Real Settings Add Magic by Cecilia Tan
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Real Settings Add Magic by Cecilia Tan
I live about half a mile from Harvard University, so when J. K. Rowling came to speak during their graduation ceremonies a few years ago, I wangled tickets to the event. Perhaps it was that afternoon, among all the pomp and circumstance, observing the traditions that date back hundreds of years, and listening to Rowling joke that she was "pretending she was at the biggest Gryffindor reunion in the world," that the seed was planted in my subconscious that grew into MAGIC UNIVERSITY.
My editor at Ravenous Romance and I were talking about the Harry Potter books not long after that, and I said I wished there was a series for all the "grown-up" fans of the books who would have liked to see what would happen to Harry at age 18-25, the years not mentioned even in the infamous epilogue. "Why don't you write it?" she said. "Write something new, but give us the college years as well as all the magic."
So I plotted out a four book series for Magic University and decided that the book had to be set at Harvard, rather than at some completely fictional place a la Hogwarts.
Harvard is already very much like Hogwarts to begin with. For one thing, the undergraduates are divided into houses; each house has a common room and a house master. I've kept that up in Magic University, of course, where each of the four houses has as its emblem one of the suits of the Tarot deck. I have invented a few other buildings, too, which are on the Harvard campus but invisible to non-magical people, and many of the scenes in the books happen in these places I've made up.
But some of them take place in real Harvard buildings. The annual flying broom race launches every Halloween from William James Hall, Harvard's one "skyscraper," and the church spire of Memorial Hall (photo here) is used as a landmark. Kyle takes a poetry class in Robinson Hall (photo here) and confronts Timothy Frost, his rival, in front of the real gryphon frieze on that building.
There are other buildings on the Harvard campus I've "borrowed" elements from for the magical buildings, too. Gladius House shares many architectural elements with this building at the Law School, for example. And of course, everywhere you look, you find references to Veritas (which the non-magical folks claim is Harvard's motto, but the magical community knows better). There's even a gate to Harvard Yard that really looks like it ought to lead magically to Hogwarts: the McKean gate.
The terrific thing about this is I've been able to take a place that already has something of a mystique and add to that. I can use a combination of real details and invented ones to create a rich setting in which the events of the novels unfold. There are times when I can use research to fill in details--like what the dining halls are serving for dinner--and other times I can let my imagination run wild. If anything I am freer to invent the important things I need to, like spell names and magical theory, since I don't have to be inventing the names of streets, rivers, shops, etc. that already exist. I can save my energy for the real "magic," writing a great story.
Visit my Picasa album of Harvard photos at: http://picasaweb.google.com/ctan.writer/HarvardPhotos?feat=directlink.
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: http://blog.ceciliatan.com/.