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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The Amber Garden Book Launch

Hello Fellow Alchemists!

Today I offer you two alchemy-related videos for your viewing pleasure during the new world order.

First, given current self-isolation protocols, I’ve opted to make a short video in lieu of a face-to-face book launch for next week’s official publication of The Amber Garden. If you would like a preview of the book via my reading of two brief passages, click here.

Second, yesterday I uploaded an online lecture (for my Medieval Literature course at Vancouver Island University) on Chaucer’s Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale and alchemy. If you would like to learn more about Chaucer and/or alchemy, grab a copy of The Canterbury Tales and follow along with my students by clicking here.

Third, on a final note, thank you to everyone who read an Advanced Reading Copy of The Amber Garden and posted a review on Goodreads! I am truly grateful for your support.

Long live the Alchemical Tree! Keep well!

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Change Your Story: Alchemical Text as Philosopher’s Stone

Happy New Year!

For my first blog entry of the new year—and for the first time ever on News from Council Dimension—I’ve recorded a video rather than writing a post. In this twenty-minute segment, I introduce the concept of the alchemical text as the philosopher’s stone. Then, via quotations from The Amber Garden (Book Three of The Alchemists’ Council series), I discuss the interrelated concepts of language, narration, and writing or rewriting your story as a means to transform both the dimension(s) and the self. After watching, let me know which blog format you prefer.

If today’s video ignites your desire to learn more about the alchemical concepts I used in The Alchemists’ Council, here’s a link to my 2016 presentation on the topic: “From Academic Article to Fantasy Novel: Medieval Alchemy and The Alchemists’ Council.” (Note: In this 2016 YouTube video, the main presentation begins at the 14-minute point.)

Long live the Alchemical Tree!

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WFC in LA: World Fantasy 2019

AGwithWINEatYVR Cropped

Last weekend, The Amber Garden took its first road trip. Thanks to the generosity of ECW Press (specifically David Caron, Jennifer Albert, and Jessica Albert), I made my way with the Advance Reading Copy of Book Three of The Alchemists’ Council from Nanaimo to Los Angeles to attend World Fantasy Convention 2019. En route, while reviewing passages from the new book for my scheduled reading, I had the opportunity to sample a selection of wines at YVR’s Vino Volo—the book and I were off to a good start!

Panels with Blue Background PP

Though I missed a day of classes back at VIU, I attended several discussion-centred panels. Those pictured above (clockwise from upper left) were “Beyond Castles, Horses and Knights: Non-Eurocentric Fantasy” (with Sheree Renée Thomas and others); “The Role of Editors Today” (with Jen Albert and others); “Making and Marketing Audiobooks” (with Jess Albert and others); and “A Culture Not My Own” (with S. B. Divya and others). These panels were just a few of the many interesting sessions, talks, and readings I attended throughout Friday and Saturday.

I found each event extraordinarily informative in a variety of ways, with content far too extensive to cover here. I will, however, make one observation: Though WFC has certainly expanded the canon and genres of fantasy literature(s) and the diversity of its fantasy creators and panelists, more work must occur to maintain the convention’s currency and vibrancy. I look forward to growing diversity among writers, panelists, conference attendees, and other participants at WFC as the years and conventions progress.

Elijah Tree Person VignetteFriday night’s autograph session added to the convention being a joy-filled experience for me. Jess and I met numerous folk who stopped by not only to get their book(s) signed but to chat. The woman pictured above (in the black jacket) even brought The Elijah Tree (Rebel Satori Press 2009) for me to sign—what an incredible surprise! (Thank you William Wu Books for carrying my books in the WFC Dealers Room.)

Below are Kevin, Chelsey (hi Josh!), Sheila, Keith, and Kasbah Camel Supreme—all of whom were an absolute delight to meet. Chelsey headed home with all three Council books, which she and Josh are planning to read aloud over the upcoming weeks. Let me know how that process goes! Given the auditory aspect, you may want to check out this 2016 post before the reading progresses too far: What If I Cannot Speak Musurgia Universalis?

Various Signings PPSaturday evening brought Jess, Jen, and me myriad fun-filled adventures. Thanks to the “California Dreaming” and “City of Angels” murals at #laxmarriott, we began by taking a series of look-we’re-tourists photos.

City of Angels PPLater, and in no particular order, we enjoyed sitting by the pool, chatting with our hotel neighbours, talking and laughing with several conference attendees at the hotel bar, eating a delicious dinner at Fusion Sushi, and leaping through waves at the beach.

Pool Etc. 3Manhattan Beach at sunset is glorious to behold: luxurious and expansive sand, crashing waves, exquisite colours, bright clouds against dark mountains. Here are just a few of the dozens (hundreds?) of shots that now fill our phones.

Beach Shots PPMeanwhile, back in Nanaimo, my students worked diligently on their research papers. Indeed, they were so focused on their work that they did not even suggest that I mention them on the blog or insist that I take multiple photos to make sure they ALL got into the pics. Joking aside, these people are some of the most dedicated first-year composition students I’ve met in my career at VIU! Throughout the Fall 2019 semester so far, I have appreciated their enthusiastic participation, strong voices, and growing success at writing quality prose.

Students with Three Images 2A moment of alchemical serendipity leads to my penultimate point: I wore my alchemists’ pendant to the WFC book signing in LA; then, one week later on Vancouver Island, I found its mirror image emerging as a philosophers’ stone—surely a west coast Council portal. (Thanks Indigo Lights!)

Pendant and Face 2

The Amber Garden will be published in March 2020. You can pre-order a copy through ECW Press or other online bookstores, including Amazon.

Long live the Alchemical Tree!

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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!


