The Witching Work Meets a Norse God

I completed my 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo and the first draft of The Witching Work of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits on Friday. This book is the second in my fantasy series. It’s a whimsical, queer-saturated book in the “urban fantasy” genre.

Today, I begin the second draft revision.

Lucky LaFey (the Norse god Loki in mortal disguise) is a leading character. You’ll meet him in the middle of his search for Vali (his long lost son who was turned into a wolf by the Aesir, and made to kill his brother Nali).

1.TheWitchingWorkCoverIn addition to my plucky cast of human “Hermits” and outlier Elves who comprise the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, you’ll also meet Lucky’s seventeen witch daughters (called “troll women” in the lore–Loki gave birth after eating a sacrificed burnt woman’s heart); his part mortal/part elf/part Jotun son (with two biological dads–just ask me how!); a giant multi-dimension hopping salamander named Vesta who digs human architecture in a big way; the “Big Dipper”–a sinister Lake County CA guru; and Sigyn and Angrboda both make cameo appearances. Plus, the first book’s star villain, Anna Phylaxia, known as the “Martha Stewart of Kink” due to her line of BDSM-themed luxury housewares and linens, makes a comeback appearance. In the shadows, the lurking menace of U.S. government surveillance…

Thrill as Lucky (in his female-ish form of Lucia LaFey) battles the Big Dipper at a celebrity banquet by parodying his/her own Lokasenna. Sob as Lucky and his daughters uncover the nefarious doings of “the Dip.” And ponder as the human Hermits try to get a grip on what exactly their “witching work” is meant to be!

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Over 40,000 Words Since Nov. 1

The Witching Work of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits is humming along, thanks to National Novel Writing Month. There’s nothing like the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month to get the creative juices flowing!

But I’m fortunate to have an exceptional muse for this second book, the Norse god Loki, who appears front and center as Lucky LaFey, a “sweet-talking drifter” with a fondness for donuts. But he but soon reveals his true identity to the merry band of newly transplanted “Hermits of Hermitville” and their magical mentors, the Elves of The Realm (saucily referred to as “Elven Overlords” when out of earshot).

Babe Bump, Oyster Olson, and Tomma Bedlam are still at the center of the second book, narrating most of the chapters. Oyster gets suprising news about his birth parents, Tomma settles into a polyamory triad, and Babe begins to master her talents as a medium. At the same time, they and the rest of the Hermits struggle with their exile from Hawai’i and their new life in Lake County, CA.

And even before the Elves can get their mortal charges up to speed on magical skills, a new villain, the Big Dipper, arrives on the scene. He’s big, he’s bad, and he looks exactly like Malibu Ken. He has his very own cult and is opening a resort in the hills surrounding the lake.

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The Big Dipper has an uncanny resemblance to this innocuous childhood toy.

It’s hard to write without giving spoilers, so I’ll just say I am having as much fun writing this second book as I did writing the first. My characters continue to surprise me and I love them all. Even, in a horrible way, the villains.

I have four queries out to literary agents and if they turn me down, I’ll send out another batch of letters. I believe in these characters and I believe in these books.

Thanks for reading!

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Movie Casting Fantasies

What follows next is FANTASY CASTING for the Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits AND for the Witching Work of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits–like a fan game, okay? It’s strictly for fun (unless the Wachowskis give me a ring). Got that?


Update 2020: My understanding of my characters has deepened and mutated since I wrote the first version of this blog post. This is partly because some of my characters have gone through changes, and also because The Witching Work adds a whole new cast of characters. I’ve also become aware of a whole lot of new and amazingly talented actors and performers since I first started these books in the fall of 2016. Many of these performers are LGBTQIA+, transgender, intersex, otherwise gender diverse, and/or perform drag. This revised fantasy casting list includes an increased number of such folx, particularly among the Elves and in the second book, Lucky LaFey’s witch daughters.

As a writer, it really helps to have “a face” to give to my characters. Actors and performers are easily “recruited” in this imaginative exercise. And so, enjoy the list below. I can’t promise it won’t change!

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These two books are about a group of human misfits (the Hermits) and their collisions with magic and a variety of supernatural beings, while having crazy dangerous adventures. It’s a “coming of age” story for characters who are already “old”–a tale of mid-life magic.

The Hermits of “Hermitville” (Book 1) and “Neoville” (Book 2)

*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.

