Come See Me at OryCon 39!

Come See Me at OryCon 39!

This Friday, I will be heading south to attend OryCon 39 in Portland, Oregon. It’s my first time participating, and I’m excited to meet the community and learn the ins and outs of a new convention. I’m on quite a few panels (Yay!) I’m looking forward to discussing Nanowrimo, PNW ghosts, and all the various fantasy topics with my fellow panelists.

view my full schedule →

Oh, don’t forget, I’m doing a reading on Friday night! It should be fun; I think I’ll read from either The Stars Were Right or Red Litten World, we’ll see. Nothing like a little light-horror to set the evening mood, right?


🗺 Where I’ll Be

Short Answer: All over! Say hi!

Long Answer: I’m not running a Writer’s Row table at OryCon. Like Norwescon 40, I wanted to focus on being a participant and not try to juggle panels, readings, and also run a table. I love doing it, but it’s exhausting. So, look for me in the halls. Say hi! Ask me for a ribbon. (See Below.) I’m always happy to sign anyone’s book, and I’ll have some with me if you want to purchase a copy. Books are still $10 at conventions. Yep, I can take credit cards.


🧟‍♂️ Badge Ribbons

Badge Ribbons will be back for 2017I have heard rumors that badge ribbons are something that exists at OryCon. Those who have been following the blog for some time know my love of badge ribbons. I even wrote a post about them last year. Yes, I will have my ribbons with me. To get one, you must find me and ask me for a ribbon. I will give you only one. As before there will be three types. If you collect all three, I’ll give you a FREE signed copy of my first book, The Stars Were Right. It’s not an easy feat. It means you’ll have to do some trading with other attendees.


📱 Get Sched

OryCon uses Sched to share the schedule with the attendees. It’s a handy site that will let you keep track of your schedule and see what’s going on around the convention. I highly recommend signing up and adding my panels to your schedule. That way you don’t miss anything.

To find me: first, tap the Menu, tap “Speakers,” scroll until you see "K.M. Alexander" then tap on my name. Hooray!
To find me: first, tap the Menu, tap “Speakers,” scroll until you see “K.M. Alexander” then tap on my name. Hooray!

Once you navigate to my profile, you see a list of all my panels. Add them to your schedule at your leisure. It’s a handy way to keep track of everything you want to see. You can also just click here and get to my profile that way.


I think that’s all the little particulars for OryCon. I’ll be active on Twitter, you should follow me over there. I also share photos on Instagram. I hope everyone enjoys the con. Stay safe, be respectful, and have fun. I’ll see everyone on Friday!


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

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Building Better Mountains

Making Magnificent Mountains

Coal Belly, my current project, is a sprawling steampunk-ish adventure novel that spans the mountains, cliffs, and ridges in a world of interlocking rivers. To keep track of characters and locations, I began maintaining a map. The story takes places in a technological era similar to the post-reconstruction United States, around the 1890s. Because of that, I wanted my map to capture the styles of maps from that period. The sort of thing a cowboy would have in their saddlebag. Which meant I spent some time on Old Maps Online.

While researching, I noticed there was a shift in the late 1800s in how cartographers drew mountains. Earlier in the century, most mountains were rendered as illustrations. Cartographers would draw little adorable ranges as a representative of the mountains. It’s a common enough style, and one I’m sure you’ll recognize. You can see this style in this map from 1832.

Map of the Western State (Detail), Daniel Adams, 1832
Western States (Detail), Daniel Adams, 1832

This is a standard approach and one appropriated by most fantasy cartographers today. It’s a style I’ve used in past maps. It works well and definitely lends a touch of antiquity to a piece. But, Coal Belly is more modern than that. When I started looking at mountains in maps made later in the century, I noticed there was a shift. Cartographers moved away from the illustrated ranges and towards an early topographical style. You can see the shift in the maps below.

