I honestly don’t know how people manage to create in conventional straight lines, the kind where one begins a project, stays with it and doesn’t get distracted by other ideas.
I’ve got two stories I’m working on that were supposed to be quick, short, flash-fiction pieces about aro characters I could post to @aroworlds before returning to my List Of Many In-Progress Works. (Like, for example, editing a Kit March chapter.) These pieces ended up being seven and eleven thousand words, and, for different reasons, they’ve become far too significant to the protagonists’ character arcs to be left as side stories. So I’m left pulling at my hair (literally) while wandering down lanes I never intended on travelling.
So let me talk at you about what’s forthcoming, since the writing gods have determined I must do this. I’m still not sure on release dates or how I’m going to go about it. One Strange Man is reasonably close to final proofing, but Love is the Reckoning needs a bit more redrafting.
How can the want for another person make an intelligent man gift something so precious?
When Akash’s former lover refuses to return a family heirloom, Darius knows only one way to help his mate—even if it means ignoring several laws in the process. The magic he mastered in surviving the College and the mercenaries has surprising utility in the art of larceny, at least once he gets past the stomach-knotting anxiety. When Darius makes the mistake of asking Akash why, however, getting caught in a stranger’s third-floor bedroom seems like nothing compared to comprehending the mysteries of romance and friendship.
One Strange Man takes place a week before The Adventurer King, and it was meant as a side-story depicting an event not-that important in Darius’s life. A little breaking and entering, a little realisation while dangling out the window, something light and fun. What it became, though, was the “am I actually aromantic?” story I wanted to not write and hellish foreshadowing for Darius and Efe’s relationship in the story I’m now calling The Performance Magician.
(This is the in-progress sequel to The Adventurer King, otherwise known as the story of all the mistakes Efe and Darius make in Ashad, both as would-be assassins/liberators and as two men, who have more differences than similarities, trying to figure out a queerplatonic relationship. There’s arguments, Darius’s engaging in an awful lot of frustrated handwaving, Efe’s being a confusing combination of insulting and decent, and a running theme of allistic-behaviours-as-performance and how Darius is treated by the rest of the world as a working autistic magician, hence the title. The Performance Magician is extremely autism-centred, in that it looks at Certain Eldritch Artefacts or The King of Gears and Bone and decides they don’t depict autism enough.)
It’s suggested in The Adventurer King, but between being the youngest student at the College and an autistic mercenary in Rajad, Darius isn’t wealthy in human connections. One Strange Man explores his friendship with Akash and Ila, but it also deals with the isolation, suspicion and wariness of a man who has endured bullying and abuse from the allistics around him, and how that shapes his relationships with others, to the extent that his aromanticism may not be disentangled from his history. This story is about beginning to accept being aro, but it’s also about the confusion of platonic relationships and non-romantic love in addition to the weight of being aromantic when you’re also autistic and trans – too many different shades of “strange” to easily bear one more.
And, yes, the title is a deliberate play on the fact that Efe calls Darius this in The Adventurer King.
I don’t regret writing this: there’s a scene where Darius finds the word for a spell off-the-cuff that symbolises a lifetime of my struggles in speaking and writing (his delight is genuinely mine) and this story was a good space for getting to explore his relationships to other people and his positioning in a very allistic world. It brought to light for me some of my habits in how I push people aside, and when a story unexpectedly tells me something more about me, it is always worth the writing.
Esher Hill left his home and kin a crying wreck of a man, too depressed and dysphoric to care what his people make of him. If he’d had his way, that would have been the end of it.
His sister Mara, the village witch, made sure he didn’t.
Two years later, Esher owns a dog, a blade, a career and a new body—the shape of masculinity he always felt he should be. A miracle Mara refuses to explain. A miracle the Sojourner’s priests reject and fear. A miracle, say the Grey Mages, that cannot exist without something precious sacrificed in exchange: a soul.
Returning home in search of his sister and the truth isn’t just a matter of enduring stares, whispers, explanations and the condescending pity from those he left behind.
Love holds edges sharper than Esher’s sword, for nobody wins but demons in the sale of souls.
Love is the Reckoning takes place a few months before another serial I’m working on, The Crew of Esher Hill, and a little over forty years before Tes is standing on the College’s overgrown front porch.
(The Crew of Esher Hill: what happens when six trans, a-spec, mostly autistic people go on a quest to the weirdest place in the Marchverse to fetch a magical artefact for the Grey Mages. If you want to know how Kit, as a young man, meets Faiza and the future Professors Roxleigh, this is that story. If you want the real story of what the swordsman in Raugue said to Kit about aromanticism, this is that story, because we all know Kit didn’t tell Amelia the truth! If you’ve looked at the Marchverse and longed for more queer, this is that story. However, if you don’t want to be spoilered for a key revelation at the end of Love is the Reckoning ahead of time, don’t click the link above. This story wasn’t supposed to exist, so, as is normal for me, I’m doing everything backwards, and I had to stop my work on polishing the first chapters of Crew to work on Love is the Reckoning. Both stories, though, will be the better for it.)
This was meant as a story depicting an aro-ace character’s contentment in nonamory, because he has family and friends and a wolfhound, so for what does he need a romantic/sexual/queerplatonic partner? I’ve been feeling alienated from conversations about the loss and loneliness of being aromantic, speaking as someone who has never experienced either, so I wanted a story (like The Wind and the Stars) that depicted being aro-ace without grief. A character who is content in his asexuality/aromanticism, even if most of the people around him don’t understand.
Once I realised the timing of this story fit too neatly into events referenced in the future serial, it seemed absurd not to make this a proper prequel (although it’s entirely readable on its own). So now, aside from being a story about platonic and familial relationships, it’s also about dysphoria, depression and the way you forever become that person with mental illnesses in your community. The way they say certain things in that twisted tone of voice, the way they look at you, the way they love you and care about you but wound you in the process. Love is the Reckoning is about coming home when you’re supposed to be better but you know they’ll never stop seeing the person you were.
For allistic aro readers, Esher Hill is written something like the unnamed protagonist in The Wind and the Stars. I’m writing a character where there is little distinguishable difference between what his neurotype might be and the autistic behaviours that were normalised in his childhood, as both his fathers are autistic. I think of him as possessed of some commonly-autistic behaviours and experiences yet more comfortable in allistic society than Ein, Tes or Darius, and consequently having less need for a specific sense of autistic identity. As his narration doesn’t focus so much on either, you might find Esher more relatable.
At some point in the future, I’ll talk about why this story became an unexpected exploration of a personal experience, something I didn’t know I needed to depict until the words were on the page. I can’t do this yet, but I will. My favourite bit is how a side character, Reggie, comes out as aro-ace to Esher in such a casual way compared to his laboured explanations. Coming out to your own is a world away from coming out to outsiders, and having the two contrasted, as a sense of both is and should be, makes me feel better about the awkwardness of writing coming-out-with-explanation scenes.
The Marchverse-branded short stories are usually a little lighter in tone, so I’ll finish by saying that Love is the Reckoning has the least quirky-setting humour of all the stories so far.
I hope there’s something here to which you can look forward!