Today, I am thrilled and honored to welcome one of my favorite people in the world, Rochelle Staab. Rochelle and first I met online during a UCLA Extension writing course in 2008. We both wrote mystery, we both had characters named Sophie, we both had tarot in our books. What else could we do but become critique partners?
The first book in Rochelle’s fun and fabulous Berkley Prime Crime Mind for Murder Series, WHO DO, VOODOO? landed on shelves just last Tuesday. Not only is it a terrific book, but it’s easy to spot with that perfect cover.
WHO DO, VOODOO? features no-nonsense Liz Cooper, a Los Angeles psychologist forced to embrace the occult to clear her best friend of murder…
When Liz’s friend Robin finds a tarot card tacked to her front door, Liz writes it off as a prank, but Robin refuses to ignore the omen. Her late husband drew the same card in a reading the night before he was killed. As more cards and darker threats appear, Liz realizes someone dangerous is upping the ante. Liz turns to old acquaintance and occult expert Nick Garfield. As Nick leads her into the voodoo community to locate the origin of the tarot deck, their mutual attraction is undeniable. Things go from bad to worse when a woman is found dead and Robin becomes the prime suspect in her murder. Determined to clear her friend, Liz unites with Nick to unravel otherworldly secrets and seek help from beyond—or risk being outwitted by a cunning killer…
Thanks so much for being here today, Rochelle! It’s been such a joy to watch WHO DO, VOODOO? go from draft, to polished copy, to print. In fact, I’m so excited, I’m not quite sure how you can even breathe. Hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to dive right in with some questions.
You were a marketing and advertising executive with a major record label, and while WHO DO, VOODOO? is set in the entertainment industry, your protagonists are a psychologist and a religious philosophy professor with an interest in the occult. What intrigued you so much about these professions and characters that you felt compelled to step out of your comfort zone, give up your life—um, I mean devote your time—and write about them?
Making Nick a professor was an easy decision—I wanted an open-minded character with an intellectual viewpoint of the occult, not quite a believer, not quite a skeptic. I gave him a religious philosophy PhD so he could be paid to travel the world investigating alternative belief systems. Liz’s PhD in psychology made her a great foil for Nick. Her experience with human reactions and thought processes makes her bypass the woo-woo to look right into the you. I wanted her to be doubtful when Nick was didactic. Liz is based on a very wise psychologist I know who scoffs at the supernatural. As far as my background, you might be surprised how many of my supernatural escapades were music industry-related. Alternative thinkers filled my comfort zone. I learned about Mercury Retrograde the year Yoko Ono requested a retrograde single release date. The séance in Who Do, Voodoo? is partially based on a séance I attended that was conducted by an aspiring actress claiming contact with the dead. Everyone there was in the entertainment industry. And a Latin-American woman in the industry inspired my Sophie character. Scary chick, she could even sneer with a voodoo vibe. Good times. But you should talk, Miss Blood-Cult expert. How did an academic like you develop an interest and expertise in bizarre cults?
Blood rituals are common throughout history and across many cultures and religions. Think Catholic transubstantiation for example. When I ran across details of a bizarre sacrificial murder committed by a couple of self-proclaimed German vampires who also happened to be neo-Nazis, I suddenly found myself researching contemporary blood cults. Honestly, though, I shouldn’t be talking about cults. Nick is far more knowledgeable on the subject than I.
All the books in the Mind for Murder series will have a twist of the supernatural. WHO DO, VOODOO? tackles tarot, hoodoo, and curses. I know you researched voodoo, took tarot classes, and visited occult shops. We both know there are police procedural nitpickers standing by waiting to hang a mystery writer for an incorrect detail, but what about the supernatural? Voodoo is a real religion and not all tarot readers are flakes. Are you afraid of backlash if you get it wrong?
I don’t know that there is a wrong. Voudo is a real religion, a syncretic combination of West African beliefs and Catholicism. However, because the original form of Voudo was practiced in secret in the mountains of Haiti under fear of discovery, no written canon exists. The traditions, rituals, and customs passed orally through generations. WHO DO, VOODOO? is a fictional story with fictional opinions by fictional characters. I attempted to address voodoo and the characters who believed with the deep respect I developed in my research. For accuracy in the tarot portions of the novel, I took four months of tarot classes to be sure I understood the symbolism. The Fool’s journey through the deck is delightful, enlightening, amazing—and subjective. While basic themes hold, I think my character Liz has the best interpretation: Tarot is similar to a Rorschach test. The answers depend on who is reading the cards. Viva, would you agree?
