Short Fiction: Their Courts of Crows

Cover image of "Their Courts of Crows" by K. A. Cook. The top half of the cover shows a black silhouette of a tree branch crossed with a longsword, with three crows taking flight around the branch. The bottom half has the text "their courts of crows" in a white fine sans-serif type in a black box above "k. a. cook" in black text on the cover's white background.Prince Paide ein Iteme has lost his father, his family, his people and his home to a conquering necromancer queen and her armies of the risen dead. A last horrific battle sees him forced to discuss surrender, but that conversation is no small amount complicated when said conquering necromancer is his mother. Who might not have been entirely wrong in her overthrow of Paide’s father… 

Genre: fantasy, short story, queer, free

Length: approximately 5 000 words / 20 pages

Formats: PDF | EPUB | MOBI

Vendors: Smashwords

This is a re-write/edit of a short story I posted to this blog a couple of years ago. It’s also the first thing I’ve published, in the sense of uploading it upon where other people might stumble, since my depression/pain/suicidal ideation worsened over two years ago. Oddly enough, it’s also been about a year since I really started writing and blogging again. I’ve had who knows how many panic attacks over deciding to do this–I don’t know how clear it is to others that writing knowing that other people may read it terrifies me, an anxiety that hasn’t gotten any better over this last year of trying to get back to doing some things again. (You know how psychologists say that if you just try and do something, it gets easier each successive time? I’ve never once experienced this. I’m sure this is a myth. It has to be a myth.) Everything I post on this blog of late is done through a haze of hand-shaking, heart-pounding terror, and while editing something I’ve already posted shouldn’t have been too scary, should is the operative word.

(All I can say is that being a creative with anxiety is an experience I won’t give to my worst enemy.)

But here it is, a book. Well, a short story, packaged like a digital book. I recommend reading this version, if you haven’t read it already, as there’s greater clarity about Paide’s position and–I hope–fewer wonky sentences. I also hope this is the beginning of going back to edit and format the many, many things languishing on my harddrive.

Unlike most things I write these days, this story doesn’t have a trans and autistic protagonist. Paide is pan and he isn’t neurotypical, but this is one of the few stories I’ve written purposefully for cis readers. A trans character is the motivation for both cis protagonists, but this story is really about being a good cis ally. And in one case, a cis ally with a horde of zombies.

Like most things I write these days, there’s no romance.

This is also set in the Kit March universe, and it may have a little something to do with a forthcoming side plot, if we use the word “plot” with a certain degree of looseness.

(File format note: if you prefer PDF files, please use my PDF link and not the Smashwords PDF. Smashwords is great for distribution, but a text document formatted for EPUB conversion makes a horrific PDF. My MOBI file also doesn’t have the awful added/additional TOC at the front, too. Actually, I’d honestly recommend only using Smashwords for their EPUB format. Everything else loses aesthetic as it goes through Meatgrinder.)

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The Age of Mindfulness

Today I found a half-size water bottle. I bought it because my full-size water bottles (one green, one purple) are too heavy for me to carry in my satchel, because it was only a dollar fifty, and because it was green and purple. This bottle also just happened to have the coolest spin-up twist top, at which point I stood in front of the heater for a few moments just twisting the top open and closed, so I now own an item that is both useful for reasons unrelated to the attraction of the spinning top and a colourful stealth stim toy. Thank you, Sistema. If your stuff weren’t so ridiculously expensive most of the time, I’d buy more of it.

So I’m standing in front of the heater twisting this top in wild joy at the discovery that this water bottle top is an ideal out-of-the-house fidget nobody will take askance because I’m always that person with a water bottle … and also just because it’s really fun to see the purple nozzle pop up out of the green base.

My mistake lies in mentioning my enjoyment to the person in the lounge room with me.

“You’re just a big kid, aren’t you?”

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Know Me for a Little: The Heroic Protagonist

I’ve been trying to articulate, for a friend, the problem I’m finding in the depiction of a protagonist who does not appear, some sixty thousand words in, to be on the path of personal change.

This is a vague accusation to be levelling. I’d be heartbroken, though, if someone told me that, after sixty thousand words, my characters still read as the same people they were at the beginning of the story. (Heartbroken, and then looking at what I can do to fix that, but heartbroken nonetheless.) How can I not be, when I spent so much time with these fictional people, when they are different facets of me, when I breathed life into the words that comprise them?

I’ve heard, many times, that a good heroic protagonist doesn’t end the story the way they began it.

What does that even mean, though? Why is it important?

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Not Only the Label

Before I came back to writing and posting it here (for me a profoundly terrifying thing) I was considering whether or not I should just build a new website from scratch. I’ve got a lot more .org experience now, thanks to my work on the Twilight School website, and I would definitely have fun building my own self-hosted blog where the CMS allows me more control over certain elements and I’m not constrained by a client’s finances and design requirements.

There were two reasons why I was contemplating this.

One was that the Twilight School is sponsored by the Salesian College Sunbury, and I’m so far out of the closet I’ve lost the way back to Narnia. Maybe it would be safer to have an online identity that’s a teensy bit less, well, queer?

This is now irrelevant, since I’ve outed myself to the Twilight School community and the world hasn’t imploded. In point of fact, I experienced the entirely underwhelming reaction of … nothing. Man, when I’m steeling myself up to cop homophobia that might even extend to the loss of my job, it’s bewildering to then experience silence. Good, certainly, and I hope this is the beginning of interactions with people of Christian faith who are, if not accepting, at least considerate enough to keep their beliefs about my legitimacy as a human being to themselves, but bewildering.

