September is the American Medical Association’s (AMA) Women in Medicine Month, which celebrates the accomplishments of, and showcases advocacy for, female physicians, while also highlighting health issues impacting female patients.
Did you know that the AMA, which was founded in 1874, didn’t have its first female president until 1998? It didn’t even have any female leaders until 1969, when Louise C. Gloeckner became vice president. That’s nearly 100 years after today’s subject, Sarah Hackett Stevenson, became the first woman to join the AMA.
Sarah was born in the small town of Buffalo Grove, (now Polo), in northwestern Illinois, which her father helped found. As a young woman, she attended Mount Carroll Seminary and State Normal College, in Bloomington, Illinois, and graduated with honors as a teacher. After several years of teaching and serving as a principal in public schools in Bloomington, Mount Morris and Sterling, Illinois, she moved to Chicago to study anatomy and physiology at Woman’s Hospital Medical College as one of its earliest students.
During her course of study, Sarah spent a year in England at South Kensington Science School in London learning from famed biologists Charles Darwin and Thomas Huxley. After returning to America, she graduated from the medical college with the highest honors in 1874, becoming one of Illinois’ first female physicians. She went back to Europe to continue her studies under Huxley and Darwin at hospitals in London and Dublin. During this time, she was appointed by Illinois Governor John Beveridg as a delegate to the International Sanitary Conference in Vienna, which was the fourth of 14 conferences organized to standardize international quarantine regulations against the spread of cholera, plague and yellow fever.
Back once again in the United States, Sarah began her medical career as physiology chair at the Woman’s Hospital Medical College in Chicago, a role she held for five years. In 1875 she was elected as a member of the Illinois State Medical Society and appointed head of the Illinois State Medical Society’s committee on progress in physiology. The following year, she was named an alternate delegate to the AMA convention in Philadelphia, becoming a full delegate and the organization’s first female member when the original male delegate was unable to attend. She appears to have met with surprisingly little resistance and even boldly listed her full name on the official delegate roster instead of using first and middle initials like many of her male colleagues.
She served as a delegate again three more times and in 1878, was chair of an AMA special committee for advancing physical sciences. In 1879, she presented a paper on the sympathetic nervous system. Sarah was also the first woman appointed on the State Board of Health and the first woman to be on staff at the Cook County Hospital. She wrote several books, including the well-known The Physiology of Woman.
Sometime in 1880, Sarah resigned from her position at Woman’s Medical College because she believed that men and women should be taught together, rather than segregated by gender. She wrote, “I hope that men and women will be educated in one institution–educated as physicians without any regard to the sex question at all. It seems to me, if we be physicians, that the first necessity is equality of opportunity, and that is all the woman physician asks.”
Advocacy for Women
Sarah was also actively involved in the temperance movement, serving as the first superintendent of the Department of Hygiene of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) from 1881-1882. In 1886, the Chicago WCTU organized the National Temperance Hospital (later renamed the Frances Willard Hospital) with the express purpose of providing care without using medicines containing alcohol, and Sarah served as staff president.
Sarah was also a passionate advocate for women’s rights. Her writings on the plight of women in late 19th century Chicago are available online. But she didn’t only write about injustice; she acted to end it. In 1880 she co-founded the Illinois Training School for Nurses, along with Lucy Flower. In 1893, Sarah proposed to the Chicago Woman’s Club to create a safe home for women and children who did not have money but needed shelter. Her proposal was accepted and funded by donations as the Woman’s Model Lodging House. Those who could pay were charged 15 cents/night, but women who could not worked instead. She also spoke in support of admission of a black member to the Chicago Woman’s Club, of which she was president.
Sarah retired in 1903 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage that left her paralyzed and bedridden. She died in 1909 at the age of 68.
You may remember that a little over a month ago, my Facebook and Instagram accounts were suspended for no reason that I can guess. It could have been that someone reported me, that something I posted tripped a bot/algorithm or they found out I write under a pen name, which is against their TOS for a profile (but not a page, a famous person or a drag queen, go figure).
Anywho, today they disabled them completely, so I started new profiles and pages: Facebook and Instagram. It’s going to take me a while to catch up on all the news that happened while I was away. So please be patient as I rebuild.
While it sucks to lose all my friends and followers, if they are true friends or fans, they will find me again. I am choosing to look at this as an opportunity to start over and have more control over who I friend and what I see. I was in way too many groups anyway. 😉
What I Have Learned from This Experience
Build your email list as much as you can. Social media can be taken away from you at any time. (Have you signed up for my newsletter? If not, please do so now in case this happens again–I don’t want to lose you twice! It just might.)
Tighten your security as much as possible. FB lets you designate three to five people who can help you recover your account if something happens and I’m sure there are other ways of locking it down. You bet I will investigate every one of them.
If you have a page, set someone you trust as an administrator. Any way you can have other people will access to your account (within reason, of course) will help you if you ever get in trouble with our social media overlords.
Don’t accept friend requests from people you can’t trust. I don’t want to believe it, but it could have been a friend, family member or fellow author who reported me. So I’m going to be extra careful who I friend. There’s no guarantee it won’t happen with the new accounts. If we know each other well, you are welcome on my profile. If not, everyone is welcome on my page!
