In Lieu of Regularly Scheduled Programming

“Chalk it up to a Covid casualty,” I was told when the television option for The Alchemists’ Council was not renewed in 2021. I had already read (and adored) the pilot screenplay. Then, in that instant, my dream was vanquished, the manuscript of the screenplay presumably shelved among myriad others of its ilk, like a neglected alchemical manuscript housed in a distant corner of Council dimension’s North Library. Perhaps a curious Initiate will unearth it someday. Or perhaps an Azoth has alchemically rendered it shred.

In the realm of more agreeable 2021 book-related events, the most intriguing to me was the purchase of Macedonian language rights, as announced in August on Facebook by the Livia Stoia Literary Agency. Equally extraordinary, via my eons-before-Covid conference connections, I know a Californian professor of Russian (among other Slavic literatures and languages) who can read Macedonian. I await the day (even if distant at this point) that we can sit together while she reads aloud Book One’s translated opening lines.

This year’s book news also included two presentations. The first, a reading at University of Saskatchewan’s 2021 Vision Conference, focused on The Alchemical Tree and The Alchemical Hermaphrodite — the latter concept still attracting daily readers to its 2018 blog post. The second, a reading for Nanaimo’s own Wordstorm, comprised a few favourite passages from Books Two and Three. Both events, though immensely enjoyable, were virtual — as has been much of my life since March 2020.

Since the early days of Covid, the hours I would have otherwise spent writing fiction or blog entries have been absorbed in the task of creating online classes. The summer of 2021 passed in a haze of video-lesson production for my fall 2021 courses, including ENGL 394 (Television Narrative) on Black Mirror. Yes, that Black Mirror: I taught an online television studies course via Zoom featuring a series grounded in future tech and avatars. The students produced a farewell video on Bandersnatch as the final exam. Their efforts, and brilliant results, teemed with metanarrative — all of us, traversing our current existence in a world of screens and imposed choices.

Here I am today, December 29, 2021, isolated due not only to the century’s plague but the season’s snow, not having written a blog entry for a year, not having written fiction for two, not certain whether I’ll have time or vitality to begin my next novel in 2022. What then, can I do with these already-written books of mine in the meantime? You are welcome to read them (via whichever library or bookstore, online or otherwise, you frequent — Audible included). But what am I to do with my words, currently resting, bound in three volumes, on an office shelf amidst other scribal endeavours of my past?

For now, in lieu of writing, I’ve opted to read. In the early mornings, with coffee, I have been reading a novel gifted to me during the 2021 holidays: Lauren Groff’s Matrix. I marvel at the brilliance of Groff’s prose and her ability to draw me into a haunting and intricately woven world. As to reading my own books, I will begin at the beginning, reading the words aloud to myself. If you want to listen in, here is the first installment — one take, no edits, my voice and myself as I am today, stumbling towards 2022.

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Alchemy Crossing into 2021

As many of you know, I live in British Columbia, Canada. A few days before Christmas, I had commented to my aunt and uncle (who see eagles daily in Haida Gwaii) that I hadn’t seen an eagle for months in Nanaimo. Then, on Christmas Eve, one landed atop a nearby tree. I stood outside watching it for several minutes. To me, in light of the trying circumstances of 2020, the eagle’s reappearance after an extended absence in my life represented an inspirational omen: return and renewal.

News From Council Dimension has necessarily been on hold since March 2020 — my time having been diverted to prepare and teach online classes. As the weeks and months passed, the stress of 2020 moved me further and further away from activities that used to calm me: writing, reading, beading, puzzles. Consequently, after the second of two 2020 surgeries, I spent my downtime playing Animal Crossing — a hobby introduced to me by my friend Tami. By the end of the year, I had logged hundreds of hours building an elaborate new world.

My Animal Crossing character is named Cedar. My island is named Genevre. Both Cedar and Genevre are major characters in my most recent Alchemists’ Council book: The Amber Garden. Gradually but inevitably, my creative endeavour of building a new world in Animal Crossing became replete with elements drawn from my previously imagined world of Council dimension. Notably, both Animal Crossing and Alchemists’ Council became abbreviated as “AC” in texts sent to me by friends, one of whom is my primary editor. Thus, many a message in 2020 led to my momentary confusion: “AC today?” Perhaps my new world was a twist on the old.

