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’sEnglish 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!
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.
Books can be like valentines. The dedications and acknowledgements show that you care and appreciate certain people enough to acknowledge them in your most precious creative efforts. Here I share the dedications for all four books in my urban fantasy series.
Yes, I am plastering these covers all over my website and other social media, but oh my! I am so pleased with them! The cover design is by Frankie Pauncevolt Hill at Digital Parchement Services and the artwork is by “Bettibup33.”
For the human “Hermits,” The Book of Moons is their first encounter with a form of magic. Ginger Croom, Hermitville’s founder, has entrusted shy Oyster Olson with her copy of this strange text, shortly before her death. As he shares it with Babe Bump, the two of them begin to suspect a connection between Ginger’s funky “Hermitville” (a farm and arts collective in Hawai’i) and the mysterious Guild of Ornamental Hermits, created by twelve families in 17th century England along with several mysterious “Hermits.” The book has strange properties, it can become longer or shorter, changing its number of pages. It can also hide things, such as Ginger’s will. Another copy of the book appears later and is swiftly sent to The Realm (Alfheim) for safe keeping.
The Book of Moons also may have an image of Hermes Trismegistus on its frontspeice (though not the one above).
It’s not yet clear what function The Book of Moons serves. Is it a grimoire? A genealogy? A coded reference manual? It’s said that only twelve copies exist, one for each of the twelve families, but is this actually true?
Here are the Elves (on the right) and their human students (at left). Artanaro Nar and Who’s There work with two Hermits each. Hamfast started working with Frank first, but when Frank leaves in the second book, Hamfast ends up working with the newest Hermit, Sophie Lokisdottir. The rest of the Elves teach magic to only one person apiece.
In The Guild of Ornamental Hermits fantasy novels, these Elves have also worked with one or more of the ancestors of each of their human students, dating from the 17th century onward. These ancestors were members of the Twelve Families who helped the Elves to found the ancient mystery school, The Guild of Ornamental Hermits. Sophie Lokisdottir is the exception. Hamfast has not worked with her ancestors.
Yes, these four dyads are the most swoony, as far as I’m concerned. However The Guild of Ornamental Hermits, consisting of human “Hermits” and Elves from The Realm, with a little help from Lucky LaFey (aka Norse god Loki) and assorted members of his extended family, contain many other passionate pairings and groupings. And not all dyads are exclusive.
The overlapping relationships: Babe and Oyster are deeply in love, but Oyster is asexual (though panromantic). So Babe sometimes spends “quality time” with Who’s There and Septimus. Tomma is also important to both Babe and Oyster, and they’ve even proposed to zir, as a unit! Tomma loves them back, but also has a new love, Parsifal. Parsifal is married to Maud and they have a child, Breadcrumb. So Tomma’s relationship with Parsifal also includes a relationship with Maud. (Elves are usually pansexual.)
But wait, there’s more!
Few divorces have been as amicable as that of Maximus Gordon and Sybil Perry. For many years they were together as the progressive folk duo, Gordon & Perry. They moved to Hermitville about twenty years ago and Maximus, a man of many skills and abilities, designed and built quite a lot of the eco-pods and other buildings. Sybil helped run a music program in the public elementary schools in Puna, and the two of them settled into life in Hawai’i Island. However, after a time, they decided to end life as a married couple and continue as friends. When Maxine arrived in Hermitville sometime later, Maximus was smitten and the two of them fell in love. However, neither of them would commit to monogamy, and when Maximus confessed his past explorations in kink with his ex-wife Sybil, Maxine became intrigued. Maxine and Sybil also became good friends and eventually lovers. Thus a fond kinky triad rooted and grew in Hermitville. There’s no doubt that they all have each other’s backs as well as each other’s kinks.
Sidley Croom and Joe Hillstrom have a complicated, on again-off again, relationship. They were together for many years in San Francisco, but when they broke up Joe moved to Hermitville at Ginger’s request. When Sidley moved there too, they got together again, sometimes as friends with “benefits” and sometimes trying for something that felt more permanent. But it’s been hard for both Joe and Sidley to strike a balance between their outside interests and their own intimacy. In the books, Sidley has flirted with the creepy Stanford Lawsome (Anna Phylaxia’s personal assistant) while also entertaining some fantasies about Anna. Sidley was also intrigued by both Septimus and Maud when the two Elves–posing as European circus and cabaret performers–set out to deliberately distract Sidley away from the Hermitville property, for an afternoon of dining, drinking, and hiking (never a good mix in Puna!).
