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.

Writing Appealing Action and Wondrous Worldbuilding

How I Layer Worldbuilding Within Action

Over the last few days, some friends in an online writing group and I have been discussing worldbuilding in our writing. Long time readers will know that worldbuilding is something of a passion for me and my own worldbuilding in The Bell Forging Cycle often draws compliments. So whenever there is an opportunity to chat about creating and exploring secondary worlds I’ll gladly join in.

One question came up and I thought it was interesting: can a writer maintain the breakneck pace of an action story and still worldbuild? As a writer who has written three action-oriented novels, I believe the answer is yes. I figured a quick post would be the perfect way to go a step further and explain how I maintain pace and still write a plot-forward scene that expands a world. Show don’t tell, right? To demonstrate I threw together a quick scene, you can read it in all of its trope-filled glory below.


My opponent was Ver, a kudär, one of the desert dwellers. He wore the leathers of a Stalwart, cut from the backs of the enormous lizards that reside deep in the shifting dunes. His was a caste accustomed to war, violence, and bloody hand-to-hand fighting. That didn’t bode well.

Ver beat his chest and threw a handful of dust in the air above his tattooed head. Around us, the crowd chanted, “VER! VER! VER!” in a steady throbbing rhythm.

I rolled my neck; feeling it pop, and shook my arms to keep them loose. I wondered if I looked nervous. A damned kudär, here, of all places. They tended to stick to the fringes, away from population centers. Kudär didn’t usually fight in sanctioned matches. I’d need to change strategies; perhaps I could—

The gong thummed, cutting off my thoughts. No time.

“Fight!”


So, let’s break it down. Here’s what I am doing in that tiny 143-word scene to expand the worldbuilding without interrupting the pace.

  • I’m establishing the action immediately. A fight is about to go down. Just calling out an opponent introduces the tension. The pace is set, let’s keep it up.
  • Relevance matters. Don’t throw in random details that don’t serve the scene. Keep your reader focused on what is happening in the moment.
  • I begin to hint at some interesting stuff without getting bogged down in details. Everything is focused on the fight and then rolls from there. This is key. As my friend Jim has said, think of worldbuilding as a spice. Like any good chef, you don’t want to over season. Give just enough to enliven the imagination without derailing. Should any of these ideas become critical to the plot, they can get revisited. But for now, keep them lean, so the action keeps moving. But there’s a lot there, consider:
    • The kudär. Who are apparently some sort of desert people?
    • They hunt giant lizards for leather.
    • Apparently, the kudär people operate under some kind of caste system.
    • Ver is a “Stalwart, ” and apparently that means he’s accustomed to fighting.
    • The kudär tend to avoid population centers. It’s rare to see one. Our narrator is surprised, this changes his strategy.
    • This match is somehow “sanctioned.” Which opens up a lot of questions. By whom? Why? What for?
  • I also threw in some personal rituals. Ver slaps his chest and throws dust like Lebron. I find little details like these important. Readers like personal connections. I feel like they go further in establishing character than most writers realize. Everyone has nervous tics or habitual fidgets. Play ’em up.

Seasoning worldbuilding elements throughout your story can help to expand the world. And you can do insert them anywhere. The trick is to layer in your deeper world, while you avoid reveling in it unless necessary. Reveling in detail is often where one finds the dreaded info dump. Remember: in the end, all things must serve the plot.

How about you? How do you enhance worldbuilding in your own work? What tricks do you use? Leave a comment and let us know!


Interested in my other articles on worldbuilding? Check out any of the links below.


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A Norwescon 40 Debrief

A Norwescon 40 Debriefing

Norwescon 40 is over. I have returned from the land of hotels, fast food, long-term parking, and airplane noises. (Just kidding SeaTac, you know I love ya.) This means it’s time for a con debriefing! This is the post where I recap my experience, share photos, and talk about what happened during the convention.

