Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Welcome Alayna Williams!

I'm thrilled to welcome as our guest of honour today another great writer of urban fantasy, Alayna Williams, aka Laura Bickle, who's dropped into the party as part of her Rogue Oracle blog tour. In real life, Alayna is a criminologist who reads tarot cards, though not as part of her work!

Tarot Cards: Strength by Alayna Williams

Strength is one of my favorite Tarot cards.

It's actually a very subtle card, and one that I used to help profile Tara Sheridan, the heroine of ROGUE ORACLE. Tara is a criminal profiler who uses Tarot cards to solve crimes, and I'm sure that she would approve of the use of the Tarot as a story prompt.

When I think of Strength, I automatically think of big stuff. Burly guys. Large trucks. Weightlifters. Earth moving machinery. Car crushers. St. George slaying a dragon. Maybe Thor, brandishing a big shiny hammer. And that's the immediate bias that many of us often have: thinking of Strength as a physical quality.

But in the Tarot deck, we see a woman with flowers in her hair, wearing a long white dress. She has a calm, peaceful expression on her face as she leans down to close the jaws of a lion with only her hands. This isn't a bloody battle of swords and fists. She's accomplishing her goal with a certain amount of tenderness, a gentleness that we can almost see in her face as she looks upon the lion. The lion seems to submit to her willingly, without a struggle, in the face of her compassion.

Traditionally, the card symbolizes fortitude and control over our own animal instincts, discipline to accomplish one's goals. It's interesting to me that Strength subdues her opponent without bloodshed. By her pose, we can't tell if she's been holding the lion's jaws for moments or hours. She is determined to achieve her goal, and she approaches it from a deep wellspring of courage and faith in her own power.

I was accustomed to heroines who kicked down doors with guns blazing and asking questions later. But in creating Tara, I wanted her to be different. I wanted her to have the endurance to solve the cases she's working, to be able to approach the lion in a thoughtful fashion. But I didn't want her to face all of her problems with a gun. As I thought about this card, I wanted her to be powerful, and confident in her power. I throw many obstacles in her way: death, disaster, secrets, betrayal, and estranged love.

I decided to have Tara draw this card in ROGUE ORACLE, to identify with it. In her dreams, she became the figure walking across the desert with a lion at her side. She was able to tame the lion, to face the future and strategize about how she might conquer it. She fought monsters, saved the innocent, and rescued her lover from death.

And she did it with a softness about her that I admired, even in spite of myself. In the process of writing about Tara, I learned something: Strength doesn't have to be harsh or brittle. Strength means rolling up sleeves and facing one's fears, using one's mind and heart as well as one's hands.

Delphic Oracle #2
Pocket Juno Books
Mass Market Paperback, $7.99
ISBN 978-1439182819
Feb. 22, 2011
The more you know about the future, the more there may be to fear.

Tara Sheridan is the best criminal profiler around - and the most unconventional. Trained as a forensic psychologist, Tara also specializes in Tarot card reading. But she doesn't need her divination skills to realize that the new assignment from her friend and sometime lover, Agent Harry Li, is a dangerous proposition in every way.

Former Cold War operatives, all linked to a top-secret operation tracking the disposal of nuclear weapons in Russia, are disappearing. There are no bodies, and no clues to their whereabouts. Harry suspects a conspiracy to sell arms to the highest bidder. The cards - and Tara's increasingly ominous dreams - suggest something darker. Even as Tara sorts through her feelings for Harry and her fractured relationships with the mysterious order known as Delphi's Daughters, a killer is growing more ruthless by the day. And a nightmare that began decades ago in Chernobyl will reach a terrifying endgame that not even Tara could have foreseen…

ROGUE ORACLE is available at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

