Edith Sitwell and Tom o’ Bedlam

Here are two of the most pervasive and enduring influences on me, as I make my way through the writing of this work of fantasy fiction.

First, Edith Sitwell’s English Eccentrics, which has a chapter on Ornamental Hermits. Some of England’s “landed gentry” really did hire ornamental hermits to flit about in the shrubbery for their amusement. I believe this should be a 21st century career choice, with better wages and job security, even a union, of course! The San Francisco Chronicle once rejected my (somewhat satirical, somewhat serious) advocacy of a unionized Hermits Guild as a career option for people in need of work (I would have applied!), but the editor did compliment me on providing the most obscure literary reference to come across their desks! I still think a Hermit’s Guild could have made neat use of cast-off costumes from ACT and Beach Blanket Babylon!

In fact, in 2016, the village of Adleburgh advertised for a professional “village idiot,” which I am convinced is very much in the spirit of Ornamental Hermiting.

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Secondly,  Tom o’ Bedlam, a poem written (most likely) in the 17th century, author unknown. And this musical version by the Rude Mechanicals. The late Michael Rossman, of Free Speech Movement fame, is the vocalist. Nay, more than a mere vocalist! He became Tom when he sang. Should this book ever be made into a movie, I’ll lobby hard for this version of the song to be part of the soundtrack. My character, Tomma Bedlam, named zirself after this poem. The “madness” of another character also loosely follows Tom’s trajectory.

http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/339842

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NaNoWriMo 2018

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I’m gearing up for National Novel Writing Month 2018! It begins on my birthday, November 1st. I began my fantasy fiction novel, The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, during NaNoWriMo 2016, wrote all year long, then continued it during NaNoWriMo 2017. Still working hard!

But this year, I am winding up another round of editing on The Dire Deeds and am getting ready to start my second volume in the series: The Witching Work of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits. This second volume will take place in Lake County and the “wine country” of California as the Hermits of Hermitville attempt to regroup and establish a LGBTQIA etc. (pretty much everybody-friendly) school of magic.

I don’t want to tell you anything else! For me, the plot and character development flows as I write, with only a vague idea of what might happen next. I’ll be as surprised as you are when I get to my 50,000 word count at the end of November.

One thing I do know, however, a certain fabulous trickster god will make his/her/zir appearance in the book! And those Viking horns on top of the NaNoWriMo log will be so very, very appropriate!

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Listen to Chapter One

The above is an unedited, rough-cut reading of a previous version of Chapter One of my fantasy novel, The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits. It’s a tale of mid-life magic that takes place on Hawai’i island. Check it out! It’s a preliminary to creating a podcast of this book. You can read an excerpt from the latest revision here.

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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.

Kapoho_Tide_Pools,_Waiopae,_Pahoa_(503828)_(21295081641)
Kapoho Tidepools, Robert Linsdell from St. Andrews, Canada, 29 October 2014, 11:33. Creative Commons.

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Announcing the Sequels

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This weekend (which was a particularly awful one, I must say!), I was inspired with the titles of the next two books in the Guild of Ornamental Hermits series. I always knew I’d be writing a trilogy of “mid-life magic”–and have had a general idea of theme and location–but titles were elusive.

So, the second book in the series takes place in California (and that’s all the spoiler you’re going to get). It will be called The Witching Work of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits and I’ll be starting it on November 1st, during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

The third book will bring a deeper look into the history of the guild, and some of it will take place in England during the witchcraft persecution of the 17th and 18th centuries. This third book will be called The Perilous Past of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits.

Just thought you’d all like to know what’s up with my works of fantasy fiction.

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You Need a Scorecard to Keep Track…

