Long live the Quintessence!

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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!

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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!)

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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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Reading the Alchemists’ Council: Chapter 3 (Part 2)

In Part 1 of my response to the Chapter 3 segment of The Rebel Branch Initiate’s Guide to The Alchemists’ Council, I focused on a few key elements made by both Graybosch and Higby. Part 2 will focus primarily on one particular aspect: Dragons!

Matthew’s exploration of dragon symbolism and its potential association with the Rebel Branch is interesting and diverse. I particularly appreciated learning of the Dragon Rouge, of which I was previously unaware. This and other connections Matthew has drawn between the Rebel Branch and the Left-Hand Path throughout the Chapter 3 analysis are much appreciated given their remarkable similarity to my concept of the rebels of The Alchemists’ Council.

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For those of you interested in further exploring the connections between alchemy and dragons, you can find extensive information on this page at Circle of the Dragon. For those of you interested in a quick overview in relation to its presence in alchemical literature, see the entry for “dragon” in Lyndy Abraham’s A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery.

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My concept of Dracaen, the Dragonblood Stone, and Dragon’s Blood tonic come primarily from the Dragon’s Blood (or Dragon Blood) tree. As I mentioned in an earlier post regarding the origins and pronunciation of names, most of the characters in The Alchemists’ Council are named for trees or tree-like plants. Here is the excerpt about Dracaen from that post:

DRACAEN is named for the Dragon’s Blood Tree or Dracaena cinnabari. As the narrator of this video states, the tree is “so named because of the drops of red sap which ooze out when it’s cut.” (What other name would I give the High Azoth of the dimension in which the Dragonblood Stone resides?) An array of photos of the tree and its landscape (taken by Michael Melford for National Geographic) can be found here. The pronunciation of the word dracaena can be heard here. In contrast to that pronunciation, I prefer to say the name as DRA-KANE.

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This particular tree was first introduced to me by Jessica Legacy, who was a student research assistant of mine at Vancouver Island University back in 2010. (Indeed, she is one of the VIU research assistants to whom Book One is dedicated.) Jessica brought me information about Dracaena cinnabari, suggesting I consider using it as one of the tree names. As explained at Archive.org, the Dragon’s Blood tree is “named for its dark red resin, known as dragon’s blood, a substance which has been highly prized since ancient times.” The entry at Archive.org provides extensive information about the tree, stating among other details that “[t]he dragon’s blood resin of this tree exudes naturally from fissures and wounds in the bark, and is commonly harvested by widening these fissures with a knife.” References such as this to the tree’s bleeding fissures fit perfectly with my concept of the Flaw in the Stone. Thus were the names for the Rebel High Azoth (Dracaen) and the Flaw (Dragonblood Stone) born.

And one final point for today… In addition to his detailed work on dragon lore, Matthew created a Matrix/Morpheus meme that I adore–I can only hope it hits the Twitter feeds shortly! Be sure to check it out under “Dracaen’s Pitch” in the Chapter 3 segment of The Rebel Branch Initiate’s Guide to The Alchemists’ Council.

Farewell for this week, or as the rebels might say, “Long live the Dragonblood Stone!”

Reading The Alchemists’ Council: Chapter 3 (Part 1)

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Before delving into this week’s extraordinary Graybosch & Higby Reading, I would like to mention something that has been on my mind of late: reviews of the book. Fortunately, most of the reviews have been positive. I extend my sincere gratitude to everyone who has taken the time not only to read The Alchemists’ Council but to post a review. Of course, like any writer with a newly published book, I am thrilled with the positive reviews, but I find the less-than-positive ones can sting (bee pun intended). Notably, however, the stinging variety appear to be variations on a theme: the book is dense and difficult.

Yes, I agree.

The book is indeed dense given the philosophy and vocabulary of its subject matter and the background material upon which it is based. Alchemy is one of the most complex subjects ever presented to readers. Take a look through the material at Adam McLean’s The Alchemy Website to gain a sense of its vastness and complexity. Alternatively or additionally, take some time to watch Adam McLean’s YouTube videos in the 3-part series How to Explore Alchemical Symbolism. Mr. McLean is a preeminent scholar of alchemy whose body of work and dedication to the field are extraordinary and, often, utterly breathtaking.