As for Septimus and Maud, well, they have history too…
A writer can be something like a fairy hovering above an innocent babe rocking in a cradle, sprinkling blessings, attributes, and even curses and travails on the future of the child. In this way our characters come to life. As a writer, I would say that I’ve hovered above and sprinkled many of my own attributes, interests, gender expressions, sexual interests, personality traits, smidgeons of personal history, likes and dislikes, over the cradled life of many of my emerging fictional beings. The biographies of my characters become more detailed and I become deeply engaged with them. As a result, I know some things about my characters that will probably not make it into The Guild of Ornamental Hermits books.
In real life, as opposed to the “not too distant future” of the Ornamental Hermits books, it’s mid-May, 2022. Personally and in the work I do, I am enraged and scared by the threats to reverse Roe V. Wade and other laws, but I am also inspired by the people who work for reproductive justice (some for decades!), rights, and health, and the courage of people who are now openly sharing their abortion experiences. Groups like We Testify and others see this as a way to destroy the stigma and to show the enormous importance of this healthcare option for anyone possessing a uterus. Last Saturday I attended (masked) a protest organized by Planned Parenthood, which took place on a university campus. As the rally began to bulge with attendees, many people were sharing their stories on the “stage,” followed by cheers (and probably tears). I couldn’t hear the stories from where I sat in the shade, trying to avoid unwanted fragrance exposures as much as Covid germs, but I could imagine how many of the stories went. When I was sixteen, I worked as a pregnancy counselor in a community clinic. I heard a lot. I’ve heard a lot in the years since. And I have my own stories to consider.
And so, yes, some of my characters have experienced unwanted pregnancies and abortions as part of their backstories. A few are ready to speak. Let’s hear what they have to say.
Disclaimer: none of these stories are based on real life stories I’ve heard from others, personally or professionally, though some of the elements are all too common.
Oyster Olson is a trans man who began his medical and surgical transitions when he was twenty-seven (and yes, he says it’s okay to mention that). He’s now in his forties. He identifies also as asexual but pan-romantic. He became pregnant in his early twenties, after a “date rape.” He is a talented musician who performs with The Incredible Unstrung Band at Hermitville.
Oyster says, “Yeah, so that happened. It was so fucked up. The person who raped me was someone I’d known for a while, from high school. I’d always been shy, kind of anti-social, and some of my well-meaning friends often tried to set me up with dates. There wasn’t a lot of talk back then about what it means to be asexual and so I had this feeling that I was socially backward or abnormal–this on top of all the body and gender dysphoria I was feeling! But while I’d always had huge crushes on all kinds of people, and lots of romantic feelings, they never went to wanting physical sex with any of my crushes. So I also worried that my emotional range was backward or abnormal too. You know, people would say ‘just try it’ and I did try some sexual stuff once, and didn’t care for it, you know?
But I did think that even if I didn’t want a sexual relationship I should still try to develop my social and dating skills. So when this guy I knew said he’d take me out to celebrate my twenty-first birthday I thought ‘why not?’ He picked me up in his van, we went to a local hang-out known to have decent food and cheap beer, and over dinner we had a fairly good conversation about nothing much. I was even kind of congratulating myself for nailing it–for being able to have that kind of conversation! I did notice he seemed to be drinking a little too much, and encouraging me to have more than one beer.
When we decided to leave I was depending on him to give me a ride home. He drove about a mile and then pulled into a convenience store parking lot. The store was closed and there weren’t any other cars in the parking lot. He said he was feeling sick from all the beer and he was just going to lie down in the back for a little while until he felt better. (The van had a mattress.) I was feeling really stuck at that point, kind of trapped and uncomfortable, but also like I had to show some concern because he’d seemed like a nice guy. So I offered to sit with him in the back. BIG MISTAKE!
I won’t go into details. I guess it could have been worse, with hitting and stuff, but it was bad enough. Afterwards, I got very quiet. He did drive me home, even said “TC!” like nothing had happened. I didn’t know what to do. I called a hotline but didn’t feel I could face going to the police. I felt so stupid! A week later he called me for another “date” and of course I hung up on him. I pretty much dropped out of that whole crowd that had him on the social periphery.