K. M. Alexander and an Andorian
I met this surly Andorian wandering the halls.

This debriefing will be a bit different from previous posts. I wasn’t tied to a table, and so I got to experience the convention as an attendee as well as a professional. I really enjoyed my time. Let’s break it down by day and hit the highlights…


Thursday, Day 1

This was the quietest of days for me. I worked that day, so I didn’t show up until the evening. Once there, I checked in, got the lay of the land, said hello to a few friends. I managed to take in a few panels and checked out the art show opening before I went to the Small Publisher Party. The party was super crowded. I came late and learned that fashionably late means “no room” something completely different compared to art show openings.


Friday, Day 2

I started the day off with “Advanced Self-Publishing.” It was a great panel with a great moderator (Thanks, Tori!) and really we didn’t have enough time, and this panel could have easily lasted several hours. Loads of information was shared. I hope the audience enjoyed it and learned something in the process.

Afterward, I hung out with Elliott Kay, Annie Bellet and her husband Matt, their friend (and another fellow author) Ann, and the indomitable Jason Vanhee. We talked shop and chatted about everything. It was nice getting to know everyone. (Fun fact, Matt Bellet is the Daredevil featured in my post from last year. I had no idea.)

[Left] This Handmaid was my favorite cosplay costume of the weekend [Middle] Colossus by Josh Foreman [Right] Where I ended up on badge ribbons
[Left] This Handmaid was my favorite cosplay of the convention [Middle] Colossus by Josh Foreman was on display at the Norwescon Art Show [Right] Where I ended up on badge ribbons

My second panel was “Worldbuilding: Alien Cultures that Don’t Dehumanize.” I feel like it was a bit too narrow of a topic, but the discussion ended up being pretty good. Plus, I got to meet Rhiannon Held who ended up on two other panels with me as well.

I attended “Hated It!” that evening, and it was a highlight of Friday. The panel was a celebration of hate towards pop-culture properties moderated by Jason Vanhee. The audience filled out cards of things they enjoyed, and the panel hated on them. Much shade was thrown. As a result, I now hate Arrival, c’est la vie.


Saturday, Day 3

Steve Toutonghi showed up! Steve, Jason, and I spent most of the day together. Which was great. (Next year we need to get Steve on some panels.) My day was packed. My first panel was a return from Norwescon 39: The SF/FANTASY BATTLE ROYALE. It was wondrous, and as expected, it was my favorite panel. They moved us to a bigger room and we nearly filled it. Once again, Matt Youngmark hosted, Erik Scott de Bie and I returned, and we were joined by newcomer Jason Bourget. We made a good team. It was hilarious and raucous. In the end, I regret picking Malcolm Reynolds over Robin Hood the Cartoon Fox. I feel like it set up a chain of events that propelled us toward a painful outcome. Much to my chagrin, Deadpool won.

Ugh, Deadpool.

I hate Deadpool.

Bacchus/Dionysus was wandering the halls
Bacchus/Dionysus was wandering the halls on Saturday.

Thankfully, I was able to wash away the disappointment of the Merc with a Mouth’s championship by discussing “The Changing Landscape of Worldbuilding” which I really enjoyed. My fellow panelists were sharp, and I think the discussion was helpful.

Finally, I wrapped up the day on an evening panel that I had sat on from last year: “Location, Location, Location: Horror’s Unsung Character.” We quickly decided that Location wasn’t unsung in horror at all, it was horror. Plus the audience was great! There was loads of discussion. I like panels that feel more like a chat among friends, and this was absolutely one of those.


“You can put lipstick on a pig, and it can still be worth kissing.”

— In the “Call to Action” Panel


Sunday, Day 4

My morning panel reunited me with Annie Bellet and Rhiannon Held. 10 AM on the last day of a convention can be rough, but a lot of people showed up! We jawed for a while about Urban Fantasy worldbuilding. It was one of the best panels I was on, the crowd was engaged, the room was packed.

Sites from around Norwescon
[Left] Michael G. Munz as Heisenberg, the one who knocks [Middle] Pair of Daleks lurking under the stairs [Right] A cool (highly detailed) steampunk ensemble.

