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Episode 24: Worldbuilding and Tarot Cards with Saint Gibson

Author and tarot theologian Saint Gibson joins me to share her creative process. We talk about the importance of setting up an atmosphere for your world and the many ways that tarot can help guide you in your creative journey.

HOSTED by Moiya McTier (@GoAstroMo), astrophysicist and folklorist


Saint Gibson is an author and self-described tarot theologian. Her latest book, A Dowry of Blood is out now! You can follow Saint on twitter at @s_t_gibson and learn about her work on her website, Check out her tarot reading business at!


- Shaker & Spoon: get $20 off your first cocktail subscription subscription box at


Moiya 0:08

Hello, and welcome to Exolore, the show that helps you imagine other worlds but with facts and science. I'm your host Moiya McTier. I'm an astrophysicist who studies planets outside of our solar system. Those are called exoplanets. And I'm also a folklorist who specializes in creating and analyzing imaginary worlds. And this podcast is my way of sharing those worlds and that knowledge with you. It's time for another worldbuilding interview episode where I invite another worldbuilder to share their process with me. I also use these episodes to expand your idea of what worldbuilding can be. Because even though we're talking about fantasy stories in this episode, we just happen to be [but] worldbuilding can [also] be used for a lot of other things that are outside of story creation and speculative fiction. I want to tell you a little bit of a story before we get into the episode today, it is relevant to the topic, I promise, but I just tried to share more of myself with you all. So I have this really vivid memory of the moment I stopped believing in God. For some context, my birth father's family is pretty religious. I was baptized African American Episcopalian. I don't know what that means, but it happened. I even went to church. I grew up going to church with my Nana, although she did have to bribe me with peanut butter crackers to go with her. But I remember the moment I stopped believing in God, I was about four or five years old, my parents had just gotten divorced. And I was staying at my grandma Jojo's apartment. My grandma Jojo is my mom's mom. And we were spending the night there for some reason. I don't remember why. But there was this big thunderstorm. And these days as an adult, I frickin love thunderstorms. They're the best, but I was scared of them as a kid because, you know, kids are scared of things. And there was this particularly loud crack of thunder. And afterwards, I looked up at my mom, and I just started crying. And I said, "I never want to believe in God again", you know, if this is what he does, if he makes scary thunderstorms, and if he breaks my parents apart, then I don't want to have anything to do with him. And I did, I just cut off all ties with Christianity. And afterwards, I tried to explore a few other religions, not very well. But I dabbled in Wicca. I tried to convince myself that I like really, really believed in the Greek gods for a while. But I, to this day have not really done the work of examining my connection to religion and spirituality. But my guest has. My guest has studied theology in school and has done the work of figuring out how they relate to religion and also the really cool work of how that can intersect with creativity and storytelling and worldbuilding. So I'm really excited to introduce my guest today. My guest today is a poet, author and a tarot theologian. I'm very excited to figure out what that means. She's published three books Robber Girl, which I just finished reading. It's very readable. I did it all in a day. Odd Spirits, and the third just came out last month, The Dowry of Blood. Saint Gibson, it's really great to have you on the show. Thanks for being here.

Saint Gibson 3:06

Thank you so much. I'm so excited to be here. It's gonna be fun.

Moiya 3:09

The first thing I always ask my guests is what fictional worlds are you inhabiting right now, cause the real world is kind of rough.

Saint Gibson 3:17

Yeah, absolutely. I just finished, like the zero very messy draft of another book that's kind of a fantastical Los Angeles. So I was kind of living in that place for a while, which is really fun. I'm from Southern California, but I've moved all over the place. So getting to go back to places that in my mind and my memory have become kind of fantastical and then add[ing] magic is always really lovely. And then I'm rereading a favorite comfort read of mine, The Secret History, which is kind of tragic, but it is a comfort read of mine, which is not fantasy, but the world feels so fantastical and so kind of beautiful and terrible. That one is set in New England. So that's been a lot of fun. That's where I've been living recently.

Moiya 4:03

Physically and mentally.

Saint Gibson 4:04

Yeah. It's true. Yeah. I'm in New England physically. And I'm in mythical New England mentally.

Moiya 4:11

What is it about the mythical New England that sets it apart from what you see every day out in the world?

Saint Gibson 4:16

Well, Secret History is like one of the tentpole books of the dark academia genre, which I really love, [and] it's set in this very kind of strange, elite, isolated college in Vermont. And it's just populated by kind of larger than life figures. Secret History is about actually a student from California, who moves out and becomes obsessed with these five really mysterious Greek students and their professor and they make the whole world seem really beautiful, but there's also this sinister undercurrent to it as well. So like all of the personal interactions are really charged and the prose is really lush. And a lot of it is dedicated to just talking about the scenery and the experience of being young and being at school in Vermont. So it was not an experience that I had. So it's fun to kind of get lost in it.

