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, two dogs, and two rabbits. His work explores nontraditional settings within speculative fiction, bending and blending genres to create rich worlds and unique approachable characters.

A Weekend of Smoke

A Weekend of Smoke

This past long weekend, I took a day off from edits and spent a pleasant day reading and hanging out by my grill and smoking a variety of foods. While I enjoy posting about my fiction, writing, fictional swearing, inspirational quotes, weird plants, mapping projects, or my historical research, sometimes it’s nice to take a break and share just random happenings—occasional incidentals. This Smoke Report™ is one of those random happenings.

My cheap but effective offset smoker—they’re not the easiest to learn on, but they’re fun.

In total, I cooked for about six hours, keeping the temp around 225º for the duration of the smoke—I was delighted with the results. I’m getting pretty good at maintaining a constant temperature with chips and chunks and only experienced a few flareups which I was able to quickly control. Preparation is key to doing this right. I like to soak most of my wood overnight (I used mesquite for this go-around), but I like to have some dry wood handy as well. I find that being able to quickly shift a fire’s momentum is important in maintaining a constant temperature.

Smoked wings
My smoked wings were rubbed in the Sweet Sizzle rub from For the Love of Spice which added a nice base flavor.

Chicken wings were the first thing off the grill. These were namely a snack/lunch break while we waited for the main course—a three-pound pork butt—to finish. I think they turned out really good. I brined them for an hour before smoking, and I’m glad I did, it kept the meat juicy while the outside crisped up nicely. Afterward, I ended up turning the remains into a bone-broth, It’ll probably end up in a risotto.

Smoked onions, garlic, and corn—be sure to soak vegetables in water for at least an hour before smoking
Smoked onions, garlic, and corn—be sure to soak vegetables in water for at least an hour before smoking.

Along with the meat, I smoked garlic (fresh from our garden), onions (also fresh from our garden), eggs (not pictured), and corn (from the grocer.) The garlic was terrific and became soft and spreadable like roasted garlic but with an added kick of smoke. The onions were much sweeter and less smokey than I expected but an excellent little addition to the feast. The corn on the cob turned out well although it’s still early in the season for corn and the ears weren’t the high-quality corn we’ll find later this summer.

I’m not sure if I’d smoke eggs again—they get an interesting texture and color. The outside turns a golden yellow-brown, but they really don’t carry a lot of extra smoke flavor. Outside of looking unique, I don’t think smoking eggs adds all that much.

My excellent pork butt sitting atop a Ruby Pear Woodworks cutting board.
My excellent pork butt sitting atop a Ruby Pear Woodworks cutting board.
The pork butt sliced up and ready to eat.
The pork butt sliced up and ready to eat.

As far as the main course went, this was easily the best pork butt I have ever smoked. I dry rub all my smoked meats—I tend to prefer it over sticky/saucy barbeque.  It finished about an hour earlier than I expected so I wrapped it for an hour while I finished everything else. This only helped tenderize it further. The final result was incredibly tender with a fantastic flavor thanks to a solid smoke ring.

Grilled flatbread with olive oil, rosemary (from our garden) and salt
Grilled flatbread with olive oil, rosemary (from our garden) and—of course—salt.

At the very end, I grilled homemade flatbread and some beautiful turnips (sadly not pictured) which were also great. It was a delightful little feast all in all and a relaxing day. It’s fun to take days like this to test recipes of perfect techniques. I learned a bunch, and I am quite happy with my results.

Below, I’ve shared my dry rub recipe—it’s great for pork, but it’s a solid all-around rub that works across a variety of food from vegetables like cauliflower steaks or a protein like chicken. It’s also easy to manipulate so throwing in your favorite spice can add a unique and personal spin. Enjoy!


My Dry Rub

  • 4 tsp Seasoned Salt
  • 2 tsp Dark Brown Sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp Granulated Sugar
  • 1 tsp Smoked Paprika
  • 1 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1/4 tsp Ground Pepper
  • 1/4 tsp Dry Mustard
  • 1/4 tsp Ground Cumin
  • Pinch of Ground Ginger

Can be stored in an airtight container for up to a month.


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Like My Books? Here Are Some Other Authors to Read...

