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.

Raunch Review: The Wheel of Time

Raunch Review: The Wheel of Time

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: The Wheel of Time
Raunch Review: The Wheel of Time
The Author: Robert Jordan
Work in Question: The Wheel of Time (Eye of the World, specifically)
The Profanity: “Burn Me”

There is a cohesion in the faux-profanity used throughout this series, which is a positive. But, Robert Jordan falls into a common faux-profanity pattern that crops up all too often, where common words and phrases are conscripted into obscenity. (Looking at you, Stormlight Archive.) These often fall short for me; in one moment they’re ordinary words and phrases wielded by characters with standard use and then the next moment they brandished as profanity. That’s… odd.

“Burn me” is a perfect example of this. A burn is a reasonably common occurrence in our real world, just as it is in Jordan’s Westlands. The word is used as a descriptive by Jordan where one would expect. There’s even a character named Burn (a wolf). This common use affects the faux-profanity phrase, by attaching it to the everyday it draws out any suggested coarseness. It’s profanity robbed of the profane.

Throughout Eye of the World, the phrase is often wielded as an oath — but it’s implied to have the same effect as an intensifier, which is linguistically confusing. Many oaths get shortened to intensifiers over time, but no one is naming their kid (or wolf) after either of them. To that point, “burn” isn’t used on its own, although it would make sense linguistically, especially for an intensifier.

But, the consistency gives it some value. Fire and the results thereof clearly hold some place space among the population. And similar phrases crop up. Plus, this is a reduced version of a longer and more interesting oath, “the light burn me” which — while not entirely fresh as far as fantasy oaths go — reads much better. I’d argue that while it wavers on any perceived offensiveness, and although it works well enough as an oath, it’s better as an intensifier.

Score: Raunch Review FullRaunch Review FullRaunch Review EmptyRaunch Review EmptyRaunch Review Empty (2.0)

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.


An ECCC 2019 Debriefing

An ECCC 2019 Debriefing

This past weekend I joined thousands of others in attending the 17th annual Emerald City Comic Con in my hometown of Seattle, Washington. It’s incredible how far this show has come. This year I attended two days, Friday and Saturday alongside my friend and fellow writer Steve Toutonghi. (The paperback for his novel Side Life lands on April 9th, and you can and should preorder it now.)

I didn’t take a ton of photos this time. My iPhone is starting to show its age, and I am less inclined to snap photos as I wander. Besides, photographers more talented than I have it handled. If you want to see the cosplay, SYFY Wire did an excellent job covering the scene. They have galleries for Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4. I recommend checking ‘em out.


🌤 Friday

Elmore Leonard always said to avoid opening with the weather, but I’m going to do it anyway. Sorry, Mr. Leonard. This past weekend was the first true spring weekend in Seattle, and it was gorgeous. I have to admit I felt a little guilty hiding away inside an enormous convention center rather than being outside. But I pushed those feelings aside and bathed myself in the glow of fluorescent lighting.

Steve and I tend to spend most of our time at the convention around the Writers Block—an extension near Artist Alley with a focus on the literary. That said—in the past few years, throughout the show I’ve noticed more of a book presence. It’s been great to see.

Sci-Fi Adrenaline Rush – (Left to Right) Rob Hart, Peter Tieryas, Madeleine Roux, moderator Jason M. Hough

The highlight of the days was attending “Sci-Fi Adrenaline Rush” moderated by Jason M. Hough with Madeleine Roux, Peter Tieryas, and Rob Hart. The topic centered on high-tension action within science fiction, but when Q&A happened, it became a discussion on craft. Everyone one of the authors had solid advice, and the audience came with some great questions. Really makes me think there should be a regular forum for this sort of discussion at ECCC—a re-occurring panel where people can ask the authors how they approach writing.

After the panel, Steve and I chatted with each of them briefly. When I got home, I bought Roux’s House of Furies, Tieryas’ United States of Japan and preordered Hart’s The Warehouse. I’m looking forward to reading all of them.

The cosplay was unbelievable

☀️ Saturday

We began our day with a game show style panel hosted by author Myke Cole. He did an excellent job, and the audience was lively and invested—the goal was to stump the panelists and overall the audience did just that. That said when it comes to game show formats, I think I prefer the pop-culture Battle Royale competition that Matt Youngmark hosts at Norwescon.

I found a Brom!
I found a Brom!

I spent quite a bit of time wandering the show floor on Saturday. Speaking of Matt Youngmark, I picked up the latest novel in his Futhermucking Classics trilogy from his table. (Managed to score the last copy! Yay me!) They’re always a fun read and Matt has a great sense of humor. I also saw my pal Brom and checked out some of the work of other local artists in the Homegrown section.

