Our Tarnished Colossus

Mother of Exiles

A New Colossus

by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

It’s always good to be reminded of the actual poem that graces Lady Liberty. It’s easily my favorite verse in American history, and I think about it often. In my mind, there is nothing else that defines the hope of America quite like this poem.

Lately, I’ve seen discussion around an interview with some doofus where he twists Lazarus’ sacred words in a weak attempt to bolster cruel and un-American policies mainly rooted in fear. (It’s always fear.) I wish I could say, “we’re better than that,” and believe it. But, I’ve read enough history to know we’re not. That said, we can damn well try to be.

Farewell Facebook, One Year Later

Farewell Facebook, One Year Later

One year ago today, I deleted my Facebook account. (I laid out my reasoning in this post.) I haven’t gone back, and I’ve had little temptation to return. Since it’s been a full year, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on my decision and share what I’ve learned over my last year without Facebook.

I’m still in the ecosystem—much like Amazon or Google, it’s hard to remove yourself from Facebooks grasping tentacles completely. Instagram (from Facebook™) is still in my life, and I share work there frequently. I also use WhatsApp to connect with friends outside of the US. But, if alternatives rose up or if these apps no longer brought me value, I’d consider leaving either of them. Instagram, in particular, hasn’t gotten better.

Much of my suspicions from a year ago were proven correct, and I’m in a better headspace because I’ve left. I don’t have to read cruel, insipid, bigoted, or racist diatribes that were disappointingly common. I’m no longer marketed products I don’t want. My work isn’t walled off in strange little corners. I don’t have Facebook hounding my wallet in a vain attempt to “boost” posts for my “audience.” I don’t have to worry about my private information being stolen or sold. (Not just a Facebook problem, I realize.) Succinctly: I no longer have to engage with nothing for the sake of nothing.


“I no longer have to engage with nothing for the sake of nothing.”


The wicked trick of social media is convincing you that it’s essential. That you’ll lose contact with friends, colleagues, and loved ones if it’s removed from your life. That you’re somehow missing out if you’re not engaged. It sows FOMO to encouraging engagement. Reality couldn’t be further from Facebook’s “truth.” If anything I found the opposite is true. Facebook isn’t essential. This has been the best year on my blog since I started doing this eight years ago. My audience is still here, and I don’t have to wonder if my readers see what I share. It’s all visible. Nothing is hidden. Likewise, I’ve made time for the important things. I’ve stayed connected with relationships that matter. My interests have expanded.

What one chooses in regards to their social media presence is personal. My path might not be right for you. If Facebook brings you joy, then stay on Facebook. But if it doesn’t, then why are you wasting your time? As for me, I’m glad I left. Happy even. It was a big step in decoupling the behaviors built into social media. (Something I wrote about a few weeks ago.) Now, when I sit down to work, the old muscle memory isn’t betraying me by sending me into a path of wasted time and squandered emotional energy.

As I said a year ago: things can always change. Perhaps with a shift in leadership Facebook could turn itself around. Companies change, ten years from now, it’ll be different than it is today. Who knows what the future holds? I have no regrets in leaving, and honestly, I wish I had taken this step sooner. It’s been a good year.


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 →

The Treasure Island Map Doesn’t Skimp on the Details

Treasure Island’s Map Doesn’t Skimp on the Details

A big reason I put together my brush sets was to help my fellow authors create authentic maps to enhance a reader’s experience. (I wrote a whole post about it.) The design of a book, from chapter headers to the breaks between scenes, can all be utilized in ways to add details to a world. The map is no different.

Understanding details matter and when they’re ignored, they can often have the opposite effect. Usually, it’s helpful to see this in practice and I want to do that today. Take Robert Louis Stevenson’s map for his classic Treasure Island; it’s a masterclass in getting the details right. Check it out below, click to view it larger.