Moiya 5:04

Got it. So you didn't go to school in Vermont, you went to school in North Carolina? Is that right?

Saint Gibson 5:11

I went to the University of North Carolina at Asheville, where I studied Creative Writing and Mass Communications. And then I got my master's degree at Princeton Seminary in New Jersey in theological studies. So like I said, [I've been] moving around a lot. I just kind of been moving northward across the country. And now I live in Boston, where I'm very happy to stay.

Moiya 5:29

I spent some time in Boston. [It] definitely has some of those dark undercurrents that you said The Secret Garden has. I don't know, every time I walked around Boston in the fall, I felt like, "oh, this is really beautiful". But also I can tell some dark shit went down here.

Saint Gibson 5:42

Yeah. 100%. That's the feeling.

Moiya 5:44

Cool. Can you tell me a little bit more about how you got into writing? You did a creative writing program. And then you went to a theological seminary, which is like a very interesting path to me. Can you tell me more about it and what it was like for you?

Saint Gibson 6:00

Totally. Oh, it's like a very meandering kind of story. I've been writing since I was quite young. I'm one of those authors who kind of been telling stories forever. I remember being nine and trying to write comic books about superheroes in my bedroom. And that's just kind of where it all started. And so I was really excited when I started my undergraduate program to finally be able to take classes in writing. I'm a firm believer that you don't need to have any sort of formal education in order to be a writer, I think that being a student of the human experience, and reading and writing a lot is how you become a great writer. But for me, I really thrived in a classroom setting, especially when I was younger. So that was a really good experience. I did poetry and I did fiction, and [I was] just kind of figuring out what I was really interested in. And at the same time, I was taking a lot of religious studies classes. And a lot of the themes that I was interested in, in my work had to do with human relationships, and spirituality and religion, kind of the good, the bad, the ugly, and I knew I wanted to get my master's degree. And at the time, I thought I was going to become a priest in the Episcopal Church, and I was like, "this is perfect. I can keep studying this and keep writing about this", and important thing as well, is [that] when I was younger, in my late teens and my early 20s, I ran a fairly popular blog called "Millennial Gospel", which was kind of a collaborative art space for young people to talk about faith and to kind of remix Bible stories with art and poetry and song and all that kind of stuff.

Moiya 7:30

That's amazing.

Saint Gibson 7:31

Yeah, it was really fun [and] at the time, I was really invested in that. And I was like, "I really need more theological training to do this". And my academic interests were in religion, I wrote a lot of papers in undergrad on Satan in literature. And so it seemed like a natural kind of progression. And I ended up going to Princeton.

Moiya 7:49

There's just so much to unpack in that. Let's focus on the writing. What was the first time you wrote something with the intention of publishing it?

Saint Gibson 8:01

That's a good question. The answer is kind of embarrassing. I was in my teens. And my own faith journey has kind of been like up and down and all over the place, which I'm very grateful for. I feel very blessed that I've had a lot of different experiences. And I've moved through a lot of different kind of sacred spaces with people who have really looked out for me. But at the time, when I was a teenager in high school, I was kind of in the evangelical church. And I was really interested in asking those questions, even though I was kind of angry about a lot of things as well. And so I wrote what was essentially a full length like 120,000 word book, that was like urban fantasy, sexy angel fanfiction about like the End Times. I was just going through it, but it was really fun. And I was like, dead set on publishing it. And thank God, it never saw the light of day, it is buried deep in my repertoire. But these themes for me of spirituality and writing and the fantastical and the mundane have always kind of been wound together. So that was my first project. And then when I got to college, I started experimenting with different genres and short story and kind of spreading my wings a little bit more.

Moiya 9:14

Got it. Do you think it's important for young writers to experiment with different genres and different styles so that they can get a sense for what works for them?

Saint Gibson 9:23

Yeah, definitely. I think what's most important, especially when you're a young writer, or an early career writer, or just someone who is come to the craft from a place of love, is to really and truly follow what brings you joy and what motivates you like to tell the stories that you feel like you have to tell them that excite you and that bring you joy? And that can look like a lot of different things. But I think that's so essential. And I think it's really important to encourage young people to follow the kind of stories that bring them joy -- to read the kinds of things that bring them joy and to create from a place of like sharing what to them feels really important.