Babe often functions as the quiet, emotional center of The Hermits, but no one should underestimate her. She’s a sexy burlesque performer and an intersex activist, as bold in her way as Tomma is in zir’s. And she goes through some wild changes! [*Narrator]

*Tomma Bedlam – a gender fluid/non-binary person. Prounouns are ze and zir, and ze is pansexual. Tomma is a BIG personality–complex, creative, provocative, funny as hell, sexy, confrontational, flippant, intelligent, and courageous. Ze is also extremely tender-hearted. Tomma is Babe’s best friend.

I orginally had another person chosen for this fantasy casting, but lately I’ve been realizing that Dragula’s Disasterina (and the person behind her) has a lot of the emotional range, physicality, and humor that I associate with Tomma. Though I don’t see Tomma with quite the non-stop boisterous campiness of Disasterina, Tomma comes close in several scenes. I find myself wondering if the thoughtfulness (as well as the punk-drag energy) behind the creation of Disasterina would allow this performer to deliver the Tomma I imagine. It’s an interesting speculation! [*Narrator]

*Oyster Olson – trans man, asexual, pan-romantic. Imagining Will Krisanda who played Max in the Brothers series, but with a little grey hair added. For me, he’s been “the face” of Oyster Olson all along and I remain devoted to this fantasy casting choice. Will Krisanda has the kind of range that Oyster needs, as Oyster’s life takes many unexpected turns. (But he’d have to learn to play blues harp or fake it!). [* Narrator]

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. I now imagine Dina Nina Martinez in the roll, as she’s funny as hell and I think she could carry Aarrf’s character arc.

Joe Hillstrom – cisgender man, gay, photographer and personal trainer. I originally imagined Chiwetel Ejiofor, because he can pretty much do anything as an actor and I love him. However, there are several actors out there who could do wonderful things with Joe’s character.

Glysandra Shakti Om – cisgender woman, hetero, neo-tantra instructor. I originally imagined Helen McCrory (Peaky Blinders), as she is so sexually compelling. But there are others who do could the role too. There is potential for campy humor in this role, as Glysandra can be clueless but also overly sincere. If I was going to cast a drag performer, I’d go for Louisiana Purchase. I think she could do a lot with a hippy tantrika character!

Maximus Gordon – cisgender man, hetero, polyamorous, musician and singer. I imagine casting an actor like Morgan Freeman or Idris Elba, but as Maximus is somewhat kinky, it has to be someone comfortable with that kind of role. Maximus is a former folk singer and his ex-wife and current girlfriend both live in Hermitville. They all get along.

Sybil Perry – cisgender woman, heteroflexible, polyamorous, musician and singer. Imagining Annie Golden as Maximus’ former wife and folksinging partner.

Minnie Richmond – cisgender OR trans woman, heteroflexible, polyamorous, musician and singer. She is Maximus’ current GF. She and Maximus are somewhat kinky, so it has to be someone comfortable with that kind of role. I’d like this role to be given to a woman of color.

Jennifer Juniper – cisgender woman, hetero, musician and singer. Imagining Rhiannon Giddens or Valerie Junes, except they’re both so good and there might not be enough for a musican of that caliber to do. Perhaps this is a role for someone who is an actor first, musican second?

Frank Talk – intersex man, heteroflexible, musician. I’ve thought of Mx. Annunaki Ray Marquez, an intersex activist and former professional pirate actor. However, Frank goes through some tough times in the second book (spoiler alert) and so the trauma might be tough on an actor.

Rozaline Rae – cisgender OR trans woman, bisexual, musician/singer. Imagining someone with a persona similar to Poison Ivy (of The Cramps).

Ginger Croom – cisgender woman, hetero, age 70ish, winery heiress, Hermitville founder. Dies at beginning of the book. A “big” personality even so. I keep thinking Susan Sarandon (b. 1946), both for looks and for her activism (very much like Ginger’s). And who play the younger Ginger in flashbacks?

Sidley Croom – cisgender man, bisexual, Ginger’s younger brother. Sidley has red hair and a beard. Would look something like Jeff Bridges (b. 1949).

Elves of “The Realm” (Books 1 & 2)

Note: The Elves have 29 genders in their world, depending on their “element” at birth and timing of developmental “shifts” over the course of their lives.

Septimus Sitwell – Elf gender TBA. pansexual. Imagining Benedict Cumberbatch. Because this is a fantasy after all… And because Septimus has some great lines.

*Breadcrumb – Elf gender TBA, pansexual. Character based on Angela Mae, a clown and bellydancer who used to perform with Gooferman. I can imagine Jamie Clayton (Sense8 transgender actress) in this role. [*Book narrator.]

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

Parsifal Berry Blue – Elf gender TBA, 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 – Elf gender TBA, pansexual, Breadcrumb’s  mom. Imagining Eva Green (Penny Dreadful).

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

Archie Smegley – Elf gender TBA, pansexual, married to George Potts. Imagining Scott Turner Schofield (trans man actor) OR could be Evah Destruction, drag perfomer .

Gingevus Sitwell – Elf gender TBA, pansexual, brother to Septimus. Imagining Bill Nighy (with longish hair) OR could be Landon Cider, drag performer.

Who’s There – Elf gender TBA, pansexual. Imagining Biqtch Puddin’, drag performer (Dragula).

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

Hamfast shapeshifting as Goddess Mal-i-bu Bar-bee – Imagining Candis Cayne in a cameo appearance as “the Cosmic Soccer Mom.”

Supernatural Beings (Books 1 and 2)

Vesta the Salamander – this is a voice part.

Nienna, Elven Goddess – Dual role for Victoria Elizabeth Black (see Gyda below).

Lucky LaFey & Family (Book 2)

Lucky LaFey (Norse God Loki Laufeyjarson) – Imagining Hale Appleman (The Magicians), but with red hair.

Váli, Lucky & Sigyn’s Son – (changed into a wolf by Odin). Not yet cast.

Angrboda, Lucky’s Jotun wife – Powerful. Imagining Maxi Glamour, drag performer (Dragula).

Sigyn, Lucky’s Aesir wife – Imagining Kitana Kiki Rodriguez (Tangerine). Brief action role.

Gyda, Lucky’s Witch DaughterVictoria Elizabeth Black, drag performer (Dragula). And see Nienna, above. She could do both.

Runa, Witch DaughterIndya Moore, transgender actress (Pose). I can also see her as Breadcrumb though.

Magnhild, Witch DaughterDahli, drag performer (Dragula).

Ylva, Witch DaughterAngelica Ross, transgender actress (Pose).

Thyra, Witch Daughter – the “punk rock” one. James Majesty, drag performer (Dragula).

The rest of Lucky’s Witch Daughters, not yet cast. Eerika, Alva, Oili, Ase, Unn, Sigrid, Gunvor, Nanna, Ingrid, Eira, Asta, Sylvi — all could be played by transgender actresses and/or drag performers.

Sophie “Socks” Lokisdottir – a transient human trans girl adopted by Lucky. Not yet cast.

Bad Guys (Book 1)

Anna Phylaxia – cisgender woman, hetero, pretend “domme,” CEO of Anna’s Wicked Wares. Imagining Vander Von Odd as fantastic in this cis female role, as well as the person behind the scenes who designs quite a lot of The Realm scenery and Elf costumes.

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

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

Sri Niri Nimrod – cisgender man, hetero. Self-righteous yoga guy with man bun, leader of a Hippie Doomsday Cult. Small role. Haven’t cast him yet.

Bad Guys (Book 2)

Samuel Dipps aka “The Big Dipper” or “The Dip” – Wethrini supernatural foe. He looks like an orange, spray tanned “Malibu Ken” doll. This is a nasty villain! Haven’t imagined a fantasy actor yet. [Also, “The Dip” has minions, not yet specified.]

Anna Phylaxia – Returns as a friend of Samuel Dipp. See Bad Guys (Book 1).

Film Crew (Book 1)

Miranda Jackson – cisgender female, lesbian, documentary filmmaker. Have imagined someone like 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. Imagining Em Grosland (New Ambsterdam).

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

Hawaiian (Kanaka Maoli) Neighbors (Book 1)

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 70ish. I imagine someone like singer Liko Martin.

The kapu baby, Keikiokalani (gender not specified), and a boy of ten. Not cast.

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 to 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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Western Magic Influences

[Updated and revised yet again, April 5, 2020.]

Since 2016, I have been researching magical knowledge, neopagan traditions, and other esoteric resources for The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits and the sequel, The Witching Work of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits. (A third book is also planned.)

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Creative Commons/Wellcome Images. A grotto containing a magic circle, books and mythical creatures. Etching by J. Vezzani after G. Rocchetti.

Here are some of the sources and teachers who have been and are important and inspirational since I began writing these fantasy novels. I absorb ideas from these and other sources, however I combine what I learn in a fictional way to create my own version of an Elven magic tradition practiced by the secretive Guild of Ornamental Hermits. This tradition is eventually passed on to the ragtag residents of the Hermitville Farm and Arts Collective, much to their surprise.

