Mar 15, 2010

Cecilia Tan on the Magic of Tarot (includes contest)

Today PVN welcomes author Cecilia Tan. She discusses the role of Tarot cards and magic in her recent works.
[See contest details at the end of the post]

Real Magic In Fantasy

In the Magic University books, which are my version of a grown-up, erotic "Harry Potter" type of story, I've invented a lot of magic, in particular the so-called "Esoteric Arts," which is the polite term in the books for sexual magic. But I also draw a lot on "real world" magic in various ways.

Whether you believe in magic or not doesn't matter. There are figures in our history, for example, from Pythagoras to Torralba to Mother Shipton who were ascribed magical powers by their contemporaries. As such, in Magic University, I proceed from the idea of what if Torralba really did possess magical healing powers? Would there now be a whole field of Healing Arts that young magic users would learn and study?

Another element I use is Tarot cards. Tarot cards are basically archetypal symbolism. They reflect the common elements of human nature and human emotions through various archetypal figures and a variety of symbols. The "magic" in both the real world and the way I use them in Magic U. comes in their use as a fortunetelling device.

I've used the Tarot in many ways throughout the books. At the magical university known as Veritas, which is hidden inside Harvard, the students are divided into houses, just like real Harvard students are. In a nod to the four houses of Hogwarts, though, I have made them four, one for each of the Tarot suits, and the "sorting" is done by simply drawing a card. The house of wands are the studious ones, the coins are the industrious ones, the swords are the domineering ones, and the cups are the party animals.

Our main character, Kyle Wadsworth, draws the Ace of Swords on his first day at school, and the symbolism of the Ace follows him throughout the books. In Tarot lore, the Ace of Swords stands for a hero-type on a quest, so it's a very appropriate card for him as the main character of a fantasy series. What's funny is I didn't plan that based on the symbolism, but I drew a card at random from a deck to see what I would get.

In each book Kyle gets his cards read by someone and the reading turns out to be prophetic for him. Again, I do a real reading where I draw cards at random and see what I get. Each time the cards drawn have fit perfectly with the plot I have sketched out. Coincidence? Perhaps that's the real magic of storytelling, that everything will always end up coming together in the end.

Bio: Cecilia Tan has been writing professionally since she was a teenager, which she definitely isn't, anymore. She is the author of several romances for Ravenous Romance, including her "Harry Potter for adults" the Magic University series and Mind Games, as well as the BDSM sci-fi adventure Royal Treatment just released from Torquere Press.

Her literary erotica has been published nearly everywhere. She loves tea, baseball, cats, and books, and more of her thoughts on these and other subjects can be found at her blog:

Read Cecilia's full essay on Tarot 


Cecilia is offering an ebook copy of Magic University Book Two: The Tower and the Tears or  Magic University Book One: The Siren and the Sword. Winners choice.


*Ask Cecilia a question: One chance

*Make a pertinent comment: One chance

You may also:

*Link to this contest on any of the social network sites or your own web page. Let me know the url:  One chance for each link.

*If you are a follower: One chance

*If you are an email subscriber: One chance

*If your email is not associated with your ID, please put the address in your response.

Contest ends March 30, 2010


Lisa Richards/alterlisa said...

Cecilia, if you were a book, what would your blurb be?
I look forward to reading your "Magic University" series. I always felt there was much more story here. I could see prequels about Lilly and James and numerous others. I'm glad to see that you were willing to risk being compared to Rowlings to give us readers more magic. My hat's off to you!
+1 I'm a GCF(Lisa Richards)
+1 I'm also an email subscriber
+1 I tweeted about contest
@alterlisa Cecilia Tan on the Magic of Tarot (includes contest)
+1 I blogged about contest

alterlisa AT yahoo DOT com

Patricia Altner said...

Posted for Diane

Hi Cecilia,

When working with the Tarot cards, what method of interpretation do you use? A particular book, theory or intuition?

Thanks and best wishes,

Cecilia Tan said...

@Lisa R asks
"Cecilia, if you were a book, what would your blurb be?"

Hm, had to think about this one for a while. I'm better at writing books than their blurbs! How about this:

"Cecilia Tan will knock your socks off, and possibly other items of clothing, too."

Cecilia Tan said...

Diane asked "When working with the Tarot cards, what method of interpretation do you use? A particular book, theory or intuition?"

When I started out I read several books, including on by Robin Wood that accompanied her own deck which I don't use but her insights on what she did as an artist to create her own deck really gave me a lot of insight into understanding the cards, even when I disagreed with her interpretations. A couple of books by Rachel Pollack also went into the hopper of my brain in those first two years or so.

Now it's pretty much just intuition. I'm a storyteller already, so taking a look at the cards and seeing what story they tell -always the with help of some looking up of references- comes pretty naturally now.

