Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Q&A with Susan Wands




Susan Wands is the author of the new novel Magician and Fool, the first in her Arcana Oracle series. Also a tarot reader and an actor, she lives in New York City.


Q: What inspired you to write Magician and Fool?


A: I’d been a tarot reader among other things, (a writer, performer, producer), but one Sunday brunch many years ago, I went to Nadine’s, which was this fabulous restaurant in the West Village here in NYC.


I was there with my very Catholic mother, who surprisingly agreed to have a reading and the reader was so on-the-spot, that I also booked a reading. It was not what I expected, as the reader was almost chastising me that I was not living up to my “destiny with tarot.”


At that time, I was doing readings for special events and friends, but outside of my obsession with Pamela Colman Smith, the co-creator of the Smith-Waite tarot deck, I wasn’t pursuing tarot as a career. It was only later that I realized that I needed to tell the story of Pamela Colman Smith, to really investigate her life and tell her story the way that I felt inspired to, which was in a book series.


I do remember the card from that reading that was the definitive sign for this journey: the six of swords. In this tarot card that Pamela designed, there is a woman sitting in a boat next to a child, the ferryman steering across the body of water with the swords standing straight up in the bow of the boat. This is a journey that the Kabbalists would see as being with the Lord of Earned Success but you must cross the rough seas to earn the smooth waters.


Q: How did you research the novel, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: I feel that I am still researching the novel, Magician and Fool, Book One, Arcana Oracle Series, even after more than 20 years of chasing down every lead or possible piece of Pamela’s artwork that may have survived. In the beginning days, it was arduous, checking out special reference books from the NY Public Library, which were often out-of-date by the time I read them.


There was very little information about Pamela available when I first started out, but once the internet and internet libraries started opening up and expanding, with Facebook being a big contributor, I was able to find people who actually knew Pamela or had relatives who did. All these resources were a game-changer in how I could envision telling the whole series’ story and arc.


One thing I learned that surprised me was that post-mortem, Pamela’s mother's leg was shipped from Jamaica to Brooklyn to be buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery. And that Pamela’s artwork, not her tarot cards, are in over half-a-dozen museums in England and the U.S.


Q: The novel includes a variety of historical figures, including Pamela--what did you see as the right balance between fiction and history as you wrote the book?


A: It’s a tough balance for this historical fiction series. I see the genre for my Arcana Oracle series as “alternate history” mixed with “magic realism” as I am basing a lot of the muses for Pamela and her tarot card archetypes on real people who may or may not have known her. So, I am fudging dates and timelines to bring them all together in a parallel universe.


That’s not to say I’m not trying to be historically accurate about who these people actually were and what they accomplished, W.B. Yeats is still a poet in love with Maud Gonne and Bram Stoker is still trying to get his novel Dracula published.


Q: What intrigues you about tarot cards, and what would you say are some of the most common perceptions and misconceptions about them?


A: I am in firmly in the camp that there is no right or wrong way to read tarot cards. You don’t have to read reversals or memorize every esoteric symbol in each card. The most important response is to participate, to take in what the cards are saying. I do believe there can be an energy from the cards trying to communicate and enlighten.


For me, the intuitive response to the cards is the most essential, it allows you to respond, to let the cards guide you. The gut feeling you have when you turn over the Lovers card, or the Devil, or Judgment, the cards say it all. The cards have something primal, specific, and timeless to communicate.


That said, outside of an immediate response, I do love researching the mash-up of all the symbols in the Smith Waite tarot cards. They run the gamut from astrology, Kabbalistic meanings, and influences from Egyptian, Roman, Greek, Hebrew, Christian, and Hindu cultures. I also love experimenting with new tarot spreads.


But the old superstitions, you can’t buy your first deck, it has to be given to you or you have to read the reversals when a card is upside down, that is up to the querent.


Q: This is the first in a series--what's next?


A: I was just given the first mock-up of the next book cover, which will be the second in the series, High Priestess and Empress, Book Two, Arcana Oracle Series. Brooke Warner at SparkPress and Shannon Green have been my guiding stars during this process, and I love the next book cover! The third book is going through another round of edits and I’ll start digging into book #4 soon!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: In England, there are Blue Heritage Plaques installed on buildings and homes to commemorate British citizens who have been “very good at what they did, to have contributed to the overall happiness of mankind and be recognizable to the person in the street.” These plaques were started in 1866 and there are over 900 of them in various locations in London.


I am hoping that Pamela Colman Smith will have her own plaque on a London building in due course. This year, I completed an application for the English Heritage organization to consider honoring Pamela.


The last application was rejected 10 years ago, so I threw my hat in the ring to see if I couldn’t get an amended application to seal the deal for Pamela. I had a petition on my website for people to weigh in, and there were over 700 signatures. I hope in the near future, there will be a Pamela Plaque Party in Pimlico to celebrate her career as a tarot designer and fine artist. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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