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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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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Linkspam Friday: August 17

This week, for various reasons, my anxiety has edged far too close to intolerable. Much of my response to it involves my trying to minimise the outward appearance of said anxiety, which saves me from judgement but denies me the release of expressing it. I’m falling apart so terrifically inside this membrane of skin while Western society is structured in such a way that I have limited ability to safely voice this experience outside it. Not only do I have to survive the pain of a brain that is disabling me, I have to survive both the lack of support this disability gets and that lack making it difficult to try and talk even to those few willing to listen.

In a way the ordinariness of anxiety, as something so common a significant percentage of people suffer it at least at one time, makes it difficult for those of us with severe forms (especially severe forms complicated by other diagnoses, like autism) to be acknowledged and treated as such. In therapy, I’m more often handed things that work for people with mild to moderate anxiety, with the expectation that’s all that’s needed to help me. The psychologists think I’m not trying hard enough, while I don’t feel seen or understood. I’m going back to a normal psychology program to be treated for my current peak of anxiety (this way I don’t have to ring or email anyone, just show up) but I am anxious (oh hear the bitter laughter) that this is going to be another disaster with another psychologist who treats my anxiety as moderate and ignores the autism.

I’ve had a good psychologist in the mix, and I like my current psychiatrist a lot, but that hasn’t erased my trauma. In many ways, it makes me feel that my trauma response is invalid or absurd. I know good medical professionals exist, so why do I panic so much about seeing them? Why can’t I trust that a new one will also be good? But I do and I can’t. New medical professionals terrify me, especially new mental health medical professionals.

I’m thinking about pausing my current projects to work on Ein’s next story (the sequel to The King of Gears and Bone). It might be more distressing than is good for me: that story cut far too close to the bone to write even at a time when I felt (more) stable. It might also give me a way of talking through my character at a time when I am so silenced. I’m feeling the pitch of anxiety, distrust and isolation, so if I must endure this again, perhaps I should make what use of it I can by channelling it into my character.

It’s not as though I’m accomplishing anything off my to-do-list right now, so if writing that out gives me somewhere to go with it all, maybe that won’t be a bad thing.

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Fiction: The Wind and the Stars

Cover for "The Wind and the Stars" by K. A. Cook. Cover shows a night-time scene of black, silhouette-style tree branches against a cloudy sky with a full moon, a lighter halo of cloud surrounding it, in the top centre of the cover. The title text, in white serif and antique handdrawn-style type, is framed by three white curlicues, and a fourth curlicue borders the author credit at the bottom of the cover.True love’s kiss will break any spell. Always be kind to wizened crones. The youngest son is most favoured by wise foxes and crows. Princes save princesses from beastly dragons and towers overgrown with briar brambles. A happily ever after always involves a wedding…

The Wind and the Stars is a short aro-ace fairy tale about heroes, love, adulthood and the worlds we make in the stories we tell.

Vendors: [Smashwords]

Formats: [PDF] | [EPUB]

Length: 1, 309 words / 4 pages.

Content advisory: Please note that this story contains non-explicit sexual references. It’s also a story about storytelling, so it refers to common fairy tale structures that contain misogyny, heterosexism and amatonormativity, along with depicting society’s unquestioning reaction to these structures. There’s no romance beyond the mention of other characters in romantic relationships. It’s also written in second person.

Note the first: This wasn’t meant to be a thing. I was walking to an appointment while an idea popped into my head. Since I liked how it read after I’d finished scribbling (while sitting in the waiting room), and since there’s nothing stopping me from editing, formatting and designing a digital book, well…

Words, the right ones, can tell you who you are.

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Fiction: The Adventurer King

Cover image for The Adventurer King by K. A. Cook. Cover features a red leather-bound journal sitting on a wood panel background, like that of a tabletop or floor, with the text sitting on top of the book image in a gold fantasy-style handdrawn type. Objects sit on top of the book cover: a blue pen with a gold nib dripping ink, a screwed-up piece of white paper, a cream scroll with a green seal, a cream and silver compass, and a piece of rope. A grey single-edged sword blade sits underneath the book, and black handdrawn type atop the blade reads "an efe and darius story". The images have a cartoony, vectory feel.Seven years ago, Darius Liviu met a talking sword belt in the Great Souk, an eldritch being who changed his life forever. In that time, he has learnt something of the sword, mastered strange magic and survived dangerous jobs, but while he has friends in Rajad, he still feels out of place—too divergent to be welcomed and accepted as mercenary and magician.

When an unexpected meeting with potential employers goes wrong, his first instinct is to flee. But a wandering monarch, Efe Kadri, has an offer that might provide the certainty for which Darius has been searching, if only he has the courage to say yes…

Vendors: [Smashwords]

Formats: [PDF] | [EPUB]

Length: 11, 350 words / 40 pages.