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Spring 2019: Sense and Sensibilities

IPPY on AC1 and AC2With classes completed and other university commitments slowed to a reasonable pace for the next few months, today I finally have the chance to update News From Council Dimension for the first time in 2019.

Happy New Year!

Since last we met, I’ve noticed that the only post from 2018 which continues to receive multiple daily hits is my brief article on The Rebis or Alchemical Hermaphrodite. My goal for summer 2019, therefore, is to compose a few additional posts focusing on other alchemical concepts and the ways I’ve transmuted them within The Alchemists’ Council series. If you’d like to learn about the Alchemical Tree and/or the Alchemical Child and my uses thereof, be sure to return here in July.

Alchemical-Recipe-for-a-Homunculus Click Image for Source

For now, I offer you this post: my 2019 update on bits of book news.

As of May 1, Book Three: The Amber Garden reached the end of its substantive edits. (Thank you, Jen Hale!) Next up are the copy edits, which should be completed later this summer. If all goes as planned, proofreading will occur in early fall, with ARCs (Advance Reading Copies) available by November. Official publication is scheduled for spring 2020.

Amber Beads Round

Meanwhile, over the past few weeks, the first two books in the series each received some exciting news.

Book Two won a 2019 IPPY Bronze Medal in Fantasy. The series has now been honoured with two IPPYs–the first being the 2017 Gold Medal in Fantasy for The Alchemists’ Council, Book One. Thank you once again Independent Publisher Book Awards!

IPPY Bronze 2019

The second piece of news leads me profusely to thank Apple Books. Just last week, Apple listed The Alchemists’ Council among their ten “after Game of Thrones” recommendations. Being a Game of Thrones fan myself, you cannot imagine my thrill to see the words “Warging wouldn’t be out of place in this tale of an apprentice’s mystical training” beside an image of Book One. This unexpected but much welcomed promotion resulted in The Alchemists’ Council reaching #3 on Apple Book Store’s “Top SciFi & Fantasy” list.

Apple GoT and Rating Black Frame

One week later, the promotion over and the book currently gone from Apple’s top ten lists, I remain grateful for Apple Book Store’s official review.

Apple Review Framed Complete

The anonymous reviewer’s thoughtfulness has provided me inspiration to continue my work on the series. I imagine s/he would find the complimentary (and complementary) Tweet from @Materfam smile-inducing. As an English professor and former colleague of @Materfam, I certainly did!

Frances Tweet re Apple Review

In other 2019 news, I have taken up a new hobby: the conjunction of puzzles and audiobooks. This puzzle of a pseudo-alchemical laboratory was partially completed while listening to Rosamund Pike narrate Sense and Sensibility.


The 1000-piece Ravensburger Puzzle (“Merlin’s Laboratory”) was thoroughly enjoyable . . . and almost as elaborate as Jane Austen’s sentence structure.

See you in a few months! Until then, Long live the Quintessence!

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Autumn 2018 Key Chains and More

Hello again Alchemists, Rebels, and Readers! Today’s post comprises brief news items, which I’m uploading between marking sets of university midterms.

Thanks to Sarah at BytheBookBoutique, my keys are now sporting an Alchemists’ Council library catalogue key chain, which I custom ordered from her shop on Etsy. My correspondence with Sarah, the artist and shop owner, was delightful. The key chain’s quality and functionality is excellent, with the clip having proven repeatedly useful.

Key Chain Enlight

BytheBookBoutique offers a variety of library book options (both literary and historical) in a range of designs (necklaces, bookmarks, and more). Here, for example, is a Brown v Board of Education necklace.


I was particularly happy to hear from Sarah that both The Alchemists’ Council and The Flaw in the Stone are available through her local branch of the Chicago Public Library. As of today, all copies are still in use; thus, I assume they currently reside either with Sarah or another Chicagoan! Thank you Chicago!


Sarah’s comment prompted me to check other American libraries to see whether they carried the books. To my utter delight (as someone living and working in a small Canadian town), several do! I certainly enjoyed learning that Book One has been signed out multiple times at the 42nd Street branch of the New York Public Library. Thank you New York City!

NYCLibraryF18On a final note to this brief seasonal post, I want to express gratitude to two recent book reviewers. First, thank you to Christina Paige for her creative and detailed review from September 2018. How could I not smile at the phrase “compared to Tolkien”? To read Paige’s full review, click on the Amazon image.

Amazon PAIGE F18 Drop ShadowAnd, second, thank you to Matthew Rettino for his nuanced review of The Flaw in the Stone. I especially admire his close reading of the historical allusions, as depicted in the excerpt below. To read Rettino’s full review, click on the excerpt’s image.

Rettino Book 2 F18As to Book Three of The Alchemists’ Council — The Amber Garden — the first full draft has been submitted. My editor and I will be working on the manuscript over the next year, heading toward a release date in 2020.

Have a colourful autumn filled with plentiful reading time!

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The Rebis or Alchemical Hermaphrodite

Conjunction Definition 1

yellowhermaphrodite “The Great Hermaphrodite” by Aaron Stewart Lewis Knapp

Recently, I wrote to Aaron Stewart Lewis Knapp regarding the alchemical artwork on the website Chemical Marriage and my intention to write a blog entry about the Rebis (or Alchemical Hermaphrodite). I received a timely and gracious response including the generous offer to “use any content I’ve made.” Thus, I have chosen to feature two of Knapp’s original pieces–“The Great Hermaphrodite” and “The Engagement of the Rebis“–to begin my exploration of this ancient alchemical concept.

theengagementofrebis1 “The Engagement of the Rebis” by Aaron Stewart Lewis Knapp

As Knapp explains, “The alchemists, in their quest for philosophical gold, considered the world to be influenced and manipulated by a multitude of paired forces: wet and dry, cold and hot, sun and moon, male and female, proton and neutron, etc. When these opposing forces are harmonized and balanced through synthesis, creation is commenced. The Great Hermaphrodite is an amalgam of this union.”

