Monday, July 30, 2012

Interview with Kirsten Weiss Author of The Alchemical Detective

Can you tell readers a little bit about yourself and what inspired to write in this particular genre?

I spent nearly fourteen years working in developing countries and this inspired me to write paranormals on two levels.  First, the local superstitions and magical practices were fascinating.  Second, I had a lot of time on my hands, and ended up taking Tarot courses online.   Since Tarot is closely connected to Renaissance magic, alchemy, the Kaballah, and hermeticism, I wound up with a superficial knowledge of a lot of magical topics.

What inspired you to write this book?

I was driving down the road on a rainy day, thinking about how much I disliked my job, and began fantasizing about being a P.I.  Then I wondered about what a metaphysical detective would do, and what sort of character would do that kind of job.  The Riga Hayworth character was born!

Please tell us about your latest release.

In The Alchemical Detective, Riga’s lost (most of) her magic and is trying to figure out how to get it back.  At some level, she’s not sure if she wants to – magic hasn’t always been her friend.  But there’s a serial killer on the loose and he’s using demons to attack magical practitioners.  Riga has reason to believe she may be on his list.  And while she’s got lots of mundane skills to fight back, in the end, she’ll need to get her magic back on track.

Do you have a special formula for creating characters' names? Do you try to match a name with a certain meaning to attributes of the character or do you search for names popular in certain time periods or regions?

I try to match character names to their personality, so it’s easier for the reader to remember who’s who. 

Was one of your characters more challenging to write than another?

Initially when I wrote about the women in the Tea and Tarot group, I wanted to set them at odds with Riga.  I discovered that I’d made them too unlikable, and had to go back and humanize them a bit more.

Is there a character that you enjoyed writing more than any of the others?

I really enjoy writing Riga, because she doesn’t put up with any %$#@.  I wish I could be more like her!

Do you have a formula for developing characters? Like do you create a character sketch or list of attributes before you start writing or do you just let the character develop as you write?

For my main characters, I create a fairly detailed character biography. But with the minor characters, I actually rely on Tarot cards, e.g. a Queen of Wands or Emperor character.   The Tarot court cards in particular have quite well developed positive and negative traits which work fairly consistently together.

What is your favorite scene from the book? Could you share a little bit of it, without spoilers of course?

The entire book is working towards the climax, where Riga faces off with the killer, so I spent a lot of time thinking about that scene.  However, there is another scene, which takes place in a burning church tower, which I like quite a bit as well.  I’d better not say anymore about it!

Did you find anything really interesting while researching this or another book?

I did a lot of research about alchemy for the book, and learned that some alchemists never stepped into a lab at all – they did all their work in their heads.  I like that idea, but I don’t think I have the discipline for it.

What is the most interesting thing you have physically done for book related research purposes?

The fact is, a lot of Riga’s interests are my own (shooting, martial arts, the paranormal) so I didn’t have to do anything special in the way of research.  I do try to be true to my knowledge of martial arts when Riga gets into a fight, and particularly the idea that just because you’re good at martial arts, doesn’t mean you can’t get your ass kicked.  There’s always someone better than you.  I hate it when fictional characters get cocky about their fighting skills.

Can you tell readers a little bit about the world building in the book/series? How does this world differ from our normal world?

The magic is a lot more over than the normal world.  I wanted to use “real” magical practices as they’re used today, so I spoke with demonologists… oh, hey, I did do some original research for this book!  Where was I?  Oh yeah, I wanted to incorporate spells and current magical practices.  But the reality is that when you’re summoning a demon, 99.9% of the time the demon does not appear in 3D, fire-spitting glory.  For the purposes of the book, I went for the 3D fire-spitting glory.

With the book being part of a series, are there any character or story arcs, that readers jumping in somewhere other than the first book, need to be aware of? Can these books be read as stand alones?

The book can be read as a stand alone, but if you want to find out how Riga lost her magic, and how she met Donovan, you’ll have to read Book One, The Metaphysical Detective.

Do any of your characters have similar characteristics of yourself in them and what are they?

They are all much cooler than I am.  So… not really.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? How do you deal with it?

I force myself to write anyway.  What goes on the paper may be garbage, but it’s the only way to get through it.  And then I have to edit like mad.

Do you have any weird writing quirks or rituals?

No, I wish I did.  Maybe I’d be more organized about writing then.

Do you write in different genres?

I wrote a historical mystery which was never published – and rightfully so.  It wasn’t very good.  I’ve also got a straight mystery/suspense novel in my head which I hope to come out with in 2013.