This is the last of the Marchverse rewrites, aside from, eventually, Kit March itself. At the moment, I have the bones of a story that comprises the first half of Darius and Efe’s doings in Ashad, and an earlier story, now called Blood and the Ravens, that will cover Darius’s beginnings with Eren Adalet and show his connections with the Ravens, because that is going to become more important later on. There’s a wealth of story material in Darius’s years with Efe and Aysun should I ever find myself at a want for more to write, but I see The Adventurer King as the first in a rough trilogy of novelettes that form the beginning of Darius and Efe’s relationship, and then I’d like to stop for a little while.

In terms of timeline, The Adventurer King takes place seven years after Certain Eldritch Artefacts and seven years before Tes arrives at the College. Darius has been six years a student and one year a mercenary.

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Maker

Cover image for K. A. Cook's 'The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March'. Vector/cartoon styling of a creepy folly/shack/treehouse with various gothic accoutrements and a crow or raven perched on the roof. Folly is surrounded by more vector images of trees, bushes and scrub set on a cartoony green-hill background. Typeface for author and title credit is white stroked with black. The whole thing is very flat/one-dimensional and looks like a still from an 80s cartoon.Tes Alden, collector of words, rescuer of books and counter of objects, knows ze isn’t like everyone else. This wouldn’t be such a problem if everybody else didn’t struggle with it. Hir mother prays a run-down school in the middle of nowhere may be the best place to stow hir brand of peculiarity, and Tes has nowhere better to go.

Darius Liviu lost a limb and his lover in the hell of Mul Dura. He spent the last three months as a guest of the Greensward, crafting a jointed hand from elf-sung wood and trying to ignore the mutterings of the ghost that haunts him. Now, he returns to the College to take up the second-most dangerous job open to a magician: teaching.

Tes just might be a magician in the making, if ze can survive adventures in alliterative magic and hir own lethal curiosity. Darius, though, keeps a secret that makes the usual problems of overgrown rhubarb, basilisk hordes, verbose eldritch objects, shrieking purple monkeys and cauliflower explosions look like nothing at all.

The elves are coming, and nobody fears elves more than Kit March.

Maker: Darius chose Tes’s presence over his health, a gift for which books, stones and homewares are no just recompense. How can ze repay a magician when ze isn’t sure, despite his words, that ze still belongs at the College?

Chapter count: 10, 415 words.

Content advisory: Darius uses the word “cripple” to describe himself in a way that’s more self-hatred than reclamation and “crippling” to describe the loss of his hand. Tes thinks hirself wrong for being aro-ace, which is debunked in non-subtle references to the stereotype of autistics being perceived as incapable of love by allistics. Both use “broken” to refer to themselves. There are also discussions of blood magic, sacrifice and the gnomes used as weapons/torture devices. It’s implied over several paragraphs that the Lord mutilated Darius as a means of imprisoning a multi-disciplined magic worker via limiting his ability to pay for magic. Tes’s statement about Darius no longer being a soldier is also cruel and ableist to say to a disabled man, but ze doesn’t realise this. Also, I reference sexual assault, ableism and allosexism in my first note.

Note the first: These days, I’m ace. Pan aro-ace. I suspect I feel aesthetic attraction, miscategorised as sexual because that’s what society says you’re supposed to feel. Unfortunately, being a-spec, autistic and otherwise disabled is an uncomfortable thing with activists using the words “desexualisation” and “dehumanisation” to deny me representation and the visibility/knowledge it gives. If I’d known I was aro-ace, I wouldn’t have found myself trying to perform the cisheteronormative and amatonormative relationships that put me—an autistic who struggles to communicate no in ways allistics hear and respect—in violating situations. It matters to me that Tes gets words sooner rather than later, and it matters to me to be able to show a journey through Darius that isn’t immediate recognition of one’s aromanticism, a belated recognition coloured by an autistic’s position in navigating social norms.

Note the second: Yes, the words “asexual” and “aromantic” don’t fit the linguistic approach used for other terms in narrative. (Although there is a point in the construct of “same” (cis) and “similar” (allistic) as used by trans autistics, namely that autism and gender for us are inseparable; I haven’t yet had the space to show how this language is seldom used by allistic trans people.) I find there is some awareness of “autism” and “trans” (for all that we autistics know the dangers of awareness) when I speak them to others, but “asexual” was only recently added to the dictionary. Hence, I decided to use the real words, representation over consistency, as they’re too seldom spoken even when we do exist as characters. (Although “autism” as a word does exist in Amelia’s medical texts, and should my shoulder let me work on Conception, you’ll find out why Amelia and Kit don’t use it.) In the rewrite, I probably won’t use fantastic terms at all: if a horse is called a horse in fantasy, and a sword a sword, a trans person can be called a trans person. It says something about being trans (internalised cissexism) that I did feel, on starting to write this, that it is too modern a word to work, but why should it be?

Maybe you’ll know, one day, that memory names.

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