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:

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

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

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).

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

Weeping Birch

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

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

Ian and Mr P

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

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


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“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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Nanaimo is Abuzz with Bees

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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.

Buttons

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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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:

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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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