If you’ve read The Amber Garden, you know its premise: the dimensions are disintegrating due to the equivalent of an alchemical plague, culminating in 2020. Yes, the choice of ending the trilogy in 2020 was intentional given that I knew the book would be published in 2020. But I had submitted the original manuscript in 2018 and, thereafter, spent a year on various editing stages. The Advance Reading Copy was printed in Fall 2019. In other words, the parallel between the plague of 2020 within Council dimension and that in our own world is a mere coincidence — or so most alchemists would have you believe. Certain Novillian Scribes, on the other hand, would claim that the synchronicities had been foretold within Lapidarian prophecies.

If you play Animal Crossing, you may already have been graced with the opportunity to attain a fragment of the Lapis — or, as outside world manuscripts call it, the Philosopher’s Stone (as pictured here with Cedar in the Highland Ritual Grove on the Isle of Genevre). Granted, you may have passed on that rare opportunity, choosing instead to await an authentic “Informative Statue.” Like all members of the Alchemists Council, only those players destined to become alchemists would have recognized the truth within the apparent forgery. “All that glitters…,” as Cedar or Ruis would have responded back in the day.

Rest assured, if you are destined for alchemical change, other opportunities will present themselves. Potentially, if you follow your AC dream to Genevre, alchemical secrets may be revealed to you within the sparkling remnants of the Amber Garden. (Masks, by the way, are optional but encouraged, especially for those whose blood has not yet been fortified by Lapidarian Elixir.) Alternatively, you could ask Scribe Cedar for a consultation with the Magistrates. If they deem you sufficiently dedicated to the Great Work of alchemy, they may invite you to attend a session or two at Genevre Elemental Magic School (aka GEMS).

As you may have guessed by this point, those hours playing the AC game with the AC series in mind led me not only through 2020 but also to an idea for my new book series — GEMS: Oceanic Division. Indeed, thanks to my game-play inspiration, virtual alchemical world building, and a new keyboard, I have again begun to write.

With this bee-themed, glow-in-the-dark keyboard (gifted to me recently by Tami and Johnny), I have written both this blog post and the first few lines of GEMS. As with any opening of a new manuscript, these initial words may change; indeed, the repetition of “different” already calls for alteration. But at least a few words now exist on the virtual page. And, as such, they offer a new beginning to Council dimension’s ancient world.

With these opening lines recorded, I have found faith in the alchemical Initiates of Genevre Elemental Magic School. Rest assured, both ancient and novice scholars will work diligently at GEMS as they search for a means to rebuild the world — the world that (literally on occasion) crushed their ancestors in 2020. And if they prove unable to “save the world” (as the expression goes), they will work together to construct a new one.

Speaking of dedicated scholars, I must express gratitude to my IRL students from Fall 2020 who excelled beyond measure. In particular, their final essays were utterly brilliant. Thus I will be heading into the new semester with fond memories of the extraordinary students from my first online classes: Mel and Hailey, Suki and Cassie, Elise and Anandita, Daniel and Isaiah, Jeffrey and Mike, Sarima, and Ziera, Jeremy, Emily, Taylor, Hanna, Ashley, Stefania, Naman, and so many others. These students come to mind as I write this blog post because of their enthusiastic determination. During a semester cloaked in the shadow of Covid, these young scholars renewed my faith that world can indeed be renewed through creative ingenuity.

If Spring 2021 is anything like Fall 2020, I likely won’t have time to blog again for several months. Nonetheless, between now and the end of term, I hope to write at least a bit more of GEMS, a project on which I will report back to you in the summer. Until then, take care, stay safe, read what you like, and build what inspires you.