"Alayna Williams writes with power and poetry, combining old mythos with complete ass-kickery. You don’t want to miss this series.”  -National bestselling author Ann Aguirre.
Excerpt from Rogue Oracle
Chapter 1
 “The warden calls you a monster.”
 Tara Sheridan stared over the edge of a manila file folder at the man in an orange jumpsuit, wrists chained to his waist with a belly chain. He stared at her with contempt over a scarred stainless steel table. As she paged through the psych reports conducted by other profilers, she was inclined to agree. Zahar Mouda was an accused terrorist. He’d been caught by campus police at a large Midwestern university, attempting to drag a drum of solvents out of the chemistry lab. He’d been unsuccessful in convincing the campus cops that he was dragging a keg to a frat house. Subsequent inquiries had shown a pattern of missing materiel that could be used to make bombs. Lots of them.
 Zahar shrugged, the movement restricted by the rattle of the chain around his waist. For all the bravado of his words, he looked very young to Tara: thin, stringy build, large brown eyes framed by square-rimmed glasses. His file said he was twenty-two. She watched his fingers fidget with the chain around his waist, watched him chew his lip.
 “Do you think I’m a monster?” he challenged.
 “I don’t know. But the Bureau of Prisons would like me to find out.”
 “What do you know about monsters?” Zahar snorted.
 “Plenty,” Tara told him.
 He stared at her, but his gaze faltered as it snagged on a white scar that crept up from the collar of Tara’s suit jacket, curling up around her neck to her jaw. Tara didn’t flinch, didn’t bother to hide it. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt Zahar to know that Tara had faced much greater monsters than he. 
 Tara leaned forward, pressing her elbows to the battered table, resting her chin in her hand. A wisp of chestnut hair from the chignon at the base of her neck pulled free, tickling the raised skin of the scar, and she ignored it. “What were you doing with those chemicals?”
 Zahar rolled his eyes. “Look, I was just trying to make some money. It was just little stuff, at first. First, the guy asked for a departmental phone book, then a few sample slides, then…” He shook his head. “It was a few bucks, here and there. For dumb shit.”
 Tara’s mouth thinned. This was how traitors were groomed. Small, inconsequential things snowballed into larger favors. Before long, the victim had given up too much and was indebted to his handler. There was no way out.
 “You took the money. Why?”
 “I’m trying to save up to bring my sister over here. She wants to study pharmacy.”
 “Who offered you the money?”
 “Some guy at the student union.”
 “You got a name?” She regarded him with ink-blue eyes, measuring to see if he told the truth.
 “Masozi. That’s what I told the cops.”
 Tara tapped her pen on her notepad, keeping her face carefully neutral. The Federal Bureau of Prisons had asked her to form a profile on Zahar, to determine how dangerous he truly was.
“How much?”
 “Ten thousand per shipment.”
 “That’s more than enough money to get your sister over here.”
 “Stuff’s expensive.”
 Zahar leaned back in his chair, and Tara could sense he was shutting down. She tried a different tactic: “Tell me about your sister.”
 Zahar licked his lips, and his eyes darted away. Not a good sign…his body language indicated that he was buying time, fabricating. Or else, weighing what to tell Tara. When he spoke, though, his voice was soft. Almost vulnerable. “You don’t understand. I had to buy my sister back.”
 Tara’s pen stilled. “Buy her back?” she echoed.
 “She’s married. Third wife of a colleague of my father’s. He’s not really fond of her. Slaps her around.” Zahar looked away, and Tara watched his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed. “He agreed to allow her to apply for a visa, but wanted money. Fifty thousand in US dollars.”
 “What about student loans?”
 Zahar shook his head. “I’m on fellowship. My tuition’s waived, and I get a monthly stipend. Seven hundred fifty dollars, after taxes.” His mouth turned down, and he pushed his glasses up his nose with his shoulder. “And, let’s face it, nobody wants to see a male chemistry nerd do fifty thousand dollars’ worth of exotic dancing down at the strip club.”
 Tara smothered a laugh. “Tell me about when you were children.”
 Zahar didn’t miss a beat. “Asha’s three years younger than me. Takes after our mother. She did great in school. She got through her first year of college before she met my father’s business associate when she was home on break. The guy took an immediate shine to her.” His fists balled at his waist. “I wanted to kick his ass.”
 “What was her favorite toy?”
 “A doll my grandmother made for her. She named it Rahma.”
 “Tell me about when you fought.” This was a trick question. All siblings fought. She wanted to gauge how honest Zahar was with her.
 “Our worst fight was when we were little…she was probably seven. I found a bird egg in a tree and broke it over her head. She ran crying in to our mother, and we both got punished.”
 “Did you feel bad about that?”
 “About getting my sister in trouble? Not really.”
 “No.” She paused. “About breaking the egg.”
 He blinked quizzically at Tara. “I don’t know what you mean.”
 A knock rang against the metal door behind Tara, and a guard’s voice filtered through: “Five minutes, Dr. Sheridan.”
 “Thank you,” Tara called. She scribbled some notes on her notepad. The Bureau of Prisons had guaranteed her a secure room without observation cameras for her interview with Zahar. She was heartened to see that someone would bother to check in on them, eventually.
 Zahar stared at Tara. “Well, what did you decide?”
 “What do you mean?”
 “Did you decide whether or not I’m a monster?” His mouth twitched around the word.
 “I haven’t made any decisions, yet.” 
 “But your opinion is one that matters.”