United States (Detail), David Burr, 1875
United States (Detail), David Burr, 1875
Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, and West Virginia (Detail), A. J. Johnson, 1886
Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, and West Virginia (Detail), A. J. Johnson, 1886
Kentucky, Tennessee (Detail), Samuel Augustus Mitchell, 1886
Kentucky, Tennessee (Detail), Samuel Augustus Mitchell, 1886

It’s a fascinating change and one I really liked. Since most of my own fantastical cartography work is done in Adobe Illustrator, I began experimenting with creating brushes. Each of the maps above was drawn by hand so recreating a similar feel took a lot of experimentation. Different brush styles and widths. Eventually, I settled on pattern brushes based off a series of random strokes. I feel like I got really close. You can see my handiwork below.

Sample of my 19th Century Mountains brushes in use.
Sample of my 19th Century Mountains brushes in use.

I made twenty brushes, with a variety of line styles and densities. They tend to work best as separate strokes and then tightly grouped together. And because they’re vector based they can be adjusted for any size project. There’s a lot of ways to adjust the overlaps for corners and such. They’re quite versatile and can be blended and combined in numerous ways.

Quick sample using the brushes — with more time I'd focus on typography and color to give the map an antique look
Another quick sample made in Illustrator and Photoshop using the brushes

I ended up scrapping these mountains for the Coal Belly map, as they interfered with the map’s legibility, especially on eReaders. But, I think they would be the perfect fit for the right project. Which is why I’m giving them away for free. Just click the download button below and you can use these mountains brushes in your own project.

Download 19th Century Mountain Brushes

No Illustrator? Download the Photoshop Brush Set1

These brushes are designed for Adobe Illustrator and are licensed under a Creative Commons 4.0 International License. So they’re FREE to use for personal or commercial work, and I’m not looking for any attribution. That said, I would love to see how others end up using these brushes. So please reach out and let me know! I’m not looking for any payment, but if you want to support me consider buying one of my books.


1 It needs to be mentioned that the Photoshop brushes are significantly limited compared to the Illustrator version. These brushes were designed to work along paths so the mountains will look hand-drawn. While you can use the brushes in Photoshop there will be limitations. They’ll look more stamped and less custom.


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

Orycon 39 - Oregon’s premier science fiction & fantasy convention

My Orycon 39 Schedule

It’s November 1st! That means in a few weeks (17 days), I’ll be making a pilgrimage to the lovely city of Portland, Oregon where I will be attending Orycon 39. This will be my first Orycon, and I couldn’t be more excited.

I’m not running a table, but I’ll be on a whole bunch of panels, and on Friday night I’m doing a reading! As with previous conventions, I’ve listed out my schedule below. Find out more about my fellow panelists by clicking on their names, links go to their respective corners on the web. Buy their books, bring ’em with you and get ’em signed. As before, it’ll be a blast sitting alongside such talent.

If you see me in the hallway, feel free to say hello! I’m happy to join in on a game, grab a beer, or just talk shop. I’m the big guy wearing all black.


🗓 FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 17th

2:00 PM – 3:00 PM — The Paranormal as Metaphor

Location: White Stag
Moderator: Blythe Ayne
Panelists: Mike Chinakos, Ann Gimpel, Rachel Swirsky, K. M. Alexander
Details: Is a vampire ever just a vampire?

3:00 PM – 4:00 PM — Checks & Balances: Magic in a Fantasy Setting

Location: Wenatchee, Room 166
Moderator: Diana Pharaoh Francis
Panelists: Elliott Kay, S. B. Sebrick, K. M. Alexander
Details: Every great spell or power has a disclaimer attached. Join our pros as they address the balance of having compelling and powerful magic in fantasy while avoiding making it a panacea or Deus ex Machina.

7:30 PM – 8:00 PM — K. M. Alexander Reading

Location: Millennium Falcon, Room 252
Moderator: K. M. Alexander
Details: Hey, would you look at this! I’m doing a reading. Before you hit up a room party or turn in for the evening why not come by and listen to me read a creepy excerpt from one of my books. Which book? We will see.


🗓 SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 18th

4:00 PM – 5:00 PM — Nanowrimo: What is It, and Why or Why Not?

Location: Spokane, Room 256
Moderator: Lee French
Panelists: Josh Boykin, Jason M. Hough, Jennifer Linnaea, K. M. Alexander
Details: National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) has caught on and gets bigger every year. What it’s all about, where to sign up, and whether it’s a good idea to participate. The pluses and pitfalls of writing a novel in the month of November.

