Fiction Round Up – November / December

In personal news, I have been diagnosed with coeliac disease. This means I get the joy of avoiding anything containing wheat, barley, rye and oats–along with the joy of realising just how many things in the Western diet contain wheat or barley. (Malt! It’s everywhere!) Autism makes this difficult, in the sense that I’m having to cope with a body that needs change and a brain that gets overwhelmed by differences in taste and texture (not to mention change generally). Having to try new foods? Having to accept that some alternatives won’t taste or feel quite the same as the gluten-containing versions to which I am used? Nor is there any easing into this; I’ve had to learn a great deal in a short space of time and then communicate most of that knowledge to other people while trying to avoid as many missteps as possible.

I now need to write a fantasy novel, or at least a series of shorter stories, in a Western-ish setting where the protagonist has to avoid gluten while on a quest to Save The World. What’s the good of having coeliac if I can’t give it to my characters?

(Is lembas gluten free? It’s made from a Middle-Earth wheat-ish grain, but that doesn’t mean it is wheat. Is it bad that I now want to write a story where the magical elfish waybread is gluten-free? Where its ability to stay fresh for a long time without going stale or crumbly is why it’s magical? Is it bad that I’m going to end up writing a story about elves with coeliac disease? But can’t you imagine the sheer, unbridled joy of a human with coeliac discovering that their elfish quest companion also has coeliac and has a stock of gluten-free waybread?)

Despite this taking up a fair amount of time and my chronic pain and anxiety being awful/disabling, I have managed a few fiction pieces over the last two months.

Readers should note that the narrating protagonists of Monstrous, The Vampire Conundrum, The Pride Conspiracy and The Sorcerous Compendium of Postmortem Query are aromantics who experience sexual attraction. The narrating protagonist of When Quiver Meets Quill doesn’t specify any orientation identity that isn’t aromanticism. The narrating protagonist of King’s Pawn is allosexual and alloromantic.

Hallo, Aro

Cover image for Hallo, Aro: Allosexual Aromantic Flash Fiction by K. A. Cook. Cover features dark pink handwritten type on a mottled green background with a large line-drawn peacock feather, several sketch-style leaves and swirly text dividers. Green arrows sit underneath each line of text.Monstrous: A world where sexual attraction sans alloromantic attraction takes on fangs and teeth–and a pansexual’s aro liberation means accepting monstrosity.

It’s a common allo-aro experience to feel as though perpetually cast as a predator, something that I felt had resonance enough with werewolf narratives to work as a short story where allosexual aromanticism is cast as (what society thinks is) an actual monster. (Fur and fang is a poor metric for true monstrosity, just as the presence of romantic attraction is a poor metric for human worth.) This shouldn’t be regarded as a metaphor that suits or even acknowledges all aromantics; it’s a story very much for and about allo-aros.

If you prefer reading as a digital book, you can find the most recent PDF, EPUB and MOBI files on Patreon.

When Quiver Meets Quill

Cover image for When Quiver Meets Quill: Collected Aromantic Fiction by K. A. Cook. Cover depicts a frame border in the stripes of the aromantic pride flag against a mottled green background, title text arranged around images of pencils and feathers. Text is in black handdrawn type outlined in different shades of greens, greys and whites.Jessie’s casing an art gallery affords an opportunity to discuss a queerplatonic relationship. The phrase “I don’t love” encompasses more than a prince’s lack of romantic attraction. A gay aromantic makes a game of his alloromantic co-workers’ inability to accept him. Alida finds an accomplice in petty revenge after hir friend sets hir up on a date. An aro-ace wanderer invents their own fairy tales free of weddings as a happily ever after. And a demiromantic witch learns about aromanticism from her allo-aro cousin after an escapade with an unwanted romantic admirer.

When Quiver Meets Quill collects fourteen fantasy and contemporary aromantic stories about amatonormativity, friendship and connection.

I decided that I could make a collection focused on my aromantic fiction. Most stories in here are focused on allo-aro characters (and are Hallo, Aro stories) but there are protagonists who are aro-ace or don’t identify their aromanticism as accompanying a sexual orientation identity.

The three new stories are listed below:

When Quiver Meets Quill

Alida Quill is just fine spending hir holidays alone with a book if it means freedom from hir family’s continued expectation to court and wed. When hir co-worker Ede sets hir up with a friend and won’t take no for an answer, Alida plots an extravagant, public refusal scene to show everyone once and for all that ze will not date. Ever.

Ze doesn’t expect to meet Antonius Quiver, a man with his own abrupt, startling declarations on the subject of romance.

It isn’t courting if he schemes with hir to pay back Ede … is it?

The title for this collection came before this story. My brain, for reasons I don’t understand in any logical way, decided to build it into a narrative … which resulted in my borrowing from my Dutch heritage with a new non-binary, autistic protagonist. I also wanted to experiment with the idea of what a Sheldon Cooper-esque character may look and sound like should he be written sympathetically instead of as a joke for allistic audiences, which gives us Antonius.

I’m thinking of a series of stories with Alida and Antonius’s navigating standard amatonormative/neuronormative life events in their “screw normality” style (although Antonius will never, ever phrase it that way). Alida’s meeting Antonius’s family? Deciding to live together in a haven from the rest of the world? Trying to buy a house for said haven? There’s so many autistic-and-aromantic-affirming possibilities here!