Moiya 10:00

Yeah, absolutely. I think that I at least grew up thinking that literature had to look a certain way, and also had to be written by a white dude more than 50 years ago. I think a lot of people are talking about this now, but I wish more people in academic settings talked about [how] you should read and write and consume what you enjoy; [and] that's how you're going to relate best to it. I want to ask about the the tarot theologian, title that you use.

Saint Gibson 10:27


Moiya 10:28

What... Well, I guess first, when did you start practicing Tarot?

Saint Gibson 10:32

I've been reading Tarot for almost eight years now. So it's been a minute. I started when I first got into college. And initially, I was just reading for myself and for friends. And then I've been doing it professionally for the last three or four years. And every reader has a different style, which is one of the reasons that I love Tarot so much, it's such a personal craft and a really personal art form. Some people are very private, some people will read for others. And there's so many different decks and associations and things like that. And for me, when I read with someone, I'm really interested in theology. The word basically means "to speak about God". And so it's one of the ways that I relate in my own spiritual practice to my sense of divinity or to God. And so for me, it's using art and symbols to speak about the divine. But when I sit down with someone, I'm really interested in using these archetypes and these symbols to help them kind of get to the root of their anxieties or problems and to remind them about what's sacred about them. Like doing that deep dive and pulling out like the sacred and the goodness within them and reminding them of that and reminding them that they're like, intrinsically a holy being that's really important to me and a cornerstone of my practice. That's part of the reason I use the title.

Moiya 11:50

That's so beautiful.

Saint Gibson 11:51

Thank you.

Moiya 11:52

And you also do creative Tarot readings? I saw that on your website. What's that process like? I guess this is getting into what I'm really curious about, which is your creative process for worldbuilding; and how you use Tarot in your story creation process?

Saint Gibson 12:11

Yes, I'll kind of answer that in a couple of parts. So one of my favorite things to do is specifically to work with creative people in tarot readings. And that's where kind of the reading for creatives come from. And in that, I always take time at the beginning to talk to all of my clients a little bit. [I] do a little bit of an intake chat, kind of take their pulse, see what their experience has been with Tarot before -- [figuring out] what were you bringing to the table that day? [Helping them] get into a good headspace together. But I take some extra time in the creative readings to talk to people about their projects. If you're a writer, where are you in publication timeline? How's the project going? Are you feeling stuck? Are you experiencing writer's block? And then I build them out a custom spread, that is all about creative self-care and untangling those plot knots. And we kind of try to get ideas for where to take a story. And it's really dependent on the client. Some people come to me when they're blocked. And so the whole reading might be like, "let's look at ways that you can kind of write yourself out from behind this wall that you've gotten into"; and [with] other people, maybe the book itself or the piece of art is in a good place, but they're feeling really anxious about reception, or about, "where do I go next, who do I want to be as a creative person"? And so we focus a little bit more on the personal aspects of it. But it's also something that I use a lot in writing and in worldbuilding, which is part of the reason we're here -- which is so exciting to talk about. So we can get into that a little bit if you want.

Moiya 13:37

I would love that.

Saint Gibson 13:38

I guess the best kind of introduction to this is talking a little bit about the Tarot. The Tarot is 78 cards. They're based on kind of archetypal human experiences and archetypes from stories that are supposed to be fairly universal. And there's as many decks as you can possibly imagine. And I love that there's a deck for everyone. So one thing that I really love to do is work with the Major Arcana and the Major Arcana are the cards you've probably seen in movies like death, and the lovers and the sun. And there are these big archetypal energies that stick around in our life for a while and that we embody at different points in our life. And I kind of ascribed to the theory that the Major Arcana is like a wheel that you go through, and you learn lessons and you kind of revisit these cards at different points in your life. So that's really fun for doing character building is to think about what kind of Major Arcana is your character in at the start of their story versus the end. If you have a character that really embodies those traits, using that card to really dig into these like big archetypal themes and how you want them to be represented in the character. And I tend to do that with my main characters, I usually know which card they are.

Moiya 14:52

So you know that at the beginning, and then you can use more cards to figure out other parts of their personality?

Saint Gibson 14:58

Yeah, absolutely. So I'll usually use the Major Arcana to figure out kind of, "what is the archetype of this person?", whether I'm turning it on its head or doing it in a subversive way or whatever. But then the Minor Arcana are in suits. So think of like a deck of playing cards has four suits. The Minor Arcana has four suits as well. Those are the rest of the cards. And you have swords, cups, wands, and pentacles. And the way I use them in like a creative reading is for me, they all represent different parts of the environment or like external forces. So I usually read swords as thoughts and their resulting actions. Cups as emotions and relationships. Wands as luck, destiny or spiritual influences, and pentacles as the environment and material resources.

Moiya 15:47

Got it? Can you tell me a little bit more about why you make those associations?