Rebis One Quote Cropped

In various medieval and early modern alchemical texts, conjunction is one step on the varied and lengthy path of the Great Work. As explained by Gareth Roberts in The Mirror of Alchemy, conjunction may result in an androgyne (an alternative term for the Rebis).

Conjunction Definition 2

Described as “the much coveted goal” of alchemy, the Rebis has repeatedly been “identified with the philosophers’ stone” and its sacred coincidence of opposites (Fabricius 90; DeVun 199). To many alchemists, alchemy is integrally connected with their understanding of divinity. To give one example, English alchemist Thomas Norton calls the practice “blessid & holye” in his 15th-century Ordinal of Alchemy (line 144). This and other such statements have led scholars to explore the complex connections among the Philosopher’s Stone, the Rebis, and the figure of Christ.

For example, in an article focused on alchemy and the “Jesus Hermaphrodite,” Leah DeVun argues, “Like Christ, the philosophers’ stone was a combination of nature and divinity, of corporeality and incorporeality, of opposites united in one subject” (203). Mark J. Bruhn likewise explores a sacred or religious connection with alchemy noting that “[t]hrough the Middle Ages the elusive Philosopher’s Stone came to be seen as a metaphor for Truth, or Christ, the Logos” (293).

(For readers interested in examining these concepts further, I’ve included a list of full citations near the end of this post. Also, please note that I have replicated DeVun’s plural possessive form of “philosophers’ stone” when quoting from her article.)

My Hermaprhodite ArticlesHaving explored such connections among mysticism, alchemy, and the Rebis in my own academic work, my intention when transmuting alchemical concepts to fiction was to ensure that conjunction and the Rebis were central features in The Alchemists’ Council.

The following images from the Rosarium Philosophorum (University of Glasgow, MS Ferguson 210) provide an example of the traditional alchemical processes on which I based my fictional Sacrament of Conjunction:

Rosarium Three Images

Within the Rosarium Philosophorum, opposites conjoin to symbolize perfection.


Within The Alchemists’ Council, conjunction is not used to create the Philosopher’s Stone. Instead, the Council’s Sacrament of Conjunction maintains the Stone’s power. Without conjunction, the Stone (or Lapis) would gradually lose its Quintessence and, eventually, cease to exist. Since their existence depends upon the Lapis, both Council and Flaw dimensions would likewise cease to exist. Additionally, the elemental balance of the outside world is ensured by (and therefore dependent on) the Alchemists’ access to the Lapis. Thus, Council alchemists must participate in the Sacrament of Conjunction in order to maintain all three dimensions and the millions of people residing therein.

Council Conjunction involves a complex ritual performed by the Elders. If the ritual succeeds, two alchemists conjoin into one body. Unlike images of the Rebis as depicted in real-world alchemical manuscripts, the conjoined alchemists of Council dimension appear as a single body with one head. Generally, only one of the two participants survives; the other is dissolved. Understandably, new Initiates to Council tend to find the sacrament appalling; they see it as a form of ritual sacrifice.

In this excerpt from Book One, Novillian Scribe Cedar explains an aspect of the conjunction to Initiate Jaden, who expresses her dismay in reply:

Cedar and Jaden Conjunction Discussion

Despite her early objections, Jaden later bears witness to the process:

Jaden Rebis Smaller

The Flaw in the Stone (Book Two of The Alchemists’ Council) focuses in part on the mutually conjoined couple Ilex and Melia. Unlike most conjoined pairs throughout Council history, both of these alchemists survive the Sacrament of Conjunction and must learn to cooperate as two people within one body.

Though I will refrain from spoilers at this point, I will acknowledge that Ilex and Melia, like the Lapis itself, are flawed. But as readers of Book One already know, the flaw in the Stone is the feature that allows for free will. Alongside other characters in Book Two, Ilex and Melia illustrate that despite sacred tradition, rules of Council dimension can be broken and protocols must be renegotiated in the pursuit of a more equitable world.

Adam M Purchased Image Framed

The preceding engraving from the Rosarium Philosophorum has been coloured by Adam McLean. His images of the Rebis are available to view and purchase here: Esoteric Prints–Alchemical Hermaphrodite.

To conclude this post, I call again upon Leah DeVun. As she reminds us, “The hermaphrodite in alchemy was of course a purely intellectual conceit. . . . Nevertheless, there was something transgressive about them. The fluidity of sexes in the alchemical hermaphrodite hinted at the fluidity of boundaries between metals, which alchemy argued could be changed through the art of the alchemist. Whether the boundaries in question divided the sexes or the categories of humanity and divinity, the hermaphrodite of alchemical literature indicated that such boundaries were crossable” (DeVun 217).


  • Abraham, Lyndy. A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery. Cambridge UP, 1998.
  • Bruhn, Mark J. “Art, Anxiety, and Alchemy in the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale.” The Chaucer Review, vol. 33, no. 3, 1999, pp. 288–315.
  • De Pascalis, Andrea. Alchemy The Golden Art: The Secrets of the Oldest Enigma. Gremese International, 1995.
  • DeVun, Leah. “The Jesus Hermaphrodite: Science and Sex Difference in Premodern Europe.” Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 69, no. 2, April 2008, pp. 193-218.
  • Fabricius, Johannes. Alchemy: The Medieval Alchemists and Their Royal Art. Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1976.
  • Norton, Thomas. Ordinal of Alchemy, edited by John Reidy, Oxford UP, 1975.
  • Roberts, Gareth. The Mirror of Alchemy: Alchemical Ideas and Images in Manuscripts and Books from Antiquity to the Seventeenth Century. U of Toronto P, 1994.