Cynthea and Book Covers 2

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Trees: Alchemical and Beyond

Mandala Tree 1

TREES AS “NEW THINGS”:  Over the past few months while finishing edits on The Amber Garden (Book Three of The Alchemists’ Council), I’ve embraced the philosophy of trying new things. One such “new thing” has been jigsaw puzzling. And one of my favourite puzzles so far has been the Pomegranate Artpiece version of Paul Heussenstamm’s Mandala Fruit Tree. When finished, I adored this tree image so much that I framed it to display in my living room.

Mandala Puzzle with Cabinet for BlogBefore long, as exemplified by the flowering trees of both a Songbird Garden Puzzle and a Seasonal Diamond Painting, my “new things” revealed a decidedly arboreal theme.


LIFE-LONG CONNECTION(S) WITH TREES:  Being drawn to trees is not new to me. Indeed, my most poignant childhood memories include walks with my grandmother into the woods where we would lie together on blankets of clay-coloured pine needles and stare up into the forest canopy. To this day, recollection of those moments brings me calmness. Over the decades since those early years, that love of trees has never waned.

Cynthea Tree Hugging

Not surprisingly given my affection for trees, combined with my graduate work on medieval mysticism, my first novel (The Elijah Tree) focused on a young boy who has a mystical vision inside a tree. A while later, as serendipity would have it, my first co-edited academic book (Reading Joss Whedon) featured trees on its cover.

Book Covers Cropped for Blog

Trees, then, have spread their roots throughout the intermingled aspects of my life: leisure, creativity, and scholarship. But what do they have to do with alchemy or The Alchemists’ Council?

Abraham Book Picassa

REAL-WORLD ALCHEMY AND ITS TREE(S):  The Alchemical Tree (also known as the  “philosophical tree”) is described by Lyndy Abraham as “an ancient symbol used to represent the course of the opus alchymicum, the growth of gold and maturation of the philosopher’s stone, the alchemical process itself” (see page 150 of A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery). Abraham also notes that “[t]he alchemical tree takes many forms, from a tiny plant to a great old oak or world tree” (150) and, furthermore, that “[i]n some instances, the tree represents the prima materia” (151). This and other such concepts within alchemical scholarship led me to feature the Alchemical Tree in The Alchemists’ Council—albeit in transmuted form, like most of the alchemical concepts I use throughout the series.


THE TREE(S) OF THE ALCHEMISTS’ COUNCIL:  In the Book One scene that follows this request to “[p]icture a tree,” Cedar explains Council’s Alchemical Tree to Jaden. Throughout the series, this complex but central concept of Council dimension represents the very heart of alchemy, one that both figuratively and literally sustains the alchemists. The Tree’s connection with Lapidarian Quintessence grants Council members the potential of everlasting life.


REAL-WORLD ALCHEMY AND THE TREE OF LIFE:  Given its association with Eternal Life, the Alchemical Tree has also been read by scholars through its connection with the Tree of Life. Georgiana D. Hedesan elucidates this connection in “Reproducing the Tree of Life: Radical Prolongation of Life and Biblical Interpretation in Seventeenth-Century Medical Alchemy” [Ambix 60.4, 2013]. Throughout the article, Hedesan outlines associations between the Tree of Life and alchemical elixirs for prolongevity. As she notes, Roger Bacon believed “a medicine similar to that contained in the Tree of Life could be obtained . . . by alchemical means” (345) and Jan Baptist Van Helmont contended, “The new arbor vitae [Tree of Life] could be harnessed as a powerful remedy by alchemical means”; notably, for Van Helmont, the Tree represented “the peak of alchemical practice, destined only to chosen ones” (352). Given Cedar’s detailed explanation of Alchemical Tree to Jaden, she and the Elders of the Alchemists’ Council would certainly concur with these early philosophers.

Late Summer Tree from Office Window
Late-Summer View from My VIU Office

ADAM MCLEAN’S ALCHEMICAL WORKS:  In March 2019, to symbolically bring renewed life and alchemical transformation into my home, I purchased a painting of the Alchemical Tree rendered by Adam McLean. McLean, whom I have mentioned several times within News from Council Dimension, is the renowned scholar who maintains the vast and informative Alchemy Web Site. Now displayed in my entranceway, alongside three other paintings, is McLean’s “Alchemical Tree from a Samuel Norton engraving 17th century.”

