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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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 nearly 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 recommend reading the reworked edition of this story, available on WordPress and Patreon.

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: September 14

In the last fortnight, I’ve written twenty-eight thousand words on Birds of a Feather. It isn’t the reason why I didn’t put a post up last week–medical appointments and my birthday were the reason–but it is the reason why I didn’t work on the post earlier in the week, knowing that I had things going on which would likely stop me from posting. A complete 40k first draft, though, is worth it to me, and the time spent writing meant I didn’t have enough links for last week’s post anyway, so…

In personal news, I am yearning for the chance to have a proper shower. I’ve got stitches right where my thigh and hip meet, which is proving an inconvenient spot for conventional and commercial-but-affordable ways of sealing a wound against water. They should be coming out tomorrow and I’m praying that the wound will be okay to risk getting slightly damp after that. Showering as quickly as possible with my leg poking out is awkward, and not washing my hair every day (to try and limit showering time) is driving me to distraction. I’m sure this will sound quite privileged, but small changes like the amount of oils in my hair bother me. I can feel the oils left by someone else’s hands on my Tangle after they’ve touched it, so I can definitely feel two days’ worth of oil in my hair. Since short hair is a stim toy attached to my body for stimming convenience and I’m always running my hands through it, I badly want it back to its usual daily-washed state.

On the positive side, I have a new bout of lived experience to fuel a few fictional characters. Not that it was necessary, but I suppose there’s something to be said for fresh realism. I’ll now have Tes pacing back and forth because the stitches across hir palm won’t stop itching

Photo – My Gaming Gear and Unicorn Squishies: In which I show off my gaming box, my Meren of Clan Nel Toth playmat and two unicorn squishies, still trapped in their cling-wrap packaging, watching over proceedings. I started going for viewed-as-feminine colours and decorations for my gaming things as a protest, because I had girls come into my old job afraid to pick out pink card sleeves from fear they’ll be mocked or harassed. Being misgendered because of it wasn’t comfortable, but I do feel there was worth in showing that gaming accessories don’t have to be masculine-coded.

Teaser Post – The Performance Magician: In which I post a scene from the first draft of the aforementioned work. Read this if you want spoilers for Amelia’s feline naming philosophy, more of March’s passive-aggressive renaming of elfish people and creatures, why Darius named his pony after the swordseller in Certain Eldritch Artefacts and hints of how Efe is going to drive Darius into throwing a dictionary at the wall. I will confess that Darius’s irritation at words being used the wrong way is mine, and I am also hypocritical enough to not mind when I do it…

Photo – My Redecorated Notebooks: I was given some rainbow washi tape for my birthday, so I covered a notebook and three scratch pads in stripes of bright washi tape. It was nice having an afternoon to be crafty in a way that isn’t writing.

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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 King of Gears and Bone

Cover image of The King of Gears and Bone by K. A. Cook. Cover has a waterstained paper background with grey line drawings of the bones of a human hand and wrist, a head of wheat, an acorn, a small dandelion head, a long-legged wire-haired dog and an arrow, with the title written in alternating serif and handdrawn type. The effect is something like a sketch in an antique journal.In a nation of liars, an honest man cannot rule.

Einas ein Iteme knew he wasn’t a princess. That first truth provoked violence, murder and war, leaving him the heir to the throne of Ihrne—a throne he doesn’t want and can’t hold. How can he when he struggles to put words together, won’t look courtiers in the eye and avoids people on general principle? Yet the Eyrie, even Zaishne, simply assumes Ein will find a way to become the allistic ruler he can never be.

When his brother Paide invites him to a private discussion, Ein sees a chance to voice the second truth. Paide, though, keeps secrets of his own—and doesn’t seem to recognise the fate bound to him by hundreds of devouring angels.

To begin to save Paide’s soul, Ein will have to learn what the world never stirred itself to teach: trust.

Vendors: [Smashwords]

Formats: [PDF] | [EPUB]

Length: 12, 500 words / 43 pages.

Master Page: The Eagle Court | Beginning: Their Courts of Crows | Previous: A Prince of the Dead.

Please note that The King of Gears and Bone explores familial abuse, so I recommend reading the included content advisory if this might be a concern.

The King of Gears and Bone takes place in the evening of the same day as A Prince of the Dead. This is also the book that gives some explanation as the reasoning behind Ihrne’s names, along with more detail on Ihrne’s religion and the Convocation’s relationship with their necromancers. Curious fact nobody asked for: there’s no such thing as a shroudname in Ihrne, and I should write a short side fic where Amelia and Kit learn that everybody they’ve met in Ihrne has just given a witch and a magician access to their real names.

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Survival of Naming

My mother, most of the time, can’t remember my real name.

It doesn’t matter how many times I correct her. She isn’t good at remembering things. The birth name, legal name, dead name, the name that I never speak or use myself, slides from her lips, and she never sees me wince. If I do protest, if I correct her, if I show exasperation or annoyance, she gets angry. I know her reasoning: she has a bad memory. It isn’t fair that I expect her to remember a name that isn’t the name she chose for me, isn’t the name she gave me at birth, isn’t the name ingrained in her understanding of the person I am. It’s too hard, too much, to ask her to think something that isn’t there in her own head.

Sometimes I feel strangled, as an autistic person who knows with painful understanding what it means to forget names. I should be more understanding, shouldn’t I?

But it’s my name. It isn’t even as though I’ve changed it to something wildly different: I’ve just hacked off six letters. Why is that so hard to remember?

Her anger works. It holds me rigid and silent. There’s no point in correcting if she’ll only yell at me for being an ungrateful arsehole who isn’t considerate of her memory struggles. She’s patient with me, isn’t she? So why can’t I be with her?

Here I am, strangled again.

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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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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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A Philosophy of Natural Movement, Part 1

This is a long multi-part essay on the experience of being autistic, the process of gaining the label, and the nightmare (especially the last two years, especially especially the last nine months) it’s been being an undiagnosed autistic person being treated for depression, anxiety and chronic pain in the Australian healthcare system.

So, of course, I’m going to start with my ongoing love affair with metal music.

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