And Breadcrumb Makes Three…Elf Character Spotlight.

Breadcrumb (also known as “The Wee One” or “T.W.O.” for short) is an Elf smitten with human clowning and clown fashion. Physically I see her very much as an Angela Mae type. Angela Mae being an immensely talented bellydancer and clown who has performed with the band, Gooferman. Angela Mae is definitely a major muse for this character!

In this book, some Elves are quite taken with human subcultures, as immortality can get a little stale without interdimensional novelty. They go in for human fads, artifacts, and “spill-over phrases” (cliches and memes). Breadcrumb is certainly one of these Elves, with a ruby-rouged nose, striped tights, and a light tunic of spider silk.

Her father, Parsifal, is another. Puddles, the Sad Clown with the Golden Voice, is the primary muse for the character of Parsifal. You can get a sense of Parsifal in action in the excerpt, Elven Glamour Run Amok.

Breadcrumb’s mother, however, is the formidable, no-nonsense Maud o’ Bedlam, an experienced interdimensional operative. (I see Eva Green as the ideal Maud!)

Breadcrumb may be a classic Manic-Pixie (Elf) Girl, capable of shimmies, pouts, and nonsequiturs, but when the forces of evil descend on Hermitville Farm and Arts Collective, Maud and Parsifal have good reason to be proud of their daughter as she transforms into “Head Elf in Charge.”

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Disaster Prep in “Hermitville,” Puna District

The opening scene of The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits is a light-hearted disaster prep drill performed by some of the “hermits” of my fictitious Hermitville Farm and Arts Collective, an intentional community located in the Puna district of Hawai’i Island. The scene mentions a triage method to assess injuries, used by CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams) during a disaster.

CERT members are ordinary people who want to assist their neighbors and communities during times when the resources of governmental first responders are likely to be overwhelmed. And so they take a practical course in first aid, using a fire extinquisher, and just generally understanding something about what to do when all hell breaks loose. The national CERT program is managed by FEMA, and is now also affiliated with the Department of Homeland Security (this last link is a little weird for me, I’ll admit). Many communities have CERT training throughout the year. FEMA also has online materials that can be helpful.

Why did I choose to start a fantasy novel with something as prosaic as a disaster prep drill? There are a lot of reasons. For one thing, I’ve taken the CERT course myself, twice. And for another, I knew when I moved that life in rural Hawai’i could be rough. My “hermits” are “transplants” to the island as I once was, and are determined to be able to help themselves, each other, and their neighbors during a disaster. This willingness to help–in my opinion–is an expression of aloha.

When I lived in the Hawaiian Shores subdivision in Pahoa, a town in the Puna district (2016-2017), I took the CERT training in Kea’au, along with other community-minded folks. I still have my inch-thick training manual, though I did have to return my badge when I moved. I’d done the same training a few years earlier, in Albany CA, and we were mostly focused on earthquake prep. But in the Hawaiian Islands, the likely disaster menu includes earthquakes as well as tropical storms and hurricanes such as Iselle (slammed Puna in 2014), floods (Kauai has been recently devastated), and yes, flowing lava and eruptions, like the flow that threatened Puna (also in 2014) and the “curtain of fire” lava eruptions happening right now (May 3 & 4) in the Leilani Estates subdivision, causing mandatory evacuations. (Leilani is not far from where I used to live).

From a writer’s standpoint, using a CERT drill to open the book enabled me to introduce some of the characters in relation to each other, to show their interactions and focus. But I also wanted people who don’t live in Hawai’i to understand something that’s not often addressed in the blithe (and incorrect) assumption of “paradise,” to understand what it takes to actually live there, especially in the rural areas.

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Over 1,500 people have evacuated from Leilani Estates already, and no one knows how long the eruptions and flow will last, or how much land will be affected, the resources and resilience of Puna residents are going to be taxed once again. The lives of thousands of residents, not just the evacuees, are going to be affected for maybe months, possibly even years. If the flow is extensive, housing will be a problem–Puna already has too many vacation homes and not enough affordable housing for its residents. Fresh water will be a problem, as a majority of people in Puna rely on catchment tanks. If the loss of housing is widespread, this also means loss of catchment water. Lava is already covering part of Mohala Street in Leilani. If it covers or crosses more streets, and even the main highway in and out of the area (as it almost did in 2014), transportation and the delivery of food and medical services will be impeded. Electric power will be affected, not to mention the internet… Schooling will be disrupted–there’s a Hawaiian language charter school that might be endangered if the flow continues east. Elderly people, the kupuna, will be particularly hardpressed, as will any families who are living paycheck to paycheck, or no paycheck to no paycheck. There’s an almost endless list of difficulties ahead. How will people manage?

And that’s just people! Animals (including pets and livestock) are also profoundly affected. Many dogs and cats made homeless in 2014’s disasters have contributed to the burgeoning feral population, which in turn affects wildlife…

Could CERT volunteers help in a situation like this? To some extent, yes. Using chainsaws to cut through fallen trees, giving help an elderly neighbor, operating HAM radio, handling triage at shelters… I’m not sure of the specific opportunities, but trained, willing people will always do some good in situations like these.

And so including a CERT training at the start of my book injects a truly necessary realism before I introduce the fantastical elements of the story. Because you’ve been good enough to read this far, here are the opening paragraphs of the book (and don’t miss the CERT info below them):


 

Chapter One

Babe: You Know the Drill in Hermitville

“One… two… no, no, support zir head and neck, please! … three! Lift!”

Even with six of us, it wasn’t easy transferring Tomma’s limp, lanky body from the floor to the makeshift stretcher (a repurposed surfboard with straps), let alone lifting the stretcher and carrying zir to the designated medical treatment tarp.

“I forget, is ze green or what?” Oyster still wasn’t quite clear on the concept of triage, but after all, he’d only been with us six years. Give him time.

“C.E.R.T. for dummies,” Aarrf muttered and Oyster looked hurt. Aarrf took our monthly community emergency response training drills very seriously and had little patience with anyone who wasn’t as geeky about it as they were.

Joe took pity on Oyster. “No, green is for ‘walking wounded,’” he said. “Red, ze’s red. Immediate. Got that?” Oyster nodded.

 


Find Your Nearest CERT Training

Here are two excerpts from the Ready.gov website. I hope this blog encourages you to get some training yourself, no matter where you live. One day you and your community might be glad you did.

The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program educates volunteers about disaster preparedness for the hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. CERT offers a consistent, nationwide approach to volunteer training and organization that professional responders can rely on during disaster situations, which allows them to focus on more complex tasks. Through CERT, the capabilities to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters is built and enhanced…

…FEMA’s Community Emergency Response Team Program trains volunteers to prepare for the types of disasters that their community may face. Through hands-on practice and realistic exercises, CERT members:

  • Learn how to safely respond to manmade and natural hazards
  • Help organize basic disaster response
  • Promote preparedness by hosting and participating in community events
  • To learn how you can register for CERT or find a program near you, please contact your local emergency manager or FEMA at FEMA-Prepare@fema.dhs.gov

 

Dire Deeds – “The Movie”

My book is about people who are old and/or gender variant and/or not white and who have varied sexual orientations (LGBTQIA etc.) and diverse relationships, having the kinds of magical adventures that in mainstream fantasy fiction and films are mostly reserved for white, cisgender, heteronormative children and teenagers.

So it is not surprising that as I was writing, I also thought cinematically! Who are the characters and what is the kind of magic adventure movie that I’d like to see? This means a lot of “behind the scenes” fantasizing as well as writing. This often took the form of creating and revising character bios and by “casting” the characters as if this book were going to be a movie. This kind of fantasizing helped me to develop my characters by looking for real-life actors who somehow “fit” or embodied my conceptions of the book’s characters and also let me play around a little with character “chemistry” ideas. As the book developed, some of the cast would sometimes change. A new actor would sometimes replace a previous selection.

During this fantasizing, one strict rule of mine was that a trans actor would have to be “cast” in a trans role. A Kanaka Maoli (native Hawaiian) actor would be cast in a Kanaka role. An intersex actor would be cast in an intersex role, and so on. Of course, an actor of any gender, ethnicity, or age can play an Elf–and so they do. (No one is going to look very much like a Tolkien Elf in my fantasy movie–besides, my Elves are all wild for mortal subcultures and artifacts.)

What follows next is FANTASY CASTING – like a fan game, okay? It’s strictly for fun (unless the Wachowski Sisters give me a ring). Got that?

So, pretending that The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits is now headed for the big screen, there are at least eleven good roles for trans/GV actors, including major characters (either as trans/GV roles or playing cis roles); two major roles for intersex actors; and fourteen good and major roles for people of color (these overlap with many of the above roles). The characters below are human and Elf. The Elsewherians (they are “corporate”) and Fomorians (they’re like witch burning inquisitors) are mainly ensembles of bad guys (not listed as individual characters). I’ve also neglected to think of a couple of the deities that show up in magic rituals as “characters,” but I suppose I should.

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The “Hermits” (*main book narrators)

*Babe Bump – intersex woman, pansexual. Imagining singer and actor, Eden Atwood, (with darker hair). She’d be terrific. And this song is a perfect way for her to express her feelings for her new sweetheart! Eden has been “the face” of Babe almost since the first chapter.

*Tomma Bedlam – a trans woman who has claimed a gender fluid/non-binary identity by the time we meet zir, pansexual. Imagining Jamie Clayton (Sense8). How I love her! But would she want to play someone who is gender fluid and non-binary? In any case, Jamie has been “the face” of Tomma since the first draft of the first chapter!

*Oyster Olson – trans man, asexual, pan-romantic. Imagining Will Krisanda with a little grey hair (Brothers). For me, he’s been “the face” of Oyster Olson for the last year and a half as I’ve been writing. (But he’d have to learn to play blues harp or fake it!).

Aarrf Perry – a gender queer (they/them) “human puppy” who is also head of Hermitville security. This character requires a certain kind of versatility and has a pretty intense character growth. Imagining Tilda Swinton (identifies as non-binary gender).

Joe Hillstrom – cisgender man, gay, photographer and personal trainer: Imagining Chiwetel Ejiofor, because he can pretty much do anything as an actor and I love him.

Glysandra Shakti Om – cisgender woman, hetero, tantra instructor. Imagining Helen McCrory (Peaky Blinders). Or could be a cis role played by a trans woman (who?).

Maximus Gordon – cisgender man, hetero, polyamorous, musician and singer. Massive is supposed to be 6’7″ and built like a football player, and so though I imagine the face of Morgan Freeman (with grey hair and beard), I actually don’t know how tall he is, or if he can sing!

Sybil Perry – cisgender woman, heteroflexible, polyamorous, musician and singer. Imagining Loretta Divine.

Minnie Richmond – cisgender woman, heteroflexible, polyamorous, musician and singer. Imagining Annie Golden. I’ve also thought of flipping the roles here so Annie would play Sybil and Loretta would play Maxine.

Jennifer Juniper – cisgender woman, hetero, musician and singer. Imagining Rhiannon Giddens.

Frank Talk – intersex man (sexual preference unknown), musician. Imagining intersex activist and professional pirate, Mx. Annunaki Ray Marquez.

Rozaline Rae – cisgender woman, bisexual, musician/singer. Imagining Poison Ivy (of The Cramps), if she’d be so kind…

Ginger Croom – cisgender woman, hetero, age 70ish, winery heiress, Hermitville founder. Dies at beginning of the book. Gotta be a “big” personality in flashbacks. Not “cast,” but Charlotte Rampling in a cameo is a persistent fantasy. Could also be a cis role played by a trans woman (who?). Who would be the young Ginger?

Sidley Croom – cisgender man, bisexual, Ginger’s younger brother. Imagining David Strathairn.

Bad Guys & Irritants

Anna Phylaxia – cisgender woman, hetero, pretend “domme,” CEO of Anna’s Wicked Wares. Imagining Pooya Mohseni (trans woman actor) as fantastic in this cis female role.

Stanford Lawsome – cisgender man, bisexual, Anna’s assistant. Imagining Reeve Carney (Penny Dreadful) with bleached hair and a spray tan.

The Lawyer® – gender neutral (ze, zir), Elsewherian, preference unknown. Imagining Jamie Casbon (Brothers) with a very corporate wardrobe.

Sri Nimrod – cisgender man, hetero. Self-righteous yoga guy with man bun. Small role. Haven’t cast him yet, but that Portlandia comedian could do this role well.

Film Crew

Miranda Jackson – cisgender female, lesbian, documentary filmmaker. Imagining Lea DeLaria (Orange is the New Black).

Shank Stoma – Trans or gender queer person, sexual preference unknown. Camera. Imagining Hudson Krakowski (Brothers).

Eddie Sedgwick – Nonbinary trans male (they, their). Camera. Em Grosland. (Trans actor. Em would also make a good Elf–see below.)

Toledo Jackson – Cisgender male, hetero. Miranda’s goat-selling, former tweaker brother. Hippie dude. Imagining someone similar to Russell Brand, but even more unraveled.

Jason – Cisgender male, hetero. Obnoxious to women. Kicked out of the crew. Small role. Imagining a white, frat guy type. Not cast.

Hawaiian (Kanaka Maoli) Neighbors

Namaka – cisgender woman, mother of two including kapu (sacred) child. I imagine someone like singer/activist Hāwane Rios or singer/activist Laulani Teale.

Uncle Iolana – cisgender man, kupuna (cherished elder), age 70. I imagine someone like singer Liko Martin.

A baby (gender not specified) and a boy of ten. Not cast.

Elves

Note: The Elves have 29 genders in their world and many of the Elf genders have developmental “shifts” to other states over the course of their lives.

Septimus Sitwell – Filly Lord gender, pansexual. Imagining Benedict Cumberbatch. Because I can… And because Septimus has some great lines.

The Wee One (aka T.W.O. and Breadcrumb) – Filly Lassie gender, pansexual. Character based on Angela Mae, a clown and bellydancer (used to perform with Gooferman). Would love to cast Angela Mae in this role. She’s super-talented.

Professor Osbert Almond – Lord of Ice gender, pansexual. Imagining Tom Hiddleston with long hair (but more gloss and gleam than Loki) — mostly because he is an amazing actor and could bring a lot of depth to the professor, who has a complex backstory.

Parsifal Berry Blue – Murlord gender, pansexual, T.W.O.’s dad. Character based on the real-life Puddles, the Sad Clown with the Golden Voice. Would love to cast Puddles (Mike Geier) in this role.

Maud o’ Bedlam – Lady Flame gender, pansexual, T.W.O.’s  mom. Imagining Eva Green (Penny Dreadful).

Indigo – Simple Female gender, lesbian. Imagining Samira Wiley (Orange is the New Black).

George Potts – Lady Pheonix gender, pansexual, married to Archie Smegley. Imagining Jake Zyrus (trans man actor/singer).

Archie Smegley – Murlord gender, pansexual, married to George Potts. Imagining Scott Turner Schofield (trans man actor) .

Gingevus Sitwell – Filly Lord gender, pansexual, brother to Septimus. Imagining Bill Nighy (with longish hair).

Tom Crumpet – Simple Triad gender, pansexual. Imagining Emmett Jack Lundberg (trans man actor).

Sally ‘Round the Roses – Imagining Kitana Kiki Rodriguez (trans woman, lead in Tangerine), who would be lovely in this role.

Jack o’ My Lad – Simple Male gender, pansexual. Imagining Thomas Brodie-Sangster (cis man actor) or Em Grosland (trans actor).

Sulferous Pete – Simple Dyad gender, pansexual. Imagining Kingston Farady (trans man actor, Black is Blue).

Who’s There – Murlette gender, pansexual. Imagining Bae Doona (Sense8). (Korean name. Family name is Bae.)

Hamfast – Simple Dyad gender, pansexual, shapeshifter. Imagining Richard O’Brien (Rocky Horror Picture Show).

Hamfast shapeshifting as Goddess Mal-i-bu Bar-bee – Imagining Stormy Daniels in a cameo appearance.

Shane – Laddie Gora gender, pansexual, Fomorian expert. Imagining Alexander Vlahos (long hair, goth).

This “casting” is actually a productive exercise for a (cis, white) writer to step out of a tendency to “cast white” and “cast cis” and really broaden the character possibilities beyond a token character or two, tossed in as a sop to “diversity.” It is also a way to search out and appreciate the work of talented people who in some cases have less recognition than they deserve. And it’s also a bit of “magical thinking.”

So mote it be.

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