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 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 am working on the digital editions for this and the aforementioned piece, for folks who dislike reading in a browser and would rather wait for a PDF or EPUB version. I’m posting this now, though, for the #AggressivelyAroSpectacular event run by @aggressivelyarospec.

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

Summary: On the night of the Thinning, necromancer Mara Hill goes to the village graveyard to ask a question she can’t risk sharing with the living. The meddling dead, however, speak more than Mara expects about their once-living experiences of love and attraction.

Theme: The story features an a sapphic allosexual akoi/lithromantic woman, with a non-amorous aro-ace man and a bisexual aromantic woman as side characters. Several other (dead) village aro-specs also talk in light detail about their aromantic-spectrum experiences.

Word length: 8, 130 words.

Content advisory: The protagonist, the protagonist’s love interest and her mentor are all allosexual, so while there 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 (from Esher’s POV) in Love is the Reckoning. There’s a fair bit of discussion about experience of romantic attraction and the protagonist is fine with being the subject of romantic interest. I don’t recommend this story for people who have severe sexual and/or romantic repulsion.

Note the first: This is set in the Marchverse as a prequel to Love is the Reckoning, but it requires no prior knowledge of anything to read and takes place a good forty years before The Eagle Court books and Kit March. This said, 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 your 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.

Note the third: Yes, I did say I’d post this before Halloween, but tell that to my frozen shoulder. Apologies for the half-baked editing on this one. It is much in want of further going-over before I properly publish. Chronic pain is a hell of a thing.

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

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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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Current Projects

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.

Cover of One Strange Man: A Marchverse Short Story by K. A. Cook. Cover shows a wooden door, bolted shut, set into a stone wall, with dangling ivy and climbing roses obscuring the wall and part of the door. The ground in front of the door is brown earth and has a thin-bladed green bush growing in front of it. A glowing white marble sits on the earth by the base of one of the roses on the bottom left-hand side of cover. Text is written in a white, handdrawn, fantasy-style type.One Strange Man

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.

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Blog Promo: Aro Worlds

I don’t need another blog. I’m failing quite nicely at keeping up with the ones I have.

Except that I was browsing Tumblr one day and felt so frustrated at the decreased visibility for aro creative media compared to ace creative media. The problem with having a bunch of social media, editing, design and text-related skills housed in a disabled body is that my brain keeps on telling me that if it doesn’t exist to my specifications, there’s nothing stopping me from doing it myself. There isn’t, if I discard mental illness and chronic pain.

(It’s kind of amazing how a brain that is impacted by mental illness has a habit of just ignoring said mental illnesses until I’m neck deep in all the things my brain told me to do, all the things driving me to panic and suicidal ideation because, shock, I can’t do everything. I mean, come on. We’ve been through this hell multiple times now, brain. Learn, would you?)

I’m not saying that ace folks have a glut of representation. That isn’t true. I am saying that there’s a little more conversation about it, more available resources connecting ace audiences to ace creativity; it’s a little bit easier to find, especially if you’re after alloromantic ace media.

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