Saint Gibson 15:51

A lot of them come from kind of classic Tarot associations. You know, the Rider-Waite deck has been around for hundreds of years, but Tarot is even older than that, arguably. So some of these are traditional associations. And then some of them are just ones that are personal to me. That's one of my favorite things about Tarot is that if you took out a card from a deck, and you put it down in front of three different readers, they would all kind of be on the same page about what the card means. But then they would have very different personal associations with that card. You know, I might pull out let's say, the moon, everyone is going to know the moon is your unconscious mind, its dreams, it's past trauma. But someone might be like, "that's my dad's card", or "this is my breakup card". Or when I see this, I tell someone that they need to pay attention to their dreams and journal more like it's really personal. So for me, it's a blend of those things. But I think I hue a little bit closer when I'm doing worldbuilding stuff to the traditional associations because they map on really well to like the building blocks of a story. Your character should be taking action and having agency, they have relationships, they're being acted on by the environment, all that kind of good stuff.

Moiya 17:03

Yeah. Can we start from the beginning, like when you are getting ready to make a world to tell a story, are there some things that you always kind of piton in first? Because for me, when I'm starting a new world, I always think of things from an astronomy perspective first, like, oh, well, what if this world had two suns? Or what if this world, didn't have a moon? Or something like that. That's where I come from, because of my experiences, but where do you start?

Saint Gibson 17:31

So I'm a speculative fiction writer, and a lot of what I write is like fantasy, or horror, or Gothic, which are all genres that touch -- their cousins genres. And there's usually some form of magic or something that feels like magic. So a lot of the times if I'm thinking about worldbuilding, I'll start with, what is the fantastical element in the story? Like what is the magic? What is the thing that is larger than life? And how is that going to affect the world and the relationships, and things like that? And sometimes it's really obvious. A Dowry of Blood just came out last month, yay. Which is a Dracula's Brides retelling. And so you're dealing with vampirism there. There's a whole body of work around vampirism. But I had to think about what does vampirism signify? What does it symbolize? How does it work, technically? How does it impact the characters? How does it limit them? How does it power them up? Whereas in other stories that might just be a really mundane world, one magical element. I love doing that. But that magical element is going to change a lot about how you interact with the world and kind of determine what direction the story goes in.

Moiya 18:40

Yeah. Odd Spirits has an interesting magic stuff in place where there are chaos witches, but also people who use like ceremony to do magic. I have nothing else to say other than that, that seems interesting.

Saint Gibson 18:55


Moiya 18:55

Is that something that you also use Tarot to do? To figure out how people will respond to the magic and what it means to them? Or is that something that you plan out before you get into the Tarot?

Saint Gibson 19:07

I'm always using the Tarot at the beginning when I'm doing character development work. And then a lot of times I'll use the minor arcana later on when I'm trying to figure out plot twists and obstacles, because those are really difficult for me. I tend to just be like, I have these cool characters, and they wear cool clothes and they do cool things and they have an adventure or they fall in love. But it's like, you need conflict, you need drama. So I use the minor arcana for that. But Odd Spirits was easy because all of the magic in Odd Spirits is based on real world practitioners and real world belief systems, which was really fun. So I just got to pull in all of these cool things I had learned about and have different characters who practice different systems and then see how they interacted. But all of the characters in that book had a very distinct like Major Arcana card assigned to them that helped me decide how they were going to express their character.

Moiya 20:01

That's nice. Do you use different decks of cards for your different stories?

Saint Gibson 20:06

I do. I have four now, Tarot decks. I'm not as bad of a collector as some people, but I'm going to get there, I'm going to be like a wizened old woman with her cats and her 40 Tarot decks. I have some decks that are more versatile. I use the Tarot Mucha when I read for clients, and when I do events, because it's just really warm and friendly and plays well with others, and the art is beautiful. But personally, my favorite one to use for my writing life is Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven's Prophecy deck. Maggie Stiefvater is a phenomenal author, she wrote The Raven Cycle series, which is my favorite series. And she really created this deck with an eye towards creative people and creative energy and where it is in your life. So I might use images from other decks or I might just have a picture like a high priestess that I think is really pretty from one deck. And I'll pull her out while I'm writing and kind of have her there while I'm working on a character. But if I'm doing a personal reading for myself about how a project is going or how my energy is doing as a writer, it's usually going to be the Raven Prophecy deck.

Moiya 21:22

That's really nice. This is gonna be a weird question. I know nothing about this. I'm sorry. Is there like an organization that keeps track of decks? Is there some sort of online repository of, here are the different decks that are available? Because I also know that I've met artists who make their own Tarot decks, so it just seems like there are so many to choose from. hHw do you choose?

