20 Minutes with Cecilia Tan

Cecilia Tan
Cecilia Tan

Cecilia Tan is a visionary author whose interests, passions, and achievements span a broad spectrum of experience. To say “she is best known for [something]” is a difficult sentence to complete for exactly that reason, but that is also what makes this 20(ish) minutes with her such a remarkable and inspiring conversation.  Join us as Ceclia discusses the application of spiritual divination to modern writing techniques, the value of fantasy and scifi to our culture, and the processes of engaging activity with your creative mojo. (and be sure to check out Cecilia’s Workshop Episode!)

PROMO: The Hollywood Outsider

Showcase Episode: 20 Minutes with Cecilia Tan

[caution: mature themes and language – listener discretion is advised]

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Episode Breakdown

01:35 – Ceclia’s Awesome Intro


06:55 – What do you feel is the value of fantasy and science to our society and culture?

  • 07:45 – A large part of how we learn about the world comes from reading and not from experiencing it
  • 08:00 – We can learn so much about other ways of “being” through reading
  • 08:10 – In fiction you can have an immersive experience that can change the way you think
  • 08:25 – Studies are starting to come out that people’s attitudes are actually changed by what they read
  • 10:30 – Science Fiction and Fantasy have the ability to dislocate us from our regular reality
  • 10:55 – That disarms the reader so their defenses are down
  • 11:10 – One of the things that we can do is open people’s eyes to possibilities other than what they’re used to


11:25 – Are you aware of that consciously when you’re writing?

  • 11:30 – I am (in an almost activist way)… I don’t think most people are
  • 11:40 – I want to live in a world where there is more acceptance of sexual diversity, relationship diversity and gender diversity
  • 11:50 – Part of the way I make that happen is by putting these stories out into the world
  • 12:05 – I get comments all the time that “I don’t like such and such… but I liked YOUR story about it”


12:25 – What is it about your work that makes such topics so much more approachable?

  • 13:05 – I try to do what good fiction should do which is to create sympathy or empathy between the reader and the main character
  • 13:45 – The number one thing that fiction needs to do is create that connection
  • 13:55 – If you do that, then you can put your character through all kinds of things and the reader will stick with you
  • 14:45 – Some of those things are going to be totally new (fighting orcs, picking up a sword, etc)
  • 15:00 – In terms of erotic fantasy and scifi, people have a basic gut feeling about what sex is like but the details can change drastically
  • 15:30 – People are often afraid of their erotic fantasies, but when it’s in a book, it’s okay


15:50 – Can you ever really let go of the social confines we live with and write in an unbridled manner?

  • 16:40 – A lot of people I know have different pseudonyms and write different styles in each one like they’re taking on a persona
  • 16:55 – I’ve never taken a persona… I’m too lazy and, as an activist, I think I need to be out of the closet


18:40 – PROMO: The Hollywood Outsider


19:25 – On your website, you talk about your interest in Tarot… how do you use the Tarot to inform and inspire your writing?

  • 19:50 – The Tarot is a tool for revealing the subconscious. When a reader lays out their cards, they’re asking YOU to interpret the cards
  • 20:35 – In that way, it’s a lot like psychotherapy where you ask leading questions to get the person to answer the question for themselves
  • 20:45 – The act of writing fiction is the same… it’s the act of revealing your subconscious to yourself.
  • 20:55 – You have an idea in the back of your mind and you have trust that muse and get it onto the paper
  • 21:00 – I think almost all writer’s block is a failure of confidence
  • 21:40 – If I feel like I’m stuck or meandering, maybe I’m trying to make the story something that it isn’t
  • 22:00 – There’s this idea that your conscious mind has of what the story is supposed to be like
  • 22:05 – Professional writers often have themes imposed on them, but the story is coming from your subconscious
  • 23:30 – It forces you to focus and engage your creative subconscious
  • 24:30 – Also, because I write fantasy, I get to go to a meta level where I can use the actual cards in the story, too
  • 24:45 – I did a series of four books called “Magic University” and I use Tarot as a kind of motif
  • 25:30 – I had one character do a Tarot reading for another character and did the actual reading and it fit the plot perfectly
  • 26:15 – Divination is just forcing yourself to focus on what’s going on underneath the conscious world


  • 27:00 – When you write, all the stuff your mind is paying attention to (that your CONSCIOUS self isn’t) comes through
  • 27:25 – That’s how the mechanism of our perception works
  • 27:35 – A huge part of writing is not allowing your conscious perception get in the way of all the stuff in your subconscious
  • 28:05 – When you start populating your story with details, you’re [seeding the story unconscious cues that may ultimately reveal what the story is really about]


29:20 – How does that work with you being an outliner?

  • 29:25 – What I’ve discovered is that my outline is good for the first half of the story
  • 30:00 – By the time I get there, the path to the end of the story looks totally different than I initially thought
  • 30:30 – The second half of the story is totally by the seat of my pants


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Comments (3)

Throw that damned clock away when podcasts are as great as this one with Cecilia Tan. Thank you so much, can’t wait for the workshop. I’ll be ready her work in anticipation–thank you for introducing Ms Tan to me.

Thanks, Dolly! And believe me… we curse that clock all the time, especially during this interview. I remember glancing down to check the time and thinking, “NO!” But with someone as awesome as Cecilia, it doesn’t take long to discover what a rare person she is.

Interesting episode. I am enjoying hearing from people who have had such a rich experience.

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