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 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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Linkspam Friday: March 1

Last week was Aromantic Awareness Week! If you’d like to see my posts and the awesome content I reblogged from other aro-spec creatives, it’s on the @aroworlds Tumblr under the #aaw2019 tag.

I’m also working on a post to discuss changing my pronouns from singular they to ze/hir, because the why of feeling unsettled by my former pronouns is something that needs more than a paragraph or two. For the moment, while I’ve a great many book files to update, I’d like to state that I am going by the ze/hir set. I’ll accept “they” as an auxiliary pronoun for people who can’t use ze/hir in spoken English, but as I don’t feel this set describes me, I’d appreciate it if folks avoid this in written English.

I’m not being misgendered, exactly; they still positions me as outside the female/male binary. But it also doesn’t now describe my shape of genderlessness, and since I’ve reasons to regard they (in my experience) as a sort of compromise or concession pronoun, I’m becoming uncomfortable with it. But I’ll save more of this for later…

(Aside from Tes in Kit March, Hallo, Aro: Unspoken and A Gift of Naming show this set in use from the perspective of the narrating protagonist. If you want to know the spoken pronunciation, I’ve been referring people to this mypronouns.org article.)

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Fiction: A Gift of Naming

Cover of A Gift of Naming by K. A. Cook. Cover shows cartoon-style tall-trunked trees growing on a green mountain slope with a high green canopy before a blue and grey clouded sky. Brushes and small green shrubs grow at the base of the trees in the foreground. Text is written in a white, handdrawn, fantasy-style type.Even in the best of circumstances, it’s no easy thing to tell the parent who named you that your name no longer fits.

Setting: A village in the lower Crackenbush Ranges, on the border of Greenstone and Astreut, a few hundred years before Kit March. Please check the digital book editions if you require an explanation on the Marchverse’s handling of heartnames and shroudnames.

Content advisory: References to cissexism, particularly as it surrounds a change of name, both historically and from the protagonist’s great-grandfather.

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

Length: 1200 words / 4 PDF pages.

Note the first: Mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans) is common in Victoria and Tasmania’s highlands, the world’s tallest flowering tree. By “fig” and “banyan” I mean the Moreton Bay fig (Ficus macrophylla), found in New South Wales and Queensland. I’ve seen both in the flesh, and, in my opinion, no human structure will ever match the awe inspired by the overwhelming immensity of these trees. There’s something intensely spiritual about walking under a path crowned by mountain ash that remains beyond my ability to describe or encapsulate.

Note the second: For Briar, chosen kin, who gave to me my own heartname.

If one’s parents provide a shirt that tears when tugged over their child’s shoulders, isn’t it cruelty to force the wearing, however well-intended the gift?

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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.

Links: PDF (read in browser)Patreon | Smashwords | Gumroad

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

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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Down the Rabbit Hole: The Language of Autistic Queerness

Increasingly, I’m feeling that there’s nothing about my identities as a queer person that can be separated from my feelings, experiences, world-view and personal sensibilities as an autistic.

Nothing.

I suspect that I’m queer because I’m autistic.

I don’t mean that people who aren’t cisgender, heterosexual and heteromantic must be autistic to be queer. I don’t mean that queerness is intrinsic to neurodiversity (although I will argue that neurodiverse people are more like to eschew cisheteronormativity and amatonormativity in a variety of ways). I’m trying to say that my identity as a queer person is complex, and most of that complexity, if not the entirety of it, exists because, as an autistic person, I have a loose, complicated relationship to many social norms and a body with very different requirements. In this case, I lack the deep, natural, unquestioned physical and emotional connections to experiences like sexuality and gender. That looseness provides space to think and question; it’s easy to reject normativity when you’ve only been anchored to it by the chafing, fraying twine of societal expectation. Even someone like me, trying desperately to perform allism (the state of being not autistic) and fearing the heaping of more difference on top the difference I repressed, still found it possible, over many years, to examine, test and accept labels that define and celebrate more of my differences. I still tried on labels like bisexual, lesbian, man; I still found labels like agender and queer.

The idea that a word like autism can group all the ways in which I have been different is new. I’m a baby autie, in terms of my space in the community, and I don’t deny it for a moment. I’ve been that kind of different all my life though, so the only arguable difference is that now I can retrospectively apply a word—autism—instead of the words I’m used to using, words like “weird” and “strange”. The real difference between me today and me of two, four, ten, fifteen years ago is that I now possess a word that owns, positively, my differences. I can own my autistic traits instead of shoving them to the background and pretending that they don’t exist from the fear that people will only like and accept me if I am half or less of the person I am. In spaces where I feel safe enough to use this word, I can deny nothing. I’m not broken. I’m autistic. I don’t think and feel like you, but I don’t wish to!

(There’s a price to pay for that difference of thought, being that I needs must live in a world not designed for me and experience a range of difficulties that are seldom accommodated or understood.)

This adopting of a new word does make visible to me, though, that there are many other things, including identities and complexities of those identities I am, that I have been pushing away because society tells me these things are abnormal.

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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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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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