Alchemical Tree McLean Soft Edges

Four Alchemical Paintings

These and various paintings by McLean are viewable via this link on the Alchemy Web Site. If you happen to be interested in purchasing McLean’s exquisite alchemical art for your own collection, click one of these two links to his Ebay pages: one and two.

McLean Ebay Page

Notably, McLean also provides various audio-visual lessons regarding alchemy and its emblems, including this fascinating one focused on an Alchemical Tree.

YouTube Alchemical Tree Image

TREE NAMES AND CHARACTERS:  In addition to integrating the Alchemical Tree itself into The Alchemists’ Council, I named most of the characters for trees or tree-like plants to symbolically represent each one’s initiation into alchemy and place on the Tree. As readers of the series will gradually come to understand, these tree names are not associated with geographical locations—neither those of characters’ originating countries nor their original places for Council contact.

Regional specificity would have proven impossible given 1) various trees (such as cedar) are found throughout the world and 2) several characters are created in alchemical vessels rather than born in the outside world.

Alchemical Child Image

TREE-NAME TRAITS:  Thus, instead of geographical associations, my initial intention was to link traits of trees with character traits. Cedar, for example, shares characteristics of cedar trees. As noted on Gardenerdy, “most Cedar trees . . . have a long life. Western Red Cedar trees . . . have been known to . . . live for more than 1000 years.” Likewise, Arjun (Terminalia arjuna) is known for its healing properties—a particularly poignant aspect of Arjan’s role in Book Three.

Cedar Tree Image

Finally, as with outside world names (Cynthea, for example) variations in tree-name spelling occur. For example, Terminalia arjuna has variant names, as can be seen here or here. Of the myriad alternate names, I chose Arjan precisely because this spelling (unlike Arjun) is less common and thus more consistent with my character’s unique role on Council.

Arjun Tree Image

AN ALCHEMICAL BRANCH OF WRITERS:  Of late, figurative trees have also been flourishing in my life. Thus I have begun to see connections with other writers as parts of an alchemical tree—one that helps us sustain one another and nourish our rhetorical alchemy of transmuting words into texts. This summer I joined a writing group, two members of which—Délani Valin and Sonnet L’Abbé—are featured in the picture below.

Delani, Sonnet, and I for Blog

Over the last few years, in its ongoing support of local authors, the Nanaimo News Bulletin has included articles about our respective works; so, if you’re interested in reading more about our writing, here are some links: Délani, Sonnet, Cynthea. Note as well that Sonnet’s newly released book of poetry is now available: Sonnet’s Shakespeare.

Sonnet's book cover

AN ALCHEMICAL BRANCH OF SCHOLARS:  Another branch of connections for me is one that includes my academic colleagues and students. Today I’d like to acknowledge one former VIU student in particular. Lindsay Church will begin her M.A. in English at the University of Saskatchewan in September 2019. Her major project’s focus will be on the use of medieval alchemy in fantasy literature, including The Alchemists’ Council series. I eagerly anticipate her insights into this expanding genre!

Lindsay and Me for Blog

A FEW FINAL THOUGHTS ON TREES IN MY LIFE:  Throughout the summer, I’ve been wearing this silver cone to remind myself of the inspiration trees have brought to me. The real cone, which I found when visiting my friends Joan Coldwell and Ann Saddlemyer in early August, appears to be from a Coastal Douglas Fir. (But if any reader wants to correct this guess at cone identification, please let me know!)

Pinecone with Silver and Pearl Necklace for Blog

The academic year is about to begin, so my intended post on the alchemical child may have to wait until the spring. However, during the upcoming fall term, I will return briefly to News from Council Dimension with an update on the soon-to-published Amber Garden!


Cynthea and Book Covers 2From the HOME/BLOG page scroll upward to access MENU items (including BOOK REVIEWS) or downward to read the latest BLOG posts. Scroll to the bottom of the HOME/BLOG page to access the OLDER POSTS, ARCHIVES, and SEARCH.