Updates and Anticipatory Ramblings

I’ve recently formatted and published [Certain Eldritch Artefacts as its own book on Smashwords], which I won’t post about separately because it isn’t enough different from the version I already posted. Just a few continuity tweaks and the removal of anything grammatically awkward. My own PDF, EPUB and MOBI files are available for download on my new [short stories page], and clicking on the cover image will take you to a PDF you can read in your browser.

I really wanted to have a story about a trans autistic character that’s a little more tangible than “post on this blog”, and my recent med changes have apparently left me with enough motivation to make that happen.

Anyway, I know that professional writers tend to write updates about what they’re doing instead of vanishing for four months with a shoulder that doesn’t work and then throwing words on a website between ever lengthening increments of nothing. You know, the posting of regular content, even if said content isn’t anything other than a desperate suggestion or implication that there’ll be an ending three years from now if the chronic pain gods are kind.

I’m not a professional writer, as opposed to being a disabled queer with a blog, MS Word and an outdated copy of InDesign, but it’s reasonable that I attempt to imitate one. Occasionally.

The following is a list of things on which I am working that have half a hope of happening within a reasonable time frame. The things I still daydream of doing and haven’t entirely cast aside aren’t here, although if my recent med changes result in my being able to accomplish this list, I might add them. Please note that the hope of “happening within a reasonable time frame” will no doubt bear absolutely no relationship to the actual reality, so I recommend that you only get sceptical and pessimistic.

I’ve started rambling a little [on my Tumblr] about the things I’m working on, if anyone’s interested.

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Short Fiction: Their Courts of Crows

Cover image of "Their Courts of Crows" by K. A. Cook. The top half of the cover shows a black silhouette of a tree branch crossed with a longsword, with three crows taking flight around the branch. The bottom half has the text "their courts of crows" in a white fine sans-serif type in a black box above "k. a. cook" in black text on the cover's white background.Prince Paide ein Iteme has lost his father, his family, his people and his home to a conquering necromancer queen and her armies of the risen dead. A last horrific battle sees him forced to discuss surrender, but that conversation is no small amount complicated when said conquering necromancer is his mother. Who might not have been entirely wrong in her overthrow of Paide’s father… 

Genre: fantasy, short story, queer, free

Length: approximately 5 000 words / 20 pages

Formats: PDF | EPUB | MOBI

Vendors: Smashwords

This is a re-write/edit of a short story I posted to this blog a couple of years ago. It’s also the first thing I’ve published, in the sense of uploading it upon where other people might stumble, since my depression/pain/suicidal ideation worsened over two years ago. Oddly enough, it’s also been about a year since I really started writing and blogging again. I’ve had who knows how many panic attacks over deciding to do this–I don’t know how clear it is to others that writing knowing that other people may read it terrifies me, an anxiety that hasn’t gotten any better over this last year of trying to get back to doing some things again. (You know how psychologists say that if you just try and do something, it gets easier each successive time? I’ve never once experienced this. I’m sure this is a myth. It has to be a myth.) Everything I post on this blog of late is done through a haze of hand-shaking, heart-pounding terror, and while editing something I’ve already posted shouldn’t have been too scary, should is the operative word.

(All I can say is that being a creative with anxiety is an experience I won’t give to my worst enemy.)

But here it is, a book. Well, a short story, packaged like a digital book. I recommend reading this version, if you haven’t read it already, as there’s greater clarity about Paide’s position and–I hope–fewer wonky sentences. I also hope this is the beginning of going back to edit and format the many, many things languishing on my harddrive.

Unlike most things I write these days, this story doesn’t have a trans and autistic protagonist. Paide is pan and he isn’t neurotypical, but this is one of the few stories I’ve written purposefully for cis readers. A trans character is the motivation for both cis protagonists, but this story is really about being a good cis ally. And in one case, a cis ally with a horde of zombies.

Like most things I write these days, there’s no romance.

This is also set in the Kit March universe, and it may have a little something to do with a forthcoming side plot, if we use the word “plot” with a certain degree of looseness.

