Monday, March 05, 2012

Mixing Magics

By Cathy Clamp

JH: I'm delighted to welcome urban fantasy author Cathy Clamp (half of the writing team of Cat Adams) back to the blog. Today, she's sharing her thoughts on mixing magical and supernatural elements in the same novel. 

Cathy has written several great posts, so be sure to check out the others as well. (Here's one on foreshadowing and one on keeping a series fresh) Her newest books, The Isis Collar, releases next week so be sure to check it out.

Take it away Cathy...

Janice asked me to stop by today to talk about magic. Well, mixed magics, anyway. A lot of urban fantasies today have magic inherent in the world. Of course, ours does too. THE ISIS COLLAR is the fourth book of The Blood Singer series, which pits former lowly human (now part vampire and part siren) Celia Graves against a host of baddies . . . human and paranormal. So how do you get mages, religious magic, the Greek pantheon and Egyptian lore all to fit into the same world?

Effort and a fertile brain.

Celia fights magic WITH magic. All kinds of magic. Religion doesn’t matter in Celia’s world, so long as the person is a “true believer.” The deity isn’t the question. The faith is. But there’s more than religious magic. There’s physiology too. And entrepreneurship.

Before she got her vamp powers and came into her siren-ness, she was just an ordinary vanilla human—faced with bad things in dark alleys just like the rest of humanity. How did she cope? The same way the rest of the humans in Celia’s world cope. They rely on the grocery store shelves. One-Shot brand water pistols, filled with only the best holy water. Take care of those vamps on the hunt! Little mechanical sniffers can trace down whether it was a neighborhood dog or a hellhound that dumped over your trash can. Little ceramic disks contain prepackaged spells to boost up your aura or prevent the curse from the angry gypsy down the block. Yay for commercialism to keep us all safe!

Inherent in magic is the logic of how it works. Holy water in a single-shot squirt gun? How easy to believe in that! Just like blessed crosses or stars or crescents when you’re in a bind. How many people today go into new age shops to buy crystals or herbs or oils to protect them? When you’re blending magics from different religions or different schools of mythology in a novel, you have to make it realistic. Take what you can from the real world and twist it just a bit. Sirens, in our world, don’t sing. Well, some do, but no more than the rest of humanity. No, sirens are psychic. They call out with mental waves, influence men to do their bidding. Plus, they can work with the ocean. Waves come to them like puppies toward food—easy to crash ships on rocks when there’s no way to steer against the tide.

And vampires? Well, unlike a lot of other worlds, ours are mostly feral. They’re animals with no real memory of their humanity. Sort of makes sense when you’re dead. So, being a vampire isn’t any sort of blessing or wondrous way to stay with your sweetie for all eternity. All getting bit gives you is a one-way ticket to dead. Which is why it’s amazing Celia survived, and why she’ll do nearly anything to stay alive.

So how to blend them into a novel that makes sense, that doesn’t conflict or step over the top of other magics? A lot of it is innovation and turning things on their ears. If Celia is a siren, why is she tone deaf? Because it doesn’t matter for the magic. Why can’t she control her influence on people? She’s trying. But like all things, control takes time and practice. She’s usually hip deep in problems, so time is something she seldom has. As we grow into Celia’s world, you’ll find her taking the time to practice, because she’ll have no choice but to control it. And that’s when the magical worldbuilding will really start to get fun. Because there are endless possibilities with magic—just so long as it makes sense to the reader.

Believability is key in writing. When you’re writing about magic, especially, you need to take the time to think about all the “Say what?” questions your readers are likely to have. It’s actually okay if not everything makes sense, just so long as the characters ask the same questions. In one scene in THE ISIS COLLAR, FBI agent Dom Rizzoli asks Celia to use one of her talents, the siren side, to “influence” a terrorist to give away the location of the next bomb. At first she says no. And not even no, but hell no.

But what happens if the next bomb goes off, and she knows, absolutely knows it’s her fault? What then? What would you do?

Here’s what Celia did:

The road to ruin is the one that’s smooth and paved, and the fastest cart to carry you is good intentions. Words of wisdom from my Gran and they were oh so true today.

I’d sworn never to use my psychic abilities again to torture or coerce but what Rizzoli was suggesting wasn’t precisely either one.

I stared through the two-way mirror at the slender middle-aged man with the pock-marked face. He glowered at the bearded Asian agent in the room with him but didn’t speak a word, no matter how hard the agent tried to convince him to do the right thing and not hurt innocent kids. The layered black clothing on the captive spoke of an extremist religious order, perhaps one of several that had arisen in eastern Europe lately. The heavy salt and pepper eyebrows and Roman nose made me think of Croatia or Bulgaria but I could be wrong.

Rizzoli leaned close to my shoulder and whispered. “All you have to do is suggest he cooperate with us. It’s not torture and doesn’t change anything that’s happened. But we’ll know where the other bombs are and what they do.” Then he did the one thing I’d been praying he wouldn’t do. He pulled out his wallet and flipped it open to a posed family portrait. His wife was blonde and a tad chubby but pretty in a pale blue silk dress. A little girl, still a toddler, sat on Rizzoli’s lap while an older boy, obviously Mikey, stood at his side proudly, a hand on his father’s shoulder. Damn it. The kid had his father’s dark good looks. Rizzoli’s hand tightened on my shoulder with something approaching panic. “Celia. Please don’t let anything happen to my son.”

