Fiction Round Up: April / May / June

The combination of changes to my medication and life under lockdown has made it difficult for me to put words to document, especially in the world of fiction.

I have long learnt, however, that it matters less what or how I create as long as I still create. Even if I’m not doing what I want to do, or feel I should be doing, I’m not losing the habit and discipline of creating. I’m still in touch with the faith that I can take a blank canvas and conclude with something new. I’m still developing skills, exploring ways to improve; my brain isn’t lying fallow. It’s just that I’ve shifted to an art easier for me to manage in present circumstances: cross stitch.

An assortment of cross stitch patches with wide hand-embroidered borders in rectangluar and square shapes. Patches include various aromantic-spectrum flags in straight and zigzag lines, text patches "alloaro" and "aroace", arrow patches, patches with pan/ply hearts atop the allo-aro flag, dragon patches in flag colours and a calligraphic style letter A in aro colours.These last few months have earnt me callused fingertips and an explosion in my cross stitch patch collection, along with a few handmade cards and kit projects. (Also chronic thumb pain. It’s like seeing an old disliked acquaintance, since I’ve spent the last year being annoyed by my left wrist, right shoulder, left hip and back. Hello again, my wonky right thumb!) I’ve finally figured out French knots! I’ve learnt a few more border stitches! I’ve fallen deep in like with a size 26 tapestry needle!

New tutorials include aro text patches, aro arrow patches and a variety of heart-shaped patches. I’m most proud of my arrows, but I’m delighted that I’ve figured out non-square/non-rectangular patches. I like the challenge of working within the pixel-like limitations of an even-weave cloth like aida to create simple shapes; it appeals to me, although I can’t contextualise why, more than freehand embroidery.

Around and between the cross stitch, I’m finding shorter pieces easier to manage and produce at the moment. Given that I once found the prospect of writing a two thousand word fiction assignment an exercise in cruel and unnatural restriction, this amuses me!

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Fiction Round Up – February / March

In December 2019, I felt that Christmas was the worst time of year for a person of Dutch heritage to also be a coeliac.

In March 2020, with pandemic-fuelled grocery shortages and a constant fear of will I have enough food to eat if we’re quarantined for two weeks because ordering in gluten-free restaurant food in my region isn’t an option, I have been proved hilariously naive. I laugh at myself now, because sighing over not eating speculaas or pfeffernüsse seems ridiculous in comparison! Do I have enough GF (gluten-free) pasta to go with my rice? I don’t know, but I’m yet to find it again at the supermarket! And so many things are still impossible to get, like frozen vegetables; even fresh vegetables are becoming impossibly expensive.

What do I eat when I can’t get two weeks’ worth of frozen veggies and rice? What do I eat when everyone has stocked up on rice cakes as a cheap shelf-stable food, even though they’re my normal lunch staple? What do I eat when dried beans and lentils, recommended by the internet as a wonder food I should be pursuing during food shortages, all bear “may contain gluten” warnings? Are supermarkets going to prioritise GF replacement foods the same way they’ll prioritise restocking the gluten-containing ones? Can they even get those that aren’t made in Australia, like several brands of GF pasta?

(Why is barley deemed such an essential component in soup mix? Do folks realise how many more foods would be open to me if we stopped adding barley and malt flavouring to things not otherwise containing wheat, rye or oats?)

There are many other things to fear right now, yes. Far too many of my relatives are in high-risk categories, for one. I am privileged enough to be able to worry about continuing to avoid gluten, when some coeliacs have long forgone that option; I am privileged enough that grocery shortages this severe are new to me. Nonetheless, dietary restrictions add a real component of anxiety when it comes to a pandemic, and it isn’t something I see folks discuss or even acknowledge in mainstream conversations about grocery shortages and accessibility.

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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 – 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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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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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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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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The Crew of Esher Hill: Absence of Language

Summary: Three months ago, Kit March abandoned his fiancé without even a note of explanation for a deserving man. Leaving Lauri should have brought him a wondrous freedom from the pressures of romantic expectation, so how does a talented magician end up performing flash magic for buttons and hairpins in Raugue’s worst tavern? Kit doesn’t know, and doesn’t care to think about it as long as he can keep drowning guilt in beer and spellworking, but when a stranger offers the word “aromantic” followed by a dangerous quest to the Gast, Kit may have more distraction than he can survive.

Word length: 7, 209 words.

Content advisory: Please expect depictions of or references to amatonormativity, allosexism, cissexism, heterosexism, depression, autistic-targeted ableism, alcohol and alcohol used as a coping mechanism for depression. This story takes place in Astreut where heterosexism and cissexism are endemic, but there’s also references to the way people see aromantics in particular as heartless or hateful. There’s also several non-explicit sex references, Kit’s use of sex as another coping mechanism, some casual references to and depictions of violence, and a heaping mountain of guilt.

Chronology: This chapter takes place three months after Ringbound, one month after Love is the Reckoning and a little under a year before Old Fashioned. The chronological order for these interconnected stories featuring both Esher and (young) Kit is The Sorcerous Compendium of Postmortem Query (Esher), Ringbound (Kit), Love is the Reckoning (Esher), The Crew of Esher Hill (Esher and Kit) and Old Fashioned (Kit, taking place after Kit’s return from the Gast). Please note that, as ever, Kit rarely meets a truth that he feels obliged to preserve for later taletelling.

Note the first: Welcome to the first chapter of The Crew of Esher Hill, a serial story about six trans, a-spec, neurodiverse folks on a quest into a weird part of the Marchverse, there to face monsters, find an artefact and learn to trust each other. Because Kit is the narrator and knows nothing about Esher, this chapter is readable if you haven’t read Love is the Reckoning. I’ll mention, however, that there is an unfinished story between this chapter and Love is the Reckoning, detailing the deal Esher makes with the Grey Mages. This chapter does not reveal all that goes down in the creation of this deal, but if you don’t want to read things out of order, I’d recommend waiting on reading this. If you’re desperate to know what happens in terms of Esher’s saving Mara, on the other hand, this will assuage some curiosity. Some.

(I am not sure on a posting schedule. Please don’t get excited about the spectre of new, regular content!)

Note the second: Some folks may remember that I posted Old Fashioned last year for @aggressivelyarospec’s #AggressivelyAroSpectacular. I liked the symmetry of this year posting the interaction that provoked the explanation Kit gave Amelia on the subject of aromanticism, so here it is. Old Fashioned kicked off for me the posting of twelve short works with aro-spec protagonists, so I want to say a huge thank you for starting me off on a year of aromantic fiction!

Awkward words spoken by a stranger shatter a lie so ordinary that Kit never stopped to question its falsehood.

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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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