Stevenson's map of Treasure Island
Stevenson’s map of Treasure Island

If you’re writing a book on piracy, creating a nautical chart that fits its era is clearly the correct visual direction. But Stevenson goes much further pushing past style and into a faux-authenticity that enlivens the imagination. It does this by paying close attention to its details. Note the sounding markers scattered around the coast or the anchorage label in the North Inlet. Those are important for sailors, yes, but for the story? Not so much. He even goes as far as marking rocks along the shores (the little cross symbols along the coasts) and labeling the direction of the current (the arrow floating off the eastern side.) Style can get you halfway there—but details are what brings this sort of ephemera alive.

Details of Robert Louis Stevenson’s map of Treasure Island

The map does more than just clarify information; it becomes an extension of the world. It creates its place within the context of the story. The details establish its purpose within the fiction. This chart could be real which is why it’s so brilliant. One can look at this map and forget that Treasure Island isn’t an actual island. You can easily imagine that this map came from Captain Flint himself with his small details pointing out strong tides, strange landmarks, springs, swamps, and other bits and pieces. You can picture it folded away in its chest, waiting for Jim Hawkins to come along. You can visualize it in use.

This should be what we strive for with our fantasy cartography. It’s what I aim to empower. We shouldn’t settle with just the informative, we should strive for the authentic—one that enhances the overall experience and delights our readers. The details matter and they’re a treasure that’s worth it.

Robert Newton is still the best Long John Silver


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 →

Toni Morrison

Not the Self

“The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power.”

Toni Morrison


The featured image is a detailed crop of Robert McCurdy’s stunning portrait of Toni Morrison. It currently hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. I encourage you to check out the full piece. Morrison’s impact on American culture and literature cannot be overstated. She lived an inspirational life and left this world a better place. Her voice will be missed, but her legacy will last forever.

Eight Hundred

Eight Hundred

You never think it’ll happen to you and then it does. Since I started writing, I told myself I had thick skin. I believed myself armored with tenacity. But, armor eventually fails. Creative chinks don’t care about our intentions. They reveal themselves in a hundred different ways and often too late.

A book can flop. The most well-meaning comment can eviscerate. Sales numbers can collapse. Positive momentum can falter and then vanish entirely. The list is endless. Any of those can wear you down. They can make you want to give up. They can destroy you.

It happened to me around late-2016/early-2017. The catalyst is unimportant but the outcome isn’t. My armor failed. I felt defeated, and my confidence was shattered. I didn’t know what to do. I felt creatively adrift. That pernicious devil known as imposter syndrome arrived, and he brought his bag of “What Ifs” with him. What if I’m not good enough? What if this story is crap? What if I’m not cut out for this? What if? What if? What if?


“What if I’m not good enough? What if this story is crap? What if I’m not cut out for this?”


I withdrew creatively. I told very few. I kept up appearances, but inside it hurt. Thinking back, it still hurts. But, I kept writing, I drained those emotions out on the keyboard. Time passed. I finished one manuscript, then another—my biggest project to date—there were failed projects in between, unfinished starts, and discarded ideas. There always is. But I kept going. The writing didn’t stop. The writer is tempered by adversity, and I worked through it doubting myself the whole way. Eventually, I returned to the Bell Forging Cycle.

Writing is an interesting endeavor. There are a thousand ways to do it, a thousand voices offering (or selling advice), and numerous experts waxing poetic on a soapbox. It’s no wonder we all get the author equivalent of stage fright. What if someone’s way is better? What if we’re not efficient enough? What if our style changes? What if we’re not striving for the same goals as everyone else? We judge ourselves based on the perceived success of others. It’s no wonder even the masters talk about being stricken with impostorism. In a world of “experts,” it’s become a cyclical feedback loop.

So why all this? Why bare my soul now? This is my eight-hundredth post on I Make Stories. Every two hundred posts, I take a moment and evaluate where I am at creatively. It’s become a tradition. (Previously: 600. 400. 200.) Who knows how many thousands of words I’ve shared here? This silly little site has become a bit of refuge over the past few years—a place to vent, explore, and share—it’s my outlet.

It’s funny how in moments of struggle you forget your successes. I have three books behind me with a slew of fantastic reviews. I have readers who email me with excited questions or words of encouragement. (Or just wondering when the next book is coming.) I have colleagues who trust my opinion on their work. I have a community of creatives around me. When I started this blog eight years ago, I had no idea where it’d go. I had no clue what would happen. I wasn’t classically trained. I had a limited college education. I was a twenty-something kid with big ideas—that’s it.

But, here I am eight years later and staring at the completed third draft of Gleam Upon the Waves, Book IV of my Bell Forging Cycle. For those patiently waiting: we’re getting close.

Interestingly, I am at this point on this project when the 800th post has arrived. Here I reflect. In manuscript land, I’ve reached the moment where it’s time to contact my beta readers. The point where I solicit the first round of feedback on the roughest of stories. Just thinking about it makes me nervous. I can feel those old emotions welling up. Those old doubts that held me in check and slowed me down. I’m worried. I’m scared. I’m nervous. The wound may have scarred over but it still stings. I can hear our ugly adversary cackling “you’re a fraud” in my creative ear. But, I know he’s a liar. I know theirs no truth in that. Perhaps if I had quit, he’d be right. But I didn’t stop. I kept writing. I stuck around. I’ve gotten better. I kept telling the stories I needed to tell. Saying the things I need to say. Sometimes that’s all we can do. Sometimes it’s all we should do.

Right now, Gleam’s a manuscript. Soon it’ll be a book. A book you’ll be able to read. And here we are, eight hundred posts behind us and more stories in the future. Milestones are meant to be passed. Stopping isn’t in the cards. It wasn’t before it most certainly isn’t now.

Post one thousand is somewhere in the future. And who knows where we’ll be then?


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 →

Garden of Horrors: Rafflesia

Garden of Horrors: Rafflesia

Not sure what it says about Garden of Horrors, but we seem to feature a whole lot of parasitic plants. It’s not intentional. Perhaps it’s a nature vs. nurture thing—maybe if they weren’t so disgusting these plants wouldn’t become parasites! You know? Maybe if they had gone to college, bought a house, and settled down, things would have turned out differently! You ever thought about THAT plants?

Ahem—regardless of the reasoning, today’s featured plant is one I’m sure many of you expected to see sooner or later. After all, it looks like a cheesy prop from the Star Trek: The Original Series and it smells like rotten meat. That’s right; we’re looking at the Rafflesia more commonly known as the carrion flower or corpse lily.

"Rafflesia keithii" by Mike Prince
Rafflesia keithii by Mike Prince, 2014

The Rafflesia (technically a family of twenty-eight distinct species) is often called “Queen of the Parasites.” It’s such a parasite that you can’t see anything other than its goofy-ass blossom. There are no leaves. No roots. The rest of the plant—mostly made up of the rootlike haustorium—spreads like a creeper through the tissue of its host vine. There it gathers the nutrients needed to grow its enormous fleshy flower.

And what a flower it is. This is the largest flower on earth. Others are mere pretenders. How large is this thing? Well, this sucker can be nearly three and a half feet wide and weigh up to twenty-two pounds. “A beaut” or “an absolute unit” as they say on the farm. Across the genus, the look remains mostly the same, but the details shift. Some are wartier than others. A few wilt quicker. Others grow smaller. Some are more star-shaped. But they all have the distinctive five-petals, the fleshy look, and… oh, and the smell.

There’s a reason this is called the carrion flower. The title is more than appropriate for something so gross. Most often, the buds take months to develop, and when they blossom, they smell like rotting flesh. Neat? This Eau de mort (Yeah, okay. Look, I know that translates as “death water” but I’m trying to evoke the concept of perfume. Work with me here!) attracts carrion flies which in turn pollinate the unisexual flowers. I have to say; you need to rethink your pollination strategy if you have flies working as your go-between during sexy times.

Goofy looking, parasitic, and smells like death—I’d say this is a fitting entry into the Garden of Horrors. Thankfully, many of us will never have to smell these flowers, it’s generally found in the rainforests of Southeast Asia, and they’re rare, taking months to blossom and then lasting only a few days when they do. If you want to see what this strange flower looks like opening, I’ve embedded a video above. Silly as it is, let’s all take a moment and be thankful we can’t smell it.


☠️ More Garden of Horrors


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 →