The Magic Circle
by Jenny Davidson
In the genre-bending literary thriller THE MAGIC CIRCLE, by Columbia University professor Jenny Davidson (Amazon Publishing/New Harvest, on sale March 26, 2013), three young women invent a live-action role-playing game that goes terribly awry. Lucy, Ruth, and Anna are academics who study the culture of gaming. With New York City as their playground, they design games based on the secret history of the neighborhood around Columbia University. From Grant’s Tomb to the insane asylum that once stood where the campus is now, the chilling past makes Morningside Heights the perfect setting for their daring games.
Roommates Ruth and Lucy join forces with their mysterious Swedish neighbor Anna to develop an immersive game based on The Bacchae. In Euripides’ classic play, a young man, Pentheus, denies the divinity of the god Dionysus and pays a high price for asserting the values of reason over passion. When Anna’s seductive brother Anders gets involved and introduces “LARP”ing (live-action role-playing), their ideas become reality and the game goes from thrilling to terrifying.
Davidson’s state-of-the-art narrative structure includes blog posts, text messages, and Gchats—mixing contemporary culture with the enduring drama of The Bacchae. THE MAGIC CIRCLE delves into the sociology of live-action role-playing and highlights the fine line between gaming and real life.
1. Tell us a little about yourself.
I’ve been teaching in the English department at Columbia University in New York since 2000. I live in an apartment with a black-and-white tuxedo cat called Mickey, lots of books and papers and a random slew of equipment for my favored hobby, triathlon. I can often be found running in Riverside Park or attending a masters swim workout or a spin class at Chelsea Piers.
2. Who or what gives you inspiration?
Novels! I love them more than anything, my life would be immeasurably poorer if there were no such thing and I have wanted to write them myself from earliest childhood.
3. What’s the hardest part of being a writer?
Revision. I like researching and planning and drafting – but the need to revise always seems to fall when I’m trying to do a million other things as well, though it only goes well when it gets your full attention.
4. What do you need around you to write (special drink, lucky items, etc)?
I do write most happily when there is a cat around! The main thing I need to write, though, is no internet – I still often draft with pen and paper, and I take my draft to a coffee shop (no computer) and sit and get a couple distraction-free hours. I recently went so far as to install Freedom on my computer – it gives me nice chunks of internet-free time at my discretion.
5. What are some of your favorite books?
I’m just reading an amazing novel by Sarah Pinborough called A Matter of Blood – it’s London police procedural, but it’s also an ambitious fantasy novel. I like that combination. Two of my favorite kinds of popular fiction: thrillers (exemplified by Lee Child and Dick Francis); young-adult fantasy (Diana Wynne Jones, Robin McKinley). A writer whose books I’m in love with: Tana French, start anywhere but the most recent one is Broken Harbour. Other favorite writers: Austen, Dickens, Anthony Burgess.
6. Are your characters based on anyone you know?
One of my three main characters is based half on me and half on an old friend of mine. The other two in The Magic Circle aren’t at all based on anyone I know, though I thought of a group of former students of mine, graduate students, when I tried to capture the dynamic of life for young women at that stage of life. I find it difficult not to have a main character who’s at least somewhat based on myself – you will see an earlier version of this in my YA alternate-history novel The Explosionist, triangulate between Sophie and Lucy and you will have someone much like me!
7. What, if anything, are you working on right now?
Revisions for a little book on literary style, criticism rather than fiction, which will be published next year.
8. Why do you love writing?
Because I love reading, and books are my favorite thing; because I have a compulsion to make things, and I don’t know how to make symphonies or sculptures or even, really, super-impressive cakes. Really I don’t know why I do it, I’m not sure it improves my quality of life but it is a stronger compulsion than almost anything else I do.
About the Author
is a professor of comparative literature at Columbia University. She is the author of the novel Heredity
(2003); two YA novels, The Explosionist
(2008) and Invisible Things
(2010); and several academic books. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and blogs at Light Reading
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