All posts by K. M. Alexander

About K. M. Alexander

K. M. Alexander is a Pacific Northwest native and novelist living and working in Seattle with his wife and two dogs. He is an avid hiker, cold-weather enthusiast, world traveler, wannabe cyclist, and a self-proclaimed beer snob. His work explores non-traditional settings within speculative fiction, bending and blending genres to create rich worlds and unique, approachable characters.

Finding the Yellow Sign

Hunting The Yellow Sign

In 1895, Robert W. Chambers published The King in Yellow a collection of short stories. Over the years, it has become his seminal work, and due to Lovecraft’s interest in the book and his incorporations of Chamber’s ideas, The King in Yellow inevitably became connected to the mythos. Chamber’s eponymous King in Yellow, became Lovecraft’s Hastur, and the empty streets of dim Carcosa are now as familiar to cosmic horror fans as the sunken city of R’lyeh and the sagging gambrel roofs of Innsmouth.[1]


“Have you found the Yellow Sign?”

— Robert W. Chambers, The Yellow Sign, Chapter 14


For a long time, fans of Chambers’ work have hunted for The Yellow Sign. After all, it is important enough to justify a story within the book. But, unlike Lovecraft who was fond of random sketches, as far as we know Chambers never drew out the symbol. All we have are his descriptions. So what is the Yellow Sign? Did Chambers leave us any clues outside his story?

First, we need to address the Ross Sign. In 1989 Chaosium released The Call of Cthulhu 4th Edition, a role-playing game based on Lovecraft’s mythos. Within the supplemental book, The Great Old Ones, game designer Kevin A. Ross created a striking symbol of The Yellow Sign[2] for his adventure scenario entitled Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign?

The Kevin A. Ross interpretation of The Yellow Sign
The Kevin A. Ross interpretation of The Yellow Sign

In the years since Ross’ symbol has become the go-to image whenever anyone evokes The Yellow Sign in popular media. A quick google image search will reveal a few variants, but most follow the same pattern. But, as engaging as it is, it’s important to note that the Ross Sign is not official. It’s not the mark described by Chambers, merely an interpretation by Ross adopted by the community at large. So what is The Yellow Sign? To find out, it’s best to return to the text where we find it described.


“…inside lay a clasp of black onyx, on which was inlaid a curious symbol or letter in gold. It was neither Arabic nor Chinese, nor, as I found afterwards, did it belong to any human script.”

— Robert W. Chambers, The Yellow Sign, Chapter 2


That quote taken from The Yellow Sign, (the fourth story in The King in Yellow), led me back to the original 1895 edition published by F. Tennyson Neely. They’re difficult to find physically, but most have been scanned are now available to read online. While the interiors were sparse, I found a few original covers of the first edition, which had a variety of printings featuring different covers.

The King in Yellow First Edition Covers
The King in Yellow First Edition Covers, starting left First Printing to Third

The books above are ordered by the print run. You’ll note, that each cover bears a similar symbol with strange angles and sweeping curls. At fist glance, it certainly fits the description. It’s script like, and could easily be reminiscent of non-English glyphs. I did some work to pull the icon from the old covers so we could see it without all the filigree.

The Neely The Yellow Sign.
The Neely Sign from the first editions

I’m dubbing this the Neely Sign, and I was ready to accept it as the official version. And I wasn’t alone, I’ve seen it used by others. It’s clear that it’s in the zeitgeist just not as popular as the Ross Sign. It is similar to the description, looking not unlike Arabic letterforms or Chinese hànzì, but it’s clearly not born of either. I can see the appeal. My own rendering of Aklo follows similar patterns, loops, dashes, and dots. (You can see the writing here, just scroll down to book IV, V, and VI.) However, after some digging, I came across another cover; a cover that ruined any assumption of the Neely Sign being our infamous Yellow Sign.

Father Stafford by Anthony Hope, published by F. Tennyson Neely
Father Stafford by Anthony Hope, published by F. Tennyson Neely

Anthony Hope’s Father Stafford features the same mark, and it’s important to note that this book isn’t connected to the mythos. It has been described as a “county-house comedy” which is far different from the grim nature of The King in Yellow. So if that is The Yellow Sign on the cover it would be wildly out of place. So what is it? The connection lies with the publisher. Both Father Stafford and The King in Yellow were published by F. Tennyson Neely under the Neely’s Prismatic Library imprint. You can easily see the letters F, T, and N in the symbol, and the periods clearly indicate initials. Further research found the symbol on other covers as well, including this copy of Master and Man by Tolstoy. So, it seems the Neely Sign was the publisher’s mark and not the official Yellow Sign as many have hoped. So I was back to square one… or was I?


