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Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed writer Marieke Lexmond about her work, what inspires her writing, and her latest book, The Magical Tarot Deck.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I wish I knew! I am a bit of a goofy lady with three little dogs that I take everywhere and have their own Instagram account. They’re more popular than their mommy! I live part of the year in New Orleans and the other part on the West coast of rural Ireland. Two opposites, which suits me. New Orleans is full of life, with excellent food, music, and strange characters. Ireland feeds my soul with rugged landscapes and dramatic light.
I live close to the ocean there, so visiting the beach almost daily is an enormous treat. Besides writing, I like to take photographs, cook, and make spells. I’m a big believer that creativity feeds other creativity.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
Never in a million years had I thought to become an author. I’m not known for my patience, and it seemed you needed a lot of it to write a book. Writing a long-form sounded daunting. I went to film school in the Netherlands and have a degree in camera and lighting, so I’ve always been telling stories, only not in this form. The idea for this story started in 2006, and that’s when I first tried my hand at screenwriting, the stricter structure seemed to suit me. I started writing the novels for the Madigan Chronicles in 2018. I was in Ireland at that time and not working on another project, and I started ‘The Dagger’ book 1. It turns out; I absolutely LOVE it. To be able to jump between characters, be in their heads. It’s an adventure.
When did you take a step to start writing?
In 2006 we moved from the Netherlands to the US. I wasn’t allowed to work at that time and went from working full time to absolutely nothing. Quite a shock to the system. It forced me to reinvent my life. I came across a screenwriting program and just started writing. There were a lot of ideas swirling around my head that found an outlet. I did many writing courses, and it took me several years to find my process and my voice.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
The Madigan Chronicles has been with me for a long time before it founds its current form. In 2006 I combined my love for tarot, witchcraft, and fantasy into an idea about a family that represents the major arcana in the tarot. Initially, I tried to write a screenplay for a movie. But with the number of characters and the story’s complexity, I could never make that work within a 2-hour film. At a certain point, tv-series became more popular; at that time, the idea came to me for a forty-episode series. After reading the pilot, many people encouraged me to write a book about it. And as I mentioned earlier in 2018, I actually started! And finally, in 2020, it got published. It took me about two years from when I started writing the book.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
My second book ‘The Magical Tarot Deck’ took me about a year to complete. I do start on the next book while I still do re-writes on the previous one. Sometimes you must put it aside for a bit to look at it with fresh eyes. Currently, I’m on my second chapter of book 4, ‘The Cup,’ while I’m doing the finishing touches on book 3, ‘The Wand.’ The Madigan Chronicles is forty chapters long. Which will be six books in total.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write this The Magical Tarot Deck?
I’m fascinated with family dynamics. I was a quiet child that loved reading and watching old romantic black and white movies on the television. I come from a family with five children. As the youngest and only girl, I followed my brothers’ comings and goings. Intrigued by their different way of interacting with our parents. Fast forward to our move to the US. I picked up my love for tarot cards. Joining a tarot group and started practicing reading them, my knowledge and amount of tarot decks grew fast! It’s recommended to write about something you love. Like this series, it will dominate my life for such a long time. You better love it! To combine my passion for fantasy books with tarot and family seemed like a perfect combination.
What were your biggest challenges with writing The Magical Tarot Deck?
The scope of it. I often question my sanity, starting to write a six-book series. It feels impossible. But as with most things, you just start and keep on going. Now I’ve finished the third book, it gives me a boost!
Consistency; With so many characters and magical attributes, you must make sure you stay consistent. So endless re-reads and help from others who don’t hesitate to point out things are not right to you. I’m lucky with some wonderful people who help me along the way. Writing is a lonely business but getting your book out there is a whole different story. I couldn’t do it without help from others.
Motivation is one. However, getting enthusiastic comments on the books helps enormously with pushing me forward. So exciting to share your story with your readers and to hear they enjoy it as much as you do yourself!
What was your research process for The Magical Tarot Deck?
Life experience! As I mentioned, I’ve been looking at my own and other’s family dynamics all my life. Every family is unique, an endless inspiration. I’m a pagan myself, so I can intergrade my own practices with a healthy dose of fantasy. One of the perks of being a fantasy writer is the freedom to invent a world and run with it. What a joy!
Each of my books starts with a tarot card from the minor arcana. These cards are specially designed by my friend and artist Nicole Ruijgrok. It’s a gift to be able to work with another creative. We have long discussions about the cards and what we both think should be on them. As she’s so familiar with the story, she’s also my brainstorm partner for the storylines in the book.
Studying the tarot is a lifelong journey. I’m also reading a lot relating to witchcraft and nature. Currently, I’m reading ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ by Peter Wholleben about the communication between trees through a network of fungi. Something that I might integrate into book 6. Another one is ‘Sigil Witchery’ by Laura Tempest Zakroff, useful for my spells and something all witches use, so it will probably show up somewhere in the books. Research is an ongoing thing.
How did you plan the structure of The Magical Tarot Deck?
I took the structure of the tarot to structure my story. The Madigan Family is twenty-two members, representing the major arcana in the tarot. They all have the characteristics of the cards reflected as their character traits. For example, one of my main characters, Bridget, has a strong, honest character that goes with her gut instinct. She represents the Strength card; confidence, self-control, wildness, and primal instinct. It has the opposite side naturally as well; self-doubt, too controlling. Of course, I do take liberties!
The chapters represent the minor arcana, the four suits from 1 to 10. At first, I thought to follow each suit from 1 to 10, starting with the swords representing Air and the things of the mind. But I found that way too restrictive. I’ve mixed them up, so they’re not in order anymore. Each chapter embodies the meaning of the card. Currently, the chapter I’m working on is about Joy. Lots of happy things happen, and in the balance of things, not so happy things… I’ve learned from this to never be afraid to change something that doesn’t work. Don’t hold on to an idea that doesn’t work.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Magical Tarot Deck need?
Absolutely! Gosh, I couldn’t do without that. English is not my native language, so I need support. I have a friend that goes first over language and smooths things out. Another friend gives me story notes. Several test readers give me notes. I do multiple re-writes! Finally, I have someone at BookBaby, my self-publishing company, who does the final line editing. Make sure to check all the tiny little details. Editing is a vital part of the writing process. Learning to get critique and channel that into improving your work is an important lesson to learn along the way. Find people that are honest but inspiring in giving you notes. It took me several years to find the right balance and people for things.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?
Start writing and get your story out. It doesn’t matter if it’s right. Keep going. Don’t get lost in endless re-writes before your story is finished. You might end up throwing significant parts away, but by getting the complete story on-page, you can make better decisions on what works and what doesn’t.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I have three more books to write in this series. Currently working on Book 4, which is called ‘The Cup.’ We will publish a complete tarot deck ‘Tara’s Tarot’ of the cards featured in the books after book 6, the final book in the series, is published. I do already have another series in mind which will also be a fantasy series playing mainly in the Fairy world featured in the Madigan series. So, I better go back to work, haha.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
It’s a thrill to see your work out in print and hear back from your readers. It’s quite the journey, but definitely worth it!!
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