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An Interview with Chandra Rooney

Sunday, Jan 11, 2009 at 10:54am

I had the pleasure of speaking with Chandra Rooney, author of The Tarot Cafe: The Wild Hunt at the 2008 World Fantasy Convention hosted in Calgary. Chandra agreed to answer a few questions about her novel.

CG: For readers unfamiliar with Sang-Sung Park's creation, could you explain the premise of the Tarot Cafe?

CR: The Tarot Café is about Pamela, an immortal tarot card reader who's the real deal, her readings are true. Pamela has sworn to help all those who come to her, so during the day she gives readings to the human population of London. After the shop closes, she aids "Midnight Visitors" -- all sorts of supernatural beings who are in need of her services.

As the comic progresses over its seven volumes, we learn of Pamela's past; including the tangled events that led to her becoming immortal. It's a bit of a paranormal soap opera, but I was drawn to how Sang Sun Park plays with narrative structures, common western mythologies, and fairy tales. Plus, the art is simply stunning.

CG: Are you a believer in Tarot or other paranormal phenomena?

CR: I believe in the Tarot as a problem solving method. By using the spread to walk yourself through a situation and its various factors, you may gain understanding that had been eluding you. I don't, however, believe the Tarot can tell us anything we don't already know.

I've always been fascinated by the paranormal. During the past few years, my interest has become more focused on what I feel the cultural symbolism of the monster can tell us about a society. How stories evolve and differ from factual events is a theme I seen reoccurring in my own writing.

CG: How did you come to write for TOKYOPOP?

CR: In late August or early September 2007 I received an email from senior prose editor Jenna Winterberg stating that TOKYOPOP was looking to hire writers for prose projects. She had found my blog, looked at the short samples on it, and seen that I was interested in the Tarot.

While I hadn't heard of Sang Sun Park'sThe Tarot Café comic, TOKYOPOP was the company that made it possible for me to read CLAMP's Card Captor Sakura and Clover in English at affordable prices. They also released DNAngel, Immortal Rain and the adorable Kingdom Heartsgame adaptations. Now someone was asking if I wanted to write for them.

It was all a bit unbelievable at first; you hear about people being "discovered" via their blogs, but I only knew one person it had happened to and she had previous publishing experience.

After providing a slightly longer writing sample to Jenna and doing a sample chapter and outline adapting The Fairy vignette from volume 2, we met for lunch and she made an offer. Once my agent had finished negotiating the work-for-hire contract, I was officially writing for TOKYOPOP.

CG: Did you find it difficult working with another writer's creation?

CR: Any project has its challenges. Part of why I agreed to participate in this one was that I knew it would put me outside of my comfort zone. There are tonal differences between my personal preferences and the established voice of the series as well as genre conventions; not only is The Tarot Café a great deal darker than the majority of what I write, it's also more of a paranormal romance. By facing those challenges, I hoped to grow as a writer.

That being said, there are certain advantages to this kind of work. I was given a setting. I was given a cast with established dynamics, behaviors and histories. I was given an editor who knew the series and did everything she could to honor it, while ensuring we created a worthwhile addition to Park's universe.

CG: What was the approval process like? How heavily involved was TOKYOPOP in deciding plot points or which characters appeared?

CR: Jenna and I met to hash out plotting, which I was grateful for. We both felt that the comic series handled the arc of Pamela and Ash's story, and that it would be best to write the novel like the vignettes of the earlier comic volumes. That way we had a viewpoint character to introduce new readers to Pamela and her world, without rehashing too much familiar material for the fans. I wanted Aaron to be present, because he's one of my favorite characters.

At the time of plotting volume seven hadn't been released, so neither of us felt overly confident about how to handle Belus. For that reason, he's a peripheral character in this novel. There, important, but not getting a great deal of screen time.

As for concept, I had always wanted to write something involving The Wild Hunt lore, but I didn't think I had a full novel in me. The light novel format provided the perfect length to use the lore without worrying about over-extending the plot.

Both TOKYOPOP and Sang Sun Park had approval on the outline. We also made a point of asking Park what specific things she wanted to see in the story and what she wanted us to avoid. For the novel itself, I deferred to Jenna on anything regarding existing content. She gave me as much creative freedom as she could, and was always willing to explain the reasoning behind restrictions.

CG: Have you heard any feedback on your work from Sang Sung Park? CR: She had said she was excited about the project. From what I was told, her comments regarding the sample chapter were to the effect that she trusted Jenna and I would do a good job.

CG: Having adapted someone else's work from comic to prose, would you like to see one of your creations given life as a comic or in some other medium? Who would be your dream creative team?

CR: It my not-so-secret wish to do a light novel or comic for the young adult series that I've been writing since finishing The Tarot Café Novel. Andrew Tunney did a commission of one of the main characters from my series here, and we've already spoken causally about hypothetical situations. Aside from the fact that he draws the sexiest guys ever, Andy gets the characters and has a style that expresses the dynamism and fun of series without being too generically cartoony.

However, I think the series would also translate to screen; and if Steven Moffat could be involved in the writing, I'd be asking where to sign my name.

CG: Can you tell us a little about your next project? Do you have any plans to continue writing for The Tarot Cafe?

CR: I have expressed eagerness and availability to TOKYOPOP on a few occasions for doing a second book in The Tarot Café novel series, but cannot confirm my involvement at this time.

Meanwhile, I have two personal projects on the go. One is an adult mythic realism series adapting Japanese fox and western fae lore in a contemporary setting. Closer in scope to Charles De Lint 's Newford tales than Neil Gaiman 's American Gods. The first book, The Tale of Ariake, is out on submission.

The other project is the aforementioned and yet-to-be-titled young adult series. Most of the time I refer to it as "The Valentine Thing." It evolved from a reaction to the careful attention to realistic contemporary settings for both The Tale of Ariake and The Tarot Café Novel. So The Valentine Thing is far-future speculative mashing up magic and science. A total creative free-for-fall, if you will.

The influences for it are largely the manic tone and adventurous plots of the new Doctor Who series with various reoccurring fantasy and technological elements of anime and manga. Which is a mildly pretentious way of saying no one time travels but there is a great deal of running and CLAMP-like magic circles. Plus a handsome young god with a baseball bat fighting gas-mask wearing monsters that come out of mirrors and kidnap the main protagonist's best friend.

CG: Thank you Chandra.

Categories: Interview, SciFi & Fantasy, Graphic Novels

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