Yes, when reading the cards for oneself, the tarot is like a Rorschach test, although it becomes more complicated when reading for someone else. One of my characters, a tarot reader, argues the the cards are a tool to escape the prison of a mindset, in other words, to think outside of the box. Like the majority of real-life tarot readers, she perceives the cards as a look inward rather than a look ahead.
Most, if not all, of us here are book lovers. If we were to walk into Liz’s and Nick’s respective houses, what would we discover on their bookshelves? Would we find WHO DO, VOODOO? there?
Aw, Viva, you nudged me into a wisecrack. Of course WHO DO, VOODOO? is on Liz’s and Nick’s bookshelves. If someone wrote a novel featuring you, wouldn’t you keep a copy on your shelf?
Academic Nick’s bookcase is loaded with philosophy tomes, obscure texts on ancient belief systems, archaeology, geography and the canons of the three major religions. And baseball. Nick reads classic detective fiction: Chandler, Hammett, Cain, and Stout. But you’ll also see a collection of classic movie DVDs.
Liz only has a small bookcase with a few psychology and reference books in the den of her post-divorce townhouse. Liz left her book collection—unused cookbooks, college texts, two Nora Roberts novels from her mother (hint, hint), one erotica novel from Robin (ahem), thrillers including IN COLD BLOOD and the Sanders’ DEADLY SIN series from her father, plus her yearbooks and albums—in boxes in ex-husband Jarret’s garage. She does love crawling into bed with a smart mystery and just finished reading Laura Lippman’s I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE. Next read: WHO DO, VOODOO?
You put me on the spot. (Great exercise, by the way.) Now it’s your turn to divulge the literary taste of your characters. What are Mike, Del, and Sophie, the stars of BLOOD AND THORNS reading these days?
Ha! Much like Liz, apart from his law library which moved with him, the rest of Mike’s books are still boxed and sitting in his ex-wife’s garage. Del’s bookshelves? That’s easy, I can quote from the manuscript. “Military history and art at one end; stacks of Pelecanos, Mosley and Lehane paperbacks at the other; in the middle, Hemingway, Faulkner and Dickens.” Sophie is a graduate student in sociology working on her dissertation. No question she has the “holy trinity” on her shelves: Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim, and Max Weber (can I get an amen?). Sophie does not read for pleasure, although I think she’d be a much happier person if she did.
Finally, what question haven’t I asked that I should have?
Ask VRB—my critique partner. She can spot a gaping hole better than I can.
Absolutely true! And what Rochelle didn’t discuss was the second novel in her Mind for Murder Series, BRUJA BROUHAHA, a story set around a Santeria botanica in the multi-cultural neighborhood near MacArthur Park. BRUJA BROUHAHA will be released in summer 2012. See how important CPs are? Count yourself lucky if you’re able to find one half as amazing as Rochelle.
Before Rochelle leaves, she’s agreed to fill out a little questionnaire so we can get to know her better.
Okay Rochelle? Ready, Set, Go!
Chocolate or Coffee? Coffee
Beach, mountains, or city? City
When you’re writing: music, silence, or other? Silence
Plotter or Pantser? Detouring Plotter
Salty or sweet? Salty
Summer or winter? Winter
Burger or sushi? Burger
Comedy or drama? Comedy
Favorite smell? Baking
Favorite color? Red
Favorite magazine? Entertainment Weekly
Favorite TV show? The Daily Show (and Gossip Girl)
Favorite Film? Bull Durham
And a nod to Bernard Pivot:
What is your favorite word? Yes
What is your least favorite word? (a phrase) We’ll see.
What sound or noise do you love? Music
What sound or noise do you hate? My phone ringing in the dead of night
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Sports analyst
What profession would you not like to do?
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? It’s about time, Rochelle. What would you like to know? Ask me anything.
Viva, thank you so much for this truly fun experience. But then, chatting with you is always fun and enlightening. You’re the best.