Fiction Round Up – July / August / September

Clearly doing this on a regular basis is a pipe dream, but it would be nice to periodically gather my recent pieces in the one spot.

Most Fridays, I post one of my free books to Patreon. These posts are public, so you don’t need to be a patron or subscriber to access and download. Through Patreon, I have something I’ve been wanting for a long time–a public-accessible, no-sign-up needed post capable of hosting all my book files. This way, nobody needs to make an account with a vendor to download the file or files of their choice (PDF, EPUB or MOBI) direct to their computer, phone or tablet.

It should be noted that every narrating protagonist here is somewhere on the aromantic spectrum and experiences some shape of sexual attraction.

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.Neuronormative: An autistic allosexual aromantic struggling to deal with the ways alloromanticism and aromanticism alike are binary, neuronormative ways of looking at the romantic attraction spectrum.

This is less fiction and more a slightly-creative take on non-fiction, but I wanted to give voice to the ways what is and isn’t romantic is tied to neuronormative assumptions. Even the construct of aromanticism itself feels neuronormative to me. I’ve long reached a point where I’ll use aro as a general term but my aromanticism is better described by words like arovague, nebularomantic and idemromantic. To not centre my neurodiversity as a component of my aromanticism is to fail to speak of my aromanticism at all.

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

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Fiction: Kin of Mind

A dragon in need of a human attendant finds providence in the arrival of a magician in need of a library, but more than phalanges and history binds Azhra and Darius in companionship.

Setting: Several hundred years after the short stories Friendship and Attraction; several months before Certain Eldritch Artefacts, during Darius’s first year away from the College. Reading these stories isn’t required for comprehension, but this story is written with the expectation that readers will find enjoyment in Azhra being Azhra and Darius being Darius.

Content advisory: Casual references to fantasy violence involving fire, carnivores and dragons, ageism, autistic-targeted ableism and the medicalisation of the autism spectrum.

Length: 4, 047 words / 12 PDF pages.

Note the first: This short story is an exclusive for Patreon supporters. It’s also available in the Marchverse collection Bones, Belts and Bewitchments.

Azhra breathes the tart, acidic aura of magic for an hour before the sweating human makes it up the incline. With no attendant, ze can’t brush hir hide, but ze wipes hir emerald snout and copper claws on the closest patch of grass, hoping to appear presentable. Humans are more agreeable the more they can pretend dragons aren’t the ultimate apex predator. Even if this one has no interest in staying, they can still speak of hir to their family and friends.

Hope quickens hir breath and quivers hir tail.

What if ze can convince a human to remain?

A few centuries ago, no dragon lacked service. Nobles viewed them as an opportunity for their children to meet other nobles, sending more princesses than wanted by the most affable of dragons. Now, Azhra can go a year without speaking to even the census-takers, nervous scholars hoping to determine the number of cattle Rajad, Siya and Khaloun will lose to a dragon’s gullet.

Telling their few visitors that Council will pay fair wages for willing workers gets them nowhere. The town in the valley refuses to deal with any dragon after Heisa’s incident. What stories are humans now telling about dragons in Rajad and Khaloun? Surely there’s people in need of supporting their kinsfolk or leaving them, people who won’t object to magic and adventure? The Athenaeum sends the odd historian and academic to catalogue hoards, but none since Faiza show interest in the work of a companion—and Faiza’s family didn’t permit them to remain in Tierre.

Dwelling on the old days does no dragon good, but even quiet reflection brings envy and pessimism. The last human to stay for a lifetime was a duchess’s daughter from a Western country—a small province since swallowed up by the former Astreuch empire.

What was her name?

Keep reading at Patreon: Part One and Part Two.

Linkspam Friday: April 5

If all goes well, when this post goes up I should be escaping my GP’s office after another biopsy on my hand: an another adventure in our long-running quest to discover what is causing my dermatitis. I can’t say that I need this experience again, but at least I can write about wounds and blood with verisimilitude, and I’ve two characters for which this is quite important. Small mercies, right?

