Long live the Quintessence!

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From Academic Article to Fantasy Novel

A&H YouTube ScreenCap via Picasa

Back in September 2016, as part of Vancouver Island University’s Arts and Humanities Colloquium Series, I presented a lecture entitled “From Academic Article to Fantasy Novel: Medieval Alchemy and The Alchemists’ Council.” Thanks to VIU and the Media Research Lab, that presentation is now available on YouTube. Thanks specifically to Harlen Bertrand, the recently uploaded version has been reedited so that all the slides/images are visible.

The video begins with introductions to VIU and the Colloquium Series by Timothy Lewis (Professor of History) and Ralph Nilson (President of Vancouver Island University). These words of welcome are followed by a brief introduction to my presentation by Marni Stanley (Professor of English). I then begin speaking shortly after the 14-minute mark.

My talk opens with an introduction to alchemy in general. I then discuss a few specifics of my academic work, especially regarding alchemy. Thereafter, I outline several key alchemical concepts (including the alchemical hermaphrodite) that I transformed from my academic study of medieval alchemy into the fictional world of The Alchemists’ Council. Along the way I read several brief passages from Book One (The Alchemists’ Council) and preview a passage from Book Two (The Flaw in the Stone).

My hope is that those people interested in alchemy and/or the world and concepts of The Alchemists’ Council trilogy will enjoy watching and learning more about alchemical images, manuscripts, and texts–the facts and the fictions.

Click here to reach the entire VIU Colloquium Series page. Or click here to reach my presentation.

A&H YouTube ScreenCap


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Adventures at World Fantasy Con 2017

 

ProgramMy first experience at World Fantasy Con truly was fantastic! I enjoyed every moment! Attending panels, hearing authors read, wandering around the art displays, and talking with various writers, publishers, and other people interested in fantasy literature were pleasures through and through.

The CrowdsOne highlight was the opportunity to meet folk who stopped by to chat at either Friday night’s “signature event” or the ECW booth throughout the convention. Special thanks to the people who came to my reading of The Flaw in the Stone Saturday–a small but enthusiastic group!

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Conversations with fellow writers Michael Wigington and Timothy Ray were both inspirational and delightful. Both of these generous authors provided me with one of their books, and Tim even gave me a second book to pass along to a colleague who teaches zombie literature at VIU. Thank you Michael for The Bloodstone Reckoning (Book One of The Earth Mother Saga) and Tim for both The Acquisition of Swords (Book One of the New Age Saga) and Charon’s Blight: Day One (Book One of the Rotting Souls series)!

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Spending time with David Caron and Jessica Albert, from ECW Press, was especially gratifying. Between events we shared stories and laughter, delicious Texan meals and San Antonio-style margaritas. One of our dinner-hour discussions notably brought us to develop a plot point for The Amber Garden (Book Three of The Alchemists’ Council).

David and Jessica

For those of you who picked up a copy of the ARC of The Flaw in the Stone at the convention (or elsewhere), keep in mind that the new book is a continuation of the story established originally in The Alchemists’ Council. So be sure to read (or re-read) The Alchemists’ Council (Book One) prior to venturing into The Flaw in the Stone (Book Two). In a future blog post I plan to expand on this topic, but for now let me simply say for readers to fully appreciate the characters, worlds, and ironies of Book Two, reading Book One first is paramount.

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Thank you ECW Press and World Fantasy Convention for making this adventure possible! And thank you, people of San Antonio, for hosting us all!

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World Fantasy Con 2017 Announcement

Hello Alchemists and Friends! I’m pleased to announce that I will be reading from The Flaw in the Stone at World Fantasy Convention 2017. In addition to attending the Friday night Signature Event, I will be signing books on Saturday morning (beginning at 11 a.m. at the ECW booth) and reading on Saturday afternoon (beginning at 3 p.m. in ExecSalon 3). If you attend WFC, please stop by and say hello–I’d love to meet readers!

