These notes are intended to illuminate specific details about my novelette, Nine of Swords, Reversed. They contain some spoilers and are best read after reading the book.
(As a heads up, this post briefly references kink, discusses ghosts and death, and includes reclaimed identity words like queer and faggot.)
- For information about the pronouns and honorifics used in the text and how to pronounce them, see “A Brief Note About Non-Binary Terms” in the front matter of the book.
- For information about how to refer to the characters in the book in reviews in ways that respect their genders, see “A Note for Readers” in the back matter of the book.
- For content warnings, see the front matter of the book or this page on my website.
- For a discussion of the D/s relationship in the story, see this blog post.
The terms queer and faggot are used in the story as reclaimed identity words, with a recognition that they have been and continue to be used as slurs by others, and a deliberate choice to pick them up and claim them for self that is rooted in queer community reclamation in the early 1990s by activist groups like Queer Nation.
The terms fat in the story is used as a neutral descriptor, in a way that is common to fat activists. The story also uses specific terms common to queer fat activist communities to refer to body size. Dev self refers to xyrself as fat, and to Noam as midsize. These terms do not translate particularly well to trans bodies, and come mostly from referring to women’s bodies. In that context, the common terms are in-betweenie/chubby/small fat, midsize, fat, supersize/superfat. They are rather loosely defined, and not without substantial contention, but I am going to list general guidelines below as I have understood them. (Others may have different understandings; please do not take these as definitive.)
- In-betweenie/chubby/small fat folks are often described as sizes 12-16, sizes that often hit the top of the range in mainstream women’s stores.
- Mid-sized folks are often described as US sizes 18-24. Folks who can usually find a range of clothes in plus size stores. (This is not always true because it depends on body shape. Folks who are hourglass shape are much more likely to be called mid-size.)
- Fat folks can often buy clothes at the top end of plus size stores, in the store, but not everything and with rather limited selection. Sizes 26-30/32ish. Again, this is often impacted by the shape of your body, how your fatness impacts how you are seen. But also, it’s about access. Are you able to sit comfortably in most seats with arms? If you are fat, probably not.
- Superfat (or supersize) folks cannot buy clothes in brick & mortar stores, and have extremely limited access to clothing options. Again, this is about access; these are folks for whom the world is most definitely not built, from medical equipment to restaurants to chairs. Folks who need to scout access to public spaces, to cars, buy multiple seats on planes, check whether toilets are wall mounted.
Should you want a visual reference for Noam and Dev’s relative sizes, the cover is a good place to look.
For those who are familiar with queer fat activism in the San Francisco Bay Area, you may recognize the house that Noam and Dev live in; it is loosely based on Thermalia, a long-time queer fat activist collective household in Oakland.
Dev notes that Noam cooks the eggs with mozzarella and that is a sign of a migraine; this is because for some folks who get chronic migraines, aged cheese can trigger migraines. (It is one of my migraine triggers, in fact.) Mozzarella is one of the few cheeses that is less likely to do so.
All three main characters are mages, with different concentrations. Dev is an empath and a seer. Noam is a medium, and has a particularly close relationship with ghosts and the dead. Ezra is an herbalist and healer. All three characters are also Jewish, both culturally and spiritually, and have integrated their Judaism and their magecraft.
Dev and Ezra go to lunch at Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen in Berkeley, a Jewish restaurant that serves chicken in the pot.
Ezra’s concept of “Ladies Who Lunch” is in reference to a song by Stephen Sondheim from the musical Company. Here is a version of it sung by Carol Burnett.
The tarot deck that Dev uses to draw the titular Nine of Swords, reversed is one that only exists in the world of the story, unfortunately. Many decks exist; here are a few resources for decks. The interpretation of the card in the story is drawn from my own experience with tarot reading; my main decks are the Sacred Circle tarot, the classic Rider Waite, and the Next World tarot. The image I had in my head of this card was an evocation of the rather classic Rider Waite or Llewellyn imagery of a figure in a bed with swords over their head. When I conceived of the meaning of this card, I had a fairly clear sense that the upright nine of swords evoked everyday life with chronic pain (Dev spends much of xyr life in bed, as do I), but that reversed this indicated an intense crisis within that, a disconnection/isolation from others, and a blanket of silence around the pain.
Dev describes xyr spoons running low. This is a reference to The Spoon Theory, originated by Christine Miserandino, a way of describing what it’s like to live with chronic illness and disability and the way we often our energy and capacity are quite limited and run out rather quickly.
Noam makes apricot chicken for Shabbos dinner, one of the first things I cooked from my first Jewish cookbook, Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook. You can find the recipe here; it leans sweet and tangy, and is on the simpler side, as recipes go. Given that Noam is dealing with both a migraine and back pain, simpler recipes that can be prepared sitting down and do not require standing at the stove are essential. (The more complicated root vegetable casserole is where most of Noam’s cooking spoons went.) I discuss more about food in Nine of Swords, Reversed in this guest blog post.
Dev references a comfort read xe favors, a novella about non-binary supermages that has a ghost character, Ranra, which the main characters discuss in the story. This is a reference to my favorite book published in 2017, A Portrait of the Desert in Personages of Power, by Rose Lemberg, which is a core work in their Birdverse. You can find my review of Portrait here, a free ebook version of the novella here (Part 1, Part 2), and a free audiobook version here. I have written at length about a couple of other stories in Lemberg’s Birdverse; you can find those discussions here and here.
Dev’s favorite nutty oat bread that xe eats in the story is Arnold’s Oat Nut bread.
Levi is Noam’s little brother, who is deceased, and he is a dybbuk, as far as Noam is concerned. While Jewish tradition often differentiates between benevolent ghosts and malevolent ones, Noam thinks that kind of binary framework is misguided, and openly talks about how they refuse to think of it that way. The term dybbuk is rooted in the Hebrew word for cleaving, and a main feature of a dybbuk is that it’s a disembodied ghost that attaches (cleaves) to another person. Dybbuks generally do not have physical manifestation and are not perceivable by anyone except the person they tie themselves to. Noam’s refusal of a binary split between malevolent attached spirits (dybbuks) and benevolent ones (ibbur) is in resistance to binaries in general. It felt right that a non-binary character would have a different perspective on a binary like this. I’m planning to write more about the symbolism of the dybbuk in this story for a guest post; I will link to it here when it goes live.
To aid you in placing the characters generationally: the story is set in 2018. Both Dev and Ezra are 48 years old. Noam is 36 years old.