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.

bee on book

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Reading The Alchemists’ Council: Chapter 1

bee on book

[UPDATE: As of November 2017, Matthew Graybosch provided updated links to The Rebel Branch Initiate’s Guide. Though all of Matthew’s material can still be accessed via these new links, Eric’s contributions are not currently available.]

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: As of November 2017, Matthew Graybosch provided updated links to The Rebel Branch Initiate’s Guide. Though all of Matthew’s material can still be accessed via these new links, Eric’s contributions are not currently available.]

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.


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.

Photograph by Michael Melford. Posted at National Geographic. CLICK IMAGE FOR LINK TO FULL SOURCE.

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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Long live the Quintessence!

Welcome to News from Council Dimension, a blog focused on The Alchemists’ Council and related matters.

Scroll downward to read the latest BLOG entries.

Scroll upward to access the main MENU options, including “Book Reviews.”

Click here to learn to pronounce the CHARACTERS’ NAMES.

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

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.

Use the SEARCH function at the bottom of the homepage to find specific post topics.

If you have a QUESTION about the book, feel free to ask it in the comment area of this 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, “Phaethon was mourned by his sisters. The legend is that Phaethon’s weeping sisters were eventually transformed into trees, their tears turning 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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Symbolism of the Council Logo

council_logo-colourFor those of you wondering about the symbolism behind the logo for The Alchemists’ Council, I direct you to another WordPress site: The Four Elements. The six-pointed star combines the alchemical symbols for earth, air, water, and fire. Conjoined, they represent Quintessence which, according to the alchemists of Council dimension, is “the fifth and most sublime element, the very breath of life and life everlasting” (vii).

As to the beeaccording to Lyndy Abraham in A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery, alchemists use the bee “an image of the mercurial serpent, the universal solvent which is said to ‘poison’ and kill metals (i.e. dissolve them into the prima materia from which the philosopher’s stone is made). The sting of the bee…signif[ies] the secret fire, the mercurial solvent which destroys the old metal or outmoded state of being” (20). In that sense, the bees of Council dimension and Lapidarian manuscripts symbolize alchemical transformation.

As Abraham also notes, “Honey is an epithet for the elixir because it is both sweet and gold” (103). As explained in the opening prima materia section of The Alchemists’ Council, “Together the alchemists of the Alchemists’ Council transmute Quintessence into life-enhancing Elixir and Lapidarian ink — an immeasurably powerful substance that, when used to inscribe Musurgia Universalis by an alchemist equipped with pen and Lapis-forged nib, can construct or deconstruct the elemental foundation — the eco-systems, the environment — of the outside world” (xiii).

[For more on pens and inks, see my April 16, 2016, post: “From Pen to Parchment.”]

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