WFC 2017 Banner

The Flaw in the Stone

After a summer of revising Book 2 and writing (as much as possible of) Book 3, the new academic year is upon us. For now, I must set aside the fantasy writing and turn my attention to teaching courses in medieval literature and composition.

But today, before venturing into The Canterbury Tales, I wanted to announce that Book 2 will be published in March (with ARCs available within the next few months to reviewers). Until then, here’s the cover image followed by a brief teaser from the Prologue. I’ll be back here with updates as soon as possible!

Flaw in the Stone RGB Final Cover

From the Prologue to The Flaw in the Stone:

Genevre trembled. Once again, she removed a piece of glass from her pocket, reopening her wound for the second time. She held her bleeding finger above the first folio while applying pressure with her thumbnail to ensure the release of large drop of blood. At first nothing happened as the blood hit the page, and she suddenly feared the repercussions if anyone were able to trace the manuscript defacement to her. But, as the minutes passed, the folio began to bear forth its message. The illumination emerged first, rendered in dark crimson and gold. It featured what appeared to be a small being within an ancient alembic, or some kind of transparent vessel. Shortly thereafter, a few words appeared above the image. Their size, style, and placement suggested they formed a title, but Genevre could not read the ancient script in which the words were written.

“Congratulations.”

Genevre spun around. Dracaen stood directly behind her.

“You have done what no High Azoth, including myself, has ever managed to do. Your bloodline alchemy truly is extraordinary.”

Genevre blushed, ashamed at being caught but simultaneously proud of her accomplishment.

“You are no mere outside world scribe,” continued Dracaen. “But neither are you, as yet, an alchemist — rebel or otherwise. Thus, as High Azoth of the Rebel Branch, I must ask you to leave this chamber immediately.”

“But—”

“We will return here together one day, but for now — for your own safety and that of the entire Flaw dimension — you must leave and allow the manuscript to mature.”

“I don’t understand.”

“One by one, over the years — three decades if the scriptural enigmas have been correctly interpreted — the words and illuminations on each folio will emerge. We cannot risk contaminating the sacred process with our impatience.”

“At least tell me what these words say.” She pointed to the letters inscribed above the image of the alembic, now fully revealed and spectacularly vivid on the first folio.

Dracaen moved closer to the manuscript. He smiled and sighed. “Finally.”

“Finally?”

Finally, the Rebel Branch has gained an advantage over the Alchemists’ Council. Even if you choose to leave us on your Day of Decision, today you have repaid our hospitality beyond measure. The Rebel Branch will be forever grateful. With this manuscript, our greatest potential has begun to manifest.”

“What do the words say?”

“Roughly . . .” Dracaen began but then paused as if pondering the best translation of the manuscript’s title. He announced it solemnly: “Formula for the Conception of the Alchemical Child.”


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Summertime Stories 2017

This afternoon I had one of the best experiences I’ve ever had as author of The Alchemists’ Council thanks to the people at Nanaimo Association of Community Living. As described on its website, “NACL is committed to removing the barriers faced by individuals with a developmental disability.”

When facilitator Robin Erickson asked the participants in her Career Exploration group what people they would like to interview about careers, one creative member suggested “an author of a fantasy novel.” Not knowing if she could find such a person in Nanaimo, Robin told her group she would nonetheless try. A fortunate Google search led her to me!

NACL Group Photo
Left to right: Cynthea, Tina, Dustin, Jeremy, and (front) Stephen

Robin’s group comprises five people, four of whom joined us today: Tina, Dustin, Jeremy, and Stephen. The questions posed by the group were extraordinarily thorough and interesting. They ranged from basic (such as “What inspired you to write the book?”) to complex (such as “What is the most difficult part about being an author?”) to pleasantly unique (such as “Do you read with your glasses on?”). Today’s interview was one of the most thought-provoking I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience. I extend my gratitude to everyone involved for welcoming me to the Career Exploration session!

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In other book news . . . most of the summer thus far has been spent working on edits of Book 2 (The Flaw in the Stone) and writing the initial chapters of Book 3 (The Amber Garden). However, in June, I had the opportunity to travel to Ontario, where I met with various people associated directly and indirectly with The Alchemists’ Council.

