but it’s the same room once you open that door. So my simple answer is that the tarot is one of many tools that act as a gateway to our own spiritual truth. There’s so much dogma about what constitutes acceptable spiritual truth that the techniques that don’t accord with accepted dogma, and generate money by corralling people into accepting and contributing monetarily to support the propagation of that dogma, are labeled as dangerous or perverse or evil. But that’s just my opinion.