When did you consider yourself a writer?

When people started sending me fan mail.  I know, I know – it’s shallow of me.  I need validiation!

What are your guilty pleasures in life?

Chocolate and wine and Ghost Whisperer reruns. 

Other than writing, what are some of your interests, hobbies or passions in life?

Martial arts are my number one hobby, but just to be clear, I’m not particularly good at them.  And of course wine tasting!

What was the last amazing book you read?

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  It’s a sort of gothic/paranormal set in Spain and it’s beautiful and mind bending.

Where is your favorite place to read? Do you have a cozy corner or special reading spot?

Bed!  In fact, I’ve got books stuffed under my pillows, which is, admittedly, uncomfortable.

What can readers expect next from you?

The sequel to The Alchemical Detective, The Shamanic Detective is (fingers crossed) going to be available on Amazon this Halloween.

Where can readers find you on the web?

They can find me on my website, at: and my twitter handle is @RigaHayworth

Would you like to leave readers with a little teaser or excerpt from the book?

Chapter 1: Calcination

The egg quivered, then rolled, seemingly of its own accord, to the edge of the counter. 
Riga stared at it, her violet-colored eyes narrowed in concentration.  Magic, she reminded herself, was a matter of will and she had that in spades.  However, it was also a matter of focus and in this area, she was lacking.

The egg trembled, then slowly rose into the air; one inch, two inches, five.

“Yes,” Brigitte said encouragingly, her voice a French-accented Lauren Bacall.  Her stone claws tensed, gouging tracks in the linoleum countertop.

The egg exploded, splattering the gargoyle with shell and yolk. 

Brigitte shrieked, the sound of rocks scraping against each together.  “Faugh!  Water!  Bring ze water!” 

Riga hurried to the sink and turned on the tap, frustration wrinkling her brow.  She grabbed a dishtowel and soaked it in warm water.  Her hands trembled and Riga swore under her breath.  Two months ago, this would have been easy. 

At first she’d thought her magic was gone.  Now Riga knew it had gone haywire and her rehab attempts weren’t working.  If anything, her magic had become more unpredictable, more dangerous.  She only dared practice with Brigitte because the centuries-old gargoyle was made of stone.  But even Brigitte wasn’t indestructible. 

Someone beat upon the front door and Riga whipped around, startled.  She should have sensed whoever was coming up the steps.  Another small failure.  More pounding; the cheap wooden door vibrated beneath the blows.

“Police!  Open the door!”

Gargoyle and woman looked at each other.  Woman acted first.  Riga tossed the towel in the sink.  “Don’t move,” she said to Brigitte.

“But ze egg.  It dries like cement,” Brigitte wailed.

“Later.”  Riga hurried to the door and flung it open.  A chilly blast of pine-scented air swept inside, tossing Riga’s auburn hair and stinging her skin. 

Two sheriffs stood before her in wide brimmed hats and heavy dark brown parkas.  Riga might have taken them for rangers had it not been for their belts, strapped with weapons, slung low on their hips.  The older one had his fist raised for another round of door pummeling.  He lowered it with what looked like regret.  He was bulky, bearlike, with steel blue eyes, and she imagined he enjoyed making the door shiver beneath his fist.  The tag under his badge read: Sheriff John King.  The badge itself: El Dorado County.

“I heard a woman scream,” King said. 

“I banged my shin on the coffee table,” Riga said. 

“Are you alone?”  He peered over Riga’s shoulder.  It wasn’t hard – Riga was five foot six, and he stood well over six feet tall, imposing in every direction. 

“Yes.  Can I help you?”  Riga didn’t budge, unwilling to let them in.  It wasn’t that Riga didn’t like cops; she was friends with plenty of them, when they were out of uniform. 

“It was quite a scream,” he said.

She quirked her lips.  “Now you’re just embarrassing me.” 

The Sheriff looked at her.  She returned his gaze.  The silence stretched between them. 
The Deputy coughed.  “Are you Ms. Hayworth?” he asked.  Riga figured him for his early thirties, which meant she had a decade on him.   He was well built, and between the startling pale blue of his eyes and the chiseled planes of his face, would have looked at home on a magazine cover.  But Riga’s gaze was drawn to the Sheriff.  The Deputy had youth, the Sheriff had presence.

“I’m Riga Hayworth.”

“My name is Night, Deputy Night.  May we come in?  Please?”  He smiled ruefully, exposing dimples and gleaming white teeth.  “It’s kind of cold out here.”