Saint Gibson 21:49

That is a great question. There's really at this point, to my knowledge, no place that has a repository of all the decks. There's some websites that have a good amount of them, but not all of them, you're going to miss especially the indie artists, and like the more niche decks, which are some of like the fan favorites. For people who are looking to find a deck, my advice is always [that] there's nothing wrong with starting with the Rider-Waite, which is the super classic one that is available in like bookstores and every little cult story you've been into; and like it's it's around, [and] it's really good. It's sturdy, it's beautiful, and most of the associations are kind of based on that. So you can't go wrong learning that. But another great way is to find an artist whose work you really resonate with. So I think the most important thing in choosing a deck is again, kind of following joy and finding a deck that has [a] spark that you are excited to look at for a long period of time. And that kind of stirs your soul in some way or is inspiring to you. So a great way to do that is if you have an artist whose work you really admire. And in that case, they're usually being sold independently through the artists website or through Etsy oftentimes. So it's fun, though, to just go and search like "tarot deck" on your favorite indie artist's website and see what you come up with. There's some really phenomenal ones out there.

Moiya 23:13

Yeah. And they differ in terms of tone, but all of the cards are the same?

Saint Gibson 23:19

Usually, yes. Usually, you're going to differ in tone color, the kind of illustrations that are used, but if you're buying a tarot deck 9 times out of 10, it's going to be those same 78 cards. It is 78, isn't it? Yes, good. I'm not good with numbers, with the major arcana and with the suit cards, and that's kind of the universal language that all Tarot readers use. A good tip to watch out for is [that] Oracle decks are not the same thing as Tarot decks, but they're sold together. Oracle decks are much more freeform, they could be any number of cards, they can be phases of the moon, birds, whatever. And those are usually beautiful pieces of art that have their own little associations and meanings that come with them, but they're not based on the Tarot. Those are great. I own an Oracle deck that I love, but if you're looking to get into Tarot, make sure that you're buying a tarot deck and an Oracle deck or you will be very confused.

Moiya 24:14

Thank you for that important distinction. Yeah. I'm definitely the type of person who would go out and buy the wrong one and then feel like I did something wrong because I can't understand what's in front of me.

Saint Gibson 24:24

Hey, you would have a beautiful deck.

Moiya 24:26

That's true. I do love art. I'd love to hear maybe some more specific experiences that you have with worldbuilding and writing your stories. I guess you can choose any of the books but is there any part of world building that you I'll start with don't like doing?

Saint Gibson 24:47

That's a good question. I'm a really atmosphere and character driven writer. Those are usually the things that come to me first. I love those things. I love playing with mood and I love playing with character and I can be guilty sometimes of having the worldbuilding be too thin, because I'm not thinking about that at the outset. I've tried in recent years to do my worldbuilding at the outset. So I have a strong foundation to play with. And it also helps that I don't do a lot of second world fantasy. So I'm usually not building whole worlds from scratch. But when you are playing with the mechanics of how the world operates, and how magic works, you really need to know what you're doing from the start. So I've been trying to do more of that upfront. I do really enjoy it however, like getting into worldbuilding, and getting your hands dirty is really gratifying.

Moiya 25:35

I agree.

Saint Gibson 25:36

Yeah, of course, this is your thing. So, A Dowry of Blood is Dracula's Brides retelling and kind of the angle is that it's an open letter written by Dracula's first bride to him after she has killed him. This is not a spoiler, it happens on the first page.

Moiya 25:56

This is also a spoiler friendly podcast.

Saint Gibson 25:58

Okay, great, phenomenal. So it's kind of a story about relationships and about unhealthy, obsessive, abusive relationships and how we can see ourselves in them or free ourselves from them. And it's a fun, sexy vampire book. But I worked a lot with the image of the king of pentacles when I was building the character of Dracula, because this is a really big archetypal character, and you could do a million different things with him. And the King of Pentacles is a card. So the pentacle suit is associated with money and material resources. So material wealth, and the King of Pentacles kind of represents all of these material resources: money, power, wealth, influence, acumen, and it's someone who has mastery over those things. But the card is sometimes depicted as being a little bit emotionally treacherous or emotionally unavailable.

Moiya 26:55

Sounds like Dracula, to me.