Again, I emphasize: nothing that I am writing in my fantasy novels should be considered an accurate portrayal or reflection of the teachings and sources below.

Even so, I want to take grateful note of the teachers and books which have helped me create a fictional magical system and who have led me to a personal passion for magic and witchery and the development of my own esoteric practices.

The first important source was Ariel Gatoga’s recordings of his course, A Witch’s Primer, which provides basic instruction in “non-denominational witchcraft.” Ariel is an engaging teacher and I always find his approach refreshing. His was a cheery voice during a very depressing period in my life (late 2016-2017). I’ve enjoyed his Druidic Craft of the Wise podcasts as well, especially A Charmed Life. In addition to his website, Ariel can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. He has a wealth of offerings–videos, lectures, classes, and a forum–so please check him out and follow him on social media.

The second important source was Dr. Daniel Foor’s Ancestral Medicine website, lectures, book, and classes. His work conveys a practical, accessible path for working with ancestors. Foor’s work is grounded in animism (among other things) and I am so glad to have found these teachings. Now in a world turned upside down due to the coronavirus pandemic, I plan on taking Foor’s newest offering, Bring Out Your Dead–Ancestral Healing for Poxy Times.

Gatoga and Foor were two of my most meaningful discoveries during the first year of writing and learning.

Podcasts such as Missing Witches (hosted by Risa Dickens and Amy Torok),  Bespoken Bones (hosted by Pavini Moray), Witchwave (Pam Grossman), and Down at the Crossroads (hosted by Chris Orapello and Tara Love Maguire) continue to provide thoughtful conversations with practitioners and authors. Orapello and Maguire recently published their own book, Besom, Stang, and Sword: A Guide to Traditional Witchcraft, the Six-Fold Path & The Hidden Landscape.

Also influential:

Aidan Wachter’s Six Ways: Approaches and Entries for Practical Magic, particularly with regard to working with non-visible beings.

Sex, Sorcery and Spirit: The Secrets of Erotic Magic and The Elements of Spellcrafting: 21 Keys to Successful Sorcery, both by Jason Miller. Very practical!

Sigil Witchery: A Witch’s Guide to Crafting Magick Symbols by Laura Tempest Zakroff. (Frankly, I need to spend more time with this book.)

• Outside the Charmed Circle: Exploring Gender & Sexuality in Magical Practice, by Misha Magdalene, published in 2020, is an extraordinary help in thinking through these topics and relating them to magical practice.

• For tarot divination, I rely heavily on The Ultimate Guide to the Rider-Waite Tarot by Johannes Fiebirg and Evelin Burger.

I have a lot more magic books in my library of course (ditto for tantra and hypnosis, which are also influential) but the above are the ones I seem to go to the most.

For historical perspective, I have enjoyed Magic in the Middle Ages, taught online by instructors at the University of Barcelona, via Coursera. This class provided some wonderful background on one period in the history of European magic, as well as the criminalization of witchcraft and spellwork.

In 2017, I discovered “inclusive heathenry” and “Northern Tradition Paganism” via The Troth and Hrafnar, and various Lokean websites and groups. I currently have a devotional practice that includes a few deities in the Norse pantheon: the trickster god Loki Laufeyjarson (my “most trusted one”); the Vanir deity, Freyr, and his Jotun wife, Gerda; and Freyr’s sister, Freya. (In daily practice, I also honor the Celtic Brigit and the Egyptian cat goddess, Bastet.)

Cosmic Muses

Though not at all a part of the “Western Esoteric Tradition,” I have to say that the Hawaiian “volcano goddess,” Pele, was a major inspiration while writing The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits. In fact, I read an early draft of the book to her, aloud, as an act of devotion and gratitude for the time I spent in Hawai’i. Much as I am awed by this powerful being, I can’t help feeling somewhat relieved that I moved from Hawai’i seven months before the 2018 lava eruption in the Puna district, which took place not far from where I used to live.

Once I started working on the second book, The Witching Work of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, Loki Laufeyjarson emerged as the book’s patron and muse, as well as a major character. In fact, his search for his missing son drives the book. I have also read much of the first draft aloud, as an offering to Loki.

Finally

Like most writers, I could probably write a novel-length list of influences but I’ll stop here. The Guild of Ornamental Hermits novels are “a work of art, on the whole, but showing the influence of too many schools” (as Oscar Wilde wrote of his character, Mrs. Cheveley). But in this case, I hope this isn’t a bad thing!

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August Natterer: Witch’s head, c. 1915, Prinzhorn Collection – public domain.