Riga hesitated.  But she wasn’t wearing a coat and was freezing in the doorway.  She could feel the heat from the cabin oozing past her, out the door.  “Okay.”  Reluctantly, she stepped back, and allowed them past her.

Hands resting on the butts of their guns, they prowled the room as if they owned the place.  They could have it, for all Riga cared.   It was one of the lower-end tourist cabins, crammed with a mis-matched jumble of seventies era furniture.  A giant picture window looked out upon a forest scene:  pines, and patches of snow wetting the ground.  The afternoon sun slanted low in the sky, sending beams of light glittering through damp tree branches. 

 Brigitte, still covered in egg, had shifted to face the cabin’s small living room.  The deputy stared at the gargoyle, walked to Brigitte, and ran his hands across her stony feathers as if in a caress.  Brigitte would love that, Riga thought. 

“Cool harpy,” he said.  “Where’d you find it?”

“Garage sale.”

Night tucked his hat under one arm, and ruffled his blond hair with his free hand.  “Do you know it’s got egg on it?”

“Forget the statue,” the Sheriff barked.  Turning, he stumbled over a cheap American-Indian themed rug.  “Miss Hayworth, may we sit down?”

She indicated the lumpy sofa, a cruel gesture given the state of its springs, but she didn’t want them to linger. 

They sat.  She remained standing.

The Sheriff removed his hat and put it on a nearby coffee table, covering decades of coffee rings.  “Riga Hayworth.  Is that your real name?”

She raised an eyebrow.  “If you mean, did my parents choose it?  Yes.”

“Funny sort of name,” King said.  “Like that old movie star.  Were your parents fans?”

She shook her head, no.  Not after she’d grown to look more and more like the screen siren; that had disturbed her parents, made them wonder if they’d really picked the name or if the name had picked their daughter.  Riga’s resemblance to Rita Hayworth was uncanny; auburn hair, arched eyebrows, and olive skin. 

“How well did you know Sarah Glass?” King asked.

Riga looked at him blankly.

Sheriff King shifted with impatience.  “Otherwise known as Lady Moonstone.”

“The palm reader?” Riga asked, surprised.  “Not at all.  I think she’s a member of the Tea and Tarot group.  She didn’t show at last week’s meeting, which was my first, so I never had a chance to meet her.”  Riga had forced herself to attend for the first and probably last time.  She wasn’t a joiner. 

Now, Riga knew, she was supposed to ask why the police wanted to know about Sarah Glass.  But the cops weren’t here to satisfy a casual curiosity.  Something bad had happened and Riga wanted to put off learning what it was for as long as possible.  Though her magic had gone awry, she sensed the tug of something dark and inexorable moving towards her, and didn’t like the feeling.

“What’s Tea and Tarot?” King asked.

“The local metaphysical professionals meet twice a month to talk shop at the Fortune Teller’s Café.”

“Who was there last week?” the Sheriff said.

“The owner of the café, Tara, was there.  She reads cards.  Lily, a tea leaf and palm reader was too.  And so was an astrologer, Audrey.  She also has an energetics practice.”

“Energetics?” Night asked.

“Reiki, that sort of thing,” Riga said. 

The Sheriff drummed his fingers on the nearby table.  “I hear you’re a P.I. of some sort, did some consulting for the Oakland police.”

Riga crossed her arms, thinking.  The Oakland connection was an odd one for them to pick up since she’d lived in San Francisco.  The SF cops would have been a more obvious reference.  “I’m a metaphysical detective and I have a California investigator’s license.  I’m not licensed in Nevada.  How did you hear of it?”

“Cops talk,” the Sheriff said.  “They said you knew how to keep your mouth shut.”

It wasn’t exactly a rave review, but she couldn’t blame the Oakland PD.  It had been an unusual case, even by her standards. She was surprised they talked about her at all.  “Are you looking to hire a consultant?” Riga placed a subtle emphasis on the word “hire.”  She’d come here for an extended vacation, but turning it into a work trip held a certain tax deductible appeal.  

In response, the Sheriff unzipped his parka and pulled out a manila file folder.  From it he withdrew an eight by ten photo.  He extended it towards her. 

Okay, she thought: he wanted to see what a metaphysical consultant could do.  She took the photo, and returned to her spot against the counter beside the gargoyle.  Riga held the picture before her so Brigitte could view it: a black and white glossy of a metal disk with a symbol impressed upon it – two concentric circles with oddly shaped letters and symbols drawn between the two and a square grid in the center overlaid with jagged lines.  The expression on her face flickered, then stilled. 

