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.

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“The Witching Work” Has Begun!

November 1st (my birthday) is also the start of each year’s National Novel Writing Month, fondly known as NaNoWriMo.

Best_Buffalmacco,_trionfo_della_morte,_eremiti_02 copyIn NaNoWriMo 2016, I launched my fantasy novel, The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, and continued to write all year. In NaNoWriMo 2017, I continued work on Dire Deeds and then revised and completed it this last summer. Now in NaNoWriMo 2018, I have officially begun work on the second book in this proposed fantasy trilogy–The Witching Work of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits.

I’m off to a good start! By the end of November 3rd, I had over 8,000 words logged in to my NaNoWriMo author page. Here’s just a little snippet of what I wrote yesterday. It introduces the character of Lucky LaFey, who promises to be a wonderfully dynamic element in this new book. (I’ll also be introducing a new arch-villain known as The Big Dipper, but not in this snippet.)


Excerpt from Chapter Two:

To hear Lucky tell it, he’d spent a chunk of time hobnobbing with the poshest Sonoma county growers (grapes, not cannabis) and had known Ginger’s parents as well as Ginger. He’d lived on this property as a sort of unofficial caretaker, off and on, ever since their death.

“Why haven’t we seen you before now?” Tomma asked.

“Been away,” Lucky said tersely, through a mouthful of cinnamon-spiced dough.

“Do the Elves know about you?” Roz wanted to know.

“Well of course. I’m rather well-known,” Lucky admitted. He was now wearing a miniature donut on the ring finger of each hand, admiring the look of them.

Oyster rolled his eyes impatiently. Getting the story out of Lucky seemed to be a series of two to seven-word phrases punctuated by sounds of chewing. “She means, do the Elves know about you living here?”

“Ah…” Lucky tried (unsuccessfully) to look disarming and innocent. “…No.”

Tomma, who’d been staring at Lucky with blatant fascination, then blurted out, “We’ve got the exact same hair color!” Ze then looked embarrassed. We all laughed but it was true.

“Yes, we do.” Lucky admitted. “Also the same taste in nail polish.” He pointed at Tomma’s toenails.

“You, me, and every drag queen within a hundred mile radius,” Tomma replied flippantly. Then ze looked at me, “You know, this guy may be shady, but I think I kind of like him.”

“What’s not to like?” Lucky looked hurt—genuinely hurt. It surprised me.

Massive Max spoke for the first time. He’d been hanging back, leaning against the refrigerator, watching Lucky closely. “Dude, you show up out of nowhere on the first day that the Elves are gone, and tell us this story about living here, and, well, it can sound pretty fishy. Understand?”

“Okay,” Lucky said, “you know that little trailer in the garage? Have you cleaned it out yet?”

“Not yet,” Massive admitted. “It’s locked and we just haven’t gotten around to breaking in. And it looks like a mess in there.”

“Here’s the key,” Lucky said, pulling out a Thor novelty keychain with two keys. He tossed it to Massive. “If you go there now and open the cupboard over the kitchen sink, you’ll find a red mug decorated with a picture of a fox, a box of old breath mints, and the title to the trailer in my name.”

Massive was about to check it out when Oyster stopped him and then addressed Lucky, “You just materialized a bunch of donuts. What’s to say you haven’t just materialized those objects into the trailer?”

Lucky sighed. “How hard it is to be believed! Haven’t you learned any truth-telling spells yet? You could try one of those. I’d gladly submit.”

[End of Chapter Two Excerpt]

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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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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.

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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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