My first stop was at ECW Press itself, which is nestled amidst a variety of eclectic shops and colourful murals on Gerrard Street East (near Broadview Avenue) in Toronto.

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Featured here are photos of the building, its mural, and me with publisher David Caron. David and I enjoyed a leisurely chat over tea and muffins about the books and various related topics. I always appreciate our discussions!

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Later that day I met with Bridget Wareham, the reader of The Alchemists’ Council audiobook. Last year, when she was in the midst of recording the book, we chatted on the phone several times–particularly in regard to the pronunciation of character names and alchemical terms! But this visit was the first one in person. I absolutely loved meeting her, and I look forward to our paths crossing again.

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You may be interested to know that, in addition to recording audiobooks, Bridget is a screen and television actor. To learn more about her most recent film, Hunting Pignut, check out the film’s Facebook page or click on the image of the film’s poster.

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Another highlight of my Toronto trip was an impromptu visit to Bakka-Phoenix Books. While checking to see if they carried The Alchemists’ Council–which I was happy to find they did–I had the good fortune to chat with author Leah Bobet.

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Leah’s lastest book, An Inheritance of Ashes, has had great reviews, including this one: Quill & Quire Review.

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A second author I had the pleasure to meet on this trip was Randal Graham. He is another ECW Press novelist, whose book Beforelife is about to the hit the shelves.

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Our editor, Jen Hale, now refers to us as her two professor authors who write about eternity. (Randal works at Western University, and I work at Vancouver Island University.) The three of us enjoyed a delicious lunch in London, Ontario, and talked about everything from academia to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Of course, I often talk with academics about Buffy; however, unlike Jen and I, Randal has never been to Slayage. Well, not yet . . . but the 2018 conference awaits!)

Beforelife

On one final note about connections with other authors, I’ve recently had the pleasure to correspond with Dee Willson, who won the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize in the Genre Fiction (Speculative Fiction) category for her novel A Keeper’s Truth. Dee and I were both nominated for that award, and I sincerely congratulate her on the win. (If you’d like to see all the nominated authors and their books, click here.)

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Finally, thank you again to the Independent Publisher Book Awards! In addition to the gratitude I expressed in my previous post about the award, I must say that I love the visual coincidence of a gold medal on the cover of a book about alchemy.

Long live the Quintessence!

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Gratitude

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The Alchemists’ Council has recently won an Independent Publisher Book Award–specifically, the Gold Medal for Fantasy. Thank you, Independent Publishers! Congratulations to all the other medalists, especially David Waid and Russell C. Connor, whose books won the Silver and Bronze in Fantasy.

If you would like to learn more about the awards and see the winning books in all categories, click on either of the images in this post.

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During this time of gratitude, I would also like to extend my sincere thanks to all the readers who have supported Book 1 since its publication last year. You will be pleased to know I am currently working with my editor on revisions to Book 2: The Flaw in the Stone. And, just last week, I wrote the opening passages to Book 3: The Amber Garden.

Long live the Quintessence!


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The Alchemists’ Pendants

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The pendant featured above was given to me a few weeks ago by Cheryl Morrison, an avid Alchemists’ Council reader. She commissioned an artist to design this piece: a tree in the Amber Garden growing out of the Lapis. I gasped when I saw it and thanked her profusely. It truly epitomizes the spirit of the book. The Lapis therein even houses a flaw. Watching the light glisten through the amber, I stood astonished.

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According to Cheryl, the artist who made this gift not only listened to Cheryl’s description of the Amber Garden, but she later read the book herself while designing the pendant. She also read through this blog, including the post I wrote almost a year ago on the significance of amber.

If you would like to explore more of Hailey Sacree’s stunning pendant art, visit her Etsy shop or Facebook page for WOUND TO EARTH.

woundtoearthlogoCouncil Initiates may begin seeking their pendants here rather than making the journey to Santa Fe.

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Since writing the earliest notes that would eventually transform into Book One, I envisioned alchemists wearing pendants. In 2009, just as Jaden does near the end of Chapter Two, I purchased a pendant from a woman named Florence in Santa Fe. This exquisite piece of “blue turquoise flecked with black” inspired more than only a geographically specific scene. Thanks to this pendant, inspiration for specific Council pendants began. An alchemist’s pendant holds not only a fragment of the Lapis, but the accumulated power of the alchemist, without which one’s bond to the Council ends.

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I have written every passage of Books One and Two wearing the same pendant — one of elaborate silver repoussé wrapped around a green stone. Feeling its weight around my neck immediately transports me into the books’ multiple dimensions, into a state of mind conducive to writing. As a gift for my editor after we completed Book One, I chose an amethyst pendant. The stone is set back into the silver and boasts a streak of rebel red.

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pendant-ssThe silver and stone pendants worn by the alchemists may eventually outshine even the official Council logo as an overarching symbol of The Alchemists’ Council. If you are a potential Council or Rebel Branch Initiate, don’t worry — you will inevitably recognize your pendant when you cross its path.


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Happy New Year Alchemists & Rebels!

Welcome to 2017! On New Year’s Day, a friend sent me these two photos taken at the Crowfoot Chapters in Calgary, Alberta:

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Observing that The Alchemists’ Council continues to be spotted in the wild in the same general habitat as Martin’s Game of Thrones, I have been inspired to update readers on events of the past few months.

In August I participated in Nanaimo’s first GeekCon! Held at the downtown branch of the public library, the event drew numerous participants for its games and cosplay, alongside a small but enthusiastic audience for my reading. Thank you to Janis (not pictured) for dropping by to assist me with book sales. And thank you to audience members Meg, Eric, Brandon, Nalia, and Lee for your active participation! Reconnecting with Lee was particularly welcomed since he is a former student of mine from many years ago.

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In September, as a contributor to Vancouver Island University’s Arts and Humanities Colloquium Series, I spoke about the influence of my academic research and writing on my creative writing.

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Comprising detailed commentary and over 80 slides, this hour-long presentation was one of the most difficult I’ve had to prepare yet one of the most fulfilling I’ve had the pleasure to present. Specific topics included The Philosopher’s Stone, The Emerald Tablet, The Alembic, The Alchemical Tree, The Alchemical Hermaphrodite, and Conjunction. The event’s question period yielded numerous insightful inquiries from engaged audience members. Thank you to all who attended, including VIU President, Dr. Ralph Nilson.

For now I can offer only one photo taken by colleague and audience member Melissa Stephens. Note, however, that the A&H Colloquium Series is filmed, so I will be able to add a link as soon as it becomes available.

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September 30, 2016, Malaspina Theatre (VIU, Nanaimo) / Photo Credit: Melissa Stephens

In October I submitted the first draft of the manuscript of Book 2 (The Flaw in the Stone) to ECW Press. Both my publisher (David Caron) and my editor (Jennifer Hale) have now read the manuscript and provided initial feedback–all positive so far. Editing will begin soon!

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Fall 2016 brought one other exciting turn of events: The Alchemists’ Council trilogy has been optioned for television. Though I won’t be providing details of this development until we move further along in the process, I will say that I have thoroughly enjoyed my communications with the CEO of the company in question. The first time we spoke on the phone, the conversation lasted almost two hours. Since then, we have exchanged various emails exploring the philosophy, worlds, and characters of the books. Stay tuned for updates throughout 2017.

As I discovered during the Fall 2016 semester, my day/night/weekend workload kept me from adding regular updates to News from Council Dimension. Since the fast-approaching Spring 2017 semester may yield similar results, this new post for the New Year became a priority today. Though I may not be able to post at length again until the semester’s end in May, I hope you will enjoy exploring past posts and links in the meantime.

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As I Work on Book 2…

AC2 Prep

Given my job as a full-time university professor, finding time to write fiction can be challenging (to say the least). As the summer moves along and the new semester rapidly approaches, my work hours become longer and longer. Of late, I have spent several days working until after midnight. Each year at about this time, I begin to feel overwhelmed.