“You know it?” the Sheriff said, leaning forward in his seat.

She grimaced in distaste.  “It’s a sigillum used to summon and control a demon when you don’t know the demon’s name,” she said.  “The style is similar to the Sigillum Dei Aemeth created by John Dee but there are key differences which make this unique.  There was a man in Paris who used a system like this, invented it in fact, named Francois Lefebvre.  The Parisian police will have a file on him.  He died five years ago in a fire.  Lefebvre didn’t take students, wasn’t the type to share, but he had servants.  They may have learned his technique.” 

“How did you learn it?” the Deputy asked.  He was taking notes and turning a pencil between his fingers.  His hands were calloused, roughened by work, and she imagined the young man swinging an axe, splitting firewood.

“I never said I learned it,” she said.

“But you know enough to identify it,” Night persisted.

“Lefebvre tried to summon a demon in my presence,” she said dryly.  “It’s not something one forgets.”

The Sheriff’s bushy eyebrows rose.  “Did he succeed?”

“Of course not,” she said.  Lefebvre had succeeded in raising the demon, but not in controlling it.  Riga had seen to that.  The demon had seen to Lefebvre.  Riga had managed to evade the Parisian cops, keep her involvement secret, and she wasn’t about to upset the status quo.

“You haven’t asked me what this is about,” King said.

“What’s this about, Sheriff?”

“Sarah Glass was murdered.  We found this beside her, and now you tell me you’re one of the few people in the world who knows what this is and how to use it.”

Damn it.  She should have known nothing good could come from telling them about Lefebvre.  But she’d maintained a reasonable relationship with the authorities by not withholding evidence, even when the police neither liked nor believed her. 

 “I understand you’ve got some fighting skills?” the Sheriff asked.  “Have studied martial arts?” 

“I’m no black belt.  What does hapkido have to do with this sigil?”

The Sheriff leaned forward, his stare unrelenting.  “So what happened here?  Did a demon kill her?”  His voice was mocking.

“I have no idea how she died or by whose hand,” Riga said.  “If I had more information—”

He stood and replaced his hat.  “Can’t give you that.  Thanks for your help, Miss Hayworth.  
Don’t leave town.”

The Alchemical Detective
By Kirsten Weiss
Book Two in the Riga Hayworth Series

Genre: Paranormal Mystery
Date of Publication: May 31, 2012
ISBN:  978-0-9855103-1-2

Number of pages: 289
Word Count: 75,000

Purchase Links:  Kindle

Book Description

A psychic has been murdered in an occult ceremony and the police pay a visit to Riga Hayworth, metaphysical detective.  But this time, she’s not a consultant on the case, she’s a suspect.

There’s a storm on the horizon.  Riga’s lost her magic, and has come to Lake Tahoe to recover and spend quality time with her new love.  But life for Riga is never that simple.  A psychic’s been murdered, and the police believe Riga has a connection to the crime.  They’re right.  And if that’s not enough, Riga is drafted as the host of a reality TV show about the local lake monster, and her niece is rejecting her metaphysical abilities.  Juggling demons, daimons, and angry tarot card readers, Riga must catch a killer before she becomes the next target.

The Alchemical Detective is a paranormal mystery that explores a world of alchemy and the imagination.

Author Bio:

Kirsten Weiss is the author of two paranormal mysteries available on the Kindle: the urban fantasy, The Metaphysical Detective, and The Alchemical Detective.  She is hard at work on the sequel, The Shamanic Detective. 

Kirsten worked overseas for nearly fourteen years, in the fringes of the former USSR and deep in the Afghan war zone.  Her experiences abroad not only gave her glimpses into the darker side of human nature, but also sparked an interest in the effects of mysticism and mythology, and how both are woven into our daily lives.

Now based in San Mateo, CA, she writes paranormal mysteries, blending her experiences and imagination to create a vivid world of magic and mayhem.

Kirsten has never met a dessert she didn’t like, and her guilty pleasures are watching True Blood and drinking good wine. 

Follow her on Twitter at!/RigaHayworth, view her world boards on Pinterest check out her blog at

Author site/blog:


Kassandra Lamb said...

Cool interview! I'd never think to develop characters through Tarot cards. And I love the premise for Alchemical Detective. Can't wait to read it.

Kirsten Weiss said...

Thanks, Kassandra!

Tarot is so archetypal, it's almost become a crutch for me when I'm writing characters. I catch myself thinking, "Wait, is this REALLY what the Queen of Swords would do?"