(File format note: if you prefer PDF files, please use my PDF link and not the Smashwords PDF. Smashwords is great for distribution, but a text document formatted for EPUB conversion makes a horrific PDF. My MOBI file also doesn’t have the awful added/additional TOC at the front, too. Actually, I’d honestly recommend only using Smashwords for their EPUB format. Everything else loses aesthetic as it goes through Meatgrinder.)

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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Certain Eldritch Artefacts (A Kit March Prequel)

Alliterative magician and College graduate Darius Liviu has travelled half the world in search of the rarest of rare magical artefacts: a tolerable talking sword. He knew it wouldn’t be an easy quest, but, after a year of failure, one last rumour sees him risk Rajad’s chaotic, cluttered, terrifying Great Souk. The noise, the smells, the people and his inability to move without provoking disaster make everything difficult, but Darius dares the nightmare in hope of an item that just might draw the eye of the man he loves.

The sword he finds may or may not be tolerable. It may not even be a sword. It has other ideas on the matter of being a lover’s token, however: ideas that make Darius ponder the reason he travelled at all…

PDF | EPUB | Kit March Master Post | Next: The Adventurer King

Word count: 10, 530 words.

Content advisory: Darius is seventeen, and young for a magician, but—being short and transmasculine in a time and place where medical transitioning is less of an option—not so young as he appears that the ageism others display is justifiable, if it ever is. (Personal experience time.) “Normal” used to mean “allistic” but, I hope, in a tone that is meant to be snide-leaning. Depictions of anxiety/social anxiety provoked by being a dyspraxic autistic having to navigate a world (a crowded, chaotic, noisy, busy, smelly, cramped world) truly not designed for him. The behaviour of the stallholders is an exercise in unthinking ableism. The belt is a pushy, demanding, frustrating entity who is nonetheless somewhat ideal as a mentor for an autistic teenager because it isn’t an easily-offended allistic neurotypical human. Whether or not the belt is being transphobic, deliberately provocative or both is open to question. Since mainstream autism portrayals tend to be light on the SPD aspects of autism, I wanted to show both the Sensory Hell of the setting and what Darius does to try to survive it.

Note the first: Yes, this is a rewrite of something I’ve already written. I thought I’d do PDF versions of Kit March so that people (like me) who don’t love reading long-arse chapters on backlit browsers have an alternative. If I’m doing that, well, I should throw in the prequel short stories for context, because the problem with making one of your protagonists a thirty-one-year-old magician with history is that he has history. If I’m doing that, though, I should rewrite this in light of worldbuilding and character development (mostly that Darius is knowingly autistic instead of accidentally so) and make it a proper introduction to knowingly-autistic-Darius and the belt. And if I’m making those changes, well, I should post it on the off chance somebody is interested…

Note the second: Aside from missing sensory realism and deliberate stimming—and Darius’s frustration feels so much more natural to me when accompanied by flapping hands!—the original story’s conclusion strikes me as a direction to learn a set of skills to better mimic Real Neurotypical Adults. As someone learning how to move more in tune with my actually autistic self after a lifetime’s pretence (being the kind of person who falls going up stairs and has destroyed my ankle by tripping over a tennis ball), I’m desperately uncomfortable with this, even knowing that someone who doesn’t know that they’re an autistic author writing an autistic character isn’t like to avoid ableism. So this story has suffered quite a drastic reframing toward an autistic man having the opportunity to discover how he might learn to move, as a Real Neurodiverse Adult, in ways that both serve his needs and see him less abused by the neurotypical world. I don’t want Darius to learn how to be another neurotypical soldier (yawn) who gains great proficiency in the combat arts—he’s here to learn something else entirely, and the belt knows it, even if Darius doesn’t.

Note the third: In societies where pansexuality is the default, which is everywhere seen/referenced so far save Astreut, exclusive monosexuality is a little bit weird. Not so weird that it results in oppression and restriction, but weird enough that that the terms used to describe it by most pansexuals are unthinkingly not-quite-positive.

I don’t think they taught you how to move as you are in a world that isn’t for you, but why can’t you learn that?

