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 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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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: Kin of Mind

A dragon in need of a human attendant finds providence in the arrival of a magician in need of a library, but more than phalanges and history binds Azhra and Darius in companionship.

Setting: Several hundred years after the short stories Friendship and Attraction; several months before Certain Eldritch Artefacts, during Darius’s first year away from the College. Reading these stories isn’t required for comprehension, but this story is written with the expectation that readers will find enjoyment in Azhra being Azhra and Darius being Darius.

Content advisory: Casual references to fantasy violence involving fire, carnivores and dragons, ageism, autistic-targeted ableism and the medicalisation of the autism spectrum.

Length: 4, 047 words / 12 PDF pages.

Note the first: This short story is an exclusive for Patreon supporters. It’s also available in the Marchverse collection Bones, Belts and Bewitchments.

Azhra breathes the tart, acidic aura of magic for an hour before the sweating human makes it up the incline. With no attendant, ze can’t brush hir hide, but ze wipes hir emerald snout and copper claws on the closest patch of grass, hoping to appear presentable. Humans are more agreeable the more they can pretend dragons aren’t the ultimate apex predator. Even if this one has no interest in staying, they can still speak of hir to their family and friends.

Hope quickens hir breath and quivers hir tail.

What if ze can convince a human to remain?

A few centuries ago, no dragon lacked service. Nobles viewed them as an opportunity for their children to meet other nobles, sending more princesses than wanted by the most affable of dragons. Now, Azhra can go a year without speaking to even the census-takers, nervous scholars hoping to determine the number of cattle Rajad, Siya and Khaloun will lose to a dragon’s gullet.

Telling their few visitors that Council will pay fair wages for willing workers gets them nowhere. The town in the valley refuses to deal with any dragon after Heisa’s incident. What stories are humans now telling about dragons in Rajad and Khaloun? Surely there’s people in need of supporting their kinsfolk or leaving them, people who won’t object to magic and adventure? The Athenaeum sends the odd historian and academic to catalogue hoards, but none since Faiza show interest in the work of a companion—and Faiza’s family didn’t permit them to remain in Tierre.

Dwelling on the old days does no dragon good, but even quiet reflection brings envy and pessimism. The last human to stay for a lifetime was a duchess’s daughter from a Western country—a small province since swallowed up by the former Astreuch empire.

What was her name?

Keep reading at Patreon: Part One and Part Two.

Linkspam Friday: April 5

If all goes well, when this post goes up I should be escaping my GP’s office after another biopsy on my hand: an another adventure in our long-running quest to discover what is causing my dermatitis. I can’t say that I need this experience again, but at least I can write about wounds and blood with verisimilitude, and I’ve two characters for which this is quite important. Small mercies, right?

I am struggling at the moment in keeping up with everything in a consistent manner, which I think you know based on the the dust bunnies covering this blog. (I mean, I still haven’t updated my books with my new pronouns.) But, since I have written and made a couple of things, I think it’s worth gathering them here in the quest to appear accomplished.

Fiction

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: Existence: For me, one of the more profound allo-aro experiences is the truth that it’s difficult to find information about aromanticism as separate from asexuality. This story adds a little bit of creative licence to autobiography and is in no way a complete rendition of my experiences, but the core of this, in terms of someone else’s inability to offer the word aromantic, is true.

(You can also read this on Tumblr or in PDF and EPUB formats.)

Love in the House of the Ravens: I’m posting the story of how Darius learns about the word “aromantic” in shorter snippets over April, Autism Acceptance Month. I’m quite excited at being able to post these stories about how autism and ableism impact his ability to come to terms with his aromanticism: it’s been a while since autism has been as central in my storytelling. This will become its own book, a sequel to Certain Eldritch Artefacts; I just thought I’d do something a bit different with how I initially post it.

(You can keep up via my tag on Tumblr and category on WordPress. I may do a proper linked master post when my hand heals.)

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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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