(I’ve also been sitting on a post about how community does in fact comprise those of us who dare to be queer, and any school promoting their community outreach initiatives doesn’t get to pick and choose which parts of the community are welcome, which is something like being all dressed up with nowhere to go.)

The other was … well, most of the things I’m feeling and exploring right now aren’t all that queer, taken in a separatist/isolationist view that denies the importance and relevance of intersectionality. I’ve been asked to write a piece about turning points for a publication, and while my first thought was to write about the subtlety of turning points, I’m actually thinking that what I’m feeling right now is the turning point encapsulated in the word “autism”.

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All The Puzzle Pieces, Please

I have a roller bag/trolley. It’s a battered railway-issue bag I’ve had for a little over a year, and it goes almost everywhere I go. People comment on it as though it’s funny: they can’t imagine why I need to take it everywhere.

I consider it an accessibility aid for anything that involves leaving the house.

I have things I need to take everywhere with me. My wrist and thumb splints, because my pain is something I can’t plan, and being in pain at work without a splint is a nightmare. A thick hooded jumper, because my hypersensitivity to cold means that waiting at railway platforms at night is agonising. A woollen, hooded scarf, ditto. A large tub of Play-Doh, for stimming. A bottle of water, for timetabled and non-timetabled medication. An umbrella, because I live in Geelong/Melbourne where we can get five seasons in a single day. Lunch, if I’m going to work, because I can’t afford to just buy two meals a working day on the hours I get.

I’ve also got optional things I take everywhere with me, like my netbook (I use all time I spend on trains), deck boxes and a dice bag (you never know when you might run into someone and regret not having a deck on you), a playmat (this makes it so much easier for me to pick cards, even sleeved cards, up off the table) and other odds-and-ends (wet and dry tissues, nail scissors, deodorant, a tape measure because the Warhammer players never bring their own and sometimes the store one gets lost). Yes, I have the bloody kitchen sink, but you’d be amazed at all the times someone has needed something I just happen to have.

I also have a rainbow-striped satchel over my shoulder for absolutely-bloody-essential things like wallet, headphones (I need something to drown out the noises made by other people/traffic/trains), coin purse, meds, bandaids, notepad and pen. A satchel bag where I can just reach in without pulling the bag off a shoulder and unzipping is so much better than a backpack, even if a backpack is less gendering.

I also need, quite simply, a place to put anything I buy.

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A Dialogue in Good Faith

I haven’t said it here, yet – there are a great many things I’m yet to speak about here on the matter of finding my way back to myself – but I started freelance work this year designing event flyers and administrating the Twilight School website.

The Twilight School, run by Bruno Lettieri (of Rotunda fame, one of the most amazing and generous people that ever lived) is the community outreach project of the Salesian College Sunbury. The Salesian College sponsors something quite unique: an after-hours education service providing classes, guest speakers and other community events, at low-cost, for the Sunbury community. Most of these conversations involve literary personages and community health workers, and the classes run from cooking to writing and gardening to photography. The Twilight School also sponsors the Good Man Project, which is about fostering and developing healthy and open emotional dialogue with, between and among men. Barn Owl Journal is another of Bruno’s pet projects for getting creative writing out into the community, and you can read the current issue here.

(For an event example, you can go and see actor, comedian and writer John Clarke this month for $10 plus drinks, and all you need to do is bring a plate of food for the communal table. We’re talking an evening with a seriously famous, at least in Australia and New Zealand, seriously clever satirist for $10 and however much it costs you to bring a plate of sandwiches or cake. If you’re in Melbourne and this interests you, book now, because places are filling up. If I were living anywhere reasonably close to Sunbury at the moment, I’d go.)

I can’t overstate how important this sort of thing is. The Twilight School is offering and allowing real connection, expression and education in a world where the privileged have an infinite number of avenues in which to communicate yet we are still discouraged from being honest and vulnerable in the company of others.

(When your feminist goddess of a friend is telling you that she’s not sure she should have written about her experiences with depression and anorexia because it’s not appropriate to tell that kind of intimate story, on her own damn website no less, we have a problem with communication.)

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The Agency of Hardwiring

A friend sent me this article on the correlation between transgender identities and autism spectrum disorders. (Please read on before clicking.) I don’t ever want to say that being trans is an autistic thing – although it happens that all the trans people I know are also autistic, which is a bias most likely explained by the habit of like-minded people flocking together – but when I look at the significant amount of non-binary (which, I remind everyone, is a transgender identity) autistic bloggers, I’m all for acknowledgement. It meets my lived experience, after all.

What I didn’t quite expect was some scientific bullshit about “extreme male brain” and lack of empathy used to rationalise the existence of binary trans-masculine autistics, i.e. the assumption that female-designated autistics are “more masculine” in brain function and therefore it’s reasonable for many of them to be trans men. This invalidates every conversation I’ve ever had with another autistic person (whom I generally find to be more empathetic towards me than the average neurotypical), ignores the fact that autistic trans women exist and furthers an assumption that often denies female-designated people diagnosis (because if we’re not autistic in ways commonly expressed by men, we’re not seen as autistic). It also comes with a massive misunderstanding/mislabeling of the trans experience and forgets, entirely, about non-binary people when it’s not contributing to even more gendering. It’s okay; we non-binary folk are used to not existing. It’s the story of our lives.

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