Like My Books? Here Are a Few Recommendations…

I’m still hard at work on Gleam Upon the Waves, and while I’m making significant progress, I don’t have a specific timeline for release. So, if you’re a fan of my work and you’re looking for something to read in the interim that strikes a similar weird-fiction chord s, let me recommend a few of my favorite novels from a whole bunch of amazingly talented writers. In no particular order…


Cherie Priest

What to Read: Maplecroft & Chapelwood

Priest is a talented and multifaceted author who has written a great many books in a variety of genres. However, if you like books where heroes willingly fight against the madness of Lovecraftian monsters then I cannot recommend her series The Borden Dispatches enough—the first book is a solid new-mythos entry with great characters and a fascinating premise, but Priest really hits her stride in book two, Chapelwood, a humid deep-south foray into the mythos. Pick them both up and read ’em in order.


John Hornor JacobsThe Sea Dreams It Is the Sky by John Hornor Jacobs

What to Read: The Incorruptibles & The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky

Jacobs is well known among mythos enthusiasts for his 2011 novel, Southern Gods. But lately he’s stepped up his game; first, there’s his weird-west trilogy: The Incorruptibles, a combination of classic western, high-fantasy, and Roman mythology. His latest mythos novella The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky (one of my favorite books from last year) is an absolute masterpiece of modern cosmic horror—I can’t wait for the follow up: A Lush and Seething Hell.


China MiévilleThe Scar by China Miéville

What to Read: The Scar

If you like my strange city filled with a variety of even more unusual inhabitants, then you’ll love the steampunk-influenced world of New Crobuzon.  Miéville’s writing is evocative, his world rich and vibrant, his characters flawed yet relatable, and everything is weighted in a deep history that always leaves me in awe. While all three in the series are solid books and huge influences on me, my favorite is easily the middle novel, The Scar. A swashbuckling adventure that takes place in the mobile pirate-city of Armada.


Fonda LeeJade City by Fonda Lee

What to Read: Jade City

I discovered Lee’s work after sitting on a panel with her at OryCon in 2017. After hearing her talk about her urban fantasy wuxia novel, Jade City, I knew it would be something I enjoyed. I wasn’t wrong. The city is captivating, the worldbuilding fantastic, and Lee’s characters are grounded and flawed. There’s a lot here, and it’s worth exploring. If you like gritty cities and enjoy crime dramas, then I’d recommend you take some time and spend a few days in the streets of Janloon. (The sequel, Jade War is coming soon!)


Lost Gods by BromBrom

What to Read: Lost Gods: A Novel

My friend Brom is both an incredible artist and a fantastic writer. For me, his 2016 novel, Lost Gods, stands out. It’s a rich exploration into the bizarre and brutal world of Purgatory and the people, monsters, and strange creatures who live (and die) therein. It’s a vast story that mixes a variety of mythology and weaves a remarkable and splendid tapestry of broken and complex characters and has you cheering for an unlikely protagonist searching for a way home.


The Half-Made World by Felix GilmanFelix Gilman

What to Read: The Half-Made World

I love a good weird-west book, and there isn’t enough of them. The world of Gilman’s novel is stunning in its intricacies and feels vibrate and alive and offers up something unique and engaging that feels thoroughly fresh. I want more. There’s a lot of love: warring factions, a clash of cultures, an unlikely set of anti-heroes, and a surprising plot that feels as unique as it is enthralling. A rollicking gunsmoke-tinged romp that I found delightful.


There’s a wide variety in this list, everything from cosmic horror to steampunk to weird-west. I’m sure you’ll find something to enjoy. All the links go to Amazon, but if you can, I’d recommend asking for them at your local indie book store. Once finished, be sure to leave a review for other readers on Amazon and Goodreads and share your thoughts about the books. It’s a small but powerful way to help out an author and your fellow reader.

What about you? Do you have any reading recommendations for folks who enjoy my books? Leave a comment below and help others discover some of your favorite novels.

Happy reading!

 

Raunch Reviews: Voltron: Legendary Defender

Raunch Review: Voltron: Legendary Defender

Raunch Reviews is a series about profanity. Not real profanity, but speculative swearing. Authors often try to incorporate original, innovative forms of profanity into our own fantastical works as a way to expand the worlds we build. Sometimes we’re successful. Often we’re not. In this series, I examine the faux-profanity from various works of sci-fi and fantasy, judge their effectiveness, and rate them on an unscientific and purely subjective scale. This is Raunch Reviews, welcome.