“We talked on, unmindful of the gathering shadows, and she was begging me to throw away the clasp of black onyx quaintly inlaid with what we now knew to be the Yellow Sign.”

— Robert W. Chambers, The Yellow Sign, Chapter 18


I eventually found an old post from 2010 on of my favorite blogs, Propnomicon. It’s a fantastic site focused on documenting the creation of realistic props that evoke Lovecraftian mythos (and horror in general.) Within the post, they suggest that the image on the spine of third first-edition printing (and arguably the most memorable) might be The Yellow Sign. It begged a closer look.

The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers, published by F. Tennyson Neely
The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers, First Edition, Third Printing published by F. Tennyson Neely

It’s a remarkable symbol. You can see a similar object held by the figure. A torch consuming itself, or a burning scepter perhaps? When isolated it looks a bit like a caduceus turned upside down. Could this inverted caduceus, a symbol typically used to represent healing, be a representation of corruption? I think there is merit in that interpretation. After all, Hastur clads himself in yellow, which is opposite on the color wheel of purple, the standard color of royalty. Even Carcosa itself is often shown as a corrupted reflection of our world. Plus when stylized, the inverted torch looks like something you could see embroidered on the stoles and hoods of a Yellow King secret society. It has a symmetry, not unlike the Rebekah’s beehive or the Masonic square and compasses and that is advantageous in a symbol’s use. Effective symbols are easy to reproduce, and while the Ross and Neely signs are interesting, they’re overly complex.

Symbol on the spine of The King in Yellow
Symbol from the spine of Chambers’ The King in Yellow

By this point, I think it will be difficult to uncouple popular culture from the Ross Sign. But, personally, I’ve become a fan of the inverted torch and I will probably go forward using it to represent Hastur within my own work. I like that it has more connection with the original text than the Ross creation and it’s not a misinterpretation like the Neely Sign. Even if it doesn’t fully match the description it’s visually evocative.

While there have been other less grounded interpretations[3], there is no one definite answer. Chambers, for his part, was vague; I’d wager that was intentional. He left the titular Sign open to discussion and that is why it remains undiscovered. For me, that adds to the myth and it helps expand the world of cosmic horror. The mystery becomes a part of the draw and that is something I can appreciate.

Then again, there’s also this strange little mark…

A strange symbol on The King in Yellow's Dedication Page


1 It should be noted that Ambrose Bierce was the first to name both Hastur and Carcosa. They appeared in his short stories Haïta the Shepherd, and An Inhabitant of Carcosa found in his 1893 collection Can Such Things Be? Both stories were drawn upon by Chambers for The King in Yellow.

2 It’s important to note that the Ross Sign that we see today is actually a corruption of Ross’ initial design. Chaosium printed the image both upside-down and backward.

3 See True Detective’s use of the Archimedean spiral and deer antlers, objects more evocative of Ireland’s Newgrange than the standard “symbol from beyond” typically found in cosmic horror.

A 2017 Lilac City Comicon Debriefing

A 2017 Lilac City Comicon Debriefing

It’s time for a con debriefing! Last weekend, I spent a couple of wonderful days at Lilac City Comicon in Spokane, Washington. This was my third year at LCCC, and like previous years, I shared a table with my good friend Josh Montreuil. This time around the con not only expanded, but it’s now two wonderful days.

[Left] My table setup [Right] An awesome Negan cosplay!
[Left] My table setup [Right] One of my readers sporting an awesome Negan cosplay!

Last year, I sold out of every copy of The Stars Were Right, so I doubled down and brought more with me this time around. Well, Spokane was insatiable, once again I sold out of every copy of The Stars Were Right. Yep, all gone! It was incredible. Easily one of the best two-day stretches I’ve had while running a table at a convention which means a whole lot of new readers have begun to experience The Bell Forging Cycle.