  Tara’s mouth thinned. “Your psychological profile will make a great deal of difference in this investigation. But mine isn’t the only opinion you need to fear.”
 “Will it make any difference in how I’m treated?” Zahar’s fingers knotted in the chain. “Am I going to get deported?”
 “That’s not up to me.”
 The door behind Tara swung open, and two federal prison guards crowded into the tiny room.
They unlocked the belly chain from the metal chair, and marched him back through the door. Zahar’s plastic inmate flip-flops slapped on the concrete floor.
 One of the guards held the door open. “You coming, ma’am?”
 “Can you give me fifteen more minutes?” Tara said. “I’d like to jot down my notes while they’re fresh.”
 “See you in fifteen.” The door clanged shut, and Tara was left in the tiny room with the fluorescent light buzzing overhead.
 She stacked the contents of her file back up neatly and placed them in the file folder. She shoved the folder aside, placed her purse on the table. She rooted around in the bottom of her purse for a pack of cigarettes. Tara didn’t smoke, but the cigarette pack attracted little notice on the metal detectors at the prison or in the quick manual search of her bags. Tara flipped off the lid of the pack and pulled out a deck of cards.
 The back of the cards were decorated in an Art Nouveau pattern of stars on a background of midnight blue, edged in silver. These Tarot cards had been a gift to replace the deck her mother had given her, long ago. They’d been a peace offering, of sorts - Tara’s lover had given them to her, though he was uneasy with what they’d represented. Tara’s original deck had been destroyed. These still felt too crisp to her, the cardstock still stiff and shiny-new. She hadn’t quite yet bonded with this deck. Each deck had its own quirks, even a limited personality, and this one seemed determined to surprise Tara at each turn.
 She moved to Zahar’s still-warm seat, wanting to occupy his physical space. She blew out her breath and shuffled the cards. The sharp cardstock cut her thumb as she shuffled, and she popped her thumb in her mouth as she wiped away a droplet from the edge of the deck.
 “Tell me about Zahar,” she breathed at the cards, ignoring the paper cut. “Tell me about his heart, mind, and spirit.”
 She pulled three cards and placed them, face-down, on the table. Tara’s fingers fogged the scratched stainless steel, and she turned the first one over.
 The Fool, the first card in the deck, confronted her in a riot of clear watercolors. The ancestor of the joker in the modern playing card deck, the Fool depicted a young man skipping through a green field, toward the edge of a cliff. The Fool held a bundle over his shoulder, and gazed skyward at birds in a blue sky. The Fool, one of the Major Arcana cards, represented archetypes at play, suggested the broad strokes of destiny.
 Tara steepled her fingers before her, brushing her lower lip. The Fool was a card of innocence and recklessness. It spoke of youth. Where Zahar was concerned, it might reflect the idea that Zahar had been carelessly going down the path of the traitor without watching where he was going. At heart, he might be more innocent than she’d thought.
 She turned over the second card, the Seven of Cups. Cups were one of the four Minor Arcana suits, and represented choices and reactions to destiny. As a suit, cups represented emotions. In her three-card spread, this signified what had gone on in Zahar’s mind. The card depicted a man gazing at a pyramid of seven cups, from which fantastical creatures and images crawled: dragons, golden fish, a jewel-encrusted sword, a snake, a castle, and a veiled woman. This was a card of illusions. Zahar’s head was filled with lies, perhaps from his handler, perhaps from his sister’s husband. Zahar may have started out innocent, as the Fool, but he’d made a choice to be deceived.
 The last card in the spread represented spirit. Tara was most eager to see what Zahar really was, deep down. She flipped over the Three of Wands, which depicted a man staring out over the sea at a ship, surrounded by three staves. The Minor Arcana suit of Wands represented fire, movement, and creation. But the Three of Wands was reversed, suggesting treachery and ulterior motives. Tara’s brow wrinkled. Zahar’s handler may have been lying to him, and Zahar might have even been lying to himself. But, with this card, she was also certain that Zahar was lying to her.
 She blew out her breath. She cleared the three cards from the table, shuffled them back into the deck. She felt the whir of the stiff cards in her hands as she whispered to them: “What else do I need to know?”
 Tara cut the deck three times and drew the first card from the top of the reshuffled deck. Her brow wrinkled as she turned it over.
 The Lovers. The Major Arcana card depicted a man and a woman tangled in an embrace. It was difficult for her to tell where one ended and the other began. A voyeuristic angel watched over them from a cloud.
 Stymied, Tara rested her head in her hand. She didn’t yet fully trust this new deck, and it seemed that this card had nothing whatsoever with Zahar’s situation. She tapped the image with her fingers, let her mind rove around the image. She didn’t like where free-associating led her: to her own personal life. To Harry. Harry had given her this deck, and it seemed to be intent upon reminding her of him.
 Her fingertips crawled up her collar to the scars lacing her throat, remembering the feel of Harry’s kisses upon them. She hadn’t seen Harry for months. As an agent for the Special Projects Division of the Department of Justice, he’d been transferred a couple of times on various assignments, making a relationship difficult. Tara understood; years ago, she’d been an agent for Special Projects. Special Projects took, but rarely gave anything back.
 Her fingers hesitated on her scars. Special Projects had taken much from her. Working for them, she’d fallen under the tender mercies of the Gardener, a serial killer who buried women in his greenhouses. She’d survived, barely, and called it quits. She only hoped that Harry wouldn’t be subjected to the same dangers.
 The latch on the consultation room door ratcheted back, and the door opened. Tara scrambled to shovel her cards into her purse. Looking up with a scowl, she expected to see one of the guards.
 “You’re back early--” she snapped, but her breath snagged in her throat.
 Harry Li stood in the doorway...