Fred said...


Do you draw on other archetypal imagery in your books as well? I'm thinking more along the lines of Jung's Ego & Archetype, etc? Some of his stuff is obviously too dry and academic for fictional use but his ideas on psychological archetypes and collective unconsciousness might make for some rich stories.


Cecilia Tan said...

@Fred who asked "Do you draw on other archetypal imagery in your books as well?"

I read a fair bit of Jung in college when I dipped my toe into philosophy and psychology. But I can't help but be a little bit of a postmodernist, though, and deconstruct the archetypes or subvert them as I use them.

One example of this in the Magic U books is set up in stark contrast to the Harry Potter books, where Harry has many "father figures" in his life, taking the place of his deceased father. In Magic U, Kyle is also an orphan, but the people he gleans guidance from and who act as role models don't remotely come across as "father figures." Or mother figures, really. Master Brandish, his house master, is the closest one to a parental sort of role, but she never seems "motherly," partly because I've made her a transgendered character, specifically to subvert that.

Overall I've made it a theme in the books that people's roles, by whatever name they are given, "girlfriend," "lover," etc. are always more complex than a label can convey.

Also, in my magical world, people get labeled by certain magical archetypes I've made up, like Jess is a Brigid, because she possesses a certain kind of feminine healing skill, and everyone calls Kyle a "white knight" because he's such a self-sacrificing hero type. But the truth is he makes a fair number of selfish decisions that affect everyone around him, though always with the best of intentions.

Unknown said...

Hi Cecilia... I just wanted to stop by and read your blog to show support for you and for my friend Pat, and to read your blog. :0) If I should happen to win your contest, yeah for me, but you can select one of the other entrants and pass the prize along... I suppose I was supposed to ask you a question? Did it have to be about Tarot? lol Don't you think most of the sword suit looks depressing? I know the interpretations aren't? but the cards all look so gloomy!

Have a great day!


Keta Diablo said...

Hi Cecelia, happy Pat let me know you were here today.

Major congrats on the Magic University books! Can't wait to read them.

Keep 'em coming!

Hugs, Keta

Cecilia Tan said...

@Keta -- hullo! *waves*

@Serena, who asked "Don't you think most of the sword suit looks depressing?"

Oh the swords are definitely the suit of pain and conflict. Swords cut, injure, divide, and are an instrument of war. On the other hand pain is a necessary part of life, and the need to defend ourselves from attack is also necessary.

So the swords are not necessarily always about bad things happening. Except the ten. The ten of swords is what Robin Wood calls "no, it really is THAT BAD." It comes up for Kyle in a reading I did for book three and his best friend, who does the reading for him is like... "well, let's see, there's got to be a happier interpretation... Nope. You're screwed!" Poor Kyle.

Liza Quisisem said...


It is very intriguing you are writing books that are "Harry Potter" like but focusing on the
"Esoteric Arts" which are highly erotic. Bravo! I hope your series sells a lot of books.

Liza Quisisem

booklover0226 said...

Hi, Cecilia.

What is your opinion on book trailers? Do you think they help in book sales?

I'm a follower.

I'm a subscriber.

Tracey D
booklover0226 at gmail dot com

Juli D. Revezzo said...

Hi, Ceclia! Thank you for a very interesting post. I recently took a workshop on Tarot for writers, and had a Tarot reading done, so your post here is timely, for me. :)

My question is this: you mention on your site that in the beginning of your career, you self-published; now, there's a lot of contention in some groups about the subject, so I was curious, what do you think of your experiences with self-publication? What advice would you give a young author considering that route?

For Patricia: I love your site. :) Just saying...I'm also a follower (, and have blogged about the contest +1 here.
And "Tweeted" +1 here @juliannewrites

Cecilia Tan, said...

@Tracey D -- I feel like I've answered your question before in response to one of my other guest blogs last month... I don't think 90% of book trailers do anything. To really produce an excellent video, that is awesome enough to go viral and have people other than the author's friends and family looking at it, is very difficult to do, and often expensive as well. It's much more expensive to produce a book trailer than to produce a good book! I'd say they are a waste of money for most authors.

@JAD -- At the start of my career I self-published because I literally had no choice. In 1991, there was NOWHERE that would touch a piece of sexually graphic science fiction with a ten-foot pole. No magazine, no book publisher. There was one zine that was sporadically produced and didn't pay. I figured if that was my only option, self-publishing made more sense.

I gained a lot of prestige right away from self-publishing because for one thing, the work was ground-breaking, eye-opening, and quickly respected as professional quality, just overlooked by the mainstream because the content was so scary to them. Many people self-publish because they aren't quite "ready for prime time" in terms of their prose quality, and this gives some people the impression that the "only" reason to self-publish is because you're "not good enough" for a professional publisher. That's very definitely not the case with all writers! The thing is, self-publishing is so much easier now, that there are 100 times as many people doing it now (if not a 1000 times) than there were 20 years ago.

