Interview: Rachel Pollack on “Jack Shade in the Forest of Souls”
– Tell us a little about “Jack Shade in the Forest of Souls.”
I would refer to this story as shamanic noir. Jack is a present day private eye occultist shaman, who deals with the supernatural, and travels to other dimensions for people who hire him. Jack is tough, smart, sophisticated, but as in the classic noir stories, is likely to be scammed by his clients who have their own agendas. Again, as with the noir tradition, Jack has a tortured past, a terrible secret which gets revealed, but not resolved, at the end of the story. I envision “Forest of Souls” as the first of a series featuring Jack, and his attempts to undo the disastrous mistake he made early in his career.
– What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?
This has been one of the fun aspects of this story. It was inspired by two very different works, and merging them together was part of what drove the writing. Some months back I was on a road trip and brought along an audio of Vladimir Nabokov’s masterpiece Pale Fire. The book takes the form of a long poem, the “Pale Fire” of the title, followed by an extensive commentary supposedly written by a lunatic professor who believes the poem is secretly about him. I’d read it years ago but now as I listened to the poem itself I was struck by its beauty and poignancy. The fictional poet writes about his lifelong fascination with death and the afterlife, now made urgent by the suicide of his daughter. He also tells how his daughter was fascinated by the occult and tried to organize a ghost hunt. The name of the poet is John Shade, and as I listened I began to play with the name, Jack Shade, and how it sounded both tough and occult. Suddenly I thought of the old TV show, Have Gun, Will Travel, a noir Western with Richard Boone as a decadent poker player in San Francisco who secretly makes his money as a hired gunslinger. Bringing these together was a real delight. The title, by the way, is a kind of shout-out to the readers of my books on tarot, one of which is called The Forest of Souls. The title of that book is metaphoric; in the short story the Forest of Souls is an actual place.
– What kind of research, if any, did you do for this story?
Well, aside from my half century or so of reading works on occultism, magic, shamanism, Kabbalah, and mythology–not much. Seriously, while there are some actual references to the occult–notably “The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Sage”–most of the magic in the story is invented. My goal (as in other of my works) was to create contemporary versions of traditional shamanic practices. Thus, the entrance to the Forest of Souls is a door marked “Employees Only,” in a garage on 57th St. in Manhattan.
– What might you want a reader to take away from “Jack Shade in the Forest of Souls”?
Excitement at a good story and a likable character, fascination with Jack’s “tradition,” and hopefully a desire to read further adventures.
– Some authors say their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, then in what way is this story personal?
It brings together some of my favorite things–urban fantasy grounded in both occultism and shamanic practice, private eye stories, and, incidentally, my love of poker. In the old “Have Gun, Will Travel” series Paladin would often be playing poker in his elegant hotel, only to be interrupted by his servant bringing the famous business card on a silver tray. I borrowed this for my opening, updating the poker game to Texas Hold ‘Em.
– What are you working on now?
I’m finishing a novel, The Child Eater, and then I look forward to writing the next Jack Shade story, “The Queen of Eyes.”
– Anything else you’d like to add?
Just that I hope Nabokov would have been entertained by my unusual tribute.
“Jack Shade in the Forest of Souls” appears in the July/August 2012 issue of F&SF.
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