Be careful what you post. I’m not saying to not have opinions or censor yourself- I certainly won’t because it isn’t who I am. But just to give one example of the world we live in, apparently you can’t use the word “suicide” on any social media anymore. I had the word in a poem. That could be what got flagged. I don’t know how one is supposed to keep up with banned terms, but they do exist.
Think twice if you write under a pen name. FB allows drag queens and famous actors/authors to use pen names, but not the rest of us. Just go in knowing this may happen to you. One of my fairly famous author friends has been banned from FB four times for that exact reason. She just keeps coming back.
These companies don’t respond to their users. I spent a month and at least a dozen email and form exchanges with them to no avail. I provided multiple forms of ID and proof that [insert legal name here] really is Nicole Evelina. I sent them a “proof of life” photo with things they requested visible on a piece of paper. Yet this morning FB was still claiming I never protested my suspension. FB has no real person you can call and most of FB/Insta’s emails are no reply. Even if you do get an email that looks like it is from a real person and reply back, you won’t hear anything. Plus, the emails you do get will contradict each other. Or at least that was my experience.
Just to be clear – I am only calling out drag queens in this post because they are a rare (and hard-fought) exception to the rules. I really like drag as an art form and would never want to disrespect anyone.
After a lot of waiting and years of research, I’m so happy to announce this contract:
I am so thrilled to be sharing her “forgotten” story with the world. The biography is really a dual biography of her and her husband, Francis, because they were “partners in crime” on the subject of suffrage–and equal in all things (which was unusual for their time). However, there is far more information available on Virginia, but I was able to reconstruct a good portion of Francis’ career as a lawyer, as well as his suffrage work.
One of the reasons this book is so important to me is that the way we’re taught about the Suffrage Movement in school is that is was pretty much taken care of by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and a handful of other women. But that is far from the truth. The movement was actually progressed by thousands of women of all races and class levels. Writing them back into history is so important to a fuller understanding of the movement and its repercussions to us today.
America’s Forgotten Suffragists is a cradle to grave biography because it is the first one ever written about Virginia and Francis. Among the things you’ll learn about them:
Their early lives, education, courtship and wedding.
Virginia’s work during the Civil War in the health department and Francis’ work as a war claims agent.
Virginia’s founding of the Woman’s Suffrage Association of Missouri two years before Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone formed their national organizations.
How Virginia and Francis came up with the New Departure (the 14th amendment theory) and argued it through the court system all the way to the Supreme Court.
Virginia’s tax revolts (refusing to pay her taxes until women get the vote)
Her work with Susan B. Anthony to campaign for women’s suffrage in Nebraska
Virginia’s unorthodox funeral and will.
Posthumous honors for both
If you want a little preview of the biography, go to virginiaminor.com, a companion website I built for the book.
An Incredible Year I’m going to take a minute to brag. This is my fourth book contract in six months (the one you may not know about is with our local chapter of the League of Women Voters for a book on 60 years of their history), along with a contract for a magazine article related to America’s Forgotten Suffragists.
HOWEVER, this explosion of luck is a long time coming. There is no such thing as overnight success, though it can appear that way. I have been writing seriously 13 years. In that time, I had one agent, got a lot of rejections, left her, self-published six books, got a book optioned for a movie/TV, got a wonderful new agent, Amy Collins, racked up more rejections and then finally everything hit. Hard work, never giving up (and believe me, it was tempting) and a great agent were for me the recipe for success.
I am firm believer that you have to work hard to achieve great things. That is what I have done from the beginning and that is what I will continue to do.
And for those of you who have noticed my contracts are all for non-fiction, don’t worry, I’m still writing fiction as well. I have four books I want to complete in 2022, in addition to my non-fiction on Fierce Females on Television. I may not finish all of them, but two are already started so it’s possible. I’m hoping to be able to slow down a little after next year, but this is what I mean about working hard to get my career jumpstarted.
UPDATE: My Instagram is locked out too since FB owns them. Lovely.
To say I am not a happy camper today is an understatement. I woke up to a message on Facebook saying that my account has been disabled. This means I can’t use my profile, page or messenger.
After verifying this was real, I tried to follow the recovery steps, which because Facebook is such a caring company, consist of three forms that don’t let you explain, provide much information, or really do anything. One wants a copy of your driver’s license or other ID, which makes me feel squicky, but I tried to submit it anyway. (What good it would do since I write under a pen name is questionable. It may even raise FB’s red flags that I don’t represent my true self – but we’ll fight that fight if we have to.)
Anyway, I couldn’t submit any of the recovery forms. Apparently, some hacker submitted fake “identity” information for me. This is what pops up when I try:
God only knows what they got on my “behalf.” Um, I’m almost 42, you morons. And if it was due to something else that someone reported, I don’t know what it is.
I am posting this here because Facebook is my most active social media and I obviously have no way of letting people know what is going on. So if anything weird or gross or whatever has been on my account, please know that I didn’t do it. And if you get any FB requests from me until I tell you this is resolved, please don’t accept them.
I realize FB uses bots and stuff like that instead of employing real people and that any one of my friends or a hacker could have reported me for something stupid. And that really disappoints and angers me. I don’t post inappropriate things, yet hate groups and people who post porn and violent stuff are left to tiptoe through the tulips.
Libby Hawker, I can hear you now, “This is why I left Facebook.” And you aren’t wrong. But I’ve worked for years to build my friend and fanbase and I really don’t want to lose it especially since I dislike Twitter with the vehemence of a thousand suns and Insta isn’t the same.
