Fiction Round Up – February / March

In December 2019, I felt that Christmas was the worst time of year for a person of Dutch heritage to also be a coeliac.

In March 2020, with pandemic-fuelled grocery shortages and a constant fear of will I have enough food to eat if we’re quarantined for two weeks because ordering in gluten-free restaurant food in my region isn’t an option, I have been proved hilariously naive. I laugh at myself now, because sighing over not eating speculaas or pfeffernüsse seems ridiculous in comparison! Do I have enough GF (gluten-free) pasta to go with my rice? I don’t know, but I’m yet to find it again at the supermarket! And so many things are still impossible to get, like frozen vegetables; even fresh vegetables are becoming impossibly expensive.

What do I eat when I can’t get two weeks’ worth of frozen veggies and rice? What do I eat when everyone has stocked up on rice cakes as a cheap shelf-stable food, even though they’re my normal lunch staple? What do I eat when dried beans and lentils, recommended by the internet as a wonder food I should be pursuing during food shortages, all bear “may contain gluten” warnings? Are supermarkets going to prioritise GF replacement foods the same way they’ll prioritise restocking the gluten-containing ones? Can they even get those that aren’t made in Australia, like several brands of GF pasta?

(Why is barley deemed such an essential component in soup mix? Do folks realise how many more foods would be open to me if we stopped adding barley and malt flavouring to things not otherwise containing wheat, rye or oats?)

There are many other things to fear right now, yes. Far too many of my relatives are in high-risk categories, for one. I am privileged enough to be able to worry about continuing to avoid gluten, when some coeliacs have long forgone that option; I am privileged enough that grocery shortages this severe are new to me. Nonetheless, dietary restrictions add a real component of anxiety when it comes to a pandemic, and it isn’t something I see folks discuss or even acknowledge in mainstream conversations about grocery shortages and accessibility.

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Update: Love is the Reckoning

Cover of Love is the Reckoning: A Marchverse Novelette by K. A. Cook. Cover shows a cartoony-styled indoors tavern scene with a lot of different brown wood textures: wood panelling on the walls, wood floor, a square wood window frame, a crooked wooden table in the centre of the image and a wooden stool and a wooden barrel sitting in front of it. A candle stub sits on the window frame, looking out to dark green trees against a star-lit sky. The table bears beer glasses, a green wine bottle, a brown bottle of spirits, orange liquid in a glass, a plate of biscuits and a plate bearing a wedge of yellow cheese with red rind. A wooden log rests against one side of the window frame, an unsheathed longsword against the other, and a sack sits against the wall underneath the table. A cage bearing a twisted, vine-style plant sits in the top right-hand corner, above the table. Text is written in a white, handdrawn, fantasy-style type.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 and a half years later, Esher owns two dogs, 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.

Contains: A graysexual, aromantic trans man fighting his own mind; the trans sorcerer of a sister who loves him; a grizzled aro-ace mayor and barkeep; and a heavy reliance on schemes and manipulations in the absence of simple communication.

Setting: Marchverse, nearly three years after The Sorcerous Compendium of Postmortem Query.

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. For more detailed information, please see the digital file editions linked below.

Links: PDF (read in browser) | Patreon

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

Length: 10, 463 words / 39 PDF pages.

Note: As this story has undergone significant changes, I thought I’d repost the web edition as well. If you’d like to see the earlier version in its verboseness, willingness to wallow in feelings of depression and odd editing failures, I’ve left the original up for comparison. I think this new version is a better telling of Esher’s story … but perhaps not quite as faithful a rendition of what writing looks like while depressed.

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

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2019 Fiction Master Post

I finished two of the pieces mentioned in last year’s master post. I suppose that’s an accomplishment, if we ignore all the name-dropped works that didn’t eventuate?

On the positive side, I’ve been somewhat-regularly posting fiction through the second half of this year. My mental health has been a disaster, I’ve got another new chronic pain site, I’ve tried several new medications, I’ve spent much of this year struggling to sleep even on melatonin, and I’ve had to kiss farewell anything containing gluten … but I have posted a score of stories. That’s something worth celebrating, even as I hope that I never again endure a year imbued with 2019’s chronic sense of despondency.

(I’m hoping that coeliac turns out to be the missing key in the mystery that is my ongoing physical and mental health, because I’m beyond tired of enduring yet another treatment or medication change for no meaningful difference.)

I’ve posted or published a total of 82, 318 words of fiction alone in 2019. I’ve also gotten back into sewing in a major way, between making clothes for my 6 inch mini dolls and pride-flag cross-stitch patches. (There’s even more on Tumblr.) I also made an allo-aro information hub on Aro Worlds, I started a Patreon, and I created Aro Arrows, an archive for aromantic-pride stock images. Making different things (so there’s something I can do when various limbs object to what I mean to do) is how I survive my body and brain, so to talk only in terms of productivity obscures the real pain and struggle 2019 also brought me. But there is also a wondrous selection of things I can say that I made!

(I also changed my pronouns, about which I still haven’t had the time or spoons to write.)

