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by Cecilia Tan

When I was putting together the magical system used in my Magic University books I wanted it to be very different from the Harry Potter books. In my world, one can't use a wand like a gun. Wands exist because they exist in this, the real world, but they're mostly used in certain rituals, not carried around like a smart phone or Swiss army knife.

I wanted magic to be complex but with enough predictable parts that readers would feel they got a grasp of what was going on. I followed that idea that some elements of magic might be known outside the magical community, but the knowledge might be imperfect or incomplete. Like flying brooms on Halloween: how did non-magical people find out about that? I looked at various sacred traditions from around the world, from Native American ritual and Tibetan meditation to tantric practices and at other forms of sacred sexuality.

In the end, though, I didn't borrow much from tantra or other forms of sacred practice that were highly gendered. In my world sex magic can be practiced by people of any gender, with people of any gender, regardless of one's biological gender. The only "magic" that has to be performed by a biological male and a biological female is conception of human life. The way energy is channeled in my magic system is more important than the DNA in the person.

I felt this was important not just for my plot, but for my own feelings that I wanted equality for the genders in my fantasy world. Many real-life sacred and magical systems create special roles for women (i.e. "Earth mother") while fiction and literature as a whole tend to give male characters agency but not always female ones. While I made it that some things are easier if one is biologically equipped in certain ways, it's not a requirement--i.e. if your spell requires a phallus for ritual purposes, no one said it had to be a biological one. Our protagonist Kyle's main talent is considered a phallic one: he can easily call down or gather energy through his arousal and then channel it into a spell or even transfer it to another magic user. (They don't use the term "wizard." Too patriarchal.) This is useful for certain kinds of enchanters who require a lot of energy but who would otherwise take weeks to gather what they need for a given ritual.

Another thing I did to try to redress the imbalance between male and female characters in fiction is I put a lot of female characters in. Geena Davis founded a think tank in Hollywood to study representation of female characters and they found that in crowd scenes there would only be 17% women. Another study showed that in real-life groups of people if there were 17% women and you asked the men how many there were, they would say the group was 50/50. Whereas if you had 33% women, they would say there was a majority of women. They also found that 17% of cardiac surgeons and tenured professors were women. "Is it possible that 17 percent women has become so comfortable, and so normal, that that's just sort of unconsciously expected?" Davis on NPR. ( When I heard that I panicked. I had been striving for racial and ethnic diversity among the characters, but I couldn't remember what the gender balance was. Might I have unconsciously shorted the women's ranks?

I went and counted the named characters in the series and breathed a sigh of relief. I have 26 named female characters and 26 named male characters. And looking over book one in the series, The Siren and the Sword, many of the male names are only "spear carriers." They don't have speaking parts, whereas the women do. Whew.

Looking back on it now I can't determine if my subconscious was really working hard to keep things even, or if it's a coincidence that I hit 50/50. I wouldn't put it past my subconscious to have planned it that way, though. I hadn't realized it at the time, but ultimately the balance between the genders becomes an important theme in the overarching story. I can't tell you why without giving away the plot, though. No spoilers, I hope you will find the idea intriguing enough to go find out for yourself.

BOOK BLURB: Kyle Wadsworth arrives on the Harvard Campus only to discover, much to his surprise, he's magical. Thus begins his four-year journey to learn where he fits in the world, which ultimately becomes a quest for true love.

Upon arrival at Veritas, Kyle quickly joins a group of peers who become involved in solving the mystery of a seductive siren in the library, while they learn about the magic inside themselves and around them, as well as the secret history of magic and those who practice it.

Kyle's trials and tribulations range from his need to meet the bisexuality prerequisite before he can study sex magic to the fact that the ancient prophecy he translates for his thesis project seems to be about himself. If Kyle is right, he'll need to find his true love, or the world as we know it is doomed.

Cecilia Tan is the award-winning author of romance and fantasy whom Susie Bright calls “simply one of the most important writers, editors, and innovators in contemporary American erotic literature.” Her BDSM novel Slow Surrender won the RT Reviewers Choice Award and the Maggie Award for Excellence. She lives in the Boston area with her partner corwin and three cats.

Twitter: @ceciliatan <


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