I noticed yesterday that someone had been trying to access my website and this may or may not be related. I’ve changed all of my passwords on my website and on social and am posting notices on all of my social media accounts. There is nothing else I can do but wait.
If some of you can post this on FB so that people know what is going on, I’d appreciate it. Maybe FB will pay attention if we raise a ruckus, but I doubt it because people more famous than me have fought this battle.
I have no idea how long this is going to last. Let’s just hope I don’t lose the account I’ve worked so hard to cultivate and really enjoy using.
August 1 was the anniversary of Mary Elizabeth (Eliza) Mahoney becoming the first Black woman to graduate from an American school of nursing. She’s considered the first officially trained Black nurse in the United States.
Mary Eliza Mahoney was born in April or May of 1845 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, to parents who were freed slaves, originally from North Carolina. She attended the Phillips School, one of the first integrated schools in Boston (and the United States), for her early education, which is said to have influenced her later decision to become a nurse.
But in order to do that, she faced an uphill battle. Nursing schools in the South rejected applications from Black women and even in the North their opportunities were limited. For 15 years, the closest she could come was to work 16-hour days as a cook, maid and washerwoman at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston – which was dedicated to providing health care only to women and their children and had an all-female staff of physicians.
When the hospital (now the Dimock Community Health Center) opened a nursing program in 1878, Mary Eliza applied. Despite being two years older than the technical admission criteria, she was accepted at age 33 to a 16-month program, alongside 39 other students. Of this entire class, Mary Eliza and two white women were the only ones to receive their degree. (Mary Eliza’s sister, Ellen Mahoney, also decided to attend the same nursing program but was unsuccessful in receiving her diploma.)
It’s not hard to see why. The training was rigorous with the shift running from 5:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. for only meager wages. Students were required to spend time over the course of a year in all the hospital’s wards so that by the time they graduated, they understood each one intimately. Outside of lectures, they were taught bedside procedures such as taking vital signs and bandaging. The last two months of the program required the nurses to use their newfound knowledge and skills in environments they were not accustomed to such as hospitals or private family homes. Mary Eliza chose to work as a private-duty nurse.
On August 1, 1879, Mary Eliza became the first Black woman to graduate from an American school of nursing and is considered the first officially trained Black nurse in the United States.
Mary Eliza worked for many years as a private care nurse, predominately in white households with new mothers and newborns. During the early years of her employment, Black nurses were often treated as if they were household servants rather than professionals. Nevertheless, families who employed her praised her efficiency in her nursing profession. Mary Eliza’s professionalism helped raise the status and standards of all nurses, especially minorities. As her reputation spread, she received private-duty nursing requests from patients in states in the North and on the southeast coast.
In 1908, Mary Eliza worked closely with Martha Minerva Franklin and Adah B. Thoms who founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN.] This organization attempted to uplift the standards and everyday lives of Black registered nurses and had a significant influence on eliminating racial discrimination in the profession until it was integrated into the American Nurses Association in 1951. From 1910 to 1930 alone, the number of Black nurses doubled, thanks to Mary Eliza’s efforts.
From 1911 to 1912, Mary Eliza served as director of the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum for Black children in Kings Park, Long Island, New York, a home for freed Black children and elderly. After one year on the job, she decided to retire.
Her nursing career complete, Mary Eliza focused her attention on women’s suffrage. In 1920, after women won the vote, she was among the first women in Boston to register.
In 1923, Mary Eliza was diagnosed with breast cancer, a battle she fought for three years until her death at the age of 80 on January 4, 1926.
In recognition of her outstanding example to nurses of all races, the NACGN established the Mary Mahoney Award in 1936. It is still given out today by the American Nurses Association every two years in recognition of significant contributions in advancing equal opportunities in nursing for members of minority groups.
Mary Eliza received many posthumous honors and awards for her pioneering work. She was inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame in 1976 and into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993. Her name also graces a health center in Oklahoma City, a dialysis center in Boston and a lecture series at Indiana University Northwest.
I am over-the-moon excited! I’m finally a hybrid author! This has been a long time coming and I am so excited to write these books. Here’s a little more about them:
Obviously, not the real cover.
Sex and the City: A Cultural History This book will provide cultural context and analysis of the famous show, both how it affected cultural as it aired and also how it looks now 20+ years later. Some topics include:
Looking at what it means to relate to each of the girls (ala, Are you a Carrie? A Samantha? A Miranda? A Charlotte?)
What the men in the show illustrate about masculinity and what that means about the kinds of men women are attracted to.
Issues like diversity or lack thereof, treatment of sex and sexuality, LGBTQIA portrayal.
How the show made New York a character, built brands, influenced fashion and reflected third wave feminism.
And a lot more!
I have an end of year deadline, so hopefully the book will come out around the time the reboot, And Just Like That, airs.
Fierce Females in Television: A Cultural History
Thank God, not the real cover!
This book will briefly discuss the nature of physically strong women on TV from the 1950s-1980s, but will focus specifically on the 1990s to today because that is when we saw a major ramp up in the portrayal of these kinds of women.
Shows covered include: Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), Charmed (1998-2006), Alias (2001-2006), Nikita (2010-2013), Agent Carter (2015-2016), Jessica Jones (2015-2019), Game of Thrones (2011-2019), and Homeland (2011-2020).