7:00 PM – 8:00 PM — Fantasy with Non-European settings

Location: Pendleton
Moderator: Fonda Lee
Panelists: Alma AlexanderLeah CutterJoyce Reynolds-Ward, K. M. Alexander
Details: Laura Anne Gilman’s Devil’s West, Nisi Shawl and Everfair, my Goddess’s Honor series, and others all have non-Western settings. What are the others? Why are they important?

8:00 PM – 9:00 PM — Ghost in the Vegan Bar

Location: Lion Kings Den, Room 266
Moderator: Shawna Reppert
Panelists: Tori Centanni, K. M. Alexander
Details: The Pacific Northwest is known for our haunted spots. Where are they? What are their stories? Where is the “proof”?


🗓 SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 19th

10:00 AM – 11:00 AM – Overturning the Cart

Location: White Stag
Moderator: Alma Alexander
Panelists: Eva L. Elasigue, K. M. Alexander
Details: Revolution and rebellion in fantasy fiction.


As always, I’m planning to be active on social media throughout the weekend. I’m (@KM_Alexander on Twitter and @KMAlexander on Instagram) follow me! You can register for Orycon 39 here and get passes to all three days for only $65. There’s also a lot of information at 39.OryCon.org including details on this year’s guests of honor, activities, events, information on the hotel, and a lot more.

Orycon 39 is coming, Portland. Hopefully, I’ll see you there!

H.P. Lovecraft and his pumpkin pal

H.P. Lovecraft’s Halloween Poem

When he wasn’t writing cosmic horror about indescribable beings, H.P. Lovecraft considered himself a poet. I’ve mentioned his Christmas poetry in the past, and since today is Halloween, I thought it’d be fun to take a gander at another holiday poem.

Hallowe’en in a Suburb was originally published as In A Suburb in The National Amateur in March of 1926. The poem was later renamed. I spent some time researching why the name was changed, but I couldn’t find an answer. The poem stands on its own without the Halloween association, but there is a definite fall/harvest feel with reflection on sheaves and chill winds. Perhaps it was marketing?


Hallowe’en in a Suburb

The steeples are white in the wild moonlight,
And the trees have a silver glare;
Past the chimneys high see the vampires fly,
And the harpies of upper air,
That flutter and laugh and stare.

For the village dead to the moon outspread
Never shone in the sunset’s gleam,
But grew out of the deep that the dead years keep
Where the rivers of madness stream
Down the gulfs to a pit of dream.

A chill wind weaves thro’ the rows of sheaves
In the meadows that shimmer pale,
And comes to twine where the headstones shine
And the ghouls of the churchyard wail
For harvests that fly and fail.

Not a breath of the strange grey gods of change
That tore from the past its own
Can quicken this hour, when a spectral pow’r
Spreads sleep o’er the cosmic throne
And looses the vast unknown.

So here again stretch the vale and plain
That moons long-forgotten saw,
And the dead leap gay in the pallid ray,
Sprung out of the tomb’s black maw
To shake all the world with awe.

And all that the morn shall greet forlorn,
The ugliness and the pest
Of rows where thick rise the stones and brick,
Shall some day be with the rest,
And brood with the shades unblest.

Then wild in the dark let the lemurs bark,
And the leprous spires ascend;
For new and old alike in the fold
Of horror and death are penn’d,
For the hounds of Time to rend.


It’s not half bad as far as creep poetry goes, and it’s certainly better than his cat-centric silly Christmas poetry. The very talented Andrew Lehman cut a record for Cadabra Records where he reads several of Lovecraft’s poems including this one. The record doesn’t appear to be available anymore, but you can listen to Hallowe’en in a Suburb and The Cats below.


Have a happy and safe Halloween everyone! Remember that today is the last day to get FREE SHIPPING on any signed paperbacks from my store. Just use the code BFCMONTH on checkout. You can see all the details in this post.


