Lucky LaFey: Character Sketch

Lucky LaFey is a new main character who appears in the second volume of The Guild of Ornamental Hermits series, The Witching Work of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits. The second book takes place in Lake County, CA.


Lucky LaFey is a drifter. He wears his mileage lightly though he’s travelled the roughest of roads. However his vocabulary is excellent and his manners are often soft and deferential enough to mark him as having come from “a good home.” He can say “ma’am” and “sir” without a trace of hipster irony. He’s insatiably curious. You’re as likely to find him in a small town library as you are in a big city pool hall.

Tall enough, slender but muscled, green eyes, an age that’s hard to pin down… Lucky’s been known to dye his long red hair jet black. He’s the handsome devil who breezes through town, dances in clubs, picks up odd jobs and odder people. He may break a heart or two when he leaves (but he’s never broken a family).

“What did you see in him?” (Besides that voice, those eyes, the hair, those oddly scarred lips?)

“I don’t know exactly, but I felt like he ‘got me’, ya know? He really got me!”

And she/he/they/ze will remember him for the rest of their lives.

Lucky’s a natural actor. He’s toured with regional theater companies, garnering rave reviews of his almost “chameleon-like” ability to really become the character. And yet, acting was never his passion–just another way to meet people and pass the time. He’s picked up sleight of hand tricks with coins and cards and has a rapid-fire “patter” that’s both hilarious and beguiling. But that’s just a way to win a beer or whiskey on a bet.

Because he’s handsome and his hands are clean, some have mistaken him for a hustler or a gigolo, and tried to play him that way. Yet money never changes hands when it comes to Lucky and sex. Oh, but that’s not to say there’s not a transaction involved! It might be “that ring you’re wearing,” or “my friends and I could use another round” or even, for those “lucky few,” “tattoo my name on your ass so next time I see you, I’ll know you really love me.”

And then he’s off in the night, laughing. (Someone told me once there’s a secret Reddit group for people who’ve gotten those tattoos.)

His own tattoos are faded: a snake biting its own tail on his left bicep, a wolf on his right,  and over his heart, a small skull with half the face of a girl. If you could lift Lucky’s hair from the back of his neck, you’d find a tiny broken heart, but few people have ever been allowed that liberty. Lucky might let you get close, but not that close.

Sometimes you might find Lucky among the “Burners” or hopping trains with young nomads like “Sock Monkey” and “Crash.” He’s learned that people are friendlier when he sits on curbs with a kitten (he loves his animals and always finds them good homes). To hear him tell it, Lucky’s been “a ski bum, a surfer, a demolition derby racer, and a line cook at some top New York restaurants.” He claims to have been married (twice) but never talks about his wives or kids. He plays the guitar and sometimes you might find him sitting in with other musicians in some scruffy bar, or strumming it pensively, alone under a tree in a park.

Don’t offer him a cigarette when you sit down to listen. He gave it up years ago, after that trip to Tibet.

To hear him tell it, Lucky’s been everywhere and done everything. He’ll talk of having one memorable night with Janis or that time in Paris when he posed in drag for Brassai. And then he’ll look you in the eye and laugh, daring you to challenge him (“You couldn’t have! You’re not that old!”). The funny thing is, you almost believe him! He makes you want to believe…

So perhaps it was inevitable that the lanky sweet-talking drifter known as Lucky LaFey would find his way to our new Hermitville Magic and Arts Collective. I found him one morning, comfortably asleep in the hammock that hangs on our wide front porch, with only a backpack and a paperback book for company. I stared at him. He was improbable. His bright red hair caught sunbeam light and threw it back like prism sparkles. And then he yawned, opened his emerald green eyes and grinned at me. It was a look from someone much bigger than a human soul. My heart pounded and all I could think was, “Here comes trouble…”

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Mourning Ahalanui Warm Pond

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Yesterday, July 12, 2018, Tutu Pele covered the Ahalanui Warm Pond and park with lava, along with the neighboring Kua O Ka La Hawaiian language charter school. “Green Lake,” Kapoho Bay, the Wai’opae tide pools, and hundreds of homes have already been covered since early May. Ahalanui, warmed by volcanic steam, was a much loved place in Puna. Here’s a scene from the book that takes place at Ahalanui — based on a real incident.

Excerpt from Chapter 27

When I woke early next morning I felt the urge to swim. I took off by myself, fifteen miles an hour along a very narrow road that would eventually take me to the Ahalanui warm pond, a large brackish pool heated by volcanic steam. The road was deserted so I drove as slowly as I wanted. At times I drove under canopies of centenarian mangoes and the invasive albizia, while hala trees corkscrewed up through tangles of ferns. Large leafy vines and hanging tendrils were sometimes long enough to smack my windshield. I had Aryeh Frankfurter’s Harp Songs of the Midnight Sun on the CD player, and the music gave me the feeling of traveling through a faery land. At times the thick green landscape would open to an occasional glimpse of ocean breakers or sun-baked fields of the most recent lava flow. I was in no mood for conversation so I passed the hitchhiking couple (he in dreads and shorts, she in a light blue dress and a backpack). I felt a little guilty but I also knew what I needed. I needed to wash myself free of everything that had “stuck” from the last several days. And for that, I needed to be by myself.

Once in the pond, I swam past clusters of talking people. I wanted to escape their voices so I swam to the back edge of the pond where a narrow channel admits the waves. I clung to my favorite underwater rock and went limp, swaying like kelp in the current. I had no thoughts, just let my body move with the current. Sometimes I looked at the bottom of the pool as the water cleared, noticing the bleached coral fragments and rounded lava pebbles. But then a bearded man with a blotchy sunburn swam past me, positioned himself directly in the channel and began (for some unaccountable reason) to lift large rocks from the bottom of the pond and fling them aside. Each flung rock made a loud splash and a clunk as it knocked against the other rocks. I tried to maintain the feeling of serenity that I’d brought to the pond but it was impossible. Though he didn’t seem exactly angry, I experienced his actions as hostile and disturbing. I swam to another part of the pond but couldn’t recapture my serenity.

Away from “my” rock, I floated on my back for a few minutes more, looking at the clouds and palm fronds above. Then I decided I’d had enough. I like to be there early and when people start bringing styrofoam “noodles” and sunscreen (or start chucking rocks), it’s time to go.

Driving home, I felt some of my earlier peace. Again the road was untravelled, except for a single bicyclist. I could fall under the spell of greenery and birdsong. I remembered the professor’s words, “a green and pleasant land” and wondered if anywhere else could be as green and pleasant as this road? It was so beautiful and remote, no longer “mine.” I realized I was saying good-bye.

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Kapoho Tidepools, Robert Linsdell from St. Andrews, Canada, 29 October 2014, 11:33. Creative Commons.

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Elf and Human Magical Intersectionality

This is an excerpt from Chapter Twenty, Stalking the Wild. Elves and the human “hermits” try to parse magical intersectionality and magical identities…

So Indigo did her best to explain. We did our best to understand. Scrying wasn’t so hard. It’s just fortune telling with a crystal ball or a mirror or a plate of water. Trying to see things. The rest of it was more complicated. Finally Indigo shrugged and said, “We’ll walk you through it when the time comes. Don’t worry about it.”

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Jennifer sighed, “I thought magic adventures were supposed to happen to you when you’re a kid, not when you’re a post-menopausal rock ’n’ roller!”

“Yeah,” Massive agreed. “Hermitville ain’t no Hogwarts!”

“Yep, Hashtag Muggles No More.” Tomma giggled, while the Wubbies began to squeal for food crumbs.

The funny thing was, the Fey Folk were totally digging this exchange. They were apparently all avid fans of human movies. Archie said Elven academia was obsessed with critiquing movies and literature which depicted human encounters with magical beings and powers. There were even sub-disciplines which dealt with questions of magical intersectionality—various types of oppression and privilege involving magical and non-magical beings—as depicted in human media.

Aarrf was saying things like, “So, now that I’ve learned I’m only half-human, how do I present my authentic self in a culture based on werewolves and furry jokes? A culture that doesn’t even acknowledge that people like me exist? And I don’t exactly feel comfortable with the Otherkin community either, because I tend to see them as emotionally othered, not genetically othered. What do I do with my lived experience as an actual part-phouka? And does my phouka blood enable me to know the true phouka experience, as I wasn’t raised as a phouka?”

And Tomma was saying things like, “Maybe that’s just internalized self-hatred, Aarrf, that you can’t see that many Otherkin folk might also be genetically othered? I mean, look how our culture treats animals! How would you expect it to treat people who are part supernatural animal? Denial, that’s what!”

Breadcrumb was expounding on examples of sexism in Harry Potter movies, “People make fun of Hermoine for actually working hard to get better at magic. What’s up with that?”

And Roz was saying, “Yeah, and what about all that ‘sexy witches on Halloween’ stuff? As if we can only be valuable, magically, if we’re also sexy according to the false standards of beauty foisted on us by a sexist capitalist economy! As if our only real magic is between our well-shaved legs!”

“And our well-shaved armpits,” yelled Maxine.

“Or in our well-shaved…uh, nevermind,” Tomma pretended to look embarrasssed.

The professor was giving Parsifal an earful about human perceptions of class conflicts between so-called high Elves and “lower” magical beings like brownies and gnomes. “For example, in War for the Oaks, the queens of both faery courts are consistantly overdressed, which is supposed to indicate their high status among the fey folk, however the humans equate this with snobbery and despise it.” (Parsifal just fondled his puffy buttons and didn’t say much.)

“Like Miz P?” Tomma asked.

Meanwhile Septimus was muttering, “Well, we do like to dress up you know! The magic garment industry is one of the most important in the Realm.”

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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