The best panel I attended on day two “The Thrill of the Chase” a discussion on YA Thrillers with April Henry, Cat Winters, Deb Caletti, Parker Peevyhouse, and Paula Stokes. There was a lot here, some discussion about craft and approach to thrillers in general. There was a question regarding the drama that seems to vortex around the YA space—and how the authors themselves handle that while writing dark subject matter. Most of them said they ignored it, and that most YA readers don’t pay much attention to Twitter. That makes sense, after all when one is outside of an echo chamber you don’t usually hear anything. A good reminder.

The Thrill of the Chase – (Left to Right) moderator Avrey (whose last name I couldn’t find/remember—Sorry!), Deb Caletti, Cat Winters, April Henry, Paula Stokes, and Parker Peevyhouse

I wasn’t feeling so great Sunday morning, and I had a manuscript to fight with, so I ended up staying home and working on the last day. Unfortunately, I missed a few folks (Sorry, Lars!) which bummed me out. One of the best parts about conventions like ECCC is hanging out with cool and likeminded people.

Overall, I enjoyed my time at ECCC. I do wish there were more craft related discussions—nerding out can be great, but it’s nice to hear others experiences working in the industry. I feel like if I go again, I need to participate more—at the very least run a table. Otherwise, I tend to be aimless and a little restless. (I know, I know, I said as much last year. But I mean it this time.)

Thanks for a great convention Emerald City—it was a lot of fun. I’m sure I’ll see you again.


Have a convention you’d like me to attend? Let me know by leaving a comment or sending me an email. Remember, You can keep track of where I’ll be and read previous convention debriefing over on my Upcoming Appearances page.


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 →

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

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

I’ve always been fascinated by the early maps of North America; the history of the continent is clear in the signs and symbols. You can see the colonizers march slowly across a wild continent and read their fear of both the indigenous population and the unknown landscape. The colonized and the colonizer and the ramifications therein is a common story throughout history, and it’s a story that’s been told many times in fantasy literature. It’d make sense there would be a desire for maps that can help tell those stories.

With that in mind, I’d like to introduce my newest free brush set: Aubers. The set comes from Carte d’une partie de l’Amerique Septentrionale which shows 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 in 1767. The map was engraved by J.B.L. Aubers under the direction of Robert Bernard in 1782. It’s particularly interesting because it details the settlements of the indigenous peoples of Mexico and the American Southwest. You can also see the reach of Catholic missionaries during the late 18th-century. It’s a momentary glimpse of Nueva España frozen in time.

A small example of the brushes included in Aubers
A small example of the brushes included in Aubers

Stylistically it’s unique. Aubers has an interesting way of rendering flora and his landforms have a style that sets his work apart from other engravers. Within this set, you can also observe a transition happening in cartography. Aubers blends the detailed pictographic style common in early 18th-century work with newer and cleaner icons that would dominate the 1800s. Instead of rendering small pictograms we see a transition to cleaner and simpler signs used for larger settlements (circle with the dot) and forts (simple squares.) It’s an interesting blend and a harbinger of something that would eventually standardize over the next century.

Inside Aubers you’ll find over four hundred brushes, including:

  • 15 Major Cities
  • 15 Large Towns
  • 10 Small Towns
  • 50 Habitations (These normally used to mark farms or tiny villages)
  • 4 Archdioceses
  • 2 Dioceses
  • 20 Forts
  • 10 Missions
  • 25 Native Villages
  • 3 Native Villages with Missionaries
  • 4 Port Indicators
  • 100 Scrub Trees
  • 75 Scrub Land
  • 50 Mountains
  • 40 Mountain Ranges
  • 3 Volcanos!
  • 2 Map Cartouches
  • 10 Numbers (0-9)
  • 2 Odd Brushes that I couldn’t really categorize

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set (works in GIMP as well) and a transparent PNG in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support ABR brush files. You can see the transparent PNG here. (They’ll come up black if viewed in Chrome, but they’re all there.)


DOWNLOAD AUBERS


As with all of my brush sets, Aubers 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. All I did was convert it to brushes, Aubers, Bernard and François Pagès did all the heavy lifting—so giving them credit would be fantastic, but it’s absolutely not necessary.


💸 Supporting This Work

If you like the Aubers 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 urban fantasy novels for yourself or a friend. (The first book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook.)

You can find them in stores and online, learn more about the series at bellforgingcycle.com.

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


🗺 More Map Brushes

Aubers 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.

  • L’Isle

    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 17th Century brush set pulled from the 1680 Alta Lombardia map of Northern Italy, engraved by Georgio Widman for Giovanni Giacomo de Rossi’s atlas published in 1692. If you like mountains and mountain ranges this is the set for you.

  • Walser

    A 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. You can see how far Vignola’s style persisted as well.

  • Lumbia

    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.

  • Lehmann

    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 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 →

A Riverboat's Passangers

A Riverboat’s Passengers

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the fastest means of travel among the mid-western states was the steamboat. Trips that once took months—especially upriver—were reduced to weeks, and with this increase in speed, the shipment of freight formed a lively trade along the Mississippi and her tributaries.

It’s no wonder that passengers were attracted to steamboat travel. The broad decks were a luxury compared to cramped confines of stagecoaches or the hard life of the trail. To maximize profits riverboats maintained a wide variety of accommodations for all manner of traveler. These were largely separated into two categories, the hardscrabble experience of Deck Passage and the lavish Cabin Fare and the differences between the two were often striking.


Deck Passage

The lower deck—or main deck—was a loud, hot, dirty, and often a dangerous place. Boilers and engines rumbled at all hours. Freight was of prime importance and it was loaded before deck passengers—this included any animals. Fares could run as low as a quarter-center per mile which was appealing to the poor who chose to travel by packet, but while preferable to the road, this sort of passage was not easy.

“Whoever is not obliged to save a few dollars, should avoid this Trojan belly into which the poor are packed like herring, giving up all comfort.”

Samuel Ludvigh, Light And Silhouettes Of Republican States

Those who paid the meager fare for deck passage were largely left to their own devices. While meals could be purchased on some boats often these passengers were responsible for their own food and sleeping arrangements. Much of the time a stove was provided to prepare their own meals and provide warmth—but during the height of travel season with upwards of two-hundred deck passengers onboard, it was often difficult to get a turn.

American Agriculturist — A Night On The River — "Missouri Roustabouts" (Detail) - Click to see full version.
American Agriculturist — A Night On The River — “Missouri Roustabouts” (Detail) – Click to see the full version

Deck passengers were required to stay out of the way of the packet’s rousters and those that got in the way suffered abuse. Some captains allowed male deckers to reduce their fare aiding the crew in “wooding the boat” the act of loading cordwood fuel from woodyards erected alongside the river. If money was tight and one could handle the hard labor this could cut the already reduced fare in half.

Beds were where you found them. There was little space provided for sanitation, often just a bucket to draw river water. Weather could be harsh, and sickness was prevalent; cholera and yellow fever weren’t uncommon. Should the boat meet a disaster, often it was the deckers who suffered the most.


Cabin Fare

For those who could afford it, cabin fare was an extravagance compared to the hardships suffered below. Most boats offered comfortable accommodations while other packets were outfitted as luxurious floating hotels complete with service staff.

Cabin fare tickets provided the passenger with board, a comfortable bed, as well as transportation on the packet’s boiler deck—named so because it sat above the vessel’s boilers. Here, elegant staterooms flanked a central saloon that served as a dining hall and lounge. Toward the stern of the boat was a space reserved for ladies and families with children, while the menfolk tended to congregate near the vessel’s barroom—usually located forward.

“I could not help lolling carelessly upon the railings of the boiler deck to enjoy the envy of the country boys on the bank.”

Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi, Chapter 5

When not feasting, drinking, gambling, or conversing cabin passengers could spend time strolling around the riverboat’s covered promenade that encircled the second deck. Here they watched the scenery drift past and enjoyed the fresh air. Like on the oceangoing steamers deck chairs were provided and the passengers could laze about, reading, chatting, or napping while they waited for their next meal.

Up the Hudson—Drawn by A. E. Emslie (Detail) - Click to see full version
Up the Hudson—Drawn by A. E. Emslie (Detail) – Click to see full version

Above the boiler deck was the hurricane deck—named for the constant wind that blew across its open expanse. Most captain’s allowed passengers to ascend and take in the expansive views of the river below and enjoy and enjoy the breeze. It wasn’t uncommon for travelers to pose for photos near the boat’s pilothouse as a souvenir of their travels.

Usually, this sort of journey was only made available to the white passenger, African Americans, Native Americans, and non-white immigrants were generally limited to deck passage. Later in the century, there were instances of first-class accommodations for black passengers. But these were built as an extension of the Texas deck, the uppermost deck constructed atop the hurricane deck, usually restricted to captain and crew. An early predecessor of racist “separate but equal” Jim Crow laws that would plague the South until nearly a century later.


I’ve always been attracted to travel by boat, train, or airship. There’s something about the wide open space and private quarters that makes that type of travel more appealing. The traveler onboard a packet is free to wander and reflect on the passing countryside. The riverboat becomes a small world of its own for a time and its passengers a community—even temporarily. Add in the lives of the crew, the deck passengers, and the wealthy cabin passengers and you have a setting that is ripe for drama. That served as a major driving force for me to write Coal Belly. I liked the idea of a working vessel that was as much someone’s home as it was a means of transportation.

Below are some photos of riverboat passengers I’ve gathered during the years of my research for Coal Belly. You can click on any photo to view it larger. I’ve laid them out in the order of a trip, from passenger’s boarding, snapshots taken while underway, to the passenger’s final departure.


All the images above were collected over the last six years, so I am unsure where they all come from (usually the Library of Congress or from research at my local libraries.) But, they’re all old enough they should all be in the public domain. If something looks or seems amiss, please let me know and I’ll correct it.

In some cases, I did some minor color correction and cropping to keep it all visually consistent. I’m happy to answer any questions folks have about any of these images or riverboats in general. (Sometimes it gives me a good excuse to research something.) You can send me an email or leave a comment below.

A Riverboat’s Passengers is the latest in my series of posts sharing my research for my future novel Coal Belly. You can check out the other riverboat-related posts with the links below.


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 →

ECCC, St. Patrick's Day, Public Transportation, and You

ECCC, St. Patrick’s Day, Public Transportation, and You

Emerald City Comic Con is this weekend in Seattle, and I will be in attendance alongside upwards of 90k other people. It should be a good time. (If you see me, say hello. I’m the big guy in all black—no not that one, or that one, or that one, no… I’m the other one.)

It is also Saint Patrick’s Day on Sunday which means there will be two other events bringing even more people downtown. That can make the city core a little chaotic at times. Since I live and work in Seattle, I figured I’d offer up some advice for those coming in from out of town. (This was born from a twitter thread, but having this all in one place will be handy.)

The con begins tomorrow and runs through Sunday at the Washington State Convention Center and surrounds just a few blocks up Pike St. from Westlake Park. Thursday and Friday should be fine (though the Friday night commute might be a little hairy.) Saturday and Sunday will be busy. Along with the typical beer-drinking St. Patrick’s Day revelers two themed-events are happening over the weekend.


Saturday:

The Irish Heritage Club’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade is on Saturday at 12:30. It starts at James St. and 4th Ave. and heads north where it ends at Westlake Park. Here’s the route.


Sunday:

The 35th Annual Saint Patrick’s Day Dash is on Sunday and runs from 6:30-12:00. It starts at Seattle Central runs down 4th Ave, turns around and spring and comes back. Here’s the route.


That combo is going to draw a lot of people in green downtown. If you’re driving in, expect a bit more traffic than usual, and know that parking will be harder to find. Your best bet is a garage which can be expensive, but they’re convenient as long as they’re not full. Two main garages service the WSCC, and you can find pricing here. You can expect similar prices at other garages nearby. Those will fill up fast.

There is, of course, another option…


Transit:

Your best bet in my opinion, if you’re driving into the city from out of town, is to take the Sound Transit Link Light Rail—parking will be cheaper near stations outside of downtown, and it’s a single line. so it’s impossible to get lost. Convenient and cheap!

There is a stop directly under Westlake Park called Westlake Station and an exit for 5th and Pine (follow the signs) it’ll lead you past Nordstroms and deposit you on the other side of both the revelers and race. From there its only a few blocks to the convention center.

Plus with a Day Pass (about $5), you can skip the long lines for food around the con and ride up to Capitol Hill or down to the Chinatown-International District where you’ll find much better food than anything downtown and quieter crowds.


Hopefully, a few people will find this advice helpful. Whatever you do, I always recommend giving yourself more time when events overlap. Personally, I plan on taking the light rail every day—it should make things nice and smooth.

Have a question? Leave a comment below or shoot me an email, I’ll do my best to answer any questions.

I’m looking forward to hanging out this weekend. Hopefully, I’ll see you at ECCC.

David Foster Wallace

The Whole Thing About Perfectionism

“You know, the whole thing about perfectionism. The perfectionism is very dangerous. Because of course if your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything. Because doing anything results in…it’s actually kind of tragic because you sacrifice how gorgeous and perfect it is in your head for what it really is. And there were a couple of years where I really struggled with that.”

David Foster Wallace