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.

sunsetmalibuhs
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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“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.

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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

Logo_of_National_Novel_Writing_Month

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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Oyster Olson – Humble Bluesman Turns Wizard

Oyster Olson is a resident of the fictitious Hermitville Farm and Arts Collective near Pahoa, Hawai’i Island. He is one of twelve “hermits” (musicians, artists, and oddballs) invited to live at the intentional community by the founder, winery heiress Ginger Croom. At the beginning of the book, Oyster has been a resident at the farm for about six years. And he’s probably the most introverted member of the community at that point.

Oyster didn’t start out in my mind as a main character in my work of fantasy fiction, but he, along with Tomma Bedlam and Babe Bump, have grown to become the three main human protagonists. Babe does most of the first person narration, but Oyster and Tomma also narrate chapters, and the friendship between the three is one of my major pleasures in writing this story.

At the start of the book, Oyster is shy, reserved, and somewhat unfocused–unless he’s playing music! In the second chapter, during the farm’s monthly “Community Emergency Response Training” (CERT) drill, Oyster has trouble remembering the meaning of the triage colors* (red, yellow, green) as Tomma, participating as a mock “disaster victim,” is carried to the medical tarp on a repurposed surfboard. Babe notices his distraction, but also takes note of his “swoony” brown eyes.

Oyster is a talented multi-instrumentalist. He plays blues harp (harmonica), synthesizer, keyboards, and even harpsichord, with The Incredible Unstrung Band (the farm band). While skilled on keyboards, his real joy is playing the blues on his harp. At one point in the book he’s delighted to find that Babe recognizes a Charlie Musselwhite tune that he’s playing (Sorcerer’s Dream). Babe, a neo-burlesque artiste, tells Oyster that she’s been a fan of Musselwhite since her teens, and that blues and burlesque go together like “poke and poi.”

Oyster is a transgender man. He’s been keeping this private at Hermitville for personal reasons, but eventually confides in Babe, who is very out as an intersex rights activist. (Tomma, a gender variant person with ze/zir pronouns, figured out Oyster’s secret on zir own, but discreetly never mentioned it.) One wonders why Oyster didn’t confide in Babe and Tomma before, but as I said earlier, the guy is shy!

A_TransGender-Symbol_Plain1

Oyster’s growth in the book is a result of his growing friendship and intimacy with Babe and Tomma, along with his training in magical arts, and through the magical, multi-dimensional challenges and dangers they all face together.

If I were to cast Oyster’s part in a movie version of the book, I know exactly which trans male actor would get the part. He’s a little younger than Oyster (who is in his mid-40s), but could definitely carry the role. He’s got the right look and “vibe.” Just add a few gray hairs…

*Red-Immmediate Care, Yellow – Delayed Care. Green – Minimal Care. When I lived in Pahoa, HI, I took the CERT training. I had also taken it in Albany, CA.

Why a Tale of “Mid-Life Magic?”

'Fairy_Islands'_from_the_book_Elves_and_Fairies_1916_by_Ida_Rentoul_OuthwaiteI grew up reading fairy tales and fantasy fiction. I always wanted to see myself as one of the characters in whatever I was reading and/or have that character’s abilities. Childhood examples include: Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (for having the coolest submarine and for being disgusted with humanity); Doctor Doolittle (for being able to talk with animals); and pretty much any fairy princess you can name (for magic adventures and caskets of diamonds, rubies, and emeralds) – except the Disney variety, thank god. I’m too old for that to have had much, if any, impact on my childhood! I loved and devoured books by Edgar Eager, E. Nesbit, Madeline L’Engle, C.S. Lewis–and of course J.R.R. Tolkien (in my teens). By the time I was eighteen, I had most of the Andrew Lang collections of fairy tales, each volume a different color. And the only relic of my late father that I possess is a book of Japanese fairy tales he sent to me after the divorce, when I was about four years old.

My children of course went through the Harry Potter series, C.S. Lewis Narnia books, and Tolkien. My ex and I read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings to each kid, more than once. (Tolkien really wrote for the breath and voice. It’s astonishing when you read those books aloud.) And there were other writers and other books. For my oldest, a number of brave girl warrior type adventures, and Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks and Finder. For my youngest, the Redwall series (Brian Jacques) and Bartimaeus series (Jonathan Stroud).

So my life has been steeped in such tales, and now, as I am older (much older), I want the magic adventures to continue, with characters that are my age or thereabouts. One of the few stories that has come close is A.S. Byatt’s The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye.

Plus, I have had my own true-life collisions with “mid-life magic” and this has been an unexpected and fascinating development. Sexology (I’m a sexologist) pales somewhat by comparison.

So, The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits is a story about (mostly counter-culture) people over the age of 40, and some who are much older. The Elves, for example, last a lot longer than humans and don’t age at the same rate. And I, as the writer, am able to wave my magic word wand around and grant attributes and situations, as well as varied genders, sexual preferences, and magic “superpowers” to the characters who have come to populate the Hermitville and The (Elven) Realm of my imagination.

And in that way, the magical adventures continue!

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Tolkien’s Valar and Maiar – Deities of the Elves

For the second draft of The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, I decided to switch out almost all of the references to various deities actually worshipped by human beings (past and present) and replace them with references to J.R.R. Tolkien’s cosmic pantheon as described in his Silmarillion. Aside from Elves, I have also now replaced other references to existing magical beings and “faery cities” with words based on Tolkien’s languages.