Raunch Review: Voltron: Legendary Defender
Raunch Review: Voltron: Legendary Defender
The Author: Joaquim Dos Santos & Lauren Montgomery
Work in Question: Voltron: Legendary Defender
The Profanity: “Quiznak”

Overall, the Netflix exclusive Voltron Legendary Defender was well received by fans — and the writers took the time in this reboot to deeply explore various aspects of the lore. And among that lore, its language. Within the show are a number of unique Altean words. For example, I’m a big fan of “tick”—as a unit of measurement. But there’s one word that gets used as an obscenity over and over and the thing is… well, to be honest, I’m not sure it is a profanity. That word: “quiznak.” In fact, it uses are so varied and confusing that it seems to mean nothing at all. Here’s video proof so you can see what I mean.

More than anything “quiznak” wants to be profanity, but it’s not. It’s hard to understand where it falls within the language. It’s used as an interjection. (“Quiznak!”) It’s used as a noun. (“Shut your quiznak!”) It’s used as an intensifier. (“I will not have some quiznak-ing Galra soldier on the bridge of my ship!”) Its use is so broad that “quiznak” has lost any direction on the show. What is a quiznak exactly? What does it mean? How does it translate? Why is it so long—I assume the Altean language has drift. Even our most vile profanities are rooted somewhere—and they all have rules with their use. What we have here is a word without meaning—a formless censor-slip that serves as lazy worldbuilding. It is certainly unique. So, point-and-a-half for trying, I suppose.

Score: Half Swear (1.5)

Previous Raunch Reviews


Have a suggestion for Raunch Reviews? It can be any made up slang word from a book, television show, or movie. You can email me directly with your recommendation or leave a comment below. I’ll need to spend time with the property before I’ll feel confident reviewing it, so give me a little time. I have a lot of books to read.


 

Donia: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Donia: A Free 17th Century Settlement Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

“Uniqueness” is the primary quality I look for when searching for source material for brush sets. As a rule, cartographers tend to gravitate toward standardization—and for a good reason, familiar signs and symbols allow for easier comprehension. While the uniformity we see today took centuries to homogenize, along the way we got some incredible deviations.

Today’s set highlights one of those departures, and it makes for a fine brush set that would serve any fantasy map well. Taken from 1686’s Isola di Malta etched by Francesco Donia who detailed the cities, towns, churches, and fortifications of the nation of Malta. I particularly like how Donia rendered the uniqueness inherent to each of the individual settlements. They’re all different! But these aren’t the slight Blaeu-like approach with subtle variations. Donia rendered individual buildings which allowed each city to feel unique and purposeful.

A sample of the Donia set

If you’re looking for flora, you’ll want to go elsewhere. This is a set focused on human constructions—cities, towns, castles, churches, towers, fort, even a fountain! It’s not as extensive as some sets, just a little over a hundred brushes. But, it will play well with any other flora-focused brush set so don’t be afraid to mix and match it’s your fantasy world! Do what feels right.

Within Donia, you’ll discover:

  • 33 Cities
  • 20 Churches
  • 2 Fancy Villas
  • 7 Forts
  • 10 Towers
  • 9 Unique Settlement Brushes
  • 20 Mountains
  • 10 Mountain Ranges
  • 12 Cartouches

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set (it’ll work in GIMP as well) and a transparent PNG in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files. Click here to view the PNG in your browser. Heads up: it’ll come up black and look broken if viewed in Chrome, but trust me, they’re all there.


DOWNLOAD DONIA v1.1


Version 1.1 Update: Minor change in the description to be more accurate—from “Cartography” to “Settlement” want to make sure people realize this set is primarily focused on cities, towns, towers, churches, castles, etc. If you have v1.0 be aware there is no change to the content. (I do concede, the included mountains are pretty cool.)


As with all of my brush sets, Donia is free for any use and is distributed with a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License that means you can freely use it in commercial work and distribute adaptations. While attribution is a part of the license, I personally don’t care. All I did was convert these into modern brushes, Francesco Donia did all the real work—so if you need to give someone credit, give it to him. (That said, it’s absolutely not necessary.)

Enjoy Donia!

Feel free to show me what you created by sending me an email or finding me on Twitter. I love seeing how these brushes get used, and I’d be happy to share your work with my readers.


