What is Fool’s Alchemist?
Fool’s Alchemist is a little corner of digital space where I share what I’m learning on the topics of creating compelling stories and building the worlds that go with them.
I’m having a ton of fun learning about how to create a great story. I’m also learning about the things I need to be thinking about to develop credible worlds within which those stories sit. This is especially the case in speculative fiction, where an important part of the story is the story’s world.
I feel compelled to share what I’m learning. The teacher within me can’t help it. Besides, you know what they say about the benefits of teaching to help you better understand what you’re studying. A perfect storm, really. ?
Over time, my intention is to deploy this space as a hub for the different author properties that I’m developing. This will become more concrete and apparent over time. I have a day job, so progress may seem painfully slow. It’s just the way it’s going to have to be for the next long while. But the way I see it, a series of baby steps forward is still progress. As the world unfolds, I’m holding the space.
What Ideas Led to the Creation of Fool’s Alchemist?
The idea for this blog domain surfaced perhaps a year after I had started learning about how to write good fiction.
Daring to Dream Out Loud
Several things, really, pushed me over the edge to dare to decide to become an author.
My eldest daughter, in her teenage years at that time, just upped and decided to write and publish fan fiction on the web. I found that bold and daring. But then, it occurred to me, why not? If a fifteen-year-old can do it, then I too should be able to get it together.
To add fuel to the fire, so to speak, her high school friend was in the creative writing program at the special arts school they attended. So again, if a teenager is doing it, what’s holding me back?
The secret dream was always there. The pedestal just seemed so high and rarefied. Who was I to even begin to think that I could walk on the same hallowed ground as the authors I admired and respected from afar?
Another thing that contributed to taking that giant leap forward relates to recalling spinning stories on the long drives on gravel roads in North-Eastern Saskatchewan where I grew up. Every morning and evening we were driven back and forth from the school we attended to learn French so that we could nurture and maintain our culture. When I was spinning those yarns, I felt uncomfortable that I never quite knew what was going to happen next. Yet, it surprised me the extent to which my siblings wanted to know more and like what happened next. This showed up again when I started inventing stories for my eldest daughter when she was a child. It was disconcerting because I had no freaking clue what was going to happen next. I guess I might have felt like a fraud.
Authors Exploring Ideas That Make You Think Differently
There came one final push that helped me move past my sense of fear of daring to hope that maybe someday I could be an author too: my admiration for Robin Hobb’s skills as a storyteller.
I knew that I wanted to be like her one day. And so then, there it was, lying stark naked in plain sight where I could no longer avert my eyes for having the audacity to think that I could even consider becoming an Author. I had heard it, and the secret desire could no longer be denied. There was no going back now.
Someday, I wanted to be as skilled as Robin Hobb.
I was first drawn to her work through the Soldier’s Son series. It seems to me that the series is not as well-known as the books from the Six Duchies with Fitzchivalry Farseer, his wolf and the Fool. I love Fitz and company. But, it was Nevare Burvelle and the Tree Woman who had initially captured my interest. It was intriguing to perceive how magic manifested itself within the different races very differently. This contributed a great deal to the conflict between them.
This was really the icing on the cake of all the other authors fiction who had marked me in some way.
- Katherine Kerr’s Deverry Cycle exploring ideas of spirituality, reincarnation and karma (called Wyrd in the book) while embedding religious rituals and roles in the day-to-day life of descendants of Celts,
- Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series’ exploration of different cultural applications and norms related to the Source magic, as well as the rhythmic cadence of his writing,
- Anne MacAffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series with a seemingly medieval basis showing up a surprising link to science fiction beginnings,
- Terry Goodkind’s First Wizard and Confessor series and how, regardless of circumstances influenced by dark and evil agendas, people do have the agency to express and exercise their free will,
- And let’s not forget Tad Williams’ Dragonbone Chair series with the amazing backstories that formed a solid foundation on which the present story unfolds, much like one of the qualities I appreciate in J.R.R. Tolkien’s work — to this day, the question that still persists in my mind: “What about the Sithi?”
The domain name for this blog was inspired in part by Robin Hobb’s Fool’s series. I enjoyed how she played on the word in her book titles. It was fascinating seeing her take the caricature of the fool and create a very unique and distinct character. The Fool owned the word “fool” as a name and a badge of honour.
In those early days embarking on the journey to authorship, I had finished reading the first two books in my personal collection. These were not the whatever books I might find in the library’s holdings. I had bought these books directly from the bookstore.
#1. Stealing Fire from the Gods: The Complete Guide to Story for Writers and Filmmakers by James Bonnet, and
#2. The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Become a Master Storyteller by John Truby
I could not have started off my training with two better books.
The Power of Story as a Teaching Tool
Another thing that influenced my understanding of story relates to my background in the field of education. I couldn’t help but notice the parallels of storytelling to teaching. It seemed to me that stories could unlock memories and the teachings associated with those memories. I began to wonder at the preservation of culture through oral traditions. At that time, I wasn’t aware of the oral traditions in Indigenous cultures. I’m still very much in learning mode in this regard, so I won’t venture more on the topic.
However, I can say that I’ve always been partial to learning about Celtic history. In those studies, I learned about the bards and their role. I learned that they practiced oral traditions as a way to teach and nurture culture. I also wondered at the bard’s skill to speak truth to power while sponsored by those in power. It occurred to me that there was probably a lot of training to become a bard. I imagine that they had to learn music, poetry meter, story structure and much more. It became increasingly clear to me that storytelling and education hold very similar purposes.
I could see how the entertainment value of a story — through the telling of an interesting tale, singing of a song, or recitation of an epic poem — could do a lot to seed ideas and teach ways of behaving.
Interestingly, when developing lessons, lectures or speeches, the quickest way to extend people’s interest beyond the typical eighteen-minute window when their mind can no longer focus on listening to and absorbing your content, is to introduce a story.
The more I studied and reflected on storytelling, the more the power of story started taking on a magical quality.
The Magical Alchemy in the Production of Compelling Stories
In a way, I was reminded of the goals and beliefs of alchemists in the middle ages to transform lead into gold.
This didn’t seem much different from the goals and beliefs of writers to transform words, techniques, and concepts into the whole cloth of a story that entertains while transmitting important messages related to adhering to a moral code.
These moral premises, embedded into stories, teach indirectly and through implication the path to enlightenment (the hero’s transformation overcoming their flaw) and the consequences of those decisions, or the path to the shadow side (the hero’s descent into madness refusing to acknowledge that there is even a flaw to overcome) and the consequences of those decisions.
Anyway, between riffing off of the multiple meanings inherent in the word/name “fool,” and trying to represent succinctly the writer’s commitment to the transmutation of an ordinary substance into the highly valued powerful story that can reach into people’s hearts, minds and souls, Fool’s Alchemist.com was born.
Where To From Here?
I’m so looking forward to the unfolding of everything that I have intended for Fool’s Alchemist.com.
It’ll be a long winding road, I suspect. Believe me when I say that I expect to be having a lot of fun each step of the way.
Images courtesy of the artists at Pixabay.