The Accidental Alchemist
By Gigi Pandian
Why I Wanted to Write a Paranormal Mystery
By Gigi Pandian
I’m a huge fan of the paranormal mystery genre (Victoria Laurie and Juliet Blackwell are two of my favorites), but I was never drawn to writing one until I had the idea for the main character in The Accidental Alchemist, a centuries-old female alchemist who discovered the Elixir of Life by accident and isn’t sure if it’s a blessing or a curse.
I was drawn to the subject of alchemy and the Elixir of Life after a breast cancer diagnosis at age 36. I wrote a first draft of the novel while undergoing chemotherapy, when it was great to have a fun project to throw myself into. Alchemist Zoe Faust and her sidekick, a gargoyle who was accidentally brought to life by a French stage magician, both discovered immortality by accident rather than design.
Why the gargoyle? I’ve loved gargoyles since I was a 10-year-old kid tagging along with my professor mom on one of her research trips to Europe. To me, they represent everything mysterious. Dorian the gargoyle started off as a small character, but grew into the heart of the book.
BLURB for The Accidental Alchemist:
Unpacking her belongings in her new hometown of Portland, Oregon, herbalist and reformed alchemist Zoe Faust can’t help but notice she’s picked up a stowaway. Dorian Robert-Houdin is a living, breathing three-and-a-half-foot gargoyle—not to mention a master of French cuisine—and he needs Zoe’s expertise to decipher a centuries-old text. Zoe, who’s trying to put her old life behind her, isn’t so sure she wants to reopen her alchemical past... until the dead man on her porch leaves her no choice.
“Zoe and Dorian are my new favorite amateur-sleuth duo!”
—New York Times bestselling author Victoria Laurie
A three-foot stone gargoyle stared up at me from the wreckage that used to be carefully-organized antique alchemy artifacts.
Instinctively, I stepped backward. How had this statue been added to my sealed crate? And why on earth would someone do so?
I ran out the front door, but movers had already departed. The porch sagged beneath my feet and the rickety front door banged shut behind me in the strong wind. When I turned the door handle to let myself back inside, the brass knob came off in my hand. Be careful what you wish for, Zoe Faust.
Thankfully, a strong shove was all the door needed to open. Back inside my new home, I returned to the crate for a closer look. The gargoyle reminded me of the stone carvings on Notre Dame in Paris. The gray creature looked to be modeled after the famous stone “thinker” gargoyle, with short horns and folded wings. The main difference was that this gargoyle held an old, leather-bound book in his arms. That was odd. I would have expected any added detail to be made of stone, not this real book with leather binding. I couldn’t place the type of stone used to carve the gargoyle. Granite?
Sandstone? Or perhaps a softer soapstone? It wasn’t like any stone I’d seen. I leaned in for a closer look. There was something...
The gargoyle blinked.
My fist tensed around the crowbar. I stumbled backward, falling into the large couch.
Sprawled out on the couch, I laughed at myself. I’d seen a fair share of magic shows in my time. I knew what this gargoyle was. He was something that had been a popular attraction over a century ago: an automaton.
“You’re the best looking automaton I’ve ever seen,” I said.
The gargoyle’s shoulders moved, as if it was stretching. It was a wonderfully constructed piece. It must have been programmed to awaken when light shone on him. A good trick for the stage.
“I am no automaton,” a deep voice emanating from the automaton said. He—for his voice assured me he was male—climbed out of the crate onto the hardwood floor.
I gasped and fell off the edge of the couch. Ouch.
I’d seen ingenious automatons created by stage magicians. None were as advanced as this one. If I were to believe my eyes, I would have sworn he was alive. But then again, technology had progressed since automatons were popular in stage shows of the 1800s. A famous example of an early automaton was The Turk, a chess-playing machine that drew huge crowds to watch him play chess against famous chess players. Automatons were a combination of technical wizardry and stage showmanship, and the most famous automatons were aided by human helpers. There was no way a person was inside the crate with this creature, so he had to be completely mechanized.
“Where are my manners?” the creature said, bowing before me. “I did not mean to startle you. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Dorian Robert-Houdin.” He spoke in English with a thick French accent.
I pulled myself together and stood up. “Either I’m going crazy, or your creator had a mischievous sense of humor. Incorporating a recording of his voice—”
I broke off when the gargoyle who called himself Dorian Robert-Houdin blinked at me again. The effect was quite disconcerting. His eyelids looked like granite, but the eyes themselves were a liquidly black substance.
“I assure you,” he said, “I am not a robotic automaton, nor are you going crazy.”
Most people would have run screaming from the room if they saw a walking, talking gargoyle emerge from their storage crate. I admit I was surprised, but I’ve seen many things in my lifetime…
Did I mention that when I was born in Massachusetts, it was 1676? I’ve been around for a while. But even my many years hadn’t prepared me for what I’d find in Portland.
Bio: Gigi Pandian is the USA Today bestselling author of the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series (Artifact, Pirate Vishnu, and the forthcoming Quicksand) and the new Accidental Alchemist mysteries. Gigi’s debut mystery novel was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant, and her short fiction has been short-listed for Agatha and Macavity awards. A cancer diagnosis in her 30s taught her two important life lessons: healing foods can taste amazing, and life’s too short to waste a single moment. Gigi spent her childhood being dragged around the world by her cultural anthropologist parents, and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with an overgrown vegetable garden in the backyard.
Visit her at gigipandian.com and connect with her on Facebook (facebook.com/GigiPandian) and on Twitter (@GigiPandian).