Some of the topics include:
An analysis of the main female characters on each show.
The meaning of female strength and friendships/family.
The influence of third- and fourth-wave feminism on the shows and their characters.
Treatment of sex and diversity.
The role of redemption narratives and change in female lives.
This book will be out sometime in 2023/24.
Between these, the League of Women Voters book (due Oct. 4) and at least one work of historical fiction, you know what my next few months and even my 2022 will look like!
This is the second part in a series on the tarot. If you’re new to it, please start with part one for an introduction to the cards, how they work and what they mean, then come back to learn how to use them in your writing.
Before you read, you might like to find a quiet place where you can be alone with your thoughts and really think about what each card is trying tell you. Have a notebook and pen, or your computer handy so you can jot down ideas as they come to you. Some people choose to lay out a special cloth (usually a solid color) on which to place the cards because it helps focus the mind. If you are religious, you might want to ask your guardian angel or the muses or whatever god(s) you believe in to guide your reading, but that is totally optional.
To begin, take a deep breath and close your eyes. Think about your question. If you are using your reading to build out your plot from the beginning, you might ask a question like “What is the framework of this book?” or “Show me how this plot should progress.” If you’re trying the work through a block, think about it as specifically as you can, something like “what happens to X character next?” or “How does X get out of [name the jam you put them in].” If you are building a character you could start with “Show me X’s progression throughout the book.” Keep repeating your question in your mind over and over as you shuffle the deck. You’ll know when to stop. Sometimes you will feel a card get hot or cold or your fingers will tingle. Other times, you just know to stop. Sometimes nothing at all happens and you just get tired of shuffling. Trust your instincts; there are no wrong answer. Once you feel ready, draw your first card from the top of the deck.
Because of their unique symbolism, you can always do readings using only the major or minor arcana cards if you want to. But I have found that using both major and minor arcana (which is the standard practice) gives you a more complete picture. There are three basic types of spreads, which I’ll explain from the easiest to the most complex.
One Card Spreads
This involves drawing a single card and is the fastest and easiest, It allows you to be very focused in your question and answer, but it also provides you with the least amount of information because you don’t have the influence of surrounding cards. But if you are in a hurry or just need a prompt to get you going, one is all you need. Potential uses:
Getting to know your characters – Draw a card for each major character in your plot. This will tell you a lot about them, since we each have a card that best symbolizes who we are. (Mine is Strength.) This is best determined over time through multiple readings when the same card keeps showing up over and over again, but can also be done with a single reading.
I recently did this for a book I was plotting. It is biographical historical fiction set in WWII Poland and the card I drew was the Knight of Wands . This card symbolizes someone clever, with a strong sense of humor who is good with words and has sound instincts and a gift for seeing things others may have missed. This describes my heroine (who was a real person) to a tee. Because of this card, I learned what key aspects of her personality to focus on when writing.
Get to know the overall “vibe” of your book. A single card can also tell you about the theme(s) of your book. As I was writing this article, I pulled a card for my latest project, another biographical historical, this one set the colonial United States. My card was The Five of Wands I was immediately struck by the image, which shows five people fighting with staves, because while my book written in a single first-person POV, there are multiple competing timelines and storylines to keep straight, so much so that I needed to make a chart.
The meaning of the card is competition and being obsessed with material things or as the book that came with the deck puts it “keeping up with the Joneses.” That is certainly relevant because there are many men competing for the affection of my heroine. She also a very well-to-do woman who was known historically for her lavish parties and spending that, combined with her husband’s gambling, eventually drove them deep into debt. The card can also mean a clash of ideas and principles and hurting others by giving mixed messages. My main character is in love with her sisters’ husband and both are tempted to have an affair. Much of their relationship takes place via letter and because of both, they often wonder what the other really feels.
(While I was writing this, I accidently knocked the next card off the top of the deck. It was The Lovers which is what I was expecting the main card for the book to be because it is essentially a story of forbidden love. Always pay attention when cards fall out of the deck as you shuffle or otherwise make themselves known—it happens for a reason.
Find the answer to a plot problem or writer’s block. All you have to do here is ask what the problem is. Pay close attention to what the card symbolizes. It may tell you where you’ve gone wrong in plotting in another part of the book, directly answer your question, or even tell you about something in yourself that is causing the block (such as being overworked and needing to take a break).
Three Card Spreads
There are many variations on three-card spreads, but the most common is past-present-future, which can be used for both plots and characters.
If you write to a three-act structure, you could use this spread to learn about the themes of each act.
You could take each of your major characters and do a past-present-future spread to learn about their backstory, where they are when the book begins, and how they change as the novel progresses.
For character arcs, think about one card as being where the character is now, the second as where they want to be, and the third how to get there.
If you are experiencing a writing problem, you can have one card symbolize the nature of the problem, one the cause, and one the solution. Similarly, you can have the cards stand for what the character wants/what will help them, what is standing in their way, and how to overcome it.
We’ve all heard about MRUs (motivation reaction units), right? One card can be your character’s thought/feeling, one their reaction, and the third, what he or she is going to say or do in response.
If you are mulling over the relationship between characters you could have one card stand for each character and the third for their relationship. Or you could use one for what brought them together, one for what pulls them apart, and the third for the resolution. (This one is particularly good for romance novels and romantic plotlines.)
