“Notes for a Young Alchemist”

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“In lab, you develop headaches from sneaking glances at others’ solutions. Everyone else’s looks better, shinier. Master Salcedo tells you over and over that in order to succeed you must love the process and not the result, but mother of God, the process is so boring: melting and waiting and chopping and adding and waiting, distillation one, remelting and rewaiting, sneaking a glance, hating Tesla, distillation two, your face full of acne, your stomach growling. The routine just makes you sad and bored, and how can you enjoy that? This is the process they tell you to love: everything you think has the potential to be brilliant congeals in an ugly way, stuck to the bottom of a flask like lard.”

For the 12th installment of our ongoing series of fiction by never-before-published authors, we present a beautifully wrought story that offers a contemporary angle on the genre of magical realism. 

Julia Drake received her B.A. in Spanish from Williams College and her M.F.A. in creative writing from Columbia University, where she also taught writing to first-year students. She works as a book coach for aspiring writers and teaches creative writing classes for Writopia Lab, a nonprofit that fosters a love of writing in young adults. Her debut novel, The Last True Poets of the Sea (Little, Brown, 2019), won the 2019 New England Book Award for Young Adult Literature and was named a best book of 2019 by Publishers Weekly.