Saint Gibson 26:56

Sounds like Dracula. Exactly. This is the archetype, the card that I worked with when I was building Dracula. And I wanted him to feel that way. Because it's kind of a seductive card like it's usually in traditional Tarot it's this man who's like sitting in a garden on a stone throne, and there's like Ivy growing over it. And it's just very beautiful kind of Gothic. But the warning with the King of Pentacles is always like, "this is someone that you might not be able to trust with your heart." This is someone who you want to have on call to do your taxes, but maybe they're not the most emotionally available. So I worked with that image a lot when I was doing Dracula. And then I had a lot of time to work with when I was writing A Dowry of Blood because the book spans like, I think, 400 or 500 years. It kind of follows them and their journeys through Europe as time progresses around them. So I would kind of get myself in the corners where I wouldn't quite know, again, what is this next conflict going to be? What's the next twist going to be? And then I will use the minor arcana and just kind of shuffle it up and pull a couple cards and see what my options were. And when you're working with the Minor Arcana, you can get anything from someone who's stuck between two choices, or "you need to leave where you're comfortable and go someplace new", or "you need to ask for help". And they, I think, align themselves really well with conflict and turning points and character arcs. So I kind of use those to think of curveballs to throw at the vampires for their very long lives.

Moiya 28:24

That's really cool. When you're doing this, do you feel like you're doing a reading but for the characters?

Saint Gibson 28:30

That's a really good way of putting it. Yeah, I feel like it. I've actually never done a reading for characters in that way. But that would be a really fun exercise, you'd like to journal and see where that went. It usually ends up being that way because when I'm with a client, you know, we start with the card, we start with the the base association with that card and my own personal associations, and then we kind of build on it together, and we talk and we find where it is in their life. And so it's kind of this collaborative exploratory process. Like I can do a cold reading with someone where I just sit there and I read seven cards, and I'm usually I'm usually on the mark -- knock on wood. But I find it much more gratifying when you kind of are doing that inner work with somebody else. So when I'm working with cards with characters, it starts the same way where I'm just like, "okay, this card means XYZ", or "this is this kind of character", but then I actually contextualize it into the world. And I think, how would this person react to this force? Or how would this person react to this kind of new character in their life or this kind of energy? And it almost becomes a conversation with the characters and kind of takes on a life of its own. So that's really fun.

Moiya 29:40

That's really cool. I took a transmedia storytelling class in college. It was one of the only creative classes that I took. And the professor started off in the first meeting of the class saying, "You have to know your characters and you have to be able to like hear them in your head and picture them in their life and in their worlds". And it sounds like you have a really cool way of doing that, of relating to your characters in a way that I've just never thought of before.

Saint Gibson 30:11

Thank you. It's been a journey. I didn't think to use Tarot in my creative life for years. I was just doing readings for myself and other people for your usual you know, "am I on the right path?" "Does he like me back?" All that kind of fun stuff. But it's been really exciting to kind of see the creative world open up when you have this tool at your disposal. It's a fun tool in the toolkit.

Moiya 30:35

Yeah, for sure. Have all of your books used Tarot in the creative process in one way or another?

Saint Gibson 30:41

Pretty much. Robber Girl, not so much. I used my little trick of, "I need things to happen. I need conflict" with Robber Girl, but Odd Spirits was super based on the Tarot. There's even references in Odd Spirits to images on the associated tarot cards because I'm a huge nerd.

Moiya 31:00

I love that.

Saint Gibson 31:01

Thank you. The female protagonist in Odd Spirits, Moira -- her name's very close to yours -- is the High Priestess card. And there's one moment where she's standing in front of a door that's carved with pomegranates, which is an image on the High Priestess card who guards like the door to the mysteries and I was like, "I'm so clever." That was a very self indulgent book full of all my magic things and my spirituality things so I was able to slip them in there.

Moiya 31:28

That's really cool. Now I want to read it. Oh, first I want to learn more about Tarot, and then I want to read Odd Spirits" And then I want to find all the little easter eggs in there.

Saint Gibson 31:36

Yeah. There's a lot of Easter eggs in that tiny book. But I love those characters. And I love that world. And I use Tarot very heavily in that one. Like you said, [with] Robber Girl, I wasn't stuck in the same way. And the characters already felt so fully fleshed to me. But I think perhaps that's because Rober Girl is also a retelling. Odd Spirits is not. Robber Girl is a Snow Queen retelling. And I had been with those characters since I was a little girl. The Snow Queen was my favorite bedtime story. When I was little I had books on tape back in the day.

Moiya 32:06

So cute.

Saint Gibson 32:07

Yeah. And I would listen to it like going to sleep every night. So I felt like those characters have been living with me for a long time. I didn't need that help of like, "who are their archetypes? What do they want?" I was like, "I know that. Let's go." And then I used in a similar way in Dowry. And I've been using Tarot more in the last year with my other writing projects, so far, so good.

Moiya 32:26

Great. I can't wait to see what you come up with next.

Saint Gibson 32:30

Oh, thank you.

