Fiction Round Up: April / May / June

The combination of changes to my medication and life under lockdown has made it difficult for me to put words to document, especially in the world of fiction.

I have long learnt, however, that it matters less what or how I create as long as I still create. Even if I’m not doing what I want to do, or feel I should be doing, I’m not losing the habit and discipline of creating. I’m still in touch with the faith that I can take a blank canvas and conclude with something new. I’m still developing skills, exploring ways to improve; my brain isn’t lying fallow. It’s just that I’ve shifted to an art easier for me to manage in present circumstances: cross stitch.

An assortment of cross stitch patches with wide hand-embroidered borders in rectangluar and square shapes. Patches include various aromantic-spectrum flags in straight and zigzag lines, text patches "alloaro" and "aroace", arrow patches, patches with pan/ply hearts atop the allo-aro flag, dragon patches in flag colours and a calligraphic style letter A in aro colours.These last few months have earnt me callused fingertips and an explosion in my cross stitch patch collection, along with a few handmade cards and kit projects. (Also chronic thumb pain. It’s like seeing an old disliked acquaintance, since I’ve spent the last year being annoyed by my left wrist, right shoulder, left hip and back. Hello again, my wonky right thumb!) I’ve finally figured out French knots! I’ve learnt a few more border stitches! I’ve fallen deep in like with a size 26 tapestry needle!

New tutorials include aro text patches, aro arrow patches and a variety of heart-shaped patches. I’m most proud of my arrows, but I’m delighted that I’ve figured out non-square/non-rectangular patches. I like the challenge of working within the pixel-like limitations of an even-weave cloth like aida to create simple shapes; it appeals to me, although I can’t contextualise why, more than freehand embroidery.

Around and between the cross stitch, I’m finding shorter pieces easier to manage and produce at the moment. Given that I once found the prospect of writing a two thousand word fiction assignment an exercise in cruel and unnatural restriction, this amuses me!

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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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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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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.

Links, Updates and Tumblr

I was planning to post new fiction today, but I never had the chance to edit. Between scrolling through thousands of posts on Tumblr to check for erroneous “NSFW” flags, making alternate accounts, backing up blogs and general unhappiness, my hands and shoulder are horrible. Stress, unsurprisingly, is a pain trigger, and I put my hands through hell in trying to catch Tumblr’s mistakes.

(Until last night, I didn’t even have a functioning chronic pain tag in which to post about said chronic pain flare. I am pleased that it has been returned to us; I am not pleased that Tumblr hasn’t acknowledged the damage caused by denying disabled people access to this tag.)

Mermaid sequin pillows, pencil cases, slime, squishies, chew pendants, text posts about aro autistics discussing our creativity and a post advertising Their Courts of Crows were flagged as NSFW. Everything flagged as explicit, despite being worksafe content, was for or about queer, autistic, aromantic, disabled and trans people. My posts seem to have become unflagged since I reported them, but I have no reason to trust that Tumblr will remain a safe space for marginalised content creators.

People who haven’t violated Tumblr’s new restrictions can’t trust Tumblr as a reliable host for our content. Where does that leave everyone else?

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Linkspam Friday: November 30

Does anyone remember that I do this? I can’t blame you if you don’t. It’s been a while.

After a flurry of posting fiction, I’ve been updating book pages. I’ve now got cover art up for The Sorcerous Compendium of Postmortem Query. (Self, use a less unwieldy title next time.) I’m currently trying to focus on finishing the third Mara and Esher story because I can’t post the second Crew chapter: there’s just too big a revelation for the events that happen in A Quest of Spheres and Phalanges for those two pieces to be read out of order. (Self, that title isn’t much less unwieldy and you damn well know it.) After that, I’d really like to finish Love in the House of the Ravens (so unwieldy) so I can put that and One Strange Man up: together with The Adventurer King, they form a kind of trilogy in Darius’s identifying as aromantic. I have to admit that between Darius, Mara, Kit, Amelia and a little bit of Tes, I’ll be glad to put to bed the “discovering the word” genre of aromantic writing.

It’s a shape of storytelling that needs to exist, given how much it normalises our experiences as aromantics. I’m just so used to now writing characters who are trans or autistic with little explanation on their gender or neurotype that I’m feeling the need for a similar approach with aro-spec characters, too. I like writing about aromantic characters mentoring new aromantics because I can show folks already at that point, but I’m starting to yearn for a story that mentions a protagonist’s aromanticism, has no reaction from anyone else beyond casual acceptance and then concerns itself with everything but aromanticism.

In unrelated news, Tumblr decided that “chronic pain” is a porn-related tag and now has given folks with chronic pain no way to search for each other or find related content. Disabled people like me are collateral damage in their rush to delete dangerous and illegal content that shouldn’t have been allowed to flourish in the first place. Tumblr, if there’s porn in the chronic pain tag, the problem is the porn bots who shouldn’t be putting it there, not a community of chronic pain patients trying to find support and connection.

I know that there’s never been a purge of anything that hasn’t caught up innocent (most often marginalised) people in its wake, but surely by 2018 there’s enough historical precedent to realise that a little care is needed before hitting the wipe button?

(And I hate, I hate that I have far too much of a following to be able to walk away from a platform that thinks it acceptable to silence me as a disabled person.)

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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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Linkspam Friday: October 19

Last week, I had four medical appointments at the end of the week and nowhere near the organisational skills required to get a post organised before then–a feat not helped by a dire lack of content to post about.

This week, I still don’t have a lot of @aroworlds content. I’ve been working on the long-awaited post collecting allosexual aromantic media and hammering out a last-minute first draft for a vaguely-Halloween-ish short story about a necromancer’s summoning her outspoken great-aunt’s ghost to talk about her struggles with cute girls and romantic attraction. It results in a whole horde of local ghosts coming out as various shades of aro-spec and a terrible overuse of the word “bosom”. I would have appreciated the idea coming to mind sooner than Tuesday night, but, on the positive side, I have a complete 7k first draft written in three days despite more pain than I like (because I am not recovered from Kit March, of course). I think that’s the fastest I’ve ever, without stopping, written a complete story like that; more often, I write, get distracted by something else in the middle and finish the story days, weeks or months later.

I want to publish it properly, because it works wonderfully as a prequel for Love is the Reckoning, but I’ll post it here sometime before Halloween regardless of its polishing. I think having a friend, the fabulous @crimsonsquare, encourage me on its progress has helped me be able to sit and work to get it done. It’s easier to write when I feel like someone not me is interested in the story…

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