I'd like to welcome Steve Hockensmith to Cozy Up With Kathy today. Along with Lisa Falco, Steve has written The White Magic Five & Dime, the first in the Tarot Mystery series which was published the first of this month.
SH: We'll tell you when we figure it out! We haven't nailed down a system yet. The White Magic Five & Dime went like this: Lisa had an idea for a series, I added a bunch of stuff to it (murders, for instance), then I outlined and wrote the first book while consulting with Lisa on the tarot and the overall direction. For the second book, I again did the outlining and wrote the first third, then Lisa took over to finish the first draft, and we'll work together on revisions. I'm guessing the third book in the series will follow the same pattern...but I also wouldn't be surprised if it looks entirely different.
Kathy: I am a collector and have several tarot decks, including some super fun ones (I have a Gummy Bear set!). Do you have any tarot decks of your own? If so, do you have a favorite, or a most unique?
SH: Lisa has some offbeat decks, I think, but I've just got two of the old standbys: the Rider Waite and the Universal Tarot. I don't know if I could handle a Gummy Bear set. I'd be giggling too much to do a reading.
Kathy: Through the years I've frequented and loved spending time in many New Age shops. Is The White Magic Five & Dime based on a real shop?
SH: Yes and no. In the beginning of the book, our hero, Alanis, is extremely cynical about the tarot and anything New Age-y. She assumes everyone's a con artist -- and some of the time she's right. By the end of the book, however, she's come to accept that it's possible to be utterly sincere about the tarot, and one of the people who teaches her that runs a New Age shop. So you've got good readers and bad readers, which has been my personal experience. Lisa gives incredible readings. But I've also had readings done by people who were trying so hard to manipulate me it was almost laughable.
Kathy: Some people believe that all tarot readers and other new age and paranormal practitioners are con artists, while others are devout believers, and still others have a healthy skepticism but willingness to believe. Where do you fall on this scale?
SH: Oooo -- that's a toughie! I guess I'd describe myself as an open-minded skeptic. I think the scientific method is our friend, and I don't put any faith in anything magical or mystical. On the other hand, I think it would be arrogant to dismiss the spiritual realm entirely. As science advances, we're learning that all kinds of weird, counter-intuitive things seem to be true. Quantum entanglement, for instance, would seem to suggest that objects and events can be linked in ways that don't follow the rules of Old School cause and effect. Einstein even called it "spooky action at a distance," and if that doesn't sound like "the paranormal" I don't know what does! When it comes to tarot, I've come to accept that (A) there's something to it (because Lisa has done readings for me that were so prophetic it's almost disturbing) yet (B) I have no rational explanation for how it works.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
SH: My dad was always watching mystery TV shows and movies when I was a kid, and when I figured out that they were basically a game -- you're trying to be the first one to figure out the puzzle -- I found that I enjoyed them, too. I especially liked the movies Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun, because in addition to being entertaining puzzle-games they were funny, too. Ditto for the Thin Man movies, which I discovered when I was in college (and have since watched a gazillion times). The genre has moved away from that style, for the most part, yet it's still my favorite kind of mystery.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
SH: Oh, I dabble. I've written Westerns and zombie romance novels and kids' books and science fiction and fantasy and horror stories. So I get around!
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
SH: Thank you! What writer doesn't love an opportunity to plug mercilessly? My Holmes on the Range novels and stories follow a pair of cowboy brothers in the 1890s who set out to become detectives using the methods of their hero, Sherlock Holmes. The first book in the series was a finalist for an Edgar Award. I also wrote an original prequel and sequel to the bestselling "mash-up" Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. And I've started writing a series of mysteries for kids with teacher and gadget-builder Science Bob Pflugfelder. The fourth book in the series, Nick and Tesla's Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove, comes out this fall.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
SH: Of my own creations, I think my favorites are Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer, the heroes of the Holmes on the Range books. They're very different characters -- Big Red is brash and talkative, Old Red is moody and introverted -- yet they're both reflections of me. Except more heroic, of course. I've never solved a mystery greater than, "Where did the remote control go?"
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
SH: My inspiration was pretty straightforward. Lisa told me her idea for the book, and I said, "Throw a mystery in there and you'd have a great series." If only good ideas always dropped into my lap like that!