Find artist Michael Maschka’s painting and explanation of his work at Transmuthatio:


Find visual media artist Laura White’s collage of the Rebis at Laura White Illustration:

Laura White 3

Find a video briefly summarizing the symbolic elements of the Rebis on YouTube:


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Holiday Alchemy 2017


Happy Holidays!

If you’ve been reading this blog, you already understand the importance of bees to The Alchemists’ Council. Here are two recent seasonal photos, both of which feature bee embroidery. One is of my favourite holiday ornament; the other features my new footwear, which a friend immediately dubbed “alchemy shoes!”

Bee Shoes

Content Warning

As I posted last month, Advance Reading Copies of The Flaw in the Stone began to circulate during November’s World Fantasy Convention. Along with the bees, December therefore brought with it a few early reviews. My heartfelt gratitude extends not only to Frances (at materfamilias reads) but also to Brenda, Rebecca, and Jason (at Goodreads).

Needless to say, I greatly appreciate each of these reviews, but I’d like to draw attention to one in particular. Last month, Jason Henry contacted me via Goodreads to offer feedback on a review written by someone who hadn’t yet read The Alchemists’ Council (i.e. Book One in the series). He asked whether he could attain an ARC of The Flaw in the Stone (Book Two) in order to review it from the perspective of a reader who had enjoyed the first book. The resulting detailed and thoughtful review contains a passage that I adore — so much so that I plan to frame it for my office wall:

Content Warning 2Yes, readers, Jason’s description is accurate: alchemical baby-making is indeed crucial to the plot of Book Two! As with most alchemical practices of The Alchemists’ Council series, this one is a revision / adaptation of a concept from real-world alchemy: the alchemical homunculus. Alchemists of the outside world may never have succeeded at creating miniature human beings in the laboratory. However, according to The Flaw in the Stone, certain Rebel Branch alchemists have discovered a manuscript containing a potentially world-changing recipe: “Formula for the Conception of the Alchemical Child.”

Donum_Dei_1582_03 SOURCE:

If you’d like to see what the rebels do with this knowledge, please place your pre-order of Book Two at ECW Press or at your favourite online bookstore. Publication is in March!

Council Cats and Dimension Dogs

December has also brought with it the first #CouncilCats and #DimensionDogs pics of Flaw! Thank you Tamy and Chelsea for these wonderful shots!



Here I must again thank and acknowledge materfamiliasreads, this time for the #DimensionDog featured at the beginning of her review:


If you would like to submit a #CouncilCats or #DimensionDogs pic, please contact me for details.

Happy holidays and happy reading everyone!

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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!


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)!

IMG_3601  IMG_3603

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.


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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The Flaw in the Stone

After a summer of revising Book Two and writing (as much as possible of) Book Three, 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.


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.”


“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, 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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The Alchemists’ Pendants


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.


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.



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.


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.


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

Close Up

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:


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:


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.

Hive Sign

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.

Hive Edited

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

From the Ground 2

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

From Inside 2

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.

Bee Info

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).


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

[UPDATE May 2019: The link to Matthew Graybosch’s commentary on the first three Chapters of The Alchemists’ Council is currently unavailable. Nonetheless, I’ve opted to retain my responses to his commentary in my “Reading The Alchemists’ Council” posts.]

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.

circleofthedragon CLICK IMAGE FOR SOURCE


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.

Abraham Book Picassa

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.



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 noted at Princeton Tree Care, 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 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!”

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

Google Images 2

[UPDATE May 2019: The link to Matthew Graybosch’s commentary on the first three Chapters of The Alchemists’ Council is currently unavailable. Nonetheless, I’ve opted to retain my responses to his commentary in my “Reading The Alchemists’ Council” posts.]

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.

Alchemy Website 2

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:

Parker Review

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.


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).

Wrinkle in TIme

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.



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.

Alchemy Symbols


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

[UPDATE May 2019: The link to Matthew Graybosch’s commentary on the first three Chapters of The Alchemists’ Council is currently unavailable. Nonetheless, I’ve opted to retain my responses to his commentary in my “Reading The Alchemists’ Council” posts.]

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!



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.)

orwell-1984-propaganda CLICK IMAGE FOR SOURCE


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…


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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Nanaimo is Abuzz with Bees


What do two recent articles published in the Nanaimo News Bulletin have in common?

In one, the bees are disappearing in a book by a Nanaimo author. And in the other, the bees are reappearing in the parking lot of a Nanaimo shopping plaza. Coincidence? Perhaps. On the other hand, alchemy could be at play. After all, certain medieval poets believed their texts to comprise alchemical properties; why shouldn’t twenty-first century novelists?

Alchemy or not, bee paraphernalia was certainly a highlight of the June 2 book launch for The Alchemists’ Council, which was held at the Nanaimo North branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library. This shot features Paul Klan setting up the honeycombs and smoker he brought from his small apiary here in Nanaimo. Thank you also to Nicole Klan for suggesting this exquisite backdrop for the reading. Not only was it beautiful, but it provided a lovely honey-smoked scent!

Honeycomb Setup

The bee-themed event did not end with the honeycomb. My friend and colleague Marni Stanley made cardamom-scented, bee-embossed cookies.

Bee Cookies 1

And two of the attendees–Joy Gugeler and Melissa Stephens–wore bee-printed outfits! Note the beautiful bright blue bee in the corner of Joy’s skirt!

Bee Skirt 2

And behold the stunning fabric in this close-up of Melissa’s dress!

