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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2019 Fiction Master Post

I finished two of the pieces mentioned in last year’s master post. I suppose that’s an accomplishment, if we ignore all the name-dropped works that didn’t eventuate?

On the positive side, I’ve been somewhat-regularly posting fiction through the second half of this year. My mental health has been a disaster, I’ve got another new chronic pain site, I’ve tried several new medications, I’ve spent much of this year struggling to sleep even on melatonin, and I’ve had to kiss farewell anything containing gluten … but I have posted a score of stories. That’s something worth celebrating, even as I hope that I never again endure a year imbued with 2019’s chronic sense of despondency.

(I’m hoping that coeliac turns out to be the missing key in the mystery that is my ongoing physical and mental health, because I’m beyond tired of enduring yet another treatment or medication change for no meaningful difference.)

I’ve posted or published a total of 82, 318 words of fiction alone in 2019. I’ve also gotten back into sewing in a major way, between making clothes for my 6 inch mini dolls and pride-flag cross-stitch patches. (There’s even more on Tumblr.) I also made an allo-aro information hub on Aro Worlds, I started a Patreon, and I created Aro Arrows, an archive for aromantic-pride stock images. Making different things (so there’s something I can do when various limbs object to what I mean to do) is how I survive my body and brain, so to talk only in terms of productivity obscures the real pain and struggle 2019 also brought me. But there is also a wondrous selection of things I can say that I made!

(I also changed my pronouns, about which I still haven’t had the time or spoons to write.)

I’m currently working on tutorials for said patches and the publication edition of Love is the Reckoning, but I am desperate to start writing a story (any story) in which I can provide representation for coeliac. Like autism, I have to wonder what my quality of life may have been now had I known earlier–if my doctors hadn’t brushed off the possibility. Diagnosis, again, brings that twinned combination of belated recognition and betrayal. If I can bring awareness to coeliac through my writing in 2020, perhaps I can build a world where people can sooner recognise their symptoms and push for testing.

Thank you, as always, to my supporters: you are in large measure the reason why there’s so many fiction pieces on this list!

I would like, in 2020, to be able to make enough income from my online work that I can afford domain registration and add-free plans for all my websites. If you want to help me with that not-so-lofty goal, please check out my ko-fi and (again) my patreon.

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.Hallo, Aro: Friendship

Contains: A sapphic aromantic who wishes to partner a dragon’s handmaiden without the complications of a romantic relationship, but finds comfort in her friendship with her own dragon.

Length: 993 words / 4 PDF pages.

Why I liked writing it: There’s an aro-coded dragon…? I like the idea of aro characters finding support in platonic or non-romantic relationships, but I adore writing about aro characters finding support in platonic or non-romantic relationships with other aromantics.

Read after this: Attraction, where Elisa finds a girl and still has no intention of leaving her dragon.

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Fiction Round Up – July / August / September

Clearly doing this on a regular basis is a pipe dream, but it would be nice to periodically gather my recent pieces in the one spot.

Most Fridays, I post one of my free books to Patreon. These posts are public, so you don’t need to be a patron or subscriber to access and download. Through Patreon, I have something I’ve been wanting for a long time–a public-accessible, no-sign-up needed post capable of hosting all my book files. This way, nobody needs to make an account with a vendor to download the file or files of their choice (PDF, EPUB or MOBI) direct to their computer, phone or tablet.

It should be noted that every narrating protagonist here is somewhere on the aromantic spectrum and experiences some shape of sexual attraction.

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.Neuronormative: An autistic allosexual aromantic struggling to deal with the ways alloromanticism and aromanticism alike are binary, neuronormative ways of looking at the romantic attraction spectrum.

This is less fiction and more a slightly-creative take on non-fiction, but I wanted to give voice to the ways what is and isn’t romantic is tied to neuronormative assumptions. Even the construct of aromanticism itself feels neuronormative to me. I’ve long reached a point where I’ll use aro as a general term but my aromanticism is better described by words like arovague, nebularomantic and idemromantic. To not centre my neurodiversity as a component of my aromanticism is to fail to speak of my aromanticism at all.

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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Fiction: Loveless

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.When Paide ein Iteme says the words “I don’t love”, he doesn’t just refer to romantic relationships.

Content Advisory: Non-detailed references to war, violence, abuse, ableism, cissexism and suicidal ideation; depictions of heterosexism and heterosexist slurs/sex negative language.

Links: PDF | EPUB | MOBI | Patreon

(PDF, EPUB and MOBI files are also available for download from Patreon.)