💸 Supporting This Work

If you like the Donia brush set (or any of my free brushes, really) and would like to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my weird speculative fiction novels. The first book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook.

You can find all my books in stores and online. Visit bellforgingcycle.com to learn more about the series. Tell your friends!

And what’s a pulpy urban fantasy novel without a map? When my 2nd book in the series launched I shared a map detailing the expanded world, you can check it out here.


🗺 More Map Brushes

Donia isn’t the only brush set I’ve released. Below are links to other free brush sets with a wide variety of styles all free and all open for personal or commercial use, you should be able to find something that works for your project.

Blaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Blaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush

Based on Joan Blaeu’s Terræ Sanctæ—a 17th-century tourist map of the Holy Land—this set includes a ton of unique and varied signs as well as a large portion of illustrative cartouches that can add a flair authenticity to any fantasy map. Elegant and nuanced, everything works within a system, but nearly every sign is unique.

Aubers: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Aubers: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

An 18th Century brush set based on a map from 1767 detailing the journey of François Pagès, a French naval officer, who accompanied the Spanish Governor of Texas on a lengthy exploration through Louisiana, Texas, and Mexico. A unique southwestern set with a few interesting deviations—including three volcanos!

L’Isle: A Free 18th Century Battlefield Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

L’Isle: An 18th Century Battlefield Brush Set

A departure from the norm, this set is based on the Plan Batalii map which was included in a special edition of The First Atlas of Russia in 1745. A detailed view of a battle during the Russo-Turkish War of 1735–1739. Canon! Units! Battles! Perfect to map out the combat scenarios in your fantasy stories.

Widman: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Widman: A 17th Century Cartography Brush Set

A 17th Century brush set based on the work of Georgio Widman for Giovanni Giacomo de Rossi’s atlas published in 1692. A fantastic example of Cantelli da Vignola’s influence and a solid set for any fantastic map. This is the workhorse of antique map brush sets—perfect for nearly any setting.

Walser: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

An 18th Century brush set based on the work of Gabriel Walser with a focus on small farms and ruins and a solid set of mountain and hills. This is a great brush set to see how Vignola’s influence persisted across generations. It was etched over 80 years after the Widman set but you’ll find a few familiar symbols within.

Lumbia: A Free Sketchy Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Lumbia: A Sketchy Cartography Brush Set

A sketchy style brush set I drew myself that focuses on unique hills and mountains and personal customizability. My attempt at trying to channel the sort of map a barkeep would draw for a band of hearty adventurers. It includes extra-large brushes for extremely high-resolution maps.

Lehmann: A Hatchure Brush Set

Named after Austrian topographer Johann Georg Lehmann creator of the Lehmann hatching system in 1799, this is a path-focused brush set designed for Adobe Illustrator that attempts to captures the hand-drawn style unique 19th Century hachure-style mountains.


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 →

Eating an Impossible Burger

Eating the Impossible

Yesterday, a few of my coworkers and I made our way down to Vonn’s 1000 Spirits here in Seattle with the intent to subject ourselves to a particular product that has recently been making headlines thanks to Burger King. That product? The Impossible Burger.

My Impossible Burger with mushrooms, caramelized onions, smoked gouda, pickled red onions, mayo—oh, and fries.

My grandfather ran beef cattle and during my formative years, I spent many days helping him on his small farm in rural Idaho. Because of that, I’ve been around high-quality beef for most of my life. I have issues with massive factory-farmed beef but I’ve never embraced vegetarianism. That said, I also don’t have some inherent machismo driving me to impress people with my meat consumption—at my core, I’m an omnivore. I’ll eat anything.

I came away impressed. To me the Impossible Burger tastes exactly like a burger, it’s amazingly juicy, and I didn’t have the gross grease-bomb feeling in my stomach you sometimes get after eating a big beefy burger. If there were any significant difference, I’d say the Impossible feels slightly denser—but not in a bad way, just more consistent with a snappier bite. If no one had told me I was eating faux-meat I wouldn’t have been the wiser.

I’d recommend trying it out for yourself. Impossible Foods has a handy locator to help you find its products in your neck of the woods. Version 2.0 has been so popular there’s been a bit of a shortage so it might be hard to find as they continue to increase production. If you want to know how it’s made (and it’s super cool) I recommend starting with their info on heme and learn how Impossible Foods makes their product tastes like the real thing.

✨🍔✨