You could seriously go on forever with these. There’s a long list of three-card spreads online here.
The Celtic Cross Spread
This is the classic tarot spread, the one you’ve seen in every TV show and movie with a fortune teller and the one you will see if you go visit one in real life. This is because it is the most comprehensive. I’m going to explain it first, and then show you a few ways to use it.
The Celtic Cross spread involves 10 or 11 cards. Some people choose to designate one card that is set off to the side to symbolize the question or the person asking the question. If you choose to do this, you will draw that card first after you have finished shuffling the deck. Then draw the cards from the top of the deck and lay them out according to the pattern above.
Once you’ve done that. Take a look at the overall spread. Is your gut telling you anything? Does the spread feel inherently happy or sad, positive or negative? Does anything immediately jump out at you? It can take some time to develop the ability to get the “feel” for a spread, so don’t worry if you don’t come up with anything right away.
Next, take a look at each card individually. Write down your impressions of each one. I did a reading for my colonial American book while writing this using the question “show me what I need to know about X book” and I’ll give you my cards as well as an example.
My overall impression is that this is a positive reading with five major arcana cards (which is a lot) and no dominant suit (two swords and two pentacles, which neutralize each other’s negative and positive elements). It’s going to be an interesting reading.
Relationship to the Present Situation. Queen of Swords – An impressive, trailblazing woman of courage and intelligence who will not be held down by convention. This is my main character very clearly summed up.
Positive Forces in Your Favor. The Chariot – Triumph, balance, holding opposing views in equal tension. Enjoying life. This describes my character’s approach to life pretty well, though she’s more known for extravagance than balance.
Message from Your Higher Self – Queen of Pentacles – Female strength and success in business and with money. A caring woman concerned with the lives of those around her. Again, you have to trust me that this fits my character very well.
Subconscious/Underlying Themes/Emotional – The Priestess – Inspiration and advice from a woman who is wise and mature. Can also represent isolation. That last part is interesting to me because my heroine spends most of the book in another country than the rest of her family. Her best friend could easily be represented by the priestess and would provide calm to her boundless energy.
The Past – The Fool – Setting off on a journey unaware of an uncaring of the consequences; innocence and foolishness. My character married very young and regrets it almost immediately when her husband turns out not to be who she though he was (quite literally) and she falls in love with someone else, but can’t have him because she is already married.
Relationship with Others – The Two of Cups – The minor arcana card most like The Lovers. Represents relationships, attraction, engagement/marriage and emotional bonds. Perfect for describing the forbidden love she experiences for most of her life.
Psychological States/Forces That Can Affect the Outcome – The Six of Swords. Ugh, the swords. Movement, alignment of heart and mind, a declaration of love, focus and follow-through with unpredictable results. Funny that this one depicts a journey across water because my character travels back and forth between America and Europe a lot. Again, I see shades of the forbidden romance in this card, especially since it comes right between the Two of Cups and The Sun
Environment/Unseen Forces – The Sun – Triumph, bounty, enjoying life. It is interesting that the book that comes with this deck mentions “summer love” in connection to this card. If my two historical people ever actually consummated their affair, it would have been a particular summer while his wife was away.
Hopes and Fears – The Magician – A man of creativity, power and strong voice who is eloquent and charming. This could be my hero and describe what my heroine sees in him. This card can also mean someone who is manipulative and at times untrue, which applies to her fears about him just being a flirt and not really loving her since she is already married. (Which is something historians haven’t even figured out.)
Outcome – The King of Pentacles – A proud, self-assured young man of status and wealth, a supportive husband who recognizes the value of culture. This card could represent either her husband or her lover. Her husband is proud and wealthy, but he is not exactly supportive, while her lover is. I see this as the outcome she wants; her ideal man. Unfortunately, he does not exist and history does not bear out a happy ending for her or her lover. However, as a writer, I see this as an opportunity to really amp up the tragedy of the ending. Outcomes are even more powerful when the hero and heroine don’t get what they want because readers have been rooting for them the entire book and now will mourn with them as well.
Finally, look at the cards in groups of three or four. Do they affect each other or change the meaning of surrounding cards? Make notes of anything that notice. Again, it may take time to learn this part. In my example, as you can see from the explanations above, the first four cards agree with each other and strengthen one another in a description of my heroine. In the same way, cards six through nine all play on the same theme of forbidden love. Taken together, these influenced my interpretation of the Outcome card.
Of course, everything is subject to interpretation; I may read a spread totally differently than you do, which is why some people don’t put any stock in tarot readings. And that is fine. I’m only here to advise you on how you can use them as a tool in your writing; whether or not you believe they will work for you is a personal decision.
Once you get comfortable with your cards you can also make up your own spreads to fit your questions. They can be circular, triangle, any shape that works for what you need. You could even take the major archetypes and draw a card for each one or take your favorite plot arc or character arc tool (I’m a fan of Michael Hauge’s “Six Stage Plot Structure” and Larry Brooks’ Four Part Structure) and make up a spread to fit it. The sky is the limit.
I hope this series of articles has given you a new tool in your writing toolbox. If you are familiar with other systems of divination like runes, wisdom sticks, or even astrology or dowsing with a pendulum, you can employ those as well. They all tap into your subconscious mind in a similar manner. Best of luck!