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Connection

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 accoutrements 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).

Connection: Tes meets hir new roommate Holly Naoko, learns from the chattering historian Iris Edmé and discovers ze does, in fact, possess a valuable trade.

Chapter count: 7080 words.

Content advisory: Casual mention—and casual handling, deliberately akin to the way we talk about the latest character to die on Game of Thrones—of the fact Darius ended the Lord of Mul Dura’s life with no small amount of violent, even torturous enthusiasm. Ableist slurs like “stupid” used by a non-verbal autistic woman to describe how people regarded her. A salutary lesson in matters of trans characters’ access to gender-affirmative clothing. An aro-ace protagonist who thinks of hirself as frigid because nobody ever told hir ze’s fine and real and perfect as is. (This will happen.) Also, the word “strange” may not be an in-universe neurodiverse-specific slur to Tes, but given that Efe uses it in such a way and Darius considers it as such, I’ll note that Tes uses it, in moments of despair, to describe hirself as well.

Note the first: Why, yes, a trans narrator ends up at a school with a trans headmaster and is introduced to a trans teacher and then to two trans students who introduce hir to a third trans student related to the trans headmaster (and we haven’t even met the second narrator yet, who is, well, trans). In fact, I’ll mention that there’s one cis staff member, and most of the named students are, ye gods, trans. I don’t see how this is remotely unrealistic, but, if you feel that way, I’ll mention that, thus far, nobody’s commented on the unrealistic walking corncob. (Who objects to humanity’s habit of forcibly opposing notions of gender on a sapient species that doesn’t require it.)

Note the second: A lord is a noble of no specific gender. A Lord is a noble, magician, mage, ruler or other personage of note, also of no specific gender, who practices certain dark arts and often seeks to live out dreams of global domination. Efe Kadri assassinated several of them.

I want to know. I want to know things. History and magic and talking with my hands. Is it hard?

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The Adventurer King (A Kit March Prequel)

Seven years ago, alliterative magician Darius Liviu met a talking sword belt in the Great Souk of Rajad. Since then, he trained as a swordsman and now works as a mercenary guard. He picked up a few jobs with merchants who don’t mind the loquacious belt, but he is yet to find the work—or the employer—that gives his training and his life purpose. In truth, he’s not sure he shouldn’t just pack up and return to Greenstone. The impulsive, forward and insulting Efe Kadri, or at least his sister Aysun, just might have the answer, if Darius can survive life on the road with the king of Siya…

PDF | EPUB | Kit March Master Post | Previous: Certain Eldritch Artefacts

Story count: 10 245 words.

Content advisory: Efe has a moment of being a casually/unthinking transphobic (and ableist) arse, but he doesn’t get away with it. The belt is still the belt (a pushy, demanding, frustrating eldritch object that cares way too much about sex and will try anyone’s patience).

Note the first: This takes place seven years after Certain Eldritch Artefacts and seven years before the beginning of The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March. The more I came to know Efe Kadri through Darius, the more I wanted to write about how the awkward Darius I first knew came to ride the worldroad with a king who abandoned his throne (and then came to be the harder man who returns to Greenstone). Since Efe and Aysun are so big in Darius’s world, it seemed absurd to not meet them, if only for a story here and there.

Note the second: The major literary problem with being an undiagnosed autistic was my tendency to write characters who are autistic with hindsight but aren’t written in such a way that their autism is acknowledged and centred. (How do you do that when you don’t know what you are?) Darius, more than anyone, is a character who should have been centrally autistic and isn’t. So I’m sure the reader will note the jarring dissonance between the approach in ‘Certain Eldritch Artefacts’, where Darius is just awkward and clumsy and odd, and the approach here, where Darius knows he’s autistic and more of his experiences unique to being so are written into how he experiences his world. That dissonance absolutely exists: the difference is that I now know who I am. Not to mention the fact that a world I created for the sole purpose of a single short story is now the home of a novel. Maybe someday I’ll rewrite it…

Similar people have the power and structure of society behind them, but March’s divergents are magicians: knowledge can’t be surrendered.

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