I had one more panel at the end of the day on worldbuilding in Post-Apocalyptic fiction, then had a few meetings before finally calling it a day. When I got home, I was exhausted. I had grand plans to write, but I sat down on the couch, and my body refused to move. I ended up watching Escape from New York on Netflix since my brain didn’t want to do anything else.


Quick Thoughts/Highlights

  • The staff of volunteers was great. Thank them.
  • The social media team killed it this year. Follow them.
  • The cosplay as always was wonderful.
  • People were really open and friendly and accepting. I appreciated that.
  • It was awesome spending more time with a few local authors. In particular Jason Vanhee who hung out with me all weekend. But also Steve Toutonghi, Elliott Kay, Annie Bellet, Matt Youngmark, Nathan Crowder, Rhiannon Held, and so many others.
  • My fellow panelists were great. There was a lot of mutual respect and some substantial discussion. I’ve heard there were issues in other tracks, but I have no complaints. The last thing I want to do is waste people’s time. I don’t think we did that. So, yay us!
  • It became apparent to Rhiannon Held and me that there needs to be a panel next year on Weird West. I’m totally planning to suggest and offer to moderate it. So if you’re into horror and cowboys, keep your eyes peeled.
  • I soft-pitched Coal Belly to the audience in one of the worldbuilding panels, and I heard a lot of positive reactions. Yay! It made me excited to keep working on it.
  • I sold books! I didn’t expect that, but I had a few readers return for the next book in the series. Also had some people approach me after panels as well looking to pick up a copy.
  • Not having a table meant I wasn’t in the Dealer’s Room all that much. But I did see a few friends from there. I was a bit bummed we didn’t have time to chat more.
  • It was great to see so many of the same folks in so many of my panels. (Including a lot I remember from last year.) Y’all have good taste.
  • Goodspaceguy was there.
  • I sat in on a few readings. I need to do this more, I always really enjoy them. Both Hayley Stone and Jeremy Zimmerman did a great job. I’m glad I caught both readings.
  • There were quite a few panels I missed because of conflicts. (A few of Elliott Kay’s, at least one of Jason’s, and the Gamemaster’s Manifesto podcast to name a few.) Which is a bummer. But, with a programming track as substantial as Norwescon that is bound to happen. In times like these, I wish I could split myself like Dr. Manhattan.
  • I managed to get up to the game room briefly. It’s lovely up there! I should play a session next year.
  • My one complaint: there needs to be more contrast on the name badges. I appreciate the artwork, but the whole point of the badge is to read folk’s names. When you can’t do that the badge is sorta failing its purpose.

As always, Norwescon 40 was great. I really liked the freedom of not having a table, and would absolutely consider doing this way again. I loved interacting with the Norwescon community, they’re warm and always welcoming.

As for future plans, I’m attempting to get into Crypticon for May, and Lilac City is coming up in June, and I’m hoping to make it to Orycon 39 this November. We’ll see. You can keep track of where I’ll be next and check out previous debriefings from previous conventions on my Upcoming Appearances page.

Thanks for an amazing Norwescon 40. I’ll see you at 41.


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

You Must Be the One

“If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”

Toni Morrison


As I’m wont to do, I’ve been talking with friends about writing. Lately, a lot of our talk has been around the whole work vs. passion and how it plays into success and failure. Writing what we think we should be writing versus writing what we want to write. Today I stumbled across this Toni Morrison quote which hits at the center of it all.

Write your story. The only way to fail in writing is to not write.

Come see me at Norwescon 40!

Come See Me at Norwescon 40

This Thursday, I will be attending Norwescon 40 in SeaTac, Washington. I’m excited! This will be my third year participating, and I’ll be on quite a few panels. There’s a lot of good stuff this year. I’m really looking forward to discussing worldbuilding, talking about self-publishing, and joining in for the SF/Fantasy Battle Royale. (It’s amazing and hilarious, you should come.)

Click here to view my full schedule ↦


Where I’ll Be

Short Answer: All over!