Melissa's Dress

Door prizes featured jars of honey from Fredrich’s in Cedar and beeswax candles from The Hive in Duncan. Congratulations to door prize recipients Ross MacKay, Sean Gallagher, Lisa Holden, Janice Porteous, and Theresa Hartman.

Fredrich's Honey

Honey from Cedar?! I wonder if Mr. Fredrich realizes that Cedar is also the name of one of The Alchemists’ Council‘s main characters? Perhaps Lapidarian honey will be available soon right here on Vancouver Island.

Bee buttons advertising the book were also available thanks to ECW Press.


And, of course, the book itself was the prima materia of the evening.

Cynthea at Launch

My gratitude goes out to VIRL librarian Darby Love for arranging the reading. The space at the library was perfect. I hope to see other authors reading at the Nanaimo North branch in the upcoming months. Special thanks also goes to Joy Gugeler, Farah Moosa, Sonnet L’Abbé, Tami Joseph, and Kathryn Barnwell for helping with various tasks to make this first book launch a success. Finally, thank you to everyone who attended, bought books, laughed, smiled, and asked the most intriguing and thoughtful questions during the discussion period!

Launch Audience 2

Of course, disappearing bees are only one of the mysteries of The Alchemists’ Council. So please pick up a copy at your local or online bookstore, and enjoy some summer reading! And as you read, remember to keep an eye out for reappearing bees around you. They may indeed be emerging from recently published alchemical manuscripts.

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Reading The Alchemists’ Council: Chapter 1

bee on book

[UPDATE May 2019: The link to Matthew Graybosch’s commentary on the first three Chapters of The Alchemists’ Council is currently unavailable. Nonetheless, I’ve opted to retain my responses to his commentary in my “Reading The Alchemists’ Council” posts.]

This week Council dimension has been quite busy. I’ll start with a few news items before moving on to my response to Matthew Graybosch & Eric Higby’s reading of Chapter One.

First, I direct you over to Urban Fantasy Investigations for my first online interview.

Second, if you’d like to win a copy of The Alchemists’ Council, head on over to the Giveaways page at 49th Shelf. The Giveaway period runs from today until June 3, 2016.

Third, I’ve received a fun and intriguing review from “Alexa” on Goodreads. The full review may be accessed here. For now, let me give you a sample by quoting a few of my favourite lines therein: In the first paragraph, she declares The Alchemists’ Council to be “strange and complicated and incredibly odd, but lovely.” Even better is this gem from her “Reading Progress”: “This book is so insane, but in a great way.” I may actually quote that sentence at my upcoming reading here in Nanaimo.

That said, Alexa also notes a few “quibbles” including this one: “the plot and the world is so complex that I still don’t understand some of it….” Not to worry! Let’s remember that the world of The Alchemists’ Council is built upon concepts of medieval alchemy, one of the most complex subject matters imaginable. When reading any alchemical text, we should take heed of this warning by Andrea DePascalis: “enigmas, contradictions, allegories, symbols, interruptions, veiled meanings and apparent absurdities are enough to make even the most indefatigable neophyte wonder if he is not the victim of some bizarre joke” (Alchemy the Golden Art, p. 77). Fortunately for us, Matthew Graybosch and Eric Higby are on the case once again to decipher some of these apparent absurdities.

Like the book itself, this week’s Graybosch & Higby contribution is “insane, but in a great way.” These two have gone to unfathomable work to offer us their extensive insights into Chapter One. So please be sure to click the link and take a look! Though I cannot by any means respond to everything our outside world scribes touched upon this week, I will note a few elements that stood out to me. First, I admire the graphics throughout the post beginning with the bee being erased by a pencil eraser. Ha! If only the alchemists had it so easy!

At the end of his section, Higby offers an observation about numerology. Although I admittedly had no say over the actual pagination of the final printed text, I do appreciate this sort of analysis, and I can assure you that any alchemist worth his salt (and sulphur and mercury) would too. Indeed, in one of my academic essays, I contend that certain medieval alchemical texts were constructed by their writers to represent the Philosopher’s Stone. All alchemical texts are meant to be interpreted, and I encourage the reader to do the same, especially when it comes to esoteric possibilities.

What I enjoy most about the Graybosch & Higby Readings so far is the opportunity to see literary interpretation from the other side. That is, as an English professor, I have spent my career analyzing other people’s texts. Now I am being given the opportunity to read detailed analysis of my own book. Moreover, each week I find viewpoints and insights that offer me new meanings for my book’s concepts. As an author, this process is fascinating. Graybosch’s comparison of Jaden’s experience to lyrics found in “Swedish melodic metal act Evergrey’s 2004 album, The Inner Circle” offers one such moment for me. Similarly, I admire the discussion of Arjan’s namesake, the Terminalia arjuna. Though I did indeed look at the characteristics of the trees when I named each character, I did not realize that “Arjuna is the protagonist of the Mahabharata, one of ancient India’s major epics.” Of course, Graybosch also offers a perceptive analysis of key problems with the Council, such as those outlined in his sections “Sephrim: the Alchemist’s Little Helper” and “Playing Telephone with the Lapis.” Overall, he does an exquisite job of summarizing and analyzing the key concepts required for understanding the remainder of the book’s plot.

On a final note, I see that Graybosch claims to be representing the Rebel Branch in his interpretation. I suppose that makes Higby the Council representative by default. Of course, by next week, allegiances may have shifted!


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Reading The Alchemists’ Council: Prima Materia and Prologue


[UPDATE May 2019: The link to Matthew Graybosch’s commentary on the first three Chapters of The Alchemists’ Council is currently unavailable. Nonetheless, I’ve opted to retain my responses to his commentary in my “Reading The Alchemists’ Council” posts.]