Writing as Laura Bickle, Alayna is the author of EMBERS and SPARKS for Pocket - Juno Books.
Writing as Alayna Williams, she's the author of DARK ORACLE and ROGUE ORACLE.

More info on her urban fantasy and general nerdiness is here: http://www.salamanderstales.com/
She’s a proud member of Word Whores.
And Twitter...@Laura_Bickle
Sparky the fire salamander from EMBERS and SPARKS has his own Twitter account, @SparkySalamandr
Today, Alayna is offering a print copy of Rogue Oracle to one lucky winner who has a tarot story to tell, or who has some other comment or question for Alayna. The contest will close at midnight tonight EST, and the winner will be announced tomorrow on this thread. 


  1. Good Morning Marie and Alayna - I don't really have a good Tarot story to tell. I have been given a set of Tarot cards and a book on how to use them but still haven't quite figured things out...lol...It is "The Lotus Curcle" book by Marilyn Campbell and the matching cards. They are quite beautiful and I just need to spend some time reading and using the cards to try to figure it out.

    Loved the excerpt for Rogue Oracle! Sounds like something I would definitely want to read.

  2. Hi Alayna! Great to have you with us today! Interesting article about strength and the tarot, and this is clearly a must-read series! Are there going to be more books about Tara?


  3. Hi Maria! Good luck with learning the tarot. I have two friends who read tarot - one quite seriously and even professionally at one time, the other more for fun...


  4. I love Tarot cards and even though I've had 2 decks in my lifetime I suck at reading them. I never remember the meanings I alsways have to oull the book out and write everything down to make sense of the reading. So I just kinda play with them, admire how they look and put them back in their box. If I want a reading I go to Tarot.com and do an electronic reading, I don't think it's as acurate as a good human reader though who can adjust the reading based on the person in front of them.

    Don't enter me just dropping by to say hi.

  5. Hi Roxanne - good to see you here! My friend used to look things up in the book while she was reading for someone :). And she always used everything she knew about the person being read to help her interpretation, which could therefore be painful at times :).


  6. That looks like a very interesting series, and is inspiring me to dig out my tarot cards again. I started out with the Arthurian Tarot, then moved on to the Moon Garden Tarot, but I haven't done anything with them in ages.

  7. Hi, Maria! The Lotus Circle book is beautiful - I don't own it (yet), but I have seen it. Really, the best way to learn the cards is just to play with them and free-associate.

    Marie, thank you so much for hosting me today! I look forward to meeting your readers. :-)

    I hope that there will be more books in the series, but it's up to Pocket Books. I was contracted for the first two, and would love to continue to write about Tara's adventures.

    Hi, Roxanne! I agree, there's nothing quite like feeling the cards in hand. I still consult my books...I don't know that I'll ever be to the point where I can read entirely without a reference book.

