This week, we sat down with Steve Hockensmith and Lisa Falco, coauthors of the Tarot Mysteries. Their latest, Fool Me Once, is out now!
Steve Hockensmith: I'm approaching this Q&A tag team style. I'll wrestle with every question I can until I find there's one I can't handle. Then I'll slap hands with my partner on the Tarot Mystery series, Lisa Falco, and she'll jump into the ring to save me.
Midnight Ink: How long have you been writing?
SH: Forever! I began creating my own (horrible) once-act plays and comic books and old-time radio-style audio dramas when I was in fourth or fifth grade. (How I pray no one ever finds those old cassette tapes.) I was very ambitious but also very lazy—great combo, eh?—so I started a lot of projects I never finished. I didn't get really serious about writing fiction until I was in my twenties. That's when I finally developed some stick-to-itiveness. I put in a few years writing bad short stories I couldn't sell, and then an amazing thing happened: The stories stopped being bad, and editors started buying them! Quite a coincidence how those two things happened at roughly the same time….
MI: What influence have other authors had on your writing?
Steve: My mystery novels get called "quirky" a lot, and I think maybe that's because my biggest influences come from outside the genre. When I was a 15 or 16, I stumbled onto a Kurt Vonnegut novel in the school library—thank you, !—and that ended up having a huge impact on me. I can't remember which book it was, but it doesn't really matter because within a few months I'd tracked down and read everything else the guy ever wrote. I completely gorged myself on Vonnegut. That'll have an effect on an impressionable young mind. Around the same time, I read Catch-22 and fell in love with the bleak, cynical, surreal humor of it. But I've always been a lover of genre, too, so I had this weird mix of influences stewing in my head: dark, strange, funny "literary" fiction simmering alongside plot-driven adventure stuff. So when I finally started serving up my own stories, they tended to be a little . . . different.
MI: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
SH: Dreaming of being a writer.
MI: What was your inspiration for this series?
SH: I'm going to bring Lisa in for this one, because doing a series about a tarot reader who uses the cards to help her clients was her idea. Tag!
Lisa Falco: I LOVE reading mysteries. I always have. As a child, I’d spend my summers plowing through entire mystery series: Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew. I still read mystery series as an adult. I love how all the elements of the mystery at hand weave in and out of the main characters’ lives, each subsequent book revealing a little bit more about them—their own story advancing just enough to keep me impatient for the next book. And since tarot has always been a mysterious fascination of mine, it only made sense to marry the two.
MI: What has it been like to work on the Tarot Mystery series together?
LF: What an amazing experience. There were definitely hiccups along the way—through no fault of our own, of course. But it all worked out in the end, and winding up at Midnight Ink was a huge benefit! As far as creating the books together, thank goodness for the Internet. Even though we live in different cities, it’s easy to shoot ideas to each other. This is my first truly collaborative writing experience. I love talking through plots on the phone—winding down one path, retracing our steps, trying another. It’s great fun!
SH: Tag! I’m back in! Although I don’t really have anything to add except maybe “Yeah—what she said!”
MI: How does this series compare to your past works?
SH: The tarot element sets it apart, obviously. But it's a change of pace for me in other ways, as well. My first mystery series, the Holmes on the Range books, were historicals set mostly in the Old West. They were in first person written from the point of view of an 1890s cowboy, so the voice was both earthy and a bit old time-y. My next books were Jane Austen-inspired zombie novels set in Regency England, so I was working in a deliberately old-fashioned third person voice. After that, I moved on to a series of third person middle-grade mystery/science books (which I do with "Science Bob" Pflugfelder). Those were my first books in a modern setting. And then came the Tarot Mystery series, which is both set in the present day and written in first person. So finally I'm writing books with a modern narrator. I think that's part of the reason they feel so easy and fun for me to do. Lisa does all the research and deep thinking when it comes to the tarot, then I get to amuse myself by turning that into a story told from the perspective of a twenty-first century smart-ass.
MI: Who is your favorite mystery sleuth and why?
SH: There are a lot that I love—Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlowe, Jim Rockford, Nick and Nora Charles (and Asta), Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe, I.M. Fletcher, etc. etc. etc. But if I could only pick one to watch at work, it would have to be Lt. Columbo of the LAPD. He personifies the mystery genre in a really beautiful way: He's someone who thinks and thinks and thinks and can't stop thinking and thinking and thinking some more until he finally understands. He's not about flashy shows of unbelievable genius or tough-guy heroics. He's just a schlubby little guy who won't stop asking questions because the official story doesn't add up. What's not to love about that? I'll tag Lisa here not because I need help—I could obviously drone on about my favorite detectives all day—but because it's a fun question. Lisa?
LF: I’m partial to the sleuths on British TV like Inspector Lewis and Foyle’s War. The lead characters are human with just the right amount of unpolished edges. I do like the women sleuths as well, my favorite being Precious Ramotswe from the Ladies No. Detective Agency.
MI: What’s your favorite part about being an Inker?
LF: I love how Midnight Ink does the layout of our books—not an an easy feat given all the tarot card positions, etc. I’m sure Steve has his own favorite aspects of being an Inker….
SH: I love the layouts, too. And the covers. But I think my favorite aspect of working with Midnight Ink is just how easy everything is. Once we’ve submitted our final draft, the design, copy editing, proofreading, and publicity wheels turn incredibly swiftly and smoothly. A publishing company can feel like a lumbering behemoth at times, but that hasn’t been our experience with Midnight Ink at all. And it helps that so many people there have a genuine interest in tarot. You can tell they care about what goes into these books and appreciate the final product. Again—that’s something you don’t always get from your publisher. It’s a real bummer when you don’t . . . and fantastic when you do!
Fool Me Once is available online and in bookstores now!