In 1999, when I was still an unpublished newbie, I attended the World Horror Convention in Atlanta, where some of the notable writer guests included Neil Gaiman, John Shirley, Michael Bishop, Caitlín R. Kiernan, and Ramsey Campbell. At that point, I thought that I might still be a horror writer, even though my innate squeamishness for violence and terror was beginning to win the battle for my chosen subject matter, and I attended very much because of the writers there. However, on the second day of the convention, at the urging of several new friends, I made my way into the art show, and beheld the gloriously dark and whimsical sculpture work of Lisa Snellings, who was the Artist Guest-of-Honor. Her smaller pieces made me smile and her larger kinetic works (including the moving Ferris wheel that inspired the anthology Strange Attraction, edited by Edward E. Kramer) filled me with wonder, but it was her largest piece on display that literally stole the breath from my lungs.
Named “If Love’s a Fine Game, Hell’s a Good Joke,” the sculpture consisted of two life-sized harlequins, one balancing on the knees of the other; the expressions that Lisa had so painstakingly crafted on their faces were so devilish and sly that, right there on that spot, I conceived of the siblings Blue and Dane: immortals, manipulators, elementals.
When I got home from the convention, I immediately cast these two characters in a novelette called “Wicked Game” (which can be found in my ebook collection The Curragh of Kildaire). The story examined the shifting balance of control that comes with power both earned and taken; it also established the borstal plane, a dimension of existence that both acts as a prison and as the source of all the magic in the world, a locale I would visit again in my prose. I later returned to the siblings in a middle-grade story called “Watersnake, Firesnake,” but this time put them in a distinctly Asian setting, as the antagonists of a young boy who has found a phoenix egg.
Several years passed, and I grew as a writer, and Blue and Dane refused to go away, insisting that I hadn’t yet finished telling their story. It took time, but three substantial works of fiction came into existence that further explored the power dynamics of their relationship, and the consequences of their long-term meddling in human affairs.
The Alchemy of Happiness is the result, an interwoven tripartite narrative collecting “Reality, Interrupted,” “In Jurong,” and “Always a Risk” for the very first time.
The collection’s title riffs on that of the ancient Islamic text Kimiya-yi Sa’adat by the Sufi philosopher Abu ?amid Mu?ammad ibn Mu?ammad al-Ghazali, as well as the science of alchemy that sought to harness the four classical elements (two of which my characters physically embody). However, whereas al-Ghazali’s text was designed as a moral guide toward a more fulfilling spiritual life, mine is open-ended, a question rather than an answer. Through their constant searching, will Blue and Dane ever find that existential bliss toward which all of us are striving? Or will their millennia of manipulation and destruction leave them forever in a state of metaphysical suffering?
The Alchemy of Happiness is available now from infinity plus book. Also included in this ebook volume is a hybrid-essay called “Embracing the Strange,” which looks at my own personal journey for happiness and fulfillment through the lens of speculative fiction, as well as a wide-ranging interview by Singaporean author and editor Wei Fen Lee.
And as a special bonus, anyone who buys the ebook gets a link to download the expanded second edition of my collection Red Dot Irreal completely for free.