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Here is a list of some of the relationship configurations involving the characters in The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, a work of fantasy fiction. Many involve characters in LGBTQIA categories. Kink and nonmonogamy are represented as well. (I’m not even including most of the Elves in this list.) There are a couple of spoilers here:
1) There are twelve human characters who are residents of Hermitville. Each one has an Elf mentor (most of these are nonsexual relationships).
2) Spoiler: Babe Bump (pansexual, intersex woman) and Oyster Olson (asexual, pan-romantic trans man) become fond of each other. Tomma Bedlam (pansexual, trans, non-binary person) makes three.
3) Tomma is also involved with a butch lesbian (former) lover and there may be a surprise Elf/Human triad in zir future.
4) Divorced couple Massive Max and Sybil are kinky and still sometimes get together when their lover Maxine can make it a trio.
5) Joe Hillstrom and Sidley Croom are an on-again, off-again gay couple with a long, complicated past.
6) Hermitville’s founder, Ginger Croom, may have had a Fey lover in her youth.
7) Aarrf, a multi-gendered human puppy, finds an Elven master.
8) Glysandra, a tantrika, is Ginger Croom’s tantra partner, even though they claim to be “not lovers.”
9) Archie and George (Elves) are still on their honeymoon after 350 years.
10) Sidley Croom also hooks up with at least one “bad guy” and has had hopes for several other liaisons.
11) A few characters have human/fey parentage (backstories in the second book!).
12) Parsifal and Maud (Elves) are a dyad but also part of a larger group marriage.
13) A giant salamander that really loves buildings.
14) Most of the Elves have not yet divulged their sexual preferences. However, there are twenty-nine possible Elven genders…
15) Several of the humans have not yet divulged either.
And yet, with all this, I haven’t written one single explicit sex scene, nor do I intend to do so! It’s kind of more fun this way.
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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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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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Septimus Sitwell: Elf Character Spotlight

Septimus Sitwell is one of the most important Elf characters to appear at the Hermitville Farm and Arts Collective in Puna, Hawai’i. Should my book ever become a movie, I would beg Benedict Cumberbatch to play this role! Here’s how I introduce the character of Septimus:

Chapter Eight
The Realm: On the Other side of the Gossamer Veil

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Septimus Sitwell clapped his hands to his head and moaned! “By Varda’s Panties! Another migraine! Who in the human world just poured themselves a kundalini cocktail?”

There was no one to hear him, fortunately, as his blasphemous outburst would have caused his brethren to compose lengthy songs of sorrow asking forgiveness of the most Blessed Lady of the Stars. Septimus was alone, as usual. Elven Hermits generally are, except of course during weekly swap meets, jam making, wine guzzling, tea drinking, tabletop role play games, and Management of Immortal Melancholy classes. His fingernails were trimmed and buffed, his beard was like a film of sheer silk on his chin and cheeks, and he wore shiny black patent lederhosen with black and white wide-striped tights, spike heels, and a tight, sheer black t-shirt. All human-made contraband of course. Septimus had connections. And abilities.

The cost, however, was steep. It took a lot of concentration (as well as the correct use of The Book of Moons and the Alchemy of Time/Space) to tease and coax the molecules of human artifacts from one dimension into another, and then to reassemble them correctly. Septimus never forgot the time he summoned a liposuction machine (which were all the rage in fey realms that year—please don’t ask why) but ended up with a used diaphragm (in its case) and a copy of SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas. Sure, there are collectors who do pay for spontaneous flotsam from the Mortal Coil, and Septimus easily found a buyer, but still, such a sad and sorry disappointment!

But, that’s what Hermits do, don’t they? Summon stuff from other realms and hope to Tulkas it comes out right on the other side. There are worse jobs.

However, like his brother Gingevus, Septimus suffered from a chronic case of emanation spillover from the human world. Though he hadn’t stumbled over any doppelgängers yet, he did know that there were certain humans who leaked the contents of their unconscious into his mind. He hated it when they did tantra or watched pro wrestling. Both gave him headaches.

“Oh well, what’s the use of robbery when nothing is worth taking?” Septimus said to himself. He didn’t know what this meant, exactly, but it was one of those mortal spillover phrases, and he kind of liked the sound of it. And the sound had a flavor. He liked that too.

He closed his eyes, hoping to ease the pounding pain in his temples, but this was not a day that would prove restful. Within moments there was a loud rap on the door, a sharp sound muffled by white gloves, and his eyes flew open. The sound had a flavor but the texture was wrong.

Septimus sighed, “Enter. Do.” Another sigh.

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Note: Septimus uses a “spillover phrase” when he says, “what’s the use of robbery when nothing is worth taking?” This is a line from Adam Ant’s song, Stand and Deliver. Elves are fond of using human cliches and catchphrases as they provide a rich, synesthetic experience!

Second note: Sitwell is the surname of Edith Sitwell, author of English Eccentrics, the book that first alerted me to the existence of Ornamental Hermits.

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