Long Answer:
Unlike previous years, I will not have a home base on Writer’s Row. I wanted to focus on the convention this year, and not trying to juggle panels, readings, and the business of running a table. It is always a blast, but it’s also exhausting. I’ll definitely run tables in the future, but this time around I’ll be in the halls. (Look for the big guy wearing all black.) I’m looking forward to actually seeing things and participating as an audience member. Keep and eye out for me, come up and say hello, I’m a friendly sort.

Obviously, I’m happy to sign anyone’s book! If you want a book for your collection, I will have some with me. As always, books are $10 at conventions.


Badge Ribbons

If you’ve attended Norwescon before you know about the love of badge ribbons. I even wrote a post about them last year. Yes, I will have my ribbons with me this year. 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.

Badge Ribbons will be back for 2017
The common Shambler and Roader ribbons and the rare silver Caravan Master ribbon. (I only bring a handful of those.)

Get Guidebook

If you’re a Guidebook user (you should be) you can find me on there as well! The app is free and easy to use. Plus, it’s a great way of keeping track of events you wish to attend, and you can set reminders, so you don’t miss anything. I highly recommend it.

Get Guidebook, Find Me
To find me: first, tap the Menu Button, then tap “Attending Professionals,” search for “K. M.” then tap on my name. Hooray!

Have downtime and looking for something to read at the convention? This year, I’m offering samples of my books right on my Guidebook profile! The first four chapters of all three novels are available for free. To find them, tap the menu button in the upper left, then tap “Attending Professionals,” search or scroll to me, and tap on my profile. You’ll see the samples listed under PDFs. Just tap on one and start reading!


I think that’s all the particulars. I’ll be active on Twitter as always, you should follow me over there. I also share photos on Instagram. I hope everyone enjoys the con.I know it’s one of the highlights of my year. Stay safe, be respectful, and have fun. See you Thursday!

Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. Alexander

Introducing: Dead Drop

For the last four years, my newsletter has been titled The Telegram. It was a reference to the telegrams used for communication in my Bell Forging Cycle. To be honest, I always found it a little boring and a bit stodgy. Since I am expanding beyond Lovecraftian horror with my recent projects, I figured it was time for a change. I wanted something fun and fresh, and its own thing, something that wasn’t tied to a specific property.

So for the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to come up with something new. As subscribers know my communiqués are rare, at most a handful a year. In some ways, their evanescence reminded me of espionage tradecraft. Secret missives passed from agent to agent in the shadows. This, in turn, got me thinking about dead drops. If you don’t know, a dead drop is a method used to pass information between agents using a concealed location. In the past it has been a hollow spike embedded in the ground or tree, at other times it’s a hollowed-out brick in a wall, and occasionally it’s a freeze-dried rat. While my newsletter isn’t a dead rat (for now), I liked the idea of secret exchanges of information. The name was a perfect fit, and thus, Dead Drop was born.

Going forward, Dead Drop will still operate like The Telegram. It will remain a rare and exclusive club. I’ll keep it reserved for announcements, previews, and such. I’ve been contemplating sharing some of my new work there as well, new chapters and the like. If you’re not a subscriber click the link below and sign up today, it takes only a few seconds.


Subscribe to Dead Drop Today ↦


So long to The Telegraph, and hello to Dead Drop. I’ll catch you in your inbox, agents.

Kari-Lise Alexander's WAKE

WAKE [Update]

As I posted previously, I spent the weekend in Los Angeles, California for the launch of Kari-Lise’s latest body of work, WAKE. While I’ll have more to share about the trip in the future, I wanted to write a quick update letting everyone know that the whole show is now available to view online! Just click below and check it out. It’s incredible.


View WAKE at Thinkspace Gallery ↦


This was Kari-Lise’s first show in the L.A. market, and it was great to see so much support. The crew at the gallery were wonderful. The show looks amazing in the space. I was telling a friend this morning that it was nice to see the pieces hanging on a proper wall. A few fans even made treks from San Francisco and San Deigo to check out the show! Our trip was a blast and it was a whirlwind of a weekend.

Opening Night at Thinkspace Gallery
Opening night at Thinkspace Gallery

If you’re in LA, go check it out. The show will be on display until April 22nd. You can also read more about WAKE and Kari-Lise’s work at any of the links below: