Tarot Tuesday- Facing Fears: The Tower

I wrote both Dark Oracle and Rogue Oracle with a deck of cards at hand – much like my heroine, Tara Sheridan, a criminal profiler who uses Tarot cards to solves crimes. Whenever I get stuck on a character or plot point, I shuffle the cards and pull out one at random. More often than not, I can find something in the symbolism of the image that captures my imagination and propels my writing forward.

When I was developing the outline for Rogue Oracle, there was one card that haunted me more than any other. One card that kept coming up whenever I shuffled the deck and spread the cards out before me: The Tower. 

The Tower depicts a disintegrating structure at night, struck by lightning, from which two people fall. The traditional meaning of the card has to do with old ways of life collapsing and a new order taking its place. It's about destruction, an event after which nothing is ever the same again.

There was always something about the Tower that bothered me, that frightened me on a deep, subconscious level. Something distantly familiar. I looked at its image in several other decks before I realized what it symbolized to me for this story: the disaster at Chernobyl, almost twenty-five years ago.

One of my childhood fears was Chernobyl. I was in middle school when the news reports began to filter in that something terrible had happened in Europe...that a Soviet reactor had melted down, breached containment in fire and invisible poison. The Ukraine seemed a thousand worlds away. And I was less than a bystander, an ordinary kid on an ordinary street in the U.S.

But something about the story captivated and frightened me. I remember seeing some pictures of Chernobyl on the news, of an industrial plant not quite so different than those plants that surrounded me where I grew up, where my dad worked. And seeing fire. And the rumors about plumes of poison moving over Europe, unstoppably.

It made me shudder. I remember that my mother turned off the television when we were in the room.

But the story of Chernobyl - of the people who died immediately in the fire, those who died after of horrible cancers, of secrets and something invisible that could kill more effectively than an army - it seemed to seep into the minds of the adults. I remember that my class was shown a film about radiation in the school library. I don't remember what it was called, but I remember that it was pretty graphic. It talked a lot about Hiroshima. Poisoned radioactive organs in jars. A man in a perfectly pristine white T-shirt who was covered in radiation burns. Almost a supernatural horror - more terrifying than the books about the making of classic Dracula and Frankenstein movies that we were reading.

It did give me nightmares. And I think many of the other kids.

And I guess that it never did completely dislodge from my memory. The black shape of the containment structure, the Sarcophagus, reminds me so much of the shadowy tower in all its supernatural power.

And because it scared me, I knew that this was the concept to pursue. I would put my heroine on the trail of a Chernobyl survivor who was selling old nuclear secrets on the international black market. I would take her to the place that I dimly remembered from old television footage, now sharpened by research. I made Tara walk through the tall grasses and stand before the Sarcophagus. I'd let her feel the prickle of radiation on her skin, taste the metallic tang of the rain, let her see the bird's nests wedged into the splitting seams of the structure.

I made her stand in the shadow of the Tower, the closest thing I could connect to such a fearsome symbol in the real world.

And...it does still scare me.

~Author Laura Bickle writes the Delphi Oracle Series as Alayna Williams.

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