He’d never called me Celia before and it made me let out a pained sound. What were my morals worth? What price, ethics? “What if he doesn’t know anything? What if he’s just an innocent dupe you picked up by accident?”

The voice in my ear must have been the same one that accompanied the apple in the Garden. So reasonable, logical. “If he doesn’t know anything, he can’t tell us anything and he’s free to go.”

Free to go. Even though he’d already admitted to being involved with people who put an exploding death curse on him. Not freaking likely. No, he knew something and I didn’t figure that somehow the guy in black was going to be allowed to go back to his buddies. Maybe it wouldn’t be the FBI proper who did the deed but they’d find someone who would. Still, why was it little Mikey’s fault? What did a kid who just wanted his first two-wheeler have to do with stupid, ugly politics?

I grabbed the wallet out of Rizzoli’s hand and stared at the happy family, not the man in black or the distraught father standing next to me. Was it wrong for me to want a child I’d never met to be safe? Didn’t I have the right to want him to grow up happy and healthy? Couldn’t I want it . . . a lot? That wasn’t coercion or torture. It was just me, wanting people to be happy in a way I’d never been lucky enough to have in my mess of a family.

Movement erupted from the corner of my eye, but I kept my gaze hard on the photograph. I could look at the photo and worry and fear for those sweet kids. More, I could care whether they lived, free from harm.

The longer I stared, the more the toddler resembled my little sister when she was a baby. I’d lost her early, at the hands of greedy, thoughtless assholes who thought kids were easy targets and could be used or abused at will. Maybe if her kidnappers had cooperated she’d still be alive.

Rizzoli’s hand covered mine and eased away the wallet that I’d nearly crushed in a supernatural grip. “That’s enough, Graves. He’s cooperating.” His voice was soft, sympathetic—the voice a person uses in the hospital or to bring a person down off the ledge.


I shook my head and blinked back the tears I hadn’t realized were rolling down my face. When I could see again through the film of salty water, the man in black was crying openly, his thin shoulders shaking as he lay face first on his folded arms. The Asian agent was blowing his nose into a large cloth handkerchief.

The man in black abruptly went stony faced again, realizing he’d already said too much. He wiped his eyes angrily, probably wondering how the agent had caused him to speak. But the agent was still looking confused. I’d imagine FBI agents don’t often sob in front of prisoners.

“You’ve got to start crying again. It was working.” Rizzoli’s voice was an urgent hiss.

I couldn’t help but let out a frustrated sound and throw up my hands a tiny bit before whispering. “I can’t start sobbing on command. The first time was a fluke.”

He turned his head and gave me an incredulous look. “Oh, please. Your life has sucked, Graves. I’m amazed every day I find out you’re not curled up in a fetal position in the corner with a gun to your head. If you don’t have reason to cry, nobody does.”


What had Celia done to make the man cry? Heck, she didn’t know. Magic’s like that sometimes. So long as the characters ask the logic questions and the people in that world throw up their hands, it’s okay to remain a mystery.

If you want to read more about zombies, Isis, mages and sirens, you should buy THE ISIS COLLAR, coming in March from Cat Adams (I’m the Cat. My co-author, C.T. is the Adams!) You an order it at our publisher’s site, by scrolling down to the bottom of the page to the Buy the Book section and choosing your favorite on-line retailer:

Oh, and if you haven’t yet read any of Celia’s earlier adventures in BLOOD SONG, SIREN SONG and DEMON SONG, they just happen to be on super-special SALE right now! That’s right, if you have a Kindle, Nook or other ereader, you can pick up each of the three for just $2.99 each! Heck, that’s three for the price of one! And if you’re a print person (like me), they’re also on sale in mass market paperback for a 4-for-3 sale at Amazon until the release of THE ISIS COLLAR. I hope you enjoy our foray into magic today. Let me know if you have any questions about YOUR magical system. :)


  1. Awesome post. And another book added to my to-read list!

    I love taking bits and pieces from different beliefs and mixing them in my work.

  2. I love all of the different magical elements in this series! The magic of Celia and the magic of Bruno and John all mix well! I can't wait for the next book to be released!

  3. Your mix of magic is what makes it believable. I'm rooting for John! Looking forward to the next book.

  4. Ooh, that sale is tempting. Good point about asking the right questions.

  5. I have been counting down til the release of The Isis Collar. With every glimpse you give, though, I get a little more antsy :)

  6. Cool way to use Celia's Siren ability, even though she has no control over how it works apparently.

  7. Glad you enjoyed the post. Hope you enjoy the book as much! :D Thanks for stopping by. You're all entered for the chance to win an autographed copy!

  8. I really like how you take an "ordinary vanilla human" and make her so much more than that. I guess in a way it's something we kind of aspire to be... something more. Celia is even more likeable because she isn't infallible. Just wish I had some of my own magic:)

  9. Great post!! Magic has to come with its price in my fictional world. I enjoy reading about your rules and I'll add your book to my "to buy" list.

  10. Wow that story sounds fascinating! I loved the excerpt. And the tongue in cheek swipe at certain vampire stories. haha I'll have to talk my hubby into letting me snag these books. mmm fun

  11. Definitely! It's worth the money, I swear. :D