    Stevie, the Arthurian Tarot is just lovely. And so is the Moon Garden Tarot...you have excellent taste in decks! ;-)

    The way I learned was just to start with one-card readings. There are ancient meanings behind the symbolism, to be sure, but a good way to begin is to feel how you react to the image as an individual. Sort of like how dream interpretation books are a good guide, but can't get into every nook and cranny of unique personalities.

  8. Alayna,

    You knew I would find you and stalk you here sometime :) I do have tarot stories myself, but the one that always struck me was when I had a reading done and was told that I had to be careful who I married, because there would only be one marriage and no divorce. It's made me take deep looks into the relationships that I've been in. It's been a while. I should have a new reading done soon.

    BTW I told you before and will tell you again, I LOVED THE NEW BOOK!! If you put me in the contest, know that it will find a good home :)

    Yours Truly,
    Your FairyStalkMother
    AKA Colleen :)

  9. I know nothing about tarot cards.

    What made you decide to use tarot cards in your story?

  10. Hi Colleeen! Interesting story, but tell me, are you still being careful or have you entered that one marriage?

    Waving to Stevie and Estella!


  11. Ahhh! My FairyStalkmother Colleen! I'm so glad that you liked the new book. *HUGS* We need to get together at the next con, and I can try your cards?

    Estella, I've been puttering with cards since I was a teenager. I had an idea for awhile for a criminal investigator character who used Tarot cards in an investigation...I tried it because I hadn't seen it done before. ;-)

  12. I played around with tarot cards with some friends for fun. I had to use the book to do the interpretations like others have mentioned which makes it more difficult. For me it is an interesting way to get new insights on problems because it can push me in a different direction than I would otherwise think.

  13. I've never used tarot cards. Maybe I'm just afraid of what they'd tell me. Good post and excerpt. Rogue Oracle sounds really good.


  14. dang it, now i want to know what Harry is doing there! I love the way you explain what the cards mean, as i would be totally clueless otherwise. my friend decided to do a reading on me after my first night on the town in college...she was shuffling them and i was thinking of how much fun we had and everything that happened..and then i stopped thinking and was like, when are we going to do this. she immediately said, your mind has slowed down, we can start now. i flipped out!

  15. I went to a birthday party with my sister a few years ago and they were doing Tarot readings. I had never had it done before and thought I would give it a try. Some of the things rang true and others didn't. There wasn't anything really memorable about it, but others seemed shocked by what they were told afterwards.

  16. I don't have tarot cards, but had a roommate in college who would give readings all the time.
    Love the concept of the story.

  17. Have not had many Tarot reading and I do not recall how accurate but I had a Rune reading that did seem to flow with where my life went for a couple of months. I do think Tarot readings can help clarify what the subconcious wants to communicate.

  18. Thanks for all the interesting tarot stories! And thanks to Alayna for her inspiring post and wonderful excerpt - it was great to meet you!

    I'll be back in a few minutes with Alayna's winner...


  19. And the winner of Rogue Oracle is - COLLEEN/FAIRYGODMOTHER!

    Congratulations, Colleen! Please send me your postal address - Marie AT MarieTreanor DOT com.


  20. Congrats Colleen....I forgot to look in yesterday!!! Oh my. But looks like a great book. Adding to my wishlist!!

    in Germany

  21. Carol, I agree. The unexpected perspective often helps me look at an issue in a way I wouldn't have considered before.

    Thanks, She! The cards do take a while to get used to...but there are some things that I think are better left unknown. ;-)

    practicmom, Harry is a lot of fun to write. He's very pragmatic, bull-headed, and guarded about his feelings...he's a great foil for Tara. Tara's also very guarded, but she's all about intuition and the unseen things that go bump in the dark.

    I don't think that I've ever had a reading like yours...wow! My cards don't manage to read thoughts like that...hmmm!

    Cindy L, it can be hit or miss. There's a reader that I visit every year at the local Renaissance Festival who is very good and very accurate.

    I generally don't read for others because I don't want to disappoint anyone...though I've played with them for years, I'd never consider myself to be a professional. ;-)

    Thanks, gigi! I think that there are a lot of people who had college roommates who had cards. I however, had roommates who could see the future in the bottom of a pitcher of beer. ;-)

    Valerie, thanks so much for stopping by! And thanks so much for adding my book to your wishlist. :-)

    lindseye, that's a good point. We see what we want to see in them, which is kind of a "safe" way for our subconscious to bring to light things that we're in denial about.

    Marie, thanks so much for having me! I had a wonderful time and loved meeting your readers!