Length: 1, 000 words / 4 PDF pages.

Note: I haven’t been posting all the Hallo, Aro stories here, but this piece takes place between A Prince of the Dead and The King of Gears and Bone. As it details a conversation important for events in The King of Gears and Bone, I wanted to be sure folks didn’t miss it.

I always planned to elaborate on Paide’s statement of love later in the series (and have done so in the drafts of the sequel novel, Birds of a Feather). The need for empowering, sympathetic fictional representation of loveless aros and aros with complicated relationships to love provoked me to tell this shorter version of the story now. Seeing the aromantic community’s excitement over posts and stories that stress all aros love in some way or are never without love leaves me fairly alienated from my own. I can’t seem to say it often enough or well enough in essay format for my fellow aros to remember that love isn’t what makes us human, so let’s try it in fiction.

(To be clear: aros who love non-romantically are great! Hell, I write about this myself! Aros who insist that we all love, on the other hand? Aros who write stories on the premise that loving non-romantically is an inherent part of being aromantic as opposed to being one of many shapes of aromanticism? Not so great.)

I wanted a character with a background of abuse and disregard wielded by those who love him, a character who is neurodiverse, a character who isn’t faultless but can’t be mistaken for an antagonist. A character telling the world something of what it can mean to be loveless–and why it doesn’t have to be a tragedy.

Little does this world hate more than a loveless man, save perhaps a loveless woman.

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Fiction: 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. It is readable if you haven’t read Reckoning, but I do suggest reading Query first. I spend little time rehashing the story of the night that Mara learnt about aromanticism from her great-aunt’s shade.

Content advisory: Much of this piece concerns the amatonormativity surrounding a real-world holiday, because unsubtle allegory is a wonderful thing. Please note that this story also includes a non-specific reference to an off-screen character’s suicide attempt and the ableism of the way people talk around mental illness. A character also uses the phrase “kill me” where we’d would use something like “fuck me” in keeping with the Sojourner’s followers’ regard of death. While I don’t explain it in text, it’s meant to be unholy awkward in keeping with the above. Dead Horse Hill’s religion is terrible at reconciling suicide with the way it frames and refers to death, and Esher talks more about this in the sequel to Love is the Reckoning.

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

Length: 3, 429 words / 10 PDF pages.

It’s a terrific exercise in redundancy, but some people find the words “no love spells” to be a bewildering subtlety.

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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: 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: 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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Fletcher Ace Preview: Magic and Mermaids

Magic and Mermaids: An expensive education and a growing eldritch library hasn’t helped Fletcher Ace, local witch, end the drought gripping the town of Shadowdale. The town council may have a better solution than waiting on hir magic, one that involves the selling of romance to people “out there”, but Fletch isn’t prepared for just how it will involve hir…

Word count: 7, 549 words.

Content advisory: Several references to amatonormativity in romance narratives and fairy tales; several descriptions of romantic and sexual behaviours, including kissing, in the context of these tales. No character, though, experiences sexual or romantic attraction. This story also depicts drought, which may bring this too close to home for some of my Aussie readers. There are also death mentions and references to the presumed, entirely-theoretical suicide of those older people who choose not to leave Shadowdale.

Setting: This takes place on the Stormcoast, a region north of Malvade on the Western side of the Straits, a good many years after Kit March. Other than a few place-name references, there is zero crossover with the other Marchverse works. Readers may like to know that Shadowdale follows the Eastern family contention of a child taking a parent’s use/common name as surname. (Fletch’s mother, therefore, is named Ace.) The conceit of Shadowdale is that everybody is aro-ace, but, just like talking corncobs, I don’t plan on explaining the why of this.

Note the first: Due to pain and multi-day migraines caused by my new desk set up, there’s no point in a linkspam post for this week. So I’ll combine everything next week and today post the first section of Fletcher Ace as a preview. Please note that this is not a final draft and I expect to make a few changes between this and the completed novella, but this section does have an ending in its own right.

Note the second: This story came into being because I am an annoyed, petty aro who decides to make a town of aro-ace in response to the common trend of television adaptations erasing the aro (and sometimes the aro-ace as well) from aro-ace characters. If you’d like to know more on my thought process and plans for this story, please check out the Fletcher Ace tag on @aroworlds. I will allow that this story has ended up taking the somewhat absurd concept of selling romance seriously, which may not work for all readers.

Stories preach the same cruel truth: romantic love pounds through artery and vein, as essential to life as air and water.

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