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If you indeed are “worthy to turn the page” (xiv), once you embark on reading The Alchemists’ Council, you need thereafter to consider yourself an Initiate willing to immerse yourself into a complex and challenging world. By the end of your journey, you might just find yourself–whether literally or figuratively–in possession of the philosopher’s stone.

I will end this opening segment by highlighting two recent reviews. One dubs the book “A Lacanian Fable.” In doing so, Rhonda Wilcox offered me (and other readers) not only extensive commentary but also a new way to approach the book! Thank you!

The other review, from Goodreads, I post here in its entirety:

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Thank you, Mr. Parker! And in case you or others are wondering, I am indeed working on Book 2 at the moment.

Onward now to The Rebel Branch Initiate’s Guide to the Alchemists’ Council: Chapter 3, this week’s contribution to the Graybosch & Higby Readings. (If you have not yet read it, click on the link and take a look before continuing here.) As regular readers of this guidebook series will note, Matthew has made recent revisions to the layout. I admire the new format; for me it’s aesthetically pleasing and thus easy to read. This week’s bee image at the top of the page is also quite stunning. I certainly appreciate these bee shots as the visual link among the posts.

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When Matthew told me that he would be dividing his Chapter 3 analysis into two parts because of the extensive length, I sent him an email expressing my concern–not about his plan to divide the chapter, but about the time he must be spending dedicated to this project! He wrote me a reassuring message in return saying, among other things, “It’s a good, meaty book that deserves support.” Honestly, Mr. Graybosch, if I were to live as long as Azoth Magen Ailanthus, I would remain forever grateful for your work and support.

As with my previous response posts to Graybosch & Higby, I will not discuss every aspect of the latest edition but instead will highlight a few items that particularly resonated with me this week. To start, I must say I found Eric Higby’s story of his childhood chemistry pursuits quite endearing. Many of us can trace the hobbies of our youth to our current interests or careers. My favourite books as a child were fantasy driven: The Witch Family; A Wrinkle in Time; Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth (to name a few). It’s no wonder I pursued graduate work in mysticism and alchemy. It’s no wonder I became a fan and scholar of the fantasy worlds of Joss Whedon. If only every adult who ever dabbled in magic, mysticism, alchemy, or chemistry as a child would pick up a copy of The Alchemists’ Council, all would be well (to paraphrase medieval mystic and author Julian of Norwich).

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This week, both Eric and Matthew focus in part on the conflict between the Alchemists’ Council and the Rebel Branch. Eric contextualizes the conflict using Yin vs. Yang and Order vs. Chaos, concluding, “I personally believe that a balance between chaos and order is the answer.” Note, however, that Eric also admits to being swayed toward joining the rebels! (Matthew seems to have joined the rebels a while ago if the title for this reader’s guide is any indication!) Matthew discusses similar concepts in the section entitled “The Rebel Branch: Walking the Left-Hand Path.” He contextualizes the conflict using Michael Moorcock‘s model of Law vs. Chaos. Each of these comparative systems has at least one aspect in common: they, like The Alchemists’ Council, emphasize the idea that both sides must exist together. Matthew’s explanation of the Kabbalistic tree, accompanied by a glorious illustration thereof, indeed depicts almost precisely the way I visualized the dimensions when writing the book. I literally gasped when I saw it.

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I also appreciated Matthew’s comparison of Jaden’s first alchemy lesson with “the ‘hello world’ program many first-year computer science and software development students are taught to write.” Yes, all adepts–whether alchemists or computer programmers–must begin at the beginning. Jaden’s transmutation of lead into gold was in fact a late addition to the book; I added it during the substantive edits stage when my editor suggested I include a few more scenes of characters actually doing alchemy. In retrospect, I see this scene as important for the very reasons mentioned by Eric and Matthew. As Eric puts it in relation to his childhood memories, “Jaden’s adventure takes us through a mix of the immersion of those feelings”; and as Matthew puts it, “transmuting lead into gold is child’s play for the Alchemists’ Council.” Overall, the scene simultaneously allows folks to relate to the meta-narrative of the alchemist in the laboratory and suggests that the alchemy of Council dimension extends far beyond this age-old stereotype.

