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 accountrements 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.

Cover credits: [OpenClipart-Vectors] (stock images) and [VAGDesign] (typeface).

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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Short Fiction: Old Fashioned

Cover image for K. A. Cook's "Old Fashioned: an Amelia March Story". Cover has a vector image cartoony style picture of a bedroom with rough-made furniture--bed, stool, chest of drawers, a shelf. Magical items like bone amulets, glowing mushrooms and spell bottles are hanging from or sitting on the shelf. The title and author credit are written in red and white handwritten type.Amelia March is tired of suitors breaking into her house after dark to express their undying love. Sure, it might be the fashion, but whatever happened to getting to know someone first? Why won’t they listen to her when she says she isn’t interested? And what does it mean that her cousin Kit thinks there’s a word for her approach to romantic relationships?

Old Fashioned is a story about finding words and the importance of fake cobwebs in the windows.

This is another rewrite of mine, since the original version was written long before I knew that aromanticism was a thing. It was meant to be a slightly snarky take on romance tropes, but it was actually an awkward mess of a story about a character who should have been aro-spec written by an unknowingly aro author. Besides, rewriting Old Fashioned meant that I could properly fit it into the Kit March canon.

Rewriting this also spawned another Amelia story I’ll be editing and formatting, where Kit ends up on her doorstep after returning from the Greensward with a brand new foot, a sword of some significant provenance, a girl called Osprey as his companion and a plan to get revenge on the elves by teaching magic to autistic students. So I don’t think anyone will mind too much about these tangential forays…

Readers should note that this takes place forty years before [The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March] and twenty-six years before [Certain Eldritch Artefacts].

I also posted this on my Tumblr [@eldritchesoterica] for the #AggressivelyArospectacular event hosted by [@aggressivelyarospec], in case you prefer reading in a web browser or just want to check out more aromantic creativity.

The original version of the story, where Amelia isn’t intentionally autistic and aromantic (and Kit isn’t present), can be found in [Crooked Words]. The new and expanded version can be found at the links below:

Vendors: [Smashwords]

Formats: [PDF] | [EPUB]

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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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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Wanted: an audience

Before I begin, a tangent.

Last time I got wordy, you may remember, I wrote about geek feminism. Or feminist geekism. Either way.

Three weeks after writing that post, I went to the Sunday pre-release event for Battle for Zendikar (the latest Magic the Gathering release). As I was early, as the shop was quiet, and as I’d almost finished my current creation on the way up, I got out my girly-decorated game box, my play mat … and a sewing box, a Barbie and a Barbie-size skirt I’d made out of an old bandanna that needed a hook fastener to finish. If I can sew on the train and on the platform, heedless of what people think about my stashing half-nude Barbies in my bag, I can sew in a game shop, right?

The first thing I was asked by an arriving player, one who knew I was there to pre-release (it’s a verb): Did you bring any decks with you?

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Fiction: Their Courts of Crows

Genre: Fantasy

Word Count: 4, 200 words

Content: The aftermath of and discussion about battle, war, transphobia, murder (it’s complicated), death, familial violence and familial conflict; also modern necromancy, modern zombies, a battered warrior prince and one hell of a mother.

Author’s Note: I don’t know about the habits of non-Australian eagles, so just in case this is a phenomenon that only makes sense to Australian readers: wedge-tail eagles (Aquila audax) are often seen by yours truly (as someone who has travelled around a great deal of mainland Australia) on the ground or perched on a fence/trees/telephone poles surrounded by a few, several or even an entire murder of crows.

This story happened because I was pondering the Evil Necromancer And Her Hordes Of The Risen Dead trope, a la Magic the Gathering’s Liliana Vess. It’s been a while since I’ve written a short story that doesn’t involve Steve and Abe, never mind a short story that’s not fluffy, so I thought I’d post it here in my quest to get back to Doing Things That Scare Me. It’s rather rough and I’ll probably go back and edit it later, but I want to get back into posting things.

Also, I’m well aware that necromancy in its traditional meaning is to tell the future via communing with the dead, and you bet I make a comment on that in my novel-in-progress, but since the archetype I’m playing with is very much Liliana Vess, I’m merely making this comment to be that fantasy writer.

(Although I haven’t been not posting from avoidance as much as I’ve just been sick, hurting and completing the first draft of every way-longer-than-anticipated short story in Three Live Mice. Half of which is even finished to just needing a final line edit. Go me.)

He wriggles up to the ridgeline and peers over. The battlefield stretches across the valley, a mess of trampled earth, broken bodies and rent banners that looks nothing like the gentle farmland of his memory. There should have been paddocks of green wheat and golden canola bordered by post-and-rail fences and sourgrass flourishing on the verge of the road; there should have been brown-and-white cows chewing cud, girls carrying baskets and farmers driving wagons. Now the river runs red and brown around the abandoned bodies of horses and men; arrows and spears, broken and whole, stick up into the sky, forming grave markers and perches for wedge-tail eagles and their courts of crows. Fences sag beside the blackened ruins of farmhouses and sheds, and although Paide is now too far away to hear, the screams and groans of wounded horses and men trying to rise from their muddy graves will haunt his nightmares—do haunt his nightmares.

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