I am struggling at the moment in keeping up with everything in a consistent manner, which I think you know based on the the dust bunnies covering this blog. (I mean, I still haven’t updated my books with my new pronouns.) But, since I have written and made a couple of things, I think it’s worth gathering them here in the quest to appear accomplished.

Fiction

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.Hallo, Aro: Existence: For me, one of the more profound allo-aro experiences is the truth that it’s difficult to find information about aromanticism as separate from asexuality. This story adds a little bit of creative licence to autobiography and is in no way a complete rendition of my experiences, but the core of this, in terms of someone else’s inability to offer the word aromantic, is true.

(You can also read this on Tumblr or in PDF and EPUB formats.)

Love in the House of the Ravens: I’m posting the story of how Darius learns about the word “aromantic” in shorter snippets over April, Autism Acceptance Month. I’m quite excited at being able to post these stories about how autism and ableism impact his ability to come to terms with his aromanticism: it’s been a while since autism has been as central in my storytelling. This will become its own book, a sequel to Certain Eldritch Artefacts; I just thought I’d do something a bit different with how I initially post it.

(You can keep up via my tag on Tumblr and category on WordPress. I may do a proper linked master post when my hand heals.)

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2018 Fiction Master Post

Despite veering from periods of no writing to periods of all the writing, I have managed to end this year by posting or publishing twelve new fictional pieces. A master post collecting all pieces seems appropriate, both in the sense of allowing me to talk a little and making all these pieces easy for readers to find and access.

It seems to me that aromanticism has become an irrevocable presence in my fiction, as central to what I write as being trans and autistic: every single piece features an aromantic-spectrum protagonist (although some works don’t focus on this). For me this sense that I do not have to include something alien to me feels liberating and empowering. It’s frustrating, yes, to struggle to find my place in the literary canon; it’s disheartening to know that eschewing alloromantic experiences is a unrecognised barrier between me and a good many readers. Yet I have this year made an online space that is more receptive of my work, and I can only hope that this keeps on growing.

Thank you to all the folks who have supported me and my art in some way this year, be it through likes or reblogs, linking my work to others or sending me messages: I am truly grateful for your interaction and encouragement.

If you like what I do and have the ability to help me survive in doing it, I’ll remind you all that I have a ko-fi. All digital beverages are gratefully appreciated (although I am baffled by the thought of imbibing real coffee).

Please find below a variety of flash fiction pieces, short stories and novelettes, featuring a collection of queer, disabled, trans, non-binary, autistic and aromantic characters. All these works are free to read!

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The Crew of Esher Hill: Absence of Language

Summary: Three months ago, Kit March abandoned his fiancé without even a note of explanation for a deserving man. Leaving Lauri should have brought him a wondrous freedom from the pressures of romantic expectation, so how does a talented magician end up performing flash magic for buttons and hairpins in Raugue’s worst tavern? Kit doesn’t know, and doesn’t care to think about it as long as he can keep drowning guilt in beer and spellworking, but when a stranger offers the word “aromantic” followed by a dangerous quest to the Gast, Kit may have more distraction than he can survive.

Word length: 7, 209 words.

Content advisory: Please expect depictions of or references to amatonormativity, allosexism, cissexism, heterosexism, depression, autistic-targeted ableism, alcohol and alcohol used as a coping mechanism for depression. This story takes place in Astreut where heterosexism and cissexism are endemic, but there’s also references to the way people see aromantics in particular as heartless or hateful. There’s also several non-explicit sex references, Kit’s use of sex as another coping mechanism, some casual references to and depictions of violence, and a heaping mountain of guilt.

Chronology: This chapter takes place three months after Ringbound, one month after Love is the Reckoning and a little under a year before Old Fashioned. The chronological order for these interconnected stories featuring both Esher and (young) Kit is The Sorcerous Compendium of Postmortem Query (Esher), Ringbound (Kit), Love is the Reckoning (Esher), The Crew of Esher Hill (Esher and Kit) and Old Fashioned (Kit, taking place after Kit’s return from the Gast). Please note that, as ever, Kit rarely meets a truth that he feels obliged to preserve for later taletelling.

Note the first: Welcome to the first chapter of The Crew of Esher Hill, a serial story about six trans, a-spec, neurodiverse folks on a quest into a weird part of the Marchverse, there to face monsters, find an artefact and learn to trust each other. Because Kit is the narrator and knows nothing about Esher, this chapter is readable if you haven’t read Love is the Reckoning. I’ll mention, however, that there is an unfinished story between this chapter and Love is the Reckoning, detailing the deal Esher makes with the Grey Mages. This chapter does not reveal all that goes down in the creation of this deal, but if you don’t want to read things out of order, I’d recommend waiting on reading this. If you’re desperate to know what happens in terms of Esher’s saving Mara, on the other hand, this will assuage some curiosity. Some.

(I am not sure on a posting schedule. Please don’t get excited about the spectre of new, regular content!)

Note the second: Some folks may remember that I posted Old Fashioned last year for @aggressivelyarospec’s #AggressivelyAroSpectacular. I liked the symmetry of this year posting the interaction that provoked the explanation Kit gave Amelia on the subject of aromanticism, so here it is. Old Fashioned kicked off for me the posting of twelve short works with aro-spec protagonists, so I want to say a huge thank you for starting me off on a year of aromantic fiction!

Awkward words spoken by a stranger shatter a lie so ordinary that Kit never stopped to question its falsehood.

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Fiction: Love is the Reckoning

Summary: Two and a half years ago, Mara Hill took her depressed, dysphoric brother to Sirenne in the hope of saving his life. Now, Esher returns to Dead Horse Hill with two dogs, a blade, a new career and a new body—the shape of masculinity he always felt he should be. A miracle the priests who cared for him deny. A miracle the Grey Mages claim cannot exist without something precious sacrificed in exchange. A miracle Mara refuses to explain, even though Esher knows she is the only person willing to make such a trade.

Esher wants to know what she did and how she did it, but finding the truth isn’t just a matter of enduring stares, whispers and the condescending pity from those he left behind. Not when this isn’t the only secret Mara keeps from him…

Theme: A non-amorous, grey-asexual, aromantic trans man dealing with family, love, suicidal ideation, dysphoria and amatonormativity. Consider this story as about complications of these things against a backdrop of coming home, consent and an acceptance of mental illness as something that doesn’t always have a bow-wrapped cure.

Word length: 11, 561 words.

Content advisory: Please expect depictions of or references to terminal illness, depression, body horror, suicidal ideation, dysphoria, cissexism, heterosexism, allosexism and amatonormativity. Trans readers should note that Esher has undergone what seems a near-perfect medical (magical) transition, which may be difficult to read on a high-dysphoria day. I also have two characters who have engaged or will engage in actions I can only term as a voiding of Esher’s right to informed consent with regards his magical transitioning and soul ownership. Esher doesn’t have time or space to even begin to figure out how he feels, but most of his later stories are about, in part, exploring this and the consequences of a culture of denial and avoidance wielded by those who love us.

Note the first: This story takes place nearly three years after The Sorcerous Compendium of Postmortem Query. There are a few references to Mara and Aunt Rosie that will make better sense if this is read first, but the passing of time between the stories is such that I think Love is the Reckoning is readable on its own. (Much of the history on which this story is concerned takes place after Mara’s night in the graveyard.) If you don’t read it, know that Mara spoke to her dead great-aunt one night for reassurance on her own lithromanticism.

Note the second: I recommend reading the reworked edition of this story, available on WordPress and Patreon.

Yes, and that’s what scares him: his erasure writ in the words of love.

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Fiction: Maybe When the Bones Crumble

Summary: His hand broken, his father dead, his brother rebelling and his mother dancing the bones, Einas ein Iteme has nobody at the Eyrie but the chancellor and one cursed question he can’t escape.

Content advisory: This story depicts several shades of ableism targeted at autistics and chronic pain patients, along with a good amount of casual cissexism and more direct heterosexism. I’m intentionally writing about the ableism that isn’t seen by the abled as ableism, but for this reason it may be more distressing for disabled readers. It also takes place in the context of civil war and familial abuse, with references to both. Please note that there’s references of medical mismanagement and poor handling of meltdowns; there’s also depictions of and references to self-harm, one of which may be interpreted as suicidal ideation. It’s also worth mentioning that this story does not have a happy ending, at least for the moment. This begins to change in Birds of a Feather.

Word count: 4, 945 words.

Note the first: Maybe When the Bones Crumble takes place before, during and immediately after Their Courts of Crows, detailing Ein’s time in the Eyrie while Paide and Zaishne war it out across Ihrne and Arsh. Please note that this isn’t written to be accessible to newcomers: I don’t spend words on detailed explanations on how Ein came to be injured or the fact of Ein’s autism.

Note the second: I have a relative who breaks me every time she asks me this same question. (What part of chronic pain do abled people not understand? All of it, including the fact that it doesn’t just magically go away.) Her latest rendition took place on the eighth anniversary of the injuries that caused my chronic wrist pain, an unexpected double-blow, so I wanted to put this hurt and frustration to story—the growing knowledge that just as my pain won’t change, neither will the attitudes of the people who hurt me. So this is a short, personal piece that I’m posting, fairly unedited, to get that weight of feeling outside my skin. I’ll also mention that this story is a deliberate examination of the way autism, anxiety and chronic pain come together, things inseparable in Ein and in me.

It seems to him then that pain is its own irrevocable truth.

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Fiction: 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.

Contains: A sapphic, lithromantic trans witch fearing her shape of love; a bisexual aunt who adores girls; an aro-ace trans brother armed with pokers; a wealth of casual queerness; and a world learning to be bold about its own diverse aromanticism.

Setting: Marchverse, one day before The Mundane Progression of Premortem Colloquy.

Content advisory: The protagonist, the protagonist’s love interest and her mentor are all allosexual, so while there are no explicit sex references, there are references to having sex and experiences of sexual attraction. Discussions of amatonormativity and internalised hatred are a given. There’s also vague and non-detailed references to gender dysphoria and depression, as this story sets up further examinations of both in Love is the Reckoning. Please expect a fair bit of discussion about experience of romantic attraction and note that the protagonist is a lithromantic who is comfortable with being the subject of romantic interest. I don’t recommend this story for people who have severe sexual and/or romantic repulsion.

Links: PDF (read in browser) | Patreon

PDF, EPUB and MOBI editions are available for download from Patreon.

Length: 8, 221 words / 32 PDF pages.

Note the first: If you’ve read The King of Gears and Bone, you may find interesting here a few further revelations about necromancy and Ein’s demons/angels (depending on one’s theological position).

Note the second: In a world where names have power, people get around this by having a secret true name (heartname) they share only with close family/trusted friends and a nickname or common name (shroudname) they use with everyone else. Some cultures consider a signed heartname to be more emblematic of true identity than its verbal equivalent. Additionally, naming customs in this region involve children taking their brood parent’s shroudname as a last name, given the commonality of non-cisheteronormative relationships and marriages. If there is no known brood parent, the sire parent’s name or the shroudname of the adoptive parent will be used instead.

In a small village where everyone thinks they know everyone else, conversations become dangerous.

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Linkspam Friday: September 28

This is one of those weeks that hasn’t been all that remarkable, beyond the worst migraine of my life, to the point that I was considering discussing the terror that strikes the autistic-inertia of my heart every time I open up my dashboard and see WordPress cheerfully promoting the Gutenburg editor. (I still use the .org layout because it’s quicker to load than the current “improved” editor, which never seemed in any way improved to me.) In some ways I feel change doesn’t bother me too much, at least in the sense of someone asking me to go somewhere without little preparation or offering up an unexpected activity; I can handle the disruption of someone coming in and upending my plan for the day. When people ask me about change, that’s the sort of thing that comes to mind. Of course I can handle it … can’t I?

Thinking on any change to WordPress has my toes clenching. (Tumblr is a disaster of constant changes I don’t like; the new coloured text ability is just awful, partly from the glare of the green against a backlit screen and mostly because I’m not accustomed to seeing coloured text. Thank all gods for XKit.) Changes to foods I like are a nightmare of why did they do that made worse by the narrow selection of foods I do like and the horror of trying new ones. Then when I consider the nightmare in going somewhere new and how many panic attacks I had last week over a new therapist, I realise that yes, I do not handle change. Not to mention that all the worst mental health spirals I have suffered took place against the context of change for which I wasn’t prepared for or supported in…

In many ways, I don’t understand it myself. I like learning new things and I like experimenting with design: part of the reason I find Adobe CS enjoyable is the wealth of discovery! I love trying out new crafts I saw online. It seems as though these things should be similar, change and learning, but they’re not, and I don’t know why I like trying new things in a complex program while I fall apart at the thought of having to try a new brand of microwave rice.

All this has made me realise that my goal in Kit March is to get both Darius and Tes comfortable in a new place and circumstance: to showcase the growth of a sense of stability after a change neither can quite handle, and then (perhaps not metaphorically) burn the house down. I have no plan to end the story there, mind, but I do plan to disrupt what looks like a happy mid-point.

Lastly, my severe anxiety has left me struggling with a few ordinary things like checking my PayPal account. This is an extremely belated expression of gratitude for this reason, but I do want to thank the people who have been so kind as to buy me a ko-fi. Thank you, so very much, for your support: it means the absolute world to me!

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Linkspam Friday: September 21

I wish psychologists and therapists didn’t give me the “we will work together to find options but you will have to work to have to implement them” speech. It wasn’t so bad before I had horrific therapeutic experiences, but now, when I struggle to trust medical professionals generally and have little reason to do so, I feel unseen right from the beginning.

That speech has always been the basis of why therapists pushed me towards traumatising-to-me things, like mindfulness meditation. (I will admit that most people won’t have my trauma around mindfulness, but explaining this often didn’t stop psychologists from making me try it for the umpteenth time.) When something wasn’t working for me, I wasn’t working hard enough to implement it. If I couldn’t do something, I wasn’t giving it a fair try. My not trying became the reason describing the failure for all the standard tricks pulled from the therapeutic grab-bag, and that’s now all I hear in that speech. A ready-made excuse that the therapist won’t look past.

I want help with making and sticking to routines, and I’m saying this as someone who has alarms on my iPad, who writes lists, who has tried all the conventional ways to make one work. Like many autistics, I do well with externally-imposed routines, like school, while severely floundering without its supporting structures. (No, the answer isn’t pretend I go to school, because I’ve been trying to do that for over a year!) I don’t know how to make myself not distracted; I don’t know how to stop writing and go to bed like I should. Obnoxiously-loud, jarring thrash metal alarms do not work. Getting up to turn off the iPad several feet away from my desk does not work. Now I’m afraid, because of that cursed speech one session in, that my failure to get a routine going will be my fault. Again. Or that, when I’ve dismissed every single pain-management strategy suggested because they do not work for me, I’ll be branded as difficult. Again.

When I’m constantly trying my hardest against a brain that isn’t and never will be made for an allistic universe, to encourage me to work without recognising my efforts now only makes me feel already a failure. After so many frustrating, bad, terrible and downright traumatic experiences with therapists, such a speech takes my suspicious tendencies and lets them run riot with distrust. After all her reassurances, I already feel like I’m too difficult for her.

If you work in mental health, especially if you’re handling people with more complex diagnoses and disabilities, cut the “you need to work hard to get better” line from your spiel. Start looking instead at the ways we’re already working hard. Because we are. And sometimes it takes all our strength and courage just to get out of bed, and we need the world to see it.

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