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I must also give props to Matthew for one particular comment made in the section “Jaden’s Distrust and the SNAFU Principle”: “No doubt Cynthea Masson’s drawing on experience from her day job as a VIU English professor as she describes Sadira’s supervisory duties.” Ha! I laughed aloud when I read that sentence! Though Magistrate Sadira has some unique challenges as an Initiate teacher, I imagine that teachers from all dimensions–including right here in Nanaimo–can relate to certain aspects of this scene.

On a final note, I would like to remind readers that both Matthew Graybosch and Eric Higby have their own blogs, which have been up and running for years. I encourage all of you to click on their names here and check out their other posts, information, and news.

See you next time for a response to Chapter 3, Part 2. In the meantime… “Long live the Quintessence! Long live the Alchemists’ Council!” Or as the rebels say (in Book 2), “I am the Blood of the Dragon! I live as the Flaw in the Stone!”


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“Medieval Joss Whedon Bee Book”

Coles with Ricky

Today I would like to thank Ricky (featured in the photo) and Sarah for welcoming me to COLES bookstore at the Driftwood Mall in Courtenay. Thank you also to Maya Pozzolo for initially arranging the event.

For the first few minutes I was concerned that no one would venture over to speak with me, let alone purchase a book. These concerns proved unfounded! Coles had ordered 15 books for the occasion, and all were sold before 2 p.m.  Moreover, I spoke with several interesting and enthusiastic fantasy readers throughout my two-hour visit. Among the folk who asked me to sign their books were Chris, Ryan, Victoria, John, Erin, Rachel, Brenda, Aili, and Mona. Thanks to all of you!

My favourite moment of the visit occurred after I had described the book and answered questions from one particular patron regarding my profession. I explained that I teach medieval literature and television studies at Vancouver Island University, adding that this fall I would be offering a course on Joss Whedon’s Firefly. The woman called to her companion by saying, “Come look at this! It’s a medieval Joss Whedon bee book!” I’m not sure what Mr. Whedon would think of that description, but I certainly appreciated it!

Speaking of bees…yesterday I had yet another bee-related adventure thanks to Paul and Nicole Klan. Paul gave me a glorious lesson in honey spinning–in other words, a lesson in extracting honey from honeycombs using an electric spinner. I’ve added a few pictures. The honey itself tastes sublime!

Honey 4

Honey 5

Honey 3

Honey 2

Honey 1

The bee motif of The Alchemists’ Council has certainly led me down some new and exciting avenues of knowledge. I cannot wait to see where the next road leads!


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Reading The Alchemists’ Council: Chapter 2

William Gass

If you haven’t done so already, take a look at this week’s Graybosch & Higby Reading. Our two commentators have taken on Chapter 2 with extensive discussion that ranges from Stalin to Tutankhamun. Truly, I am astounded at the connections being drawn and the breadth of the analysis. As an English professor, I can certainly imagine the emerging Reader’s Guide being an extraordinarily useful resource for students studying the book. Indeed, if I were teaching it, I would assign the following essay:

  • “Choose a specific discussion topic found in any of the Graybosch & Higby Readings. Use that topic as a starting point for your research. Based on your chosen discussion topic and research, develop an argument into a persuasive essay regarding The Alchemists’ Council.”

Of course, I cannot teach one of my own books in my classes, so I can only hope that another professor at another outside world university will consider mining the Graybosch & Higby Readings for essay topics in the near future!

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If I were one of the students in the hypothetical scenario above, I would choose either “Making an Unperson” or “Why Turquoise?” as my starting point. I was nodding my head in agreement all the way through Graybosch’s points in these two sections.

Though I did not specifically have Stalin in mind when writing about erasure, I certainly did draw on the general notion of “erasing” undesirables. Graybosch’s reference to 1984 was particularly poignant for me since one of the attendees at last week’s book launch made the identical comment. Perhaps my undergraduate reading from 1984 itself still lingers–fortunately, not yet erased–in my subconscious. (Yes, folks, I am old enough to have begun university in the year 1984 when reading lists inevitably included Orwell’s masterpiece.)

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The image above is linked to a blog entry regarding teaching 1984, which leads me to suggest another essay topic: “Compare concepts of erasure in Orwell’s 1984 to those in Masson’s The Alchemists’ Council.” Though I am currently between classes, the professor in me clearly does not shut down. (If anyone actually does assign this topic, I would love to see the resulting papers. Indeed, I would even consider posting one on this blog. Contact me!)

Before venturing on to discuss turquoise, I want to re-post here a section of a comment that I originally posted in response to a review of The Alchemists’ Council by Jana Nyman at Fantasy Literature. In the review, Ms. Nyman writes that the book “would have benefited from more clarity concerning the goals of the Rebel Branch and why the Council hates and fears them….” In order to help potential readers understand these motives, I responded as follows:

  • “[F]or me the main conflict of the novel revolves around opposing philosophies regarding free will and power. Since the era of the “primordial myth” with which the book opens, the Alchemists’ Council and the Rebel Branch have been at war. Thus the conflict is as ancient as the dimensions themselves rather than based in particular memories that any living alchemist or rebel may have. The goal of the Alchemists’ Council is to remove the Flaw in the Stone, whereas the goal of the Rebel Branch is to increase it. The Flaw in the Stone is what permits free will. If the Flaw were to be removed completely, the Council believes everyone would be saved in the dimensional equivalent of a unified afterlife. The Rebel Branch, on the other hand, wants to maintain their current existence as individuals with choice (rather than being forced into a collective “One” by the alchemists). This main conflict is explored through a variety of lenses throughout the book. Since I teach medieval literature, much of my inspiration for these conflicts came from philosophical debates on free will found in works such as Book IV of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde.

In light of Graybosch’s discussion of the “unperson” and 1984, I would like to add to my explanation by saying that the main conflict also involves the abuse of free will. The Council Elders believe they have the right to stop alchemists from dissent. To do so, they erase memories of alchemists from the lower Orders. The rebels assist with this process thanks to the power of the Flaw and its inherent absence within the Stone. (Yes, this is an alchemical paradox.) Thus both sides of this conflict are engaged with the abuse. Neither side is free from blame, yet each blames the other. Thus the conflict continues unabated.

Onward to turquoise…

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The pendant featured in the image above is available through Palms Trading Company in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Click on the image to reach a description of this particular piece.) I myself bought two turquoise pendants when I visited New Mexico in 2009 to present a paper at the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association conference. One of my pendants was purchased at Palms Trading Company; the other was purchased from a woman named Florence at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe. (Sound familiar? See Jaden’s purchase on page 113 of the book.) These two turquoise pendants inspired those worn by members of the Alchemists’ Council. As Graybosch suggested, I researched turquoise in particular and came to believe it would be ideal for an infusion of Quintessence. In a future post, I will discuss the concept of the pendants in more detail. For now, I encourage those of you who may be seeking one to explore the myriad of turquoise pendants available at Palms and elsewhere.

The detailed discussion of the Breach of the Yggdrasil is also one that I appreciated reading this week. As with other names I chose for events, rituals, manuscripts, and characters throughout the book, “Yggdrasil” does indeed have symbolic connections to our actual world. The ongoing links to music likewise continue to fascinate me. If not for Matthew, who describes himself as “a metalhead who writes science fantasy,” I would likely never explore these unique tracks. Thank you again, Graybosch & Higby, for opening my mind to new possibilities for the world of The Alchemists’ Council.

See you in the upcoming weeks for Chapter 3!


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