The big advantage of self-publishing these days is not so much that you can satisfy your impatience/dissatisfaction with publishers, as that it forces you to learn to market and sell yourself. In order to sell any of your self-published work, you have to build up the following and the social network. THAT reach, the marketing clout to your direct readers, is what publishers want to "buy" when they sign an author often these days, and marketing clout of an author is more valuable to many publishers than the actual writing ability or craft of the author.

My advice to folks is never stop working on improving your writing for your own satisfaction, but never stop working on the marketing and business side either, even if you have "made it." You're less at the mercy of the whims of big corporations that way.

Juli D. Revezzo said...

Let me just say, I am so with you, Cecilia, on the "no market for it" thing. Right now, it seems there's no market for Science Fiction--unless it has romance in it--and guess what I write? I appreciate your perspective on the question; I don't know if I'll self-publish, but I appreciate for your advice. Thanks so much!

Cecilia Tan said...

@JAD -- I hear you. Most of the publishers of "science fiction and fantasy" are loading up on fantasy (urban, high, and all other flavors) these days, while what "hard" science fiction, space opera, cyberpunk, etc... that they publish seems entirely from the pens of already long-established sf writers. The number of new "slots" for new writers seems really low. I don't think it'll stay that way, though. The success of some pretty gritty sci-fi media (Battlestar Galactica, etc.) shows the pendulum is starting to swing back, if slowly. Hang in there! But it's true, if the readership is as hungry for what you write as you are to see it in print, there's no reason not to feed their hunger and prove to the narrow-sighted publishers that they should give the people what they want.

ninefly said...

+1 I've tried to learn a bit about tarot cards myself a while back and occasionally take them out when I can't decide on stuff
it's really cool that you use your cards to tell a story
I'd love to get a chance to read your books! =)

+1 follower
+1 sidebar link (under giveaways)


Cecilia Tan, said...

Thanks, ninefly! For me, looking at the cards and making up a story is the way I interpret them anyway, so it's kind of a natural fit for me.

Good luck in the contest!

Cherry said...

Hi Cecelia and Pat *waves*

Am late as per usual but just want to let you guys know that I did come *winks*

In the interview, Cecilia talks about her interest and research into esoteric magic but Cecilia never mentioned what her personal belief is with regards to the matter. What does Cecilia believe in regarding tantric magic? As a person, not as a professional. (hey I'm a nosey git)

I'm an old (I don't really like that word) follower of Patricia's. Am also an email subscriber.

Re-posted your contest at:

Twitted about it at:

Dot S.( said...

You had me hooked with the adult themed Harry Potter reference and then with the Tarot playing throughout the books I was doubly hooked. I look forward to reading this series.
I follow PVN and subscribe.

Unknown said...

+1 Cecilia, I have to tell you I was hooked with the 1st sentence of this post, you had me at "In the Magic University books, which are my version of a grown-up, erotic "Harry Potter" type of story", I decided I wanted to read them! :-)

+1 I also love the cover of The Siren and the Sword! Do you like it or did you envision it another way? how?

+1 I'm a follower of the blog

+1 I'm also an e-mail subscriber

Please enter me!

stella.exlibris (at) gmail DOT com

Cecilia Tan said...

@Cherry -- The fictional magic I've portrayed in Magic U is definitely from my imagination, but it has its roots in both the magical myths of Earth's cultures (there are references to the Greek gods and creatures like unicorns, for example) and in my own spiritual feelings about the immeasurable power of love and the power of erotic connection. If we consider "magic" to be everything beyond what modern science can measure and explain, magic most certainly exists. What I've fictionalized though definitely springs out of my own twisted imagination, though!

@Stella -- who asked "Do you like it or did you envision it another way? how?" I actually found the photo of the guy with the sword for the cover of The Siren & The Sword myself, on a stock photo site. Ravenous Romance always wants these underwear models that the art director photographs himself for their covers, but they tend to be these super-beefy guys. I insisted that for book one at least we HAD to have a kid who was believably only 18-19 years old. What I like about that photo is first of all, he represents the Ace of Swords, which is the card most associated with our hero, Kyle, you can't see his face, so that's left to your imagination, and he doesn't look like he's a muscle-builder who has been on steroids for ten years.

They didn't let me pick the guy on the second book, The Tower and the Tears, but at least he's cute, and they did take my suggestion to use a lightning-struck tower (a reference to the Tarot card The Tower).

Book three looks like it's going to be called The Incubus and the Angel, which is the first one that doesn't have a specific tarot reference in the wording, but I'm still working on a cover idea that would incorporate a card. We shall see what we get!