What has helped me keep going this summer as I work on Book 2 is the positive feedback I have received both from local people and from folks I have never met. One of the people who really cheered me up in the last few weeks was Claudia from the Nanaimo Woodgrove Chapters. Here she is pictured with The Alchemists’ Council and the “local author” stickers she happily placed on the books.

Claudia Chapters

I was pleased to see the number of copies available–the store had ten that day. However, according to the Indigo app today, only four remain; so I would also like to thank whoever bought those six copies! I am proud to be a local author in Nanaimo, British Columbia, and I appreciate the way this community has been supporting me and the book so far.

Based on the collection in the photo below (sent to me by my friend Tami Joseph), The Alchemists’ Council may seem a bit eccentric as far as local books go. On the other hand, one can always find a means to connect the birds and the bees.

Local Authors

The other people I would like to thank today are two recent book reviewers: Jason and Rain.

First, Jason Henry posted his review on Goodreads. According to Mr. Henry, “she portrayed everything so convincingly that I was shocked not to find a Wikipedia page for Novillian Scribe or Azoth Magen.” That sentence made me laugh aloud (and hope that someone would create such entries someday!). The entire review can be read here.

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Just published today, the second review can be read on the blog Lost in the RainI discovered it by signing into Twitter this afternoon where I found a notification regarding this tweet:

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Of course, not all feedback has been good. Yesterday another two-star rating showed up on Goodreads. Certainly, I realize not everyone will like the book or my writing style. But when immersed in writing the second volume to a trilogy, I have to say feedback such as that from Jason and Rain is what keeps me going. I will be forever grateful to the thoughtful readers who have taken the time to articulate their enjoyment of Book 1. These are the folk for whom I will continue to work the long hours to meet the deadlines for Book 2!

For Jason, Rain, and all the others who enjoyed Book 1, here is a small snippet of the current draft of the next book. As you may realize reading this excerpt, Book 2 is the prequel to Book 1. Among other stories, it explores what happened during the Third Rebellion.

If he said another word, Kalina did not hear it beneath the thundering crack that suddenly resounded through Flaw dimension. Indeed, she could hear nothing at all in the immediate aftermath of the deafening intrusion. Neither could she see beyond the thick mists, now churning and billowing like dust clouds in a desert storm. She could barely breath. She fell to her knees winded, fearing for her life. And then, nothing: no sounds, no sights, no mists, no movement of air or dust. Even the wooden chimes were silenced. She shook her head to reorient herself. She rose to her feet and stared at Dracaen. He appeared stunned, unable to move.

“What happened?” she asked.

And then the shriek: Thuja, screaming in one, long continual note, a siren wailing through the Rebel Branch, a call to arms.

Dracaen came back to life, turned and moved swiftly toward Thuja’s cry. By the time he and Kalina reached the Dragonblood chamber, Thuja stood silent, alongside dozens of rebels who had already gathered. Kalina blinked several times, attempting to adjust for the discrepancy. Something was wrong, but she could not quite process the altered reality; her brain could not quite catch up to her eyesight.

And then: the shock. Beyond the gathered rebels, in front of Thuja, behind the wrought-iron barrier lay absolutely nothing. The Alchemists’ Council had finally succeeded. At last the Aralians had won the Crystalline Wars. They had removed the Flaw in the Stone.


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Slayage, “The Hive,” and The Alchemists’ Council

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Last week I took a break from writing Book Two of The Alchemists’ Council to attend the ‘Euro’Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses in London, UK. If you are a fan of Joss Whedon, you likely already know about Slayage. If not, let me simply say for now that Slayage is a conference that brings together both fans and scholars to present academic papers and round table discussions on all things Whedon. Since first attending in 2006, I would name Slayage (in its various incarnations) as significant highlights of my life. Attending the conference and reconnecting with all my friends every two years fills me with utter joy.