Two weeks ago at the Historical Novel Society conference, I participated in a brief lecture from my dear friend Kris Waldherr on how writers can use the tarot to help plan their books. It not only re-invigorated me in my study of tarot and inspired me to create my own deck, it reminded me I wrote a series of two articles about it a while back for Novelists’ Inc. that I have never shared here.
This first article covers the basics of what tarot is (and is not), what the cards mean and how they are used so that readers who have no familiarity with the tarot can catch up. The next article, which I will publish tomorrow simultaneously here and over at my second home on Spellbound Scribes, will go into detail on how to use it in your writing.
We’ve all heard of tarot cards and seen then used by witches and fortune tellers in the movies and on TV. Unfortunately, the persistent use of them by Hollywood to evoke fear and evil has led to many people thinking the tarot is something it is not. Before we begin, I want to address some common tarot misconceptions:
The tarot is not evil. It is just a set of cards with pictures on them. That’s it. A tarot deck is no more or less powerful than a regular deck of playing cards.
It will not summon the devil or any evil spirits. The tarot actually has nothing to do with any religion. You can choose for it to be part of your spiritual practice, but it doesn’t have to be. The cards are neither positive nor negative; it is your intent that makes them one way or the other. You’d have to be very intentional and work really hard to summon anything evil with them. And I don’t recommend trying.
You don’t have to be religious to use it. Even though divination using playing cards pre-dates modern psychology, tarot really is all about your subconscious mind, so you can be an atheist and it will work just the same as if you are religious.
If you’re not comfortable with tarot or think it is wrong, by all means don’t use it. I would never want you to do something that goes against your beliefs or makes you feel like you’re doing something wrong. But if you’re curious, read on.
What the Tarot Is
So, if all of that is true, how exactly does the tarot work? The easiest explanation is that it is a way to tap into your subconscious mind, which holds a lot of information and answers we don’t normally access with our conscious brains. As we know from dreams, our subconscious works in symbols, which is why there is standard symbolism on each tarot card, regardless of the specific artwork.
The tarot’s symbolism is heavily based in archetypes because these are pretty much eternal and unchanging. The most common archetypes include:
The Hero who is undertaking the quest.
The Mentor who guides them.
The Ally who accompanies them.
The Herald who says “hey, hero, it’s time for a change in your life” and kicks off the quest.
The Trickster, who is the comic relief and mischief maker.
The Shapeshifter, who is kind of like a frenemy and could be friend or foe or both.
The Wizard/Guardian who tests the hero
The Shadow, who is the villain.
If these roles sound familiar, that’s because they are also the building blocks of storytelling. Each of these, and more, are reflected in the card’s symbolism. More on that in a minute.
The System of Tarot
Every tarot deck is comprised of 78 cards divided into the major arcana (22 cards) and minor arcana (56 cards). The major arcana are like the face cards of a regular deck of playing cards. Major arcana cards are more significant and helpful in understanding your characters and plot because these cards represent powerful forces and events which can shape them. Major arcana cards can identifying the major plot points of your book and the basics of your outline.
There are countless ways of interpreting these cards (here’s a good online resource), so we’ll take a brief look at each and how they might be used to indicate a character or plot point. (Click on the image to see it larger.)
The Major Arcana
The Fool – This is the hero of our story, the unwitting innocent setting out the journey of your book. He symbolizes being open to new possibilities and sometimes being foolish in your ignorance. If your hero is otherwise represented, he or she could be an ally to the main character. This person is usually well-intentioned, but can also be bungling.
The Magician – The magician symbolizes intelligence, talent, intuition, freedom and confidence, but he can also be a tricky showman. His message is that you already have everything you need to accomplish your goals. Depending on the story, he could be the mentor for your hero, the herald who kicks off the quest, a trickster or possibly the wizard who tests your hero. Study the surrounding cards for clues.
The High Priestess – She is a woman of great power and strength and symbolizes the inner voice or intuition. She also represents spiritual forces like wisdom and insight and is a wise counselor who may live at a remove from the rest of the world. She could also be the mentor of your main character or even the herald if used with prophecy or magic.
The Empress – She is the ultimate feminine figure and powerful ruler. She is a strong role model and peacemaker, a guide, and example of dignity. She is often associated with fertility and Mother Earth. Another mentor possibility, but she could also take her power too far and become a dark figure.
The Emperor – This is the card of hard-won leadership and power, an authority figure who knows his stuff. He represents masculine energy that is stable, reasonable and ethical. He is another possible mentor figure, but he could also be seeking to hold your hero down, just like some rulers seek to oppress their people.
The Hierophant/Priest – This figure represents tradition, authority and adherence to established rules and customs. He is also a powerful spiritual force and you would do well to listen to his wisdom. It’s possible this card could represent the mentor, but depending on the circumstances, he could also be the shapeshifter or even the shadow. He would be a fun villain to write and would pose a formidable challenge for your hero, who is usually seeking to overthrow all he represents.
The Lovers – The lovers are all about relationships, and not necessarily just sexual ones, friendships too. They also guide values and decisions and symbolize intense emotions such as the blindness and irrationality of love. They often appear in reading when a decision is needed and can indicate a positive past choice. This card could be the ally who helps the heroine in her journey or could represent a love interest or romantic aspect to the plot.