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
SH: I guess I’m just a show-off! I’ve always loved storytelling and entertainment and I’ve wanted to be a part of that in some way since I was a kid. In my early twenties, I toyed with the idea of moving to L.A. and trying to become a TV writer, but I was intimidated by all the negative things I’d heard about the industry. So I focused on trying to write books because it seemed like it would be something I could do entirely on my own without having to jump through a lot of hoops. That was a pretty naïve way of looking at publishing, but fortunately it worked out O.K.!
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
SH: From what I’ve read, I get the impression that the two writers who had the biggest influence on me – Kurt Vonnegut and Raymond Chandler – were sour old poops. So I’d like to invite them, but only if they were going to show up in a good mood. I’d want to have David Sedaris there, too, but I’d be worried that he’d write about it later and I’d come off looking like a schmuck. So he’d have to sign a non-disclosure agreement for anything that happened that night. And finally I’d invite the science fiction and mystery writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch because (A) she’s always been really nice to me even though (B) we’ve never met face to face and (C) I’d need someone I could turn to from time to time to say, “Can you believe it? We’re in the same room as Kurt Vonnegut and Raymond Chandler!”
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
SH: These days, I’m usually reading two books, one fiction and one non-fiction. (I like to read when I’m at the gym, but for some reason novels don’t hold my attention when I’m on a StairMaster.) So at the moment I’m half-way through 52 Pickup by Elmore Leonard and Company of Heroes: My Life as an Actor in the John Ford Stock Company by Harry Carey Jr.
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
SH: I have kids and a day job and contracts for several books, so I don’t have any hobbies. I barely have time to sleep and eat! I do have a lot of interests, though. Movies, music, politics, history, science, bourbon, beer. I manage to squeeze in a little of it from time to time – especially the bourbon – but I won’t be able to get serious about anything until I retire. Twenty five years from now, I plan to be one incredibly well-rounded guy!
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
SH: Leftover Chinese, leftover pizza, the aforementioned bourbon and fruit and vegetables I should really eat a lot more of.
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
SH: Lisa and I are hard at work on the sequel to The White Magic Five & Dime, and there will be at least one more book in the series after that. In the meantime, I’m working with Science Bob on the fifth book in the Nick and Tesla series while also making tentative plans to launch a new series for kids while relaunching the Holmes on the Range series. So plans? I’ve got too many!
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
SH: Writing is hard, having written is wonderful. I love being able to look at the shelf over my desk and see all my books lined up. It’s like the tagline at the very end of every X-Files episode: “I made this!” It’s a great feeling.
The White Magic Five & Dime by Steve Hockensmith with Lisa Falco
The First Tarot Mystery
Alanis McLachland receives a phone call regarding her mother, the mother she hasn't had contact with in twenty years, the mother who has just been murdered. Alanis travels to Berdache, Arizona to deal with the resolution of her mother's remains and receive her inheritance (the White Magic Five and Dime- a new age store offering tarot readings) and perhaps search out justice. In so doing she encounters a threatening bailbondsman, a sullen teenager, a good looking cop, and the realization that all is not what it seems.
The White Magic Five & Dime is called a cozy and although it meets the general requirements (an amateur sleuth, small town environment-or neighborhood in big city, no graphic violence or sex) I would not classify it as a cozy. There is a tone to it; a grittiness, a harshness. This book is not a feel good story, the setting, not a place you'd like to hang out. You may be curious to visit, but I'm not sure you'd like to stay. However, while I find I can't call it a cozy, I certainly can call it a good mystery.
Alanis McLachland is not your typical heroine. She's brash, cynical, and jaded; not surprising given her upbringing. Periodically, throughout the book the authors take us back in time to see pivotal moments in her youth. We begin to understand her actions and her personality. These flashbacks give reason and show that behind the tough, non-caring exterior is a woman who does feel and ultimately does care.
Also interspersed throughout are images of tarot cards with the meanings as given by Miss Chance from the book, Infinite Roads to Knowing, the book Alanis has chosen to learn the tarot and her mother's latest con. I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the book as I also enjoyed the realization that while some tarot readers may be con artists the cards themselves can hold many truths.
Enter the White Magic Five & Dime with an open mind and no preconceived notions and you'll find an intriguing mystery you can enjoy.
For a chance to win a print copy of The White Magic Five & Dime leave a comment here telling us if you've ever had a tarot reading and/or your thoughts about tarot cards by 11:59 pm Monday, July 14, 2014. Be sure to leave your e-mail address so that I'm able to contact you should you win. US mailing addresses only.