Moiya 32:31

You mentioned earlier, that you used to have this problem of your worldbuilding being a little thin, especially since you don't deal with second worlds -- worlds that are very obviously not Earth. So how did you get over that, and how do you know, especially when you aren't dealing with a second world that your worldbuilding isn't thin?

Saint Gibson 32:53

First of all, really good critique partners, I would be nowhere without them. But something that I've learned as I've gotten older is to connect the parts of the story that are more difficult for me like worldbuilding, to the parts that come easier to me like atmosphere and character and to see how those two talk to each other. The worldbuilding for me, should be really intrinsic to the story that's going on. And a lot of times it becomes a big feature of the plot. And so knowing that up front, it just makes me take more care with it. Like I'm working on like a folk Gothic kind of story right now. It's really fun. It's about an artists commune. And there's magic, but I know from the beginning that I really need to nail down how exactly the magic works and how it goes back in this environment. So I'm doing that fun worldbuilding stuff where I'm like, what was going on in the spooky house 60 years ago before the characters were even born?

Moiya 33:52

Yeah, tbh history in worldbuilding is my least favorite part. [Having] to come up with hundreds or however many years of backstory for that place. It's always been the hardest for me.

Saint Gibson 34:06

Yeah. So I'm leaning into that with this one. And knowing that I need to have that backstory. I want the house and the grounds and the actual environment to have that richness of having a lot of worldbuilding, even if, as you know, sometimes the best worldbuilding [are] things that don't make it explicitly into the work. But you know, and it's in the background, flushing everything out and giving it this really realistic depth. And I want it to feel that way. So I'm doing that instead of just jumping in and being like, "these are fun characters. Like I guess we'll have something weird happened to them." That is not a formula that works.

Moiya 34:41

What's something that you know about the Robber Girl world that I don't as a reader?

Saint Gibson 34:46

Oh, that's a good question. Let me see. It's been a couple years since I published that book. So in Robber Girl, there's kind of a nature based magic. It's a spoiler, it's fine. There's a nature based magic that basically possesses people and turns them into guardians of this landscape, and it's really associated with winter, and this is where the Snow Queen comes in. And I spent a lot more time thinking about how that magic works and how it shows people. And in the end, I didn't need to lay that all out, I was just like, this is the character we're working with. This is the Big Bad, and the Big Bad in [the novel] is the ex girlfriend of the protagonist. So that's the real emotional crux, that's what the audience is there for. Everything else is just kind of atmospheric. But I spent a long time thinking about like, how does this magic work? How long has this been here? Who were the other kind of Guardians of the land before this? What is the relationship that the people have with folklore? And one of my favorite ways to pass down worldbuilding is through folklore, that's a great way to give it to your audience in a way that's exciting, but that's also really effective because if you have people who are living in a place and experiencing phenomenon, or magic or historical events, they're usually going to have some kind of spoken or written record about that. And that is a really fun detail for the audience that you can also be like, here's some background info, in case you wanted that.

Moiya 36:09

Yeah. I love the folklore that you had in Robber Girl. I love the holidays that you had, the dark days at the end of the year. I love the scene with the church and the ghosts. And I love that you didn't explain your magic system explicitly in the book. But everything that happened as a part of that magic system made sense.

Saint Gibson 36:30

Thank you. That was the goal.

Moiya 36:32

Well, you nailed it. Good job.

Saint Gibson 36:34

Thanks so much.

Moiya 36:35

Yeah. What about [A] Dowry of Blood, since that's more recent. Anything that you know about the world that new readers wouldn't?

Saint Gibson 36:44

The world is so much our own. It's just like plus vampires. And I was really interested in history when I wrote this, I was very inspired by watching this German musical, which is my favorite musical called Elisabeth. It's about kind of the fall of this Austrian Empress. And the way they choose to tell the story is the figure of death is in love with her. But death shows up at all of these historical events that happened to the Empire. And I was like, "This is genius!" I want to find historical events that I want these vampires to experience and have their take on them and how someone who never dies would think about a plague or a war or a town becoming a central trading hub. So a lot of the stuff that I learned for this was actually historical. So all kinds of fun, historical tidbits. I learned a lot about the Black Plague, which was a wild thing to learn about while in quarantine, but [also] strangely soothing. I was like, "It's happened before. Plagues happen, we'll be fine."

Moiya 37:47

That's a nice perspective.

