The Story Behind the Story: Hat Trick

Susan DeFThe Story Behind the StoryLeave a Comment

Magic lurks at the margins in the short story I’m releasing to my Patreon subscribers this month–the margins of society (a Rainbow Gathering), the margins of civilization (Michigan’s Upper Peninsula), and in the margins between day and night.

“Hat Trick” is one of a series of linked stories I’ve been exploring over the last year that are built around a mysterious personage named Darius, who may or may not be a Brother From Another Planet (to cite a seminal, if kitschy, bit of Afrofuturism).

Darius is one of a number of individuals in these stories who can do something very much like magic, who aren’t quite human but pass as such, especially in marginal spaces such as Gatherings–which, for the uninitiated, are sort of large-scale anarchist campouts that occur in National Forests across the US (and in other wilderness areas around the world).

Like most of my fiction, this story hews closely to my lived experience, in this case, as a young woman of eighteen on the road with my best friend, “wild girls, footloose and fey.” At that age, I loved the creativity and spirit of community I found at Rainbow Gatherings–the way people made so much out of so little, using donated goods and labor to create an alternative society in the woods, one that really did seem to welcome and accept nearly anyone.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to understand some of the criticisms leveled at “the Rainbow Family of Living Light”–first, from Native Americans who don’t appreciate that hippie penchant for cultural appropriation, and second, from those associated with law enforcement, who’ve pointed out the ways that Gatherings can harbor those who are mentally unstable, addicted to hard drugs, or on the run for one reason or another. (In one high-profile case, someone actually got stabbed.)

Undeniably, Rainbow folks tend to borrow indiscriminately from any spiritual tradition that suits their fancy (as does much of the New Age), and that whole thing about being free and open to anyone (and serving free food as well) cannot help but attract–well, people at the margins.

But that’s part of what I always found so fascinating about Gatherings, and part of why I chose to set a story here centered around what you might think of as sorcerers in disguise. A Celtic werewolf, priestess of Ishtar, or African trickster god might stand out in mainstream modern society, but in a place like a Rainbow Gathering, I imagined, they’d fit right in.

These stories are still quite new, but here’s what I know: All of them take place in liminal zones (think festivals, warehouse squats, in transit). All of them feature Darius as a main character but not a protagonist; his role is to appear at a moment of significant change in the protagonist’s life. Darius, being a kind of god, is both moral and amoral; he’s concerned with achieving his own objectives, but often acts as a benevolent force in the lives of others.

This story has taken me longer to release to my subscribers than either of my previous two stories because, unlike them, it is brand new and has never been published and releasing such raw, fresh stuff, as any writer knows, is utterly terrifying. But come what may, I’m sending it out on Friday–so if you’re interested in reading it, there’s still time to sign up via Patreon.


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