I’m currently working on tutorials for said patches and the publication edition of Love is the Reckoning, but I am desperate to start writing a story (any story) in which I can provide representation for coeliac. Like autism, I have to wonder what my quality of life may have been now had I known earlier–if my doctors hadn’t brushed off the possibility. Diagnosis, again, brings that twinned combination of belated recognition and betrayal. If I can bring awareness to coeliac through my writing in 2020, perhaps I can build a world where people can sooner recognise their symptoms and push for testing.

Thank you, as always, to my supporters: you are in large measure the reason why there’s so many fiction pieces on this list!

I would like, in 2020, to be able to make enough income from my online work that I can afford domain registration and add-free plans for all my websites. If you want to help me with that not-so-lofty goal, please check out my ko-fi and (again) my patreon.

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: Friendship

Contains: A sapphic aromantic who wishes to partner a dragon’s handmaiden without the complications of a romantic relationship, but finds comfort in her friendship with her own dragon.

Length: 993 words / 4 PDF pages.

Why I liked writing it: There’s an aro-coded dragon…? I like the idea of aro characters finding support in platonic or non-romantic relationships, but I adore writing about aro characters finding support in platonic or non-romantic relationships with other aromantics.

Read after this: Attraction, where Elisa finds a girl and still has no intention of leaving her dragon.

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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.

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Update: Love Spells, Rainbows and Rosie

Cover of Love Spells, Rainbows and Rosie: A Marchverse Short Story by K. A. Cook. Cover shows a wooden door set into a wooden wall with a paper sign on the front reading Mara Hill, Witch. Stones, bones and feathers tied to string dangle over the top of the door, along with a creeping vine, and two potted plants sit on either side of a wooden doorstep--white daisies in a bag and orange roses in a brown pot. A straw broom rests propped against one side of the door and a piece of torn paper reading Absolutely No Love Spells sits on the step. Text is written in a white, handdrawn, fantasy-style type.Lovers’ Day is good trading for a witch who deals in enchantments, ribbons and dyed flowers. For Mara Hill, it’s long been a holiday of tedious assumptions and painful conversations—once best handled by casting petty curses on annoying customers. This year, when a girl asks about love spells, it may be time to instead channel a little Aunt Rosie.

Contains: A sapphic, allosexual, lithromantic trans witch enduring the most amatonormative holiday extant–in a small town still in want of open conversations about aromanticism.

Setting: A year and a half after The Sorcerous Compendium of Postmortem Query and a year before Love is the Reckoning. I don’t spend much time going over the events of the night Mara spoke to Aunt Rosie about aromanticism, so reading Compendium first is recommended.

Links: Patreon | WordPress

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

Length: 3, 429 words / 10 PDF pages.

Mara and Esher Reading Order: The Sorcerous Compendium of Postmortem Query | Love Spells, Rainbows and Rosie | Love is the Reckoning | Absence of Language

I’ve posted digital editions of this side story to my Patreon (where I’m enjoying the ability to attach files directly to my posts). The web edition has also been updated with the new version, for folks who prefer reading online.

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Fiction: Love Spells, Rainbows and Rosie

Cover of Love Spells, Rainbows and Rosie: A Marchverse Short Story by K. A. Cook. Cover shows a wooden door set into a wooden wall with a paper sign on the front reading Mara Hill, Witch. Stones, bones and feathers tied to string dangle over the top of the door, along with a creeping vine, and two potted plants sit on either side of a wooden doorstep--white daisies in a bag and orange roses in a brown pot. A straw broom rests propped against one side of the door and a piece of torn paper reading Absolutely No Love Spells sits on the step. Text is written in a white, handdrawn, fantasy-style type.Lovers’ Day is good trading for a witch who deals in enchantments, ribbons and dyed flowers. For Mara Hill, it’s long been a holiday of tedious assumptions and painful conversations—once best handled by casting petty curses on annoying customers. This year, when a girl asks about love spells, it may be time to instead channel a little Aunt Rosie.

Contains: A sapphic, allosexual, lithromantic trans witch enduring the most amatonormative holiday extant–in a small town still in want of open conversations about aromanticism.

Setting: A year and a half after The Sorcerous Compendium of Postmortem Query and a year before Love is the Reckoning. It is readable if you haven’t read Reckoning, but I do suggest reading Query first. I spend little time rehashing the story of the night that Mara learnt about aromanticism from her great-aunt’s shade.

Content advisory: Much of this piece concerns the amatonormativity surrounding a real-world holiday, because unsubtle allegory is a wonderful thing. Please note that this story also includes a non-specific reference to an off-screen character’s suicide attempt and the ableism of the way people talk around mental illness. A character also uses the phrase “kill me” where we’d would use something like “fuck me” in keeping with the Sojourner’s followers’ regard of death. While I don’t explain it in text, it’s meant to be unholy awkward in keeping with the above. Dead Horse Hill’s religion is terrible at reconciling suicide with the way it frames and refers to death, and Esher talks more about this in the sequel to Love is the Reckoning.

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

Length: 3, 429 words / 10 PDF pages.

It’s a terrific exercise in redundancy, but some people find the words “no love spells” to be a bewildering subtlety.

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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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