Saint Gibson 37:48

Yeah. I listened to a whole podcast on the Russian Revolution for a one chapter meeting of one of the new brides in Russia, but I know a lot about it. There was a lot of people involved, and I could like name them now. A lot of the secret bits for that were just history that I internalized because I wanted to kind of just waltz the audience through history without having to stop and explain everything. But I wanted to know enough that I could kind of give that authentic feeling. And I just chose some things that were particularly interesting to me. Like, I was really interested in Vienna. So we learned a little bit about Vienna, there's a little bit about Italy, and the history of opera in Venice.

Moiya 38:27

That sounds really fun. How much research do you do for each of the books? How long did it take you to write A Dowry of Blood?

Saint Gibson 38:35

A Dowry of Blood was written pretty quickly, but the research portion of A Dowry of Blood was longer than most of my other books. So A Dowry of Blood is a fairly short book, and it's very relationship driven. A reviewer called it "a domestic horror more than anything else", which I really love because it's really about the decay of a marriage, basically. But yeah, I checked out the weirdest books from the library for A Dowry of Blood. My fiance actually is a historian, [and] has a master's degree in Viking Studies.

Moiya 39:01

That's really cool.

Saint Gibson 39:02

It is. Yeah, he's pretty neat. He studied the Early Modern Period, especially, there's a period that the vampire is experienced, [and] so I would be knocking on his door [asking], do you know about this very obscure historical figure? And do you know what the parchment was like, in this time period, and how the transmission of boats worked? And he knew quite a bit, so I used him. But it was a longer process. It took me probably a couple of months, and I was writing while I was doing it. I'm not a person that waits until I've done all the research to write, I kind of have to strike while the iron is hot and get into the drafting. I usually outline as I draft. I'm learning to outline more ahead of time, but it's just not my process. I also read a book about medieval Spain or parts of it, it was just kind of very much hodgepodge in this little like Pinterest board of historical facts.

Moiya 39:50

I feel like that's what they would do, right, like the vampires would be drawn to the interesting events and the interesting places.

Saint Gibson 39:57

Exactly, Dracula, at least the way that I showed you depict him is really interested in the rise and fall of empires. And he's seen that so many times. And he's kind of drawn to that because he knows that, one Empire will fall and rise in its place. His fatal flaw is that he's very interested in what the narrator calls "potential", which is not the best thing because he picks his brides thinking, "oh, you have potential. I can make you into my own image," which is not a great basis for a relationship.

Moiya 40:29

Having been in one of those relationships -- no, it's not.

Saint Gibson 40:32

No, it's terrible, but he's also really interested in human potential as well so he's drawn to the sights of these historical events. And his brides are a little bit like, "dude, there's a war going on", or "there's civil unrest"; and he's like, "but there's so much happening. Like, there's so much that could happen. Isn't this so interesting?" But he kind of cherry picks what's interesting to him, so I was able to cherry pick what's interesting to me.

Moiya 40:54

Nice. Okay, I think we're gonna take a little break, and then we'll come back and talk some more about worldbuilding.

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Moiya 42:09

When I teach worldbuilding, I tell my students to go through a series of questions. And the first question is, "what's the vibe of your world?" I've gone through several iterations. Most recently I've landed on "what's your intention with this world?" And you care a lot about atmosphere and vibe and tone. How do you craft that when you're starting a story?

Saint Gibson 42:32

I'm with you, at least for me, in my process, the most important things to really have jelled at the outset. And for me, it comes fairly naturally. But I can tell on projects where I'm making that up as I go along that they're much harder to write, they go through many more revisions, so I'm very big on tone and atmosphere. And that to me directs a lot of the choices that I make with worldbuilding because my mind tends more towards atmosphere and mood and less towards the nitty gritty of worldbuilding. But I also love worldbuilding and I need it in my world, I usually frame the choices that I make in, "what is a choice that you can make?" or "what is an element you can add to the story that is going to heighten this mood, and is going to give the audience a consistent emotional experience?" And sometimes you don't want it to be consistent. Sometimes you want to take your audience on an emotional journey -- and that's great, too. But I should say a consistent tonal experience is probably more accurate.

Moiya 43:30

You don't want it to be jarring for the audience.

Saint Gibson 43:32

No. And that to me is kind of my guiding light. And so I use that when making plotting decisions. But also even when we're getting into the nitty gritty of what is the world that they live in? My question is going to be, what is the world that's going to offer the most impactful condensed version of this mood that I'm working with? Like the folk Gothic I mentioned earlier that I'm working on, the mood should be kind of dreamy and summery and sultry, but with this sinister undercurrent that's like what I'm really going for. So I want it to feel on one hand kind of idyllic and beautiful, but also like a little bit scary.

Moiya 44:09

Interesting. I don't know why, but when you said that my brain thought of like rotten fruit. Like the action of biting into ... what's a really summery fruit?

Saint Gibson 44:19

Like a peach?