The Chariot – Represents triumph, victory and success and is connected to natural drive and determination. But the Chariot warns you can’t just depend on your dreams; you must take action to make them happen. As such, this is a card of agency for a character and movement/momentum in the plot.
Strength – This card is all about inner strength—fortitude of heart and mind that enables you to overcome any obstacle. It also symbolizes perseverance and facing your fears head on. A character with this card would be strong, but could also be stubborn, which could lead to difficulties with other characters or obstacles in the plot that the hero will have to fight to overcome.
The Hermit – As his name implies, the Hermit represents solitude and listening to the voice within. He could be the guide to your hero, or he could be the trickster, falsely be urging them to withdrawn when action is required, depending on the surrounding cards. If he comes out of isolation set up the quest, he can also function as the herald. He represents a place in the plot where introspection is needed before the hero can make a decision/move on.
Wheel of Fortune – This the wheel of fate, representing the ups and downs of life. The card reminds us that the only permanence in life is change and that we must be open to learning the lessons of the present moment. Usually it is interpreted as a card of good luck, but depending on the surrounding cards, it could also indicate a reversal of fortune. It is a good card for plotting points of major change or evaluating how your character handles it.
Justice – As the name implies, this card is about karma and getting what you deserve. If that is a main theme in your book, play close attention to this card. It can also be about acting as a judge and weighing choices in order to make a decision or needing to be impartial. This card could indicate a character who is judgmental (or who teaches others not to judge) or it could represent a moment your main character is called to account for their actions, either within their own mind or by someone else.
The Hanged Man – The hanged man is all about being stuck or being in the in between. He usually represents needing to make a decision or being at a crossroads in life. Usually a sacrifice is required to be able to move on. This card can also mean punishment for a crime. This card can represent where your character is before he/she takes up the call for change at the beginning of a book or any point where they feel unable to move forward. In the latter case, look at surrounding cards to see who or what might able to help propel them forward.
Death – This card does not usually mean literal death! It can, in rare cases, but usually instead represents transformation, the dying of the old so the new can be reborn. It can indicate the end of a cycle or the end of relationship and can symbolize your fears or even the end of suffering. As such it is versatile in revealing a character’s weakness and vulnerabilities, but an also be used to point points of change in a story.
Temperance – As the name indicates, this is a card of moderation. Patience is her virtue and she can represent grace under pressure, good manners, the ability to adapt or be creative. She is symbol of balance and harmony. She can represent an advocate or ally or your character or a warning not to get out of control.
The Devil – This card is not evil, no matter what Hollywood says. When you are using tarot for writing, this card will usually indicate your shadow or villain character or forces working against your main character. It represents our baser instincts and can symbolize obsession, abuse and addictions. It can also symbolize a positive character embracing their wild or vengeful side or feeling trapped.
The Tower – This card is not a fun one to see in a reading because it represents destruction and major change. But that isn’t always bad; it can mean the breaking down of the old to begin anew, as in a desired divorce. Usually the best solution is to give in and then pick up the pieces and start over. This often appears to represent the “black moment” in a plot – the point where all seems lost for the hero.
The Star – The star represents hope, peace and freedom, inspiration and enlightenment. It can mean relying on yourself and taking steps to improve yourself or your situation. It also symbolizes healing and following your destiny or the will of the gods. For characters, it can mean agency or following a force greater than themselves.
The Moon – Just as the moon rules the tides and can affect human sanity, this card represents powerful emotions and vivid dreams. It can mean a time of disorientation, anxiety or repressing things into your subconscious. Because it can indicate a shadowy person or situation, insanity or obsession with the macabre, it can represent your villain or something involving deception that will happen to your hero. Or it can mean something underhanded he or she is doing, willingly or not.
The Sun – This card is the opposite of the Moon. It indicates things done out in the light of day, triumph and victory, glory, safety and well-being. It can also represent the innocence and joy of childhood. It is an uplifting card that indicates all is well in the world. In characterization, it is associated with genuinely good, innocent people, like Forrest Gump, for example.
Judgement – Like the Last Judgement (which is often depicted on the card) it represents resurrection and rebirth, a reawakening and new opportunities. It can also symbolize a rite of passage, a positive change, or a new way of thinking. In plotting a book, this card would naturally fall between or at the beginning or end of an act or section because that is where major changes occur.
The World – This card represents seeing beyond oneself into the interconnectedness of all things. It represents mystical insight and faith and being in control of one’s fate. You are exactly where you are meant to be. In character development, this would be a very confident character who understand their destiny and is actively seeking it. In plotting, it could represent a happy ending or being ready to move on to something new.
The Minor Arcana
The minor arcana are like the numbered suit cards in a deck of playing cards. They are even divided into four suits, with ten regular cards and four face cards: the prince/page, knight, queen, king. While the major arcana represent the “big” things in life, the minor arcana fill in the humdrum, daily details and can be especially helpful in fleshing out the outline that major arcana cards give you.
The suits all have different symbolism:
Wands/Staves/Staffs – are associated with the element of air and the ideas of movement and growth. Wands represent ideas, creativity, hopes and dreams. My experience with readings heavy on this suit are usually positive, but variable. Like the wind they represent, they are changeable and sometimes fickle.
Cups – are associated with the element of water and your mental and spiritual state, as well as your relationships. Cups are highly emotional and can be either positive or negative, depending on the surrounding cards.
Swords – are associated with the element of fire and with conflict. Like a blade, they can be sharp and deliver messages we don’t really want to hear, especially about our health and relationships. They can be harbingers of ill tidings, but they can also make us face realities we want to deny, leading to wisdom and healing. I cringe when I see a reading heavy on swords because they are generally negative cards, unless you work really hard to find the silver lining.
Pentacles/Coins/Disks – are associated with the element of earth and the material world, primarily dealing with matters of money, career and all forms of prosperity: emotional, physical and spiritual. I have found that if your reading contains a lot of this suit, it will be generally positive.
Some people also read “reverse” cards, meaning a card laid upside down when dealt. Generally, that reverses the usual meaning of the card. Most books will provide you with both regular and reverse meanings for each card. I don’t personally read reverse cards because I think the tarot is complex enough without it.
Almost every tarot desk comes with a book, so if you don’t want to invest in additional materials when you’re first starting out, you don’t have to. Those books are enough to teach you the basics and help you to interpret the cards.
I suggest searching online or visiting your local New Age store and seeing what decks speak to you. It’s usually wise to look at a deck in person and get a literal feel for it, but when that is not possible, this a good place to start.
If you decide to purchase a deck, take some time to get to know the cards. Study each one and note what it says to you and it makes you feel. That’s the first step to learning how to read them. Then, if the deck comes with a book, read it and study each card while reading its definition. Over time, you’ll learn what to associate with each card.
One last note: If you aren’t comfortable with tarot cards, you might want to consider oracle cards. These are similar to tarot, but they don’t have the formalize structure around them that tarot does so they can be used in any way you want. I like them for single card readings. Many Christians also find these less daunting because they don’t come with the evil stigma that tarot does. Here’s an article on the differences and a Christian-based list.
In case you’re wondering what I use:
Tarot: I started with a basic set for beginners and then moved on to Legend: The Arthurian Tarot. After a while, some of the cards became so associated in my mind with certain people who were no longer in my life that I couldn’t read with that deck anymore. I bought the Llewellyn Tarot and have been using that for years now, but I just realized yesterday that I have lost a few cards so I have to order a new deck. Not sure what I want yet. I also own the Mysteries of Mary tarot.
Did you know there is a bit of a debate over who was the first Black woman to receive a U.S. patent? Judy Woodford Reed, Sarah E. Goode, and Miriam Benjamin are all credited with that feat, though there may have been others before them who did not reveal their race or gender. Learn more about each of these women below.
Judy Woodford Reed
The debate begins with Judy Woodford Reed (1826-1905). She was issued patent 305,474 for a “dough kneader and roller” on September 23, 1884. Her invention was for “improved design of rollers that helped the dough to mix more evenly while it was kept covered and protected.”
The patent is the only documentation that exists of her life. Historians have been able to piece together her birth and death dates, but little else is known about her—not even a photo remains. Judy was a former slave who likely could not read or write, as she signed the patent with an X instead of her name. Her attorney wrote her name on the patent for her, using her initials, J.W. Reed. And this is where the controversy comes in. Because Judy didn’t actually sign the patent with her name, some wonder if it was technically fully executed.
Sarah E. Goode
Those who follow the line of thought that Judy Woodford Reed’s patent wasn’t fully executed, credit Sarah E. Goode with being the first Black woman to receive a U.S. patent. She was issued a patent (322,177) for the cabinet bed on July 14, 1885, which was a pre-cursor to the better-known Murphy Bed.
Sarah was born into slavery in 1855 in Toledo, Ohio, and was described as being of mixed White and Black ancestry. She was granted her freedom at age 10 when the Civil War ended.
Sara was the daughter of a carpenter who married a “stair builder.” Later in life, she sold furniture in Chicago. Her invention came about when she heard customers from New York mention that space was at a premium in the city thanks to new laws that limited the height of buildings. That meant most tenements were only around 25×100 feet in size. Sarah’s creativity resulted in a fold out bed that when retracted, looked and functioned like a roll-top desk complete with compartments for storing pens, ink and stationery.
Though only a few sources credit Miriam Benjamin (1861-1947) with being the first, she is widely held to be the second (or perhaps third) Black woman to be granted a patent. She was born in Charleston, South Carolina, as a free Black woman. Miriam attended high school in Boston and eventually became a teacher in Washington D.C. before attending law school at Howard University and becoming a “solicitor of patents.”
Her first patent was for the gong and signal chair for hotels. As a frequent traveler, Miriam noticed that many hotels and restaurants seemed overstaffed for the number of customers needing service at any moment. This resulted in her devising a chair with a gong and signal attached meant to “reduce the expenses of hotels by decreasing the number of waiters and attendants, to add to the convenience and comfort of guests and to obviate the necessity of hand clapping or calling aloud to obtain the services of pages.” To summon a server or other attendant, a patron would press a button on the back of the chair, which would send a signal to the server as well as illuminate a light so the server could see which guest needed help.
Later on, Miriam’s system was adopted by the United States House of Representatives to summon pages and was the precursor to flight attendant call buttons in airplanes.
Miriam went on to patent other inventions and is believed to be one in the same with composer E.B. Miriam who wrote marches, including “The Boston Elite Two Step” and “The American Bugle Call,” which was adopted as the campaign song for Theodore Roosevelt’s 1904 presidential campaign.