[Left] Josh speaks with a T-Rex [Center] The Log Lady! [Right] A pair of ninja 4 hire
[Left] Josh speaks with a T-Rex, his target audience [Center] The Log Lady! [Right] A pair of ninja 4 hire

Time for the highlights:

  • Friday night’s LCCC Pro Drink & Draw was great. Met some good people and I was able to circle up with some friends. It was a relaxing way to go into a busy weekend.
  • Once again (as the pictures prove) Spokane really went all out with the cosplay. Amazing work by everyone participating, you could see the time people had dedicated to their costumes. I took a ton of photos, and it was tough narrowing it down and picking favorites to share. Great work everyone! (Sgt. Slaughter, see below, was a particular favorite, but that’s the Joe fan in me coming out.)
  • My mom, dad, sister, and my nephew Derek came out to say hello! It Derek’s first convention and it was amazing to see the excitement as he strolled around in his Pikachu costume. He also left with the desire to be a Roader, which I appreciated. Gotta start ’em young. Right?
  • Likewise, Kari-Lise’s cousin Lou and his son Damon also came out. It was great seeing them as well. It’s nice to have a supportive family in the area. (You can check out a pic of Damon below dressed as a ninja.)
  • It was good to hang out with Josh. He had a new comic this year, Triceratots, and a load of prints. People were really excited to meet him and check out his work. Especially giant monster fans. I highly recommend you follow him. He’s got big plans for the coming year. If you want to meet him, I know he’ll be at Coeur d’ Con in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho in August. If you live nearby check his stuff out.
  • The volunteers were fantastic. It needs to be said over and over. Big thank you to them and to Nathan O’Brien for working so hard to make the convention so successful.
  • Several times I had readers drop by and ask about the status of book four. Knowing there is excitement building gets me excited. I really appreciate knowing there are those eager to join Wal in another adventure. I’ve heard it’s going to be a doozy. After all, “He is coming. Can’t you smell it on the wind?
  • Once again it was good to spend time with Matt Nelson, Peter Foglesong, Jennifer Foglesong, and Lars Brown. All our tables were next to each other, and it was great being able to hang out and chat during the downtimes. If there is such a thing as your ‘convention family’ they’re definitely a part of mine.
[Left] Captain America [Center] My nephew Derek as Pikachu and me as an author who only wears black [Right] Geralt of Rivia
[Left] Captain America [Center] My nephew Derek as Pikachu and me as an author who only wears black [Right] Geralt of Rivia
  • I also had several readers come up just to meet me and tell me how much they loved my books. It was amazing and surreal, and it’s interactions like that which really made my LCCC experience. Writing is a solitary gig, and when people take the time to come up and say they appreciate the hard work, it makes it all worthwhile.
  • Since the con was two days, the Post-Con Decompression Dinner became a Mid-Con Decompression Dinner. It was still as great as always. The food and drink hit the spot, the conversation was lively, and it was a pleasant respite in the middle of the festivities.
  • Josh’s sketch commissions were as wacky and wonderful as always, from Daffy Duck as The Scarlet Pumpernickel to a giant antlered bear armed with a great ax.
  • I enjoyed seeing all my old friends who came by to say hello, Angie, Curt, Carl, and Mike (who surprised me from behind his King Kong mask.) It was nice seeing them, meeting their partners and children, and catching up a little bit.
  • I got to nerd it up with a bunch of horror fans. We talked about Lovecraft, Chambers, The Void, Get Out, The Mist, and so much more.
  • I met some new friends as well. In particular, Rob an illustrator who creates some great Lovecraftian illustrations, Devin who was hanging out across from Josh and me, and Michael another illustrator who ran a table next to ours.
  • Did I mention I sold out of EVERY COPY of The Stars Were Right? EVERY. COPY. Seriously. I did. (I have more on order.) It’s awesome to see so many people starting their journey into the world of The Bell Forging Cycle. If you’re one of them, I hope you enjoy the ride.
  • When I got home late Sunday night I was greeted by the nicest email from a reader who had picked up my books and took a moment to drop me a line to tell me she was already loving them. After a long afternoon of travel, it absolutely made my night.
[Left] Sgt. Slaughter [Center] Rebel Pilot [Right] Kari-Lise's second cousin Damon as a nunchaku spinnin' ninja
[Left] Sgt. Slaughter [Center] Rebel Pilot [Right] Kari-Lise’s second cousin Damon as a nunchaku spinnin’ ninja

The expansion from one to two days was excellent, and other pros enjoyed it as well. Clearly, Spokane is hungry for a world-class convention, and Lilac City is stepping up and providing. I’ll most certainly be attending in 2018. I would love to see LCCC expand into open gaming and more panel tracks as well, but I am sure both are coming. Make sure to follow them on Instagram and Twitter.

Want to read about my past experiences? Check out my debriefings for Lilac City Comicon 2016 and Lilac City Comicon 2015. Next up for me in 2017 is OryCon in November! Remember, You can keep track of where I’ll be and check out my previous conventions over on my Upcoming Appearances page.

