It’s no secret that my Magic University series was inspired by Harry Potter. I went through a slump in my writing career in the mid-00’s and ended up delving into the world of Harry Potter fanfic. Writing fanfic truly revitalized my writing. Not only did I find a space where I could experiment with prose and storytelling styles I was energized by the community, the support, and the feedback. An integral part of fan writing communities, though, is constant questioning of the source material. J.K. Rowling’s world is vast and complex, full of contradictions, hints, and things not explained. To write a story set in that world, as a writer I had to interpret ambiguities in the source material or even extend it by answering questions that were left unanswered in Rowling’s canon.
One question that came up repeatedly, especially as the series neared its end, was what happens after Hogwarts? Do wizards have universities? If Snape is a potions “master” does that imply higher degrees and higher education? As I put my mind to thinking about what a wizarding university would be like, I realized I was straying so far from the source material I was creating something new of whole cloth. That, combined with my criticism of Rowling’s magic system, came together as the two big pieces of world building for the Magic University books.
And, it being me, I wanted to inject certain other things I wanted in the HP world but that were left invisible in the canon, namely alternative sexuality and eroticism. Thus did a young man arrive at Veritas, the secret magical university hidden inside Harvard, to begin a journey that would have him studying sex magic by his sophomore year.
The somewhat obvious way the Magic University interrogates the Rowling canon—or maybe just the fun magic world I created where sex was integral it—attracted the notice of various HP fan writers, and it wasn’t long before I noticed fan fiction set at Veritas popping up. Ultimately things progressed to the publication of Spellbinding, an anthology of short stories set in my world, seven by me, but ten by other writers playing in my sandbox. That was tremendous fun because I got to see other people’s take on my world, and work with some fantastically talented writers, too.
The other HP fan connection that the books now have is that the cover art is being done by an artist I originally met through Harry Potter fandom. She now produces much incredible fan art for Sherlock and The X-Files, but at the time Fox Estacado blew me away with her portraits of Snape, Hermione, Draco, and Luna. When Riverdale Avenue Books asked me if I had an artist in mind for the Magic University covers I asked for her. I’m so pleased at what she’s been able to do, bringing the characters of Kyle, Frost, Alex, and Professor Damiana Pendragon to life, and here for the final book we have one of the book’s most important characters, a trans character, Master Callendra Brandish.
Here’s a little secret. Nearly every professor, master, or faculty member in the books is an homage to a writer I admire or look up to. Master Brandish grew out of an image I had held in my mind since the 1998 Outwrite conference in Boston. There was this moment toward the end of the day when Kate Bornstein (author of Gender Outlaw and A Queer and Pleasant Danger), who had just taught a master class in theater writing, sat down for a moment, dog-tired and drained, and then I watched as she brushed her hand elegantly over her hair and just drew strength from somewhere deep within, and rose gracefully to her feet. I felt I’d just watched someone do magic, and that moment stuck in my subconscious, until the entire character of Master Brandish arrived on the page in Magic University more than ten years later. That combination of willowy grace and a wellspring of hidden strength was the hallmark of Master Brandish for me, and Fox has done an incredible job of capturing that in this cover art for the concluding book in the series, The Poet and the Prophecy.
Cecilia Tan writes about her many passions, from erotic fantasy to baseball, from her home in the Boston area. She is the author of many books, including the award-winning Slow Surrender, Daron’s Guitar Chronicles, and The Prince’s Boy. She has edited over 50 anthologies of erotica for Red Silk Editions, Thunder’s Mouth Press, Blue Moon Books, Masquerade Books, Ravenous Romance, and for the publishing house she founded, Circlet Press. Her short fiction has appeared in Ms. Magazine, Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine, Best American Erotica, and many other places.