Guest Blog: Cecilia Tan on Modern Magic

  • Posted on: 9 September 2010
  • By: MeiLin

Today's guest blog is by Cecilia Tan, award-winning writer and genius behind Circlet Press, where they make delicious, peanut butter cuppy "you got your erotica in my genre" books. Her webserial, Daron's Guitar Chronicles, beat me in the Rose and Bay Awards, and her erotic webserial "The Prince's Boy" (at Circlet) updates on Wednesdays. Take it away, Cecilia!

When I was getting my graduate degree in writing, professors would invariably quote the old saw, "Write what you know." Of course, these were the same professors who tried to pretend that genre fiction didn't exist. Romance, mystery, fantasy, horror... these things did not enter their reality.

However if there is one thing I learned while getting that masters degree, it is that good writing is good writing, regardless of genre or label. Strong dialogue, crisp prose, deft characterization, these are essential no matter whether one is creating Literary Fiction or category romance.

So where does that leave us with "Write what you know" if what we are writing is fantasy? If our subject is not real... like magic? Well, there are two possible answers, and since I do not believe in binaries, I say they are BOTH correct. One tactic is to forge ahead as if the imaginary is real, and do research on it. The other is to write what you "know" is true in the depths of your subconscious imagination. Both facts and apocrypha are necessary to create a "fictional truth" that will resonate with readers. Versimilitude is more important than factual accuracy in all fiction, but especially when the "facts" are something of our invention.

In my Magic University series of books, I imagine a hidden magical university inside Harvard. Our hero lands there, Harry-Potter-like, discovering that he is magical. Like any college freshman, he enters a whole new world of love and freedom, only he's got an even bigger world to discover than most. I have the advantage here that my main character does not know more than my readers at the start. Everyone will get a chance to come up to speed as Kyle begins to not only take classes but just finds out everything he can about this hidden world he never knew.

I've been able to create a mixture of "real" magic and stuff of my own invention. I start from the point of view that anything that mundane folk have heard about magic, whether in Greek myths or in fairy tales or what, is probably true... although the mundanes might have it slightly wrong. Tarot cards are one of the things mundanes have mostly right, because they "escaped" into the mundane world before the magical world went into hiding. I use Tarot symbolism as motifs and even some readings in the plot, working them in such that a reader who knows nothing about the Tarot should still enjoy it, but anyone who does know the cards might glean some extra enjoyment from the text. The titles of the books even refer to some cards; The Tower and the Tears has not only a literal tower, but a metaphorical one.

I'm only comfortable writing so much card interpretation into the story, of course, because it is something I know pretty well myself. If all I were doing was looking up card meanings on Wikipedia, I think it would probably come off stiff and dry.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the subject of Esoteric Arts, which Kyle decides to study in book two of the series. Esoteric Arts is a euphemism for Erotic Magic, and our hero soon finds himself in some very steamy situations. In this case I did not try to include more than passing references to tantra and known forms of sex magic among the non-magical peoples of the world, and instead followed my instincts to create something that had an internal logic of its own that worked within my book.

One of the major differences between my books and J. K. Rowling's (well, besides all the sex...) is that magic in my universe carries specific prices in terms of energy and how power is gathered and expended. My magic users (As Kyle learns his first day, we don't use the term "wizards." Too patriarchal.) don't pour their tea or scratch their asses with magic--it'd be too tiring! On the other hand, spend a few weeks doing the proper meditations and exercises, and you could muster enough energy to turn a pumpkin into a coach and mice into liveried footmen, all in one go! That's what one of Kyle's housemates does for her junior thesis project in The Siren and the Sword.

If I've really succeeded at making the magic believable, then readers won't even be able to tell where my research leaves off and my imagination takes over. If I can do that, I can lead the reader on a merry ride where everything seems possible.

Thanks, Cecilia!

About the Author: Cecilia Tan is a writer, editor, and the founder of Circlet Press.. She is the author of many books, including Mind Games, The Hot Streak, White Flames, Edge Plays, Black Feathers, The Velderet, and Telepaths Don’t Need Safewords, as well as the Magic University series of paranormal erotic romances, and the currently ongoing web serials The Prince's Boy and Daron's Guitar Chronicles. She has the distinction of being perhaps the only writer to have erotic fiction published in both Penthouse and Ms. magazines, as well as in scores of other magazines and anthologies including Asimov’s, Best American Erotica, and Nerve. Learn more at

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