Thanks for a great con Spokane, I’ll see you next 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 →

Come See Me at Lilac City Comicon 2017

Come See Me at Lilac City Comicon 2017

This weekend I will be returning for the 2017 celebration of Lilac City Comicon in Spokane, Washington. This year the convention is two whole days running from Saturday, June 3rd to Sunday, June 4th. If it’s anything like the last few conventions, it’ll be a blast. I’ll once again be sharing a table with comic creator and dinosaur enthusiast Josh Montreuil and we’re both bringing a ton of great stuff.

Triceratots, by Josh Montreuil - debuting at LCCC 2017!
Triceratots, by Josh Montreuil – debuting at LCCC 2017!

I’ll have copies of The Stars Were Right, Old Broken Road, and Red Litten World. I’ll also have Bell Caravans patches as well as a ton of free swag, stickers, bookmarks, and buttons. In the past, LCCC hasn’t really been interested in my badge ribbons, but I’ll have mine with me, and like other swag they’re free. If you want to draw a ribbon from THE BOX OF CHOOSING™ just ask me and I’ll be happy to let you try your luck. (Full details on the badge ribbons can be read here.)

Sir Montreuil will have his new debut comic, Triceratots, available! I’ve been given a preview, and it’s not only incredibly fun, but it’s downright adorable. If you’re a fan of dinosaurs or know someone who is (I mean, who isn’t?), be sure to pick it up. He’ll also have a bunch of fresh prints and will be available for sketch commissions.

You can find Josh and me at TABLE C10 right in the center of it all. Click the image below to see where you can find us on the full map. It’s like a treasure map, but you’ll be crossing booths filled with cool stuff and not boring desert islands.

I’m looking forward to the weekend, there are a ton talented people participating, and the 1966 Batmobile will be there! Check out the full guest list and complete exhibitor list over at the official Lilac City Comicon site. I’ll see you there!


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 →

Otter Falls

Glimpse of Otter Falls

Over the weekend, Kari-Lise and I took some friends out to Otter Falls. It’s a stunning waterfall about an hour drive from Seattle plus an easy five-mile hike along the Taylor River.

The culmination of the journey results in a stunning view of a beautiful 1600′ waterfall that streams down a steep granite face. I didn’t take too many pics, but I managed to get a decent one of the falls and figured readers of my blog would appreciate seeing it.

Otter Falls, Washington

If you’re looking to go yourself, you can find the trailhead here. Make sure to check the WTA for recent trip reports.

Where to Find Me & How to Contact Me: A List

Where to Find Me & How to Contact Me: A List

“How do I contact you?”

I’ve been getting this question a lot over the last few weeks. I realize it can be daunting. There aren’t many places I don’t have a social media account. I keep an updated page listing all of my accounts and it is always growing. However, I tend to favor some more than the others. To combat that, I figured I’d write up a list focusing on my priorities when it comes to communication. After all, some places are better than the others. So, if you want to contact me, here’s where to start:

  1. Email
    I check my email daily, and I try to respond to everyone promptly. With other forms of communication, I don’t have notifications turned on. Email is the one exception.
  2. Blog
    This is where I share the most information. I also make sure to approve all legitimate comments and I try to respond to any direct questions.
  3. Twitter
    This is my primary social media platform. As “they” say: my DMs are open.
  4. Goodreads
    Yo, it’s Goodreads. I like talking about books, so I hang out there. Ask me a question.
  5. Instagram
    I’m not as active on Instagram as, Kari-Lise (nor as popular.) But I do occasionally post, and I try to respond to comments.
  6. Facebook
    Honestly, I hate this site so much. But it’s a necessary evil. So I am there, begrudgingly but rarely. Because of that reason, it can take me a few days to respond to messages, but I will eventually get around to them.
  7. Snail Mail
    I check my P.O. box once or twice a month. While I’m happy to mail you free swag, I don’t take the time to send a letter for every one I receive. I’m sorry. The address is on my Contact Page.
  8. Pinterest/Tumblr/Snapchat/Periscope/Etc.
    These are tools for me. Not useful forms of communication.
  9. LinkedIn
    LOL

This list is subject to change, and should that happen I will make another post. For those trying to get ahold of me, I hope this helps. Thanks to those who are reaching out. Writing can be a lonely profession, and it’s always encouraging to get a message from a reader. Y’all rule.