Breaking news! Thanks to the generosity and ingenuity of two readers, today marks a momentous time here at News from Council Dimension. Matthew Graybosch and Eric “Stile Tekel” Higby have begun their chapter-by-chapter read through of The Alchemists’ Council. Over the next several months, these two “outside world scribes” will offer their insights, anecdotes, quips, and analyses of the book. Honestly, I could not be more thrilled than I am with the discussion they offered us today in the introduction to The Rebel Branch Initiate’s Guide to The Alchemists’ Council, which focuses on the Prima Materia and Prologue. 

Both commentators have told me that they welcome my feedback on their post; therefore, I too will offer a few thoughts each week by way of response. If you have any questions or comments you would like to add along the way, feel free to do so either over at the host site or here in the comments.

Drink of This Cropped

So let me start by saying that I adore Graybosch’s blend of serious scholarship and sense of humour. He has adopted the strategy I’ve always aimed for in my classes–that is, Chaucer’s “best sentence and moost solaas” (General Prologue/Canterbury Tales, line 798). I laughed aloud when he mentioned the “muggles” of the outside world and later defined conjunction as “Thunderdome.” On a more serious note, I believe his hypothetical example of conjunction (with players Barbara, Alice, Diane, and Claire) to be spot on. His concluding thought of that paragraph–“While Alice and Barbara remain unconjoined, all possibilities remain in play but unrealized”–made me wonder if one of the #CouncilCats is named Schrödinger.

cat shirt

Regarding the question of whether or not I am aware of the tree connections to the names Aralia and Osmanthus, the answer is yes. The majority of the characters, including these two mythical beings, have names associated with trees. Indeed, this topic was explored in my most recent blog post regarding the pronunciation of the tree names: What if I Cannot Speak Musurgia Universalis?


Graybosch also notes connections with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz. These references too are on the mark. My background in medieval literature includes a postdoctoral fellowship that focused on alchemical texts. Thus, along the way, I read (or at least read about) all sorts of lore and literature involving alchemy, much of which has been transformed (and in some cases transmuted) into the mythology and rituals of The Alchemists’ Council. (If you would like to know more about my academic work on alchemy, see the link Alchemy Articles via the MENU above.)


Higby’s penultimate paragraph is brilliant for the way in which it calls the reader into the book via the ritual of conjunction. Yes, “a binding of two is becoming one”: the reader and the book. After all, The Alchemists’ Council, in a metafictional sense, IS the book mentioned in the Epilogue. That discussion, however, is several weeks’ worth of analysis away. In the meantime, please find the nearest portal to join Graybosch and Higby on a journey of words about a book featuring manuscripts filled with inscriptions that have the power to change us all.

See you all next week!

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What If I Cannot Speak Musurgia Universalis?

The characters in The Alchemists’ Council speak a variety of languages and communicate through Musurgia Universalis–“the sacred language of the alchemists” that “enables communication not only among alchemists but also between alchemists and the people of the outside world, no matter their native tongues” (XII). Not privy to this alchemical magic, I wrote the book in English. Thus, the pronunciation tips in this post follow accordingly.

11_06_alchemical_tree_of_the_metals_web CLICK IMAGE FOR SOURCE

As many of you know, most of the characters are named for trees. The tree names come from various languages; similarly, the trees themselves come from various countries. Yes, I chose to use a diversity of names to represent the diversity of individuals who comprise both the Alchemists’ Council and the Rebel Branch. However, the linguistic origin of the name, the geographical location of the tree, or even the city in which an Initiate is first contacted, does not necessarily correlate with the ancestral background of the character. Most of the characters live hundreds of years and regularly conjoin with one another to form a new being; therefore, no one’s “original” characteristics–whether race, gender, sex, sexual orientation, or first language(s)–are set in stone as permanent. Nonetheless, all the characters have names, which you may find need to pronounce.


Recently, I have discovered that my own pronunciation of certain characters’ names does not necessarily match the official pronunciations thereof. Therefore, what I offer you here is a general guide. Where available, I will include a link to an example of the official pronunciation. However, as Cedar makes clear in the Prologue when discussing the unorthodox pronunciation of Jaden’s name, alchemical manuscripts occasionally “indicate a variant pronunciation” (3). Therefore, where my pronunciation differs from the official one or where the official pronunciation is unavailable, I will provide a phonetic representation of the name.

02-dragons-blood-tree-diksam-plateau-670 Photograph by Michael Melford. Posted at National Geographic.

Though this list is far from extensive, these names will get you started:

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.

AILANTHUS is the Ailanthus altissima, also known as the Tree of Heaven. Some characteristics of the tree can be found here. Its pronunciation can be heard here. Its phonetic spelling might look like this: AI-LAN-THUS.

RUIS is an elder tree. Some lore about the Celtic/Druid associations with the tree can be found here. I have always pronounced the name with an “s” sound at the end: ROO-ISS.

RAVENEA is the Ravenea rivularis or Majesty palm tree. Some characteristics of the tree can be found here. The link also provides a phonetic rendering of the name. In contrast to that pronunciation, I prefer to say the name as RA-VIN-EE-A.

OBECHE is the Triplochiton scleroxylon, a tropical African tree. Some characteristics of the tree can be found here. Its pronunciation can be heard here. Its phonetic spelling might look like this: O-BEE-CHEE.

AMUR is the Acer ginnala, a type of maple tree. Some characteristics of the tree can be found here. I have always pronounced the name the same way as the river, which can be heard here. Its phonetic spelling might look like this: A-MOORE.

ARJAN is the Terminalia arjuna or Arjun tree. As this site notes, an alternative name for this tree is Arjan. I have always pronounced the name with a soft “j” sound (as in the French name “Jean” or “Jacque”): AR-JAWN.

CERCIS is the Cercis siliquastrum, also known as the Judas Tree. Some characteristics of the tree can be found here. Its pronunciation can be heard here. Its phonetic spelling might look like this: SIR-SISS.

QUERCUS (which in Book One is the name of a portal) is the Latin genus for oak trees. Its pronunciation can be heard here. Its phonetic spelling might look like this: KWER-CUS.

SALIX (the other Book One portal name) is the Latin genus for willow trees. Its pronunciation can be heard here. Its phonetic spelling might look like this: SAL-ICKS.

Though not tree names, here are a few more words to consider:

QINGDAO is a city in China. Its pronunciation can be heard here. Or for a phonetic description, see #6 on “Tsingtao” here. For additional information about the city click here.

AZOTH is an alchemical concept. Its pronunciation can be heard here.

MASSON (my surname) is pronounced MASS-IN (not mace-in).

Composing this list and its resources has taken most of a day, so I will leave it here for now.  I may add other names as the weeks progress. Happy reading!

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Welcome Readers, Alchemists, and Potential Initiates!

Last Update: March 2022

Book with Bee Card

Welcome to News from Council Dimension, a blog focused on The Alchemists’ Council series.

From 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.

Click here to learn to pronounce the CHARACTERS’ NAMES.

Click here to learn about the symbolism of the COUNCIL LOGO.

Click here to learn about the significance of conjunction and THE ALCHEMICAL HERMAPHRODITE.

Click here to watch my 2016 VIU Arts & Humanities Colloquium presentation on ALCHEMICAL CONCEPTS USED TO BUILD COUNCIL DIMENSION. (Note: The main presentation begins at approximately 14:00 minutes.)

Click these links to read a few of my favourite blog entries: The Amber GardenFrom Pen to Parchment, and The Bunny Poem and Other Juvenilia.

If you have a QUESTION about the books, feel free to ask it in the comment area of this pinned post. Or click CONTACT to send me a note–I enjoy hearing from readers!

Council Cats Proliferate

Some of you will have noticed the Council Cats Gallery here at “News from Council Dimension”–our growing collection of cats (and the occasional bearded dragon) posing with The Alchemists’ Council in its various stages. A few of you have asked me to explain.

The first iteration of Council Cats came from my editor, Jennifer Hale, who returned to her work table one day after taking a break from my manuscript to discover this scene:

3 Cats 3 Matte Only

According to Jen, these cats–MONTY, ABBY, and PIPPA–do not get along. The manuscript appeared to have alchemically transformed their demeanours (at least for a few hours on this day in December 2014). Thus began the feline connection to the book.

Jen subsequently sent these three shots taken as the manuscript edits continued:

3 Cats 1 Matte

And these three on the day the book itself arrived in April 2016:

3 Cats 2 Matte

Meanwhile, via Twitter, writer Matthew Graybosch contacted me with this shot of his cat VIRGIL cosied up next to an Advance Reading Copy (attained from World Fantasy Con–apparently a favourite of black-hued felines):

Virgil 1 Matte and Shadow

Then, on the day the actual book arrived, Matthew updated with VIRGIL’s reaction (some sort of rebel-influenced howl):

Virgil 2 Matte

This week, as new readers have begun to notice the gallery, I received two more pics to add to the growing collection:

SIMON (from Ontario)Milo 2

And GOOSE (from British Columbia)Goose CC Matte

Fair warning: As GOOSE illustrates here, Simese cats tend to react quite enthusiastically to the Lapidarian honeycomb with which the book is infused. As it turns out, alchemical honey is much stronger than catnip.

If your cat sidles up to the The Alchemists’ Council, Tweet me a photo @cyntheamasson (#CouncilCats). In the meantime, I hope the book itself finds a loving home with both you and your cats.

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The Amber Garden

My mother died of pancreatic cancer in 2014. On one of my final visits with her, she told me that in her youth she had dreamed of becoming an artist. Her sister had followed that path, but my mother had not. She had let go of her dream until, a few years before her death, she began to paint for the first time since her childhood. She painted through the pain of both her physical and mental illnesses. The picture featured here is my most cherished of all her works. I have dubbed it The Amber Tree:


My favourite passage in The Alchemists’ Council–the final paragraph of Chapter Six–centres on Jaden’s revelation about amber. The scene takes place in the Amber Garden, the most tranquil and exquisite of all the landscapes within Council dimension. The garden is filled with “resin-imbued trees” that transform into a “glistening spectacle” in the evening light (xi; 321). The Amber Garden is also a place of mourning for the alchemists, a place where they openly shed their tears.

The connection between tears and amber is as ancient as Council dimension. In one Greek myth, for example, “Phaeton’s sisters, the Heliades, lament his fate and are turned into poplar trees on the banks of the river, and their tears turn into amber” (Mythography). This and other amber-related myths can be read via the Amber Museum.


At my mothers memorial, many of her friends laid roses on her urn. She loved yellow roses in particular. Instead of rose petals, I sprinkled small beads of amber to represent my tears. She would have appreciated their connection both to her painting and to my writing.

Mom's Urn 2

My mother could not have known at the time of its creation what her Amber Tree painting would mean to me now. She died two months after I signed the contract for the book and two years before the book was published. But she knew that I had written it, and she knew it would be published. I explained the synopsis and told her that I would always think of her tree as one of the trees in the Amber Garden. Though precious to me, I did not keep the painting. I gave it to the only other person I knew would understand it and treasure it as much as I do: my editor.

I cried today. And consequently I made a decision based on the Amber Garden scene. Each time I am hurt by someone’s words, I will move an amber bead from the butterfly pouch (another symbolic gesture to my mother) to a glass jar. Today’s tears are represented by the first amber bead placed therein. As the years pass, the jar will fill. But perhaps, as in The Alchemists’ Council, these amber tears will one day be alchemically transformed into an exquisitely beautiful creation. Long live the Quintessence.