If you would like to learn more about this year’s conference, here is a brief article, including a few details about Michael Starr who, among other contributions to the conference, designed 2016’s fabulous poster:

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From my perspective, Slayage is integrally connected to The Alchemists’ Council. Joss Whedon changed my life as both a scholar and a writer; among other things, he taught me the inherent value of the fantasy genre. And my work in Whedon Studies over the years was a major influence on my decision to write the book. Most significantly, though, I met Jennifer Hale at Slayage in 2008. Jen not only recommended the book to ECW Press in 2014, but ended up becoming its editor. Indeed, it was at Slayage 2014 in Sacramento that she informed me ECW had accepted the book for publication. What a pleasure to be able to attend Slayage 2016 and explore London with her only a few months after the book came out! Here we are enjoying yet another fantasy world a few days before the conference began:

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Onward now to “The Hive”! Given the prominence of bees in The Alchemists’ Council, I wanted to spend the day before the Slayage conference began at Kew Gardens in order to see a spectacular bee-themed art installation created by Wolfgang Buttress.

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According to the official description at the Kew Gardens website, “The installation is made from thousands of pieces of aluminium which create a lattice effect and is fitted with hundreds of LED lights that glow and fade as a unique soundtrack hums and buzzes around you. These multi-sensory elements of the Hive are in fact responding to the real-time activity of bees in a beehive behind the scenes at Kew. The sound and light intensity within the space changes as the energy levels in the real beehive surge, giving visitors an insight into life inside a bee colony.” Fortunately for me, several of my fellow Slayage friends, including Jen, joined me for this unique experience.

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When walking toward “The Hive,” seeing the metal as it glistens against the bright blue sky, one is initially impressed by the installation’s size and intricacy. The architecture alone thrilled me. The ability to view the structure from various angles added to the overall visual and sensory effects. Here are a few shots taken from underneath the structure (i.e. at the end of the path featured above), as I stood looking up into the hive.

From Ground 1

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Those people are Jen and another friend (Tamy Burnett) looking down at me from above! The path continues upward past a wildflower garden meant to attract actual bees. This shot is taken from the path on my way to the top of the structure:

From the Path

Once inside, one is met not only with a variety of sights based on the hive design, but also with the sounds of bees humming and buzzing, which fill the space. Though impressive and moving, the sounds were muffled by dozens of human voices. I would have preferred to lie down on the floor to listen and observe in silence.  And a nighttime viewing would have allowed better appreciation of the flickering lights. But what can one do at a popular tourist attraction open only during the day? We made the best of it, and the experience was fascinating.

From Inside 1

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The exhibit also included information on local bees, including this one whose Latin name–readers of the book will note–resembles “Lapidarian”!  Perhaps Kew Gardens is actually a protectorate that the Council simply had no need to use in Book One.

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Of course, Kew Gardens offered other treasures for someone who has built a world of characters named after trees. Jen and I spotted several of the namesakes from Book One, including Ilex and Cercis:

And at least one great name was suggested for a future volume: Fraxinus (clearly a member of the Rebel Branch).

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Of course, the gardens were full of exquisite trees, including this glorious weeping beech, under whose beautiful leaves and branches my friends and I spent quite a bit of time.

Weeping Birch

A few days later, the book and the conference conjoined at the banquet. Here are AmiJo Comford and Ian Klein posing with their door-prize copies of The Alchemists’ Council at ‘Euro’Slayage!

I will also take this opportunity to once again congratulate Ian for winning not only a door prize but–even better–the award for best paper at the conference! Here he is with Mr. Pointy! (Yes, non-Slayage folk, we’ve heard the jokes for years.)

Ian and Mr P

And on a final note, I would like to offer a special thank you to Bronwen Calvert, one of the conference organizers. Amidst all the work she had to do to prepare for the conference and her own paper, she somehow managed to make me this beautiful bee bag as a “congratulations on the book” present. Thank you, my generous and talented friend!

Though I’ve been back home only two days, the countdown is already on for Slayage 2018! See you again then! In the meantime, as of tomorrow, I’m headed back to writing Book Two of The Alchemists’ Council which, by the way, is tentatively titled The Flaw in the Stone. So, as Whedon’s Angel would say, “Let’s go to work!”


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