And, wouldn’t you know, I discovered I was pregnant. I called the rape hotline again, then another hotline they’d recommended. There was no way I was going to go through a pregnancy! I’d been collecting a lot of rare blues records since my teens and I had to sell a lot of them to get the money for the abortion. That still pisses me off! I’ve managed to find copies of a lot of those records again…but I digress! So anyway, that’s the story. I’ve never been sorry about the abortion even though I’ve told very few people about it. It was simply an absolute necessity for me.”
Maxine Richmond is a talented vocalist and musician who performs with the Incredible Unstrung Band.
Maxine says, “I grew up taking care of my little brothers and sisters. I was the oldest of four and both my parents worked really hard. I figure I’ve put in my time, you see, taking care of children. I never wanted any of my own. I enjoy being an auntie though. I have two nephews and three nieces and I’m still close to a couple of them.
I was always more interested in singing and playing music and performing than I was in being tied to a place or a person. I’ve always loved touring, seeing new places, getting a taste of life. It wasn’t until I came to Hermitville that I started to settle down and settle in. I don’t know if I’d feel that way if we didn’t have our own band here, though.
Anyway, I’ve been pregnant three times. That’s two abortions and one miscarriage, which was a relief. I never told the fathers. I didn’t want any drama. I’m resourceful. I handled everything on my own. One of my sisters knows, though, and a few close friends. They’ve all been great. Never any judgment. And I’m so glad I had safe, legal abortion as an option.”
Jennifer is another talented musician who plays with Hermitville’s Incredible Unstrung Band.
Jennifer says, “I don’t talk about this very often. I mean, the first time I had an abortion my boyfriend called me ‘a monster.’ A monster! We were in high school! What did he expect? It’s not like he offered to marry me and support the kid–and I would have said no to that anyway. I wanted to graduate, go to college, live my life.Even so, my mother was very upset with me. That hurt a lot.
I’m a very sexual person. I’m also very responsible. But birth control can fail, you know, and that happened to me a couple of times, back in my twenties. One time I had to push through a bunch of anti-abortion people to even get into the clinic and I’ll never forget the names they called me. On a scale of things that really suck, I’d put that at a seven, easy!
The one time I really felt ready to have a child, I ended up with a late stage abortion. Some medical tests showed that the baby had severe birth defects and would likely die soon after birth, if he didn’t actually die inside me first. My life was at risk too. It was very traumatic. On a scale of one to ten of things that really suck, I’d put that at a fifteen. I’d even named the kid by then! I like to think he’s incarnated someplace else now, in a healthier body, or at least one which would have given him a chance to survive.
My biological clock stopped ticking after that. And now, after menopause, I couldn’t be happier.If I had to do it today, though, I’d opt for a medical abortion with pills.
So unless you’re an Elf (there are no unplanned pregnancies or other forms of reproduction in The Realm), chances are you or someone you know very well has had a legal abortion in safe, sanitary circumstances. Before Roe V. Wade legalized abortion in the U.S., many people had abortions that were dangerous and sometimes even deadly. In any compassionate society, affordable, safe, legal abortions–both medical and surgical–provide important healthcare options to all who need them. Abortions are sometimes necessary and/or advisable, just like in the fictional stories above.
This has been a public service announcement from the Hermits of Hermitville.
Fantur Nen, often called “Nen” in the book, and Artanaro Alma, often called “Nar,” are two Elves who are Human Studies academics. They work closely with Professor Almond, who chairs their department, but have spent most of their Mortal Coil time in Asia.
These two Elves have long been “fantasy cast” in my mind with the two lead actors from The Untamed. I can’t help it–I’ve been seeing them as these particular Elves in my writer’s mind for quite a long time now.
And the Elf Vibes are strong with this one. BelowO is Xiao Zhan in a movie I haven’t seen, rocking the best pointed Elf ear jewelry ever!
In my novels, Nar and Nen are close. They live and work together both in The Realm and in The Mortal Coil. As a kind of homage to Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo, Nar and Nen also have careers in the human world as singers and dancers (though in separate bands). They enjoy these careers as contrast and balance to their drier academic work.
It’s a kind of secret–and perhaps elusive–joy to be able to imagine (1) my books as movies or series, and (2) the people who’d comprise my “dream cast.”
I've run the HeroForge.com portraits through a profile picture program. Really interesting results! Here are several ways of creating Tomma Bedlam's portrait. Tomma is non-binary, so to see zir feminized more in some renderings than others is really interesting.