The Vampire Conundrum

When Rowan Ross is pressured into placing an aromantic pride mug on his desk, he doesn’t know how to react when his co-workers don’t notice it. Don’t they realise he spent a weekend rehearsing answers for questions unasked? Then again, if nobody knows what aromanticism is, can’t he display a growing collection of pride merch without a repeat of his coming out as trans? Be visible with impunity through their ignorance?

He can endure their thinking him a fan of archery, comic-book superheroes and glittery vampire movies. It’s not like anyone in the office is an archer. (Are they?) But when a patch on his bag results in a massive misconception, correcting it means doing the one thing he most fears: making a scene.

After all, his name isn’t Aro.

I’ve written many stories with trans protagonists. I hadn’t yet written a story, not even The King of Gears and Bone, that focuses on the intersection between aromantic and transgender identities and experiences. Since the aromantic-themed play on words was a trans narrative with regards names and naming, this was the perfect opportunity to do so. I don’t plan on writing contemporary pieces often, but modern terminology and slang really lets me give voice to real-life frustration and alienation. It’s a delight to write a character referring to “allos” in a tone of high exasperation!

The Pride Conspiracy

December isn’t the best time of year for a trans aromantic like Rowan Ross, although his co-workers probably won’t give him perfume and gift cards to women’s clothing shops. (Probably?) How does he explain to cis people that while golf balls don’t trigger his dysphoria, he wants to be seen as more than a masculine stereotype? At least cissexism means he needn’t worry about his relatives asking him about dating, and he has the perfect idea for Melanie in the office gift exchange. He can grit his teeth through Aunt Laura’s presents and pass off cheap boxes of chocolates to his housemates. At least he knows what shape of tinselled hell to expect, right? Isn’t showing up to the family Christmas better than enduring unexpected consequences if he doesn’t?

Except that no longer being the only aromantic in the office means all sorts of surprise goings-on. To survive the onslaught of ribbon and cellophane with his new aro kin, Rowan’s going to have to get comfortable with embracing the unknown.

I don’t revel in writing Christmas-related stories, speaking as someone from a lapsed-Catholic background with many of Rowan’s feelings towards the holiday. (I won’t say how much of this story is slightly-paraphrased real life, but the line between author and protagonist–thin in most instances–is thinner than usual with Rowan.) This gave me a chance to explore the way cis people make gift exchanges difficult as a trans person as well as something unusual in the Christmas-narrative canon–an aro-friendly piece with a happy ending that isn’t about romance or falling in love!

You can download the PDF, MOBI and EPUB files from Patreon or read the PDF directly in your browser.

King’s Pawn

Cover of Bones, Belts and Bewitchments: A Marchverse Collection by K. A. Cook. Cover features a book open to a page on a wooden table, showing the title text written in antique black ink as if the book's own title page. The page is stained, inspotted and discoloured as if to show age.When Efe and Aysun Kadri meet Master Ayako to discuss the hiring of a magically-talented mercenary guard, Efe doesn’t expect said mercenary to come with a laundry list of warnings.

This takes place a few weeks after One Strange Man and shortly before The Adventurer King, detailing some of the background to the events of the latter novelette, showing up some of Darius’s misconceptions about Efe and Siya along with some of Efe’s misconceptions about Darius.

Efe Kadri is an uncomfortable character to write. He’s not trans or non-binary, he’s not aromantic, he’s not autistic, he’s not mentally ill, he’s not disabled. We’re both multisexual, but the largest entry point I have to his character is a lifetime of the ableist assumptions in how allistics regard autism–in that I know him through the mechanism of what ableism says I should be. If it weren’t for the fact that I adore writing characters with opinions on other viewpoint characters and the world needs to see an allistic man learn how to rethink his understanding of autism, I’d have written another story.

This piece is about showing the baseline of what not-obviously-ableist to allistics looks like; it should be regarded as the beginning of an allistic’s journey, not the end.

Subscribers can read this story over on Patreon or download it in the collection Bones, Belts and Bewitchments.

The Sorcerous Compendium of Postmortem Query

Cover image for The Sorcerous Compendium of Postmortem Query: A Marchverse Short Story by K. A. Cook. Cover shows a cemetery at night, with various tombstones in the foreground, surrounded by grassy rises and green bushes, with a tumbledown stone fence and trees in the background. A lit candle sits on the ground at the front of the cover, showing a glow of orange light illuminating grass and part of a tree branch. Cover and author credit are written in a white, fantasy-style text, the type bright against the dark sky and shadowed leaves.Necromancer Mara Hill has waited weeks for the Thinning: the one night the dead walk freely amongst the living. Her wandering great-aunt, Rosie, was wise in the way of magic and the world, and Mara knows of none other to ask. Books and magic alike haven’t restored her fading love, and Benjamin Lisabet is too wonderful to risk losing. Why can’t Mara keep herself from falling out of love whenever the girl she yearns for dares love her back?

She’s sure that Aunt Rosie’s spirit will offer up needed advice. She just doesn’t expect a deluge of deceased villagers set on unravelling everything Mara knows about what it means to love and be in love.

This isn’t a new piece, but it is an edited, digital-book version of a story that’s been long in want of it!

You can download the PDF, EPUB and MOBI files from Patreon, read the PDF directly in your browser or get this story in the When Quiver Meets Quill collection.

Happy holidays to everyone who celebrates at this time of year. Special affection goes to folks with food allergies, food intolerances and coeliac, because I am learning just how difficult it is to navigate a holiday season studded with so many food-access pitfalls!