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From Pen to Parchment

PP Nip 2

Council dimension–the physical world in which the alchemists of The Alchemists’ Council primarily reside–is exquisitely beautiful, encompassing not only grounds “vast and lush and tinged with blue mist at dawn” but also classrooms “shelved from floor to ceiling with alchemical vessels and powders and liquors and crystals ground finer than the most precious of salts, with parchments and pens and inks so potent that they can change the world in a single point bled from pen to parchment” (xiii-xiv).

My choice for the alchemists to write to manipulate their world(s) is twofold. It derives, first, from my academic work on alchemist-poets such as Thomas Norton and George Ripley (a subject for a future post, perhaps) and, second, from my love of the physicality of writing: of the pen and the ink and the paper.

My friends Marni and Kathryn gave me the Campo Marzio pen with which I began writing The Alchemists’ Council:


These were the first words I composed with that pen, some of which you may recognize from the published version:

PP Forbids

More recently, an important Council document was also composed with that pen–a letter from Cedar to Genevre (an outside world scribe who will be introduced in Book Two):

PP Gen

Though I am grateful for the book’s inaugural pen and ink, my fascination with such materials did not begin with The Alchemists’ Council. Years earlier, while teaching at Nipissing University in the summer of 1999, a friend and I would sit for hours talking about various aspects of writing, including the sensuous and sensual flow of ink from pen to paper. We bought identical Sigma fountain pens that summer and encouraged each other to write. I was to write a novel; she was to write a screenplay. Thus began The Elijah Tree.

PP Nip 1

In the summer of 2015, as I began writing Book Two of The Alchemists’ Council, I sought out my Nipissing pen once again to see if it still worked. Indeed, it did:

Writing 4

And my calligraphic passion continues. Just yesterday, I received this exquisite gift of a Pilot Metropolitan pen, with which I now plan to write parts of Book Two:

PP Retro

Today while searching through a file box for the 1999 pen-in-hand photo featured at the top of this post, I had to laugh when I came across an award plaque, dated thirty-four years ago to the day:

Typing 3

Being a high school typing champion has its advantages. After all, every passage I write by hand must eventually be typed into the manuscript. Indeed, I often compose directly at the computer. But I will always find something beautiful and meditative about handwriting. And I am certainly thankful I attended grade school when lessons in cursive penmanship were still required curriculum.

Penmanship Cropped

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The Bunny Poem and Other Juvenilia

When I was eleven, I was a prolific writer. A thick blue file folder in a sturdy brown storage box at the back of the office closet attests to this aspect of my literary history. The stories themselves are odd at best and embarrassing at worst. Why in the world would a child in Guelph, Ontario, be writing about a girl and her totem pole? My best guess would be inspiration from a primary school lesson on British Columbia. Such lessons do not, however, explain the rather graphic cover images of these particular gems:

Childhood Story 1019

Childhood Story 2020

“Fear of the Unknown” comprises awkward dialogue and imaginary newspaper clippings full of spelling errors, including this masterpiece about vampire victims:

Childhood Story 3

Surely my love of Little House on the Prairie and Holly Hobbie did not inspire my apparent interest in the horror genre!  Memory fails to enlighten me on this front.

However, one memory from my primary school days as a would-be writer does remain seared in my mind. In grade three, my teacher at University Village Public School brought baby bunnies to the classroom and asked us each to write a poem about them. I loved the bunnies; I loved my poem. But it does not reside with my other juvenilia in the blue folder. My bunny poem was destroyed when it was torn to shreds. “If you had written the poem yourself,” my teacher said to me, “you would not be crying.” I was crying because I had been accused of copying the poem out of a book when I knew I had written it myself. She had no evidence, but she would not believe me.

Yesterday, forty years later, I received this box of books from ECW Press:

AC 1 Box of Books

AC1 Stack of Books

The Alchemists’ Council has finally arrived, and several volumes are now neatly stacked on my bookcase. Yes, I have had other books published. But this one is different; this one is the book for which I have been waiting since the day I wrote that bunny poem. This one is the book I would like to hand to that teacher.

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Bees: Both Absent and Present

“The bees are disappearing,” announces Cedar at the beginning of Chapter One of The Alchemists’ Council. Thus begins the inter-dimensional mystery that must be solved in order to save the worlds. The bees to which Cedar refers are those of the Lapidarian manuscripts: ancient texts used by the Council alchemists to control both the elements and the people of the outside world.

Source for Bee Image

Bees, of course, are disappearing from the real world too, from our world, from the world outside of the fiction of Council dimension. Almost everywhere one turns these days, one hears about bees and their current plight. From Facebook to Twitter (@savethebees1), social media feeds are abuzz. Morgan Freeman (whom, by the way, I can picture as Ailanthus in The Alchemists’ Council), has converted his ranch into a bee sanctuary. Even President Obama has recently spoken in favour of the bee.

Of course, General Mills Canada could well receive alchemical gold thanks to its new Bring Back the Bees campaign for Honey Nut Cheerios. Be sure to watch their “Helping is Our Nature” video when you visit the site. In under two minutes, the video manages both to move and to inspire. Indeed, General Mills reached its goal of giving away 35 million wildflower seeds to help feed the bees within mere days!  As the author of a book that features bees as manuscript lacunae (gaps or spaces left where the bees once resided), I had to smile when I first saw the resemblance between The Alchemists’ Council logo and Cheerios’ missing “Buzz” mascot:


Whether the bees are present in their absence on cereal boxes or medieval manuscripts, thematically we all appear to be on the same page.

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