The idea of “Elves” has been used so often, for so many kinds of beings–from Santa’s Elves to Tolkien’s, from Norse Elves to Emma Bull’s–and everything in between, that I feel okay about including them and creating my own concepts of them.

I did this (1) to avoid giving offense to people currently engaged with a variety of Celtic, Heathen, and other pagan traditions; (2) as a homage to Tolkien; and (3) to have more freedom to create a fictitious magical foundation for the Guild of Ornamental Hermits.

Tolkien describes his collection of deities, known as Valar and Maiar, and their functions in great detail. I use a few of these figures. I’ve also used some of their names to create four elemental “cities” (Arda or Ardae) that correspond to elements: Ulmaria (water); Manwaria (air); Auleria (fire); and Yavannia (earth). (Tolkien had used “Arda” as a word for the place humans live, but I snagged it to refer to certain locations in the Elves’ Realm.)

The magical training given by the Elves of the Hermits of Hermitville also has a lot to do with these faery cities and elements. The three major characters of Babe Bump, Oyster Olson, and Tomma Bedlam are all linked with Murias, due to their astrological signs. These three characters each have unique magical gifts. Babe is a medium; Tomma has an affinity with magical creatures; and Oyster is definitely wizard material. As such he is the keeper of the mysterious Book of Moons, created by the original Guild of Ornamental Hermits.

Creating the “mythos” that matches the story is definitely one of the challenging parts of writing fantasy fiction!

Johann_Landner_Litho

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Guild Origins: Twelve Founding Families

12 Families & Hermits

This chart gives a rough genealogy of the twelve families who, in collaboration with Elves masquerading as “ornamental hermits,” founded The Guild of Ornamental Hermits during the later part of the witch persecutions in England.  The esoteric purpose of the guild was to provide instruction and further collaborative magic between Elves of The Realm and human beings. The practical purpose of the guild was to identify and rescue people who were at risk of witch persecution. The activities of the original members, both Elf and human, will be the topic of a future book. In this first work of fantasy fiction, The Dire Deeds of the Ornamental Hermits, Ginger Croom, California winery heiress and founder of Hermitville Farm and Arts Collective on Hawai’i Island, has gathered together descendents of these first families, (aka “hermits of Hermitville”) and in the book, these descendents must come to terms with a magical heritage that had been unknown to them.

Information about the twelve families and the guild is found in The Book of Moons, a mysterious volume which Oyster Olson inherits from Ginger Croom. (The name, Book of Moons, is taken from the anonymously authored, seventeenth century poem, Tom ‘o Bedlam.)

The Elves who are currently involved with the “hermits of Hermitville” are the same as those involved with the twelve founding families. (Elves are more or less immortal.) The chart below details the ritual work done by each Elf in England and their more modern jobs titles in the 21st century (Other Function column). The chart also shows which Elves end up mentoring which “hermits” of Hermitville. Please note that Gingevus Sitwell does become the mentor of Glysandra, but this does not show up on this chart. Also, Professor Almond ends up switching to mentoring Oyster, further along in the book. But for now, you can get a sense of the personnel!

If you’re confused, not to worry. All will become clear in the book!

Hermit Functions.jpg

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Intersex Characters in Hermitville

Babe Bump, the book’s primary narrator, and Frank Talk, one of Hermitville’s fine musicans, live in bodies that have intersex variations. However, Babe and Frank each deal with a different set of circumstances, as the intersex variation of each character is different.

Babe was born with partial androgen insensitivity. Fortunately for Babe, her parents resisted medical and social pressure to force genital surgery on her. She self-identified as female at an early age and so did not want androgen therapy at puberty. If you want a simple label, you can think of her as a woman with XY chromosomes. Babe is generally “out” as an intersex person as she is an activist for intersex and trans rights (as well as a well-known neo-burlesque performer).

Frank keeps his condition relatively private, but confided in Babe during the first few months of their residency at Hermitville. Frank has 47 XXY chromosomes, which is known as Klinefelter Syndrome. Most of the other Hermits don’t know, mostly because Frank doesn’t think it is any of their business. He is a performer and he focuses primarily on his music.

Though I am not intersex myself, I included intersex characters in this book, as well as other gender variant and sexually diverse characters, for several reasons – including my background as a sexologist and commitment to sexual and gender rights, my being the mother of a trans non-binary person, and just a general sense of fairness. In the interest of greater visibility, more such characters need to be included in a majority of written and filmed materials. However, characters with such variations do not necessarily need writers to be hyper-focused on the variations, either. This could just be a part of who they are, not the totality of their identities or the totality of how we view or understand them.

So, even though this is fantasy fiction (I’m not an Elf either, but I’m writing about them), I am hoping to do my part to help heighten visibility and awareness for a number of different types of people who are marginalized, including many people in the LGBTQIA etc. categories. The struggles that Intersex people face are almost beyond imagining (including forced surgical mutilation), and yet are very little known to the general public.

I encourage readers to check out these links:

United Nations Intersex Factsheet

Organization Intersex International USA and the Intersex Campaign for Equality

Mx. Annunaki Ray is an intersex activist with many incredible links and blog posts. Check out the page on links for intersex allies, including this printable PDF from OII.

Below is the symbol for Intersex Awareness Day (Oct. 26) and Intersex Day of Solidarity.

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Finally, if a movie is ever made from this book (Hear that, Wachowskis? I’d want YOU to direct! That’s my dream!), I would want intersex actors to play the intersex characters, trans actors to play trans characters, and so on – so all these folks could get more work!