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

American Horror Story's Main Titles Ranked

Ranking American Horror Story’s Title Sequences

I have a love/hate relationship with the ultra-stylized American Horror Story. On the one hand, it has legitimized horror and has helped bring the genre to the small screen. But, on the other hand, I’ve tried watching it a few times, and it hasn’t yet drawn me in. So, while I’m not a ravenous fan, I do appreciate its existence, and I dig its style. Especially, its title sequences.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I am a fan of title sequences. For years, I’ve been a Patreon supporter of Art of the Title—a site dedicated to the artform. (They do good work, and you should support them.) So, it will come as no surprise that I unabashedly love AHS main title sequence. Part of its draw is that it changes. It’s different each season. There are connections between each, most notably the amazing AHS theme music—the heavy notes remain constant as do the harsh buzzes that rasp as players get introduced. As a set, they’re remarkable, and a few stand out as truly great. Since it’s the month of Halloween, I figured it would be fun to rank the American Horror Story title sequences. Let’s start at the bottom.


7. Roanoke (Season 6)

Of course, this will be rated dead last. Roanoke had no title sequence. In her piece American Horror Story: 7 Seasons of Title Design for Art of the Title, Alexandra West asks AHS Executive Producer Alexis Martin Woodall and Title Designer Kyle Cooper why it was missing. (Go read the article. It’s good.) Their answer is interesting and valid, but since this is a list ranking sequences, Roanoke will remain an aberration and at the bottom of the list.


6. Hotel (Season 5)

Hotel lacks subtlety. It’s brash and over the top. It comes across as silly, and to me, it doesn’t set the mood the way other sequences do. The heavy-handed neon Ten Commandments do not help, although they are a neat visual juxtaposition. However, it’s the repeated thing-in-the-mattress motif that loses me. It’s creepy at first, but its impact falters after the third, fourth, or fifth flash. It’s not that it stops; it’s used at least nine times.


5. Cult (Season 7)

This year, AHS returned with Cult, and it doesn’t improve on Hotel’s failings. Americana interplays with odd and sometimes violent scenes that are common in the series. This, however, is less horror and more gore. Modern political instability is channeled and rightly so, and the classic AHS music mixes with a fife and drum sound that is reminiscent of national anthems. It’s a nice touch, which lifts it higher than Hotel.


4. Asylum (Season 2)

Building off the success of the first season, Asylum took the style from Murder House and turned it up a notch. It’s darker, it’s grittier, but it’s less nuanced. Some of the impact from Season 1 is lost, and it feels a little samey. Murder House works so well because it was unexpected. Especially for television. Horror isn’t about the “thing”; it’s the emotions and the anticipation, and I had anticipated Asylum’s title sequence well in advance.


3. Freakshow (Season 4)

The stop-motion stylization was a nice change of pace, and I think it sets the tone well for a series involving an evil circus. There is an evocation of a corrupted childhood at play here, toys behaving in a way that is unexpected which puts the viewer on edge. It’s was an excellent choice to move into a different direction, and it helped Freakshow stand out.


2. Murder House (Season 1)

The first opening title sequence for AHS channels a raw homemade style that works perfectly. I’ve never had high hopes for television horror, but this was a welcome surprise. Cesar Davila-Irizarry’s theme music stunned me and instantly became one of the most memorable themes. The visuals hint at the underlying concepts of the show without revealing too much, and it really nailed the mood.


1. Coven (Season 3)

Mood and tone abound in the season three opener: gritty black and white shots, strangely animated woodcuts, weird stop-motion, and the creepy hooded figures! (Which yes, totally remind me of the gargoyles from my Bell Forging Cycle.) A good story doesn’t ignore tropes. Instead, it bends them in new and exciting ways. You see that at play in Coven’s title sequences: all the expected visuals are there, but things are unusually bent. The quick cuts to uncomfortably close shots introduce story elements in a way that adds to the sequence: the revelations only help to enhance instead of detracting. I will admit that my design sensibilities lean in a similar direction, and there is a bit of bias. But to me, Coven is the gold standard, the perfected AHS title sequence.


It’s great to see a series play so much with the opening title sequence and elevate the art. I know that the fans appreciate it, as well. (The reactions to Roanoke’s missing sequence were…uh, vocal.) So! Now that I’ve finished my list, why not tell me what you think? How would you rank the AHS title sequences? What did I get wrong? What did I get right? The comments are open! Let me know!


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. Alexander to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →