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.

The Conversation I Never Needed to Have

The Conversation I Never Needed to Have

Watch this.

I remember it happened twice. I was pulled over by the same Idaho State Patrol officer for speeding on the same quiet country road. I was 17/18 at the time; this was 1998/1999—I was easily doing twenty over the posted speed limit in both instances. My front bumper was sagging and broken in one car. (I later wrecked it.) The other was a rust bucket with a sour interior smell and only had one headlight. (I later sold it.) Both cars were a mess at the best of times. The first instance happened in the morning on the way to school. The latter late on a foggy night after a breakup. Same officer. Same infraction. Same road.

He let me go both times.

Why? Well, I could make a pretty solid guess. I’m white, and I’m male, and he was an occasional parishioner in my dad’s church. That’s privilege. I recognize this. Maybe not at the time but assuredly now as an adult. I never had a conversation with my parents like those in the video above. Sure I got the standard “respect cops” speech every kid receives, but nothing that compares. I never had the worry. I never had the fear. Never had the tears. I never faced that prejudice. That didn’t—it couldn’t—happen to me.

My skin color protects me. My gender protects me. My sexual orientation protects me. My status as a pastor’s kid protected me in both moments. That’s privilege. I didn’t have to worry about a broken headlight, reckless speeding, or a frumpy bumper being the sort of issue that could lead to my murder by the hands of police. I never worried about abuse. I never worried about spending the night in jail for doing next to nothing. Even now, the idea remains an alien concept. I’ve never had to fear police. I still don’t.

That’s privilege.

Growing up, it wasn’t a conversation topic in my home.

It shouldn’t be a conversation in anyone’s.

The fact it needs to is a travesty. If America is going to ever be great, it needs to start by being great for everyone.

Black. Lives. Matter.


FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: © 2016 PACIFIC PRESS


Buy The Stars Were Right Now for 99¢ and Give Back

The Stars Were Right 99¢ Give Back Promotion Ends Today!

It feels weird promoting this in light of everything that’s happened over the last few days, but here we are. Pretty much what the title says—today is the last day you can buy my weird little Lovecraftian urban fantasy novel, The Stars Were Right, for only 99¢—all the profits will be donated to the World Central Kitchen in their fight against food insecurity here in America and abroad. I’ll reveal the results tomorrow! (They’re quite exciting.)

Links to purchase the ebook are below. Already have a copy? Consider buying one for your friends or a family member who might want a little escapism right now.


Kindle • Kobo • Nook • Apple Books• Google Play • Gumroad


I am also aware that many are facing severe economic instability. One in four Americans is out of work. For them, perhaps you, money is tight. If your interested in reading my book but can’t swing the 99¢, you can also download the book for free. (I’m serious.) Use the Gumroad link above and set the price at zero and bam, it’s yours. On me. Like the promotion, this will also end tonight. So don’t delay!


What if I want to help, but really don’t want an eBook?

No pressure! If you want to help but aren’t interested in my book, you can donate directly to the WCK by clicking the link below. They have options for a single donation, or you can become a monthly donor. It’s a phenomenal charity which I detailed in this post.

DONATE TODAY

Want to help in other ways? Follow the WCK on social media, they’re very active on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook, and you can get a glimpse at the noble work they’re doing. Want to volunteer? Details on how you can help are available here.

Photo via World Central Kitchen/WCK.org
Language of the Unheard

The Language of the Unheard

“Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

“Stop Police Killings, Selma March—Steve Shapiro, 1965”

Justice for Eric Garner. Justice for John Crawford III. Justice for Michael Brown. Justice for Ezell Ford. Justice for Dante Parker. Justice for Michelle Cusseaux. Justice for Laquan McDonald. Justice for Tanisha Anderson. Justice for Akai Gurley. Justice for Tami Rice. Justice for Rumain Brisbon. Justice for Jerame Reid. Justice for George Mann. Justice for Matthew Ajibade. Justice for Frank Smart. Justice for Natasha McKenna. Justice for Tony Robinson. Justice for Anthony Hill. Justice for Mya Hall. Justice for Phillip White. Justice for Eric Harris. Justice for Walter Scott. Justice for William Chapman II. Justice for Alexia Christian. Justice for Brendon Glenn. Justice for Victor Manuel Larosa. Justice for Jonathan Sanders. Justice for Freddie Blue. Justice for Joseph Mann. Justice for Salvado Ellswood. Justice for Sandra Bland. Justice for Albert Joseph Davis. Justice for Darrius Stewart. Justice for Billy Ray Davis. Justice for Samuel Dubose. Justice for Michael Sabbie. Justice for Brian Keith Day. Justice for Christian Taylor. Justice for Troy Robinson. Justice for Asshams Pharoah Manley. Justice for Felix Kumi. Justice for Keith Harrison McLeod. Justice for Junior Prosper. Justice for Lamontez Jones. Justice for Paterson Brown. Justice for Dominic Hutchinson. Justice for Anthony Ashford. Justice for Alonzo Smith. Justice for Tyree Crawford. Justice for India Kager. Justice for La’vante Biggs. Justice for Michael Lee Marshall. Justice for Jamar Clark. Justice for Richard Perkins. Justice for Nathaniel Harris Pickett. Justice for Benni Lee Tignor. Justice for Miguel Espinal. Justice for Michael Noel. Justice for Kevin Matthews. Justice for Bettie Jones. Justice for Quintonio Legrier. Justice for Keith Childress Junior. Justice for Janet Wilson. Justice for Randy Nelson. Justice for Antronie Scott. Justice for Wendell Celestine. Justice for David Joseph. Justice for Calin Roquemore. Justice for Dyzhawn Perkins. Justice for Christopher Davis. Justice for Marco Loud. Justice for Peter Gaines. Justice for Torrey Robinson. Justice for Darius Robinson. Justice for Kevin Hicks. Justice for Mary Truxillo. Justice for Demarcus Semer. Justice for Willie Tillman. Justice for Terrill Thomas. Justice for Sylville Smith. Justice for Alton Sterling. Justice for Philando Castile. Justice for Terence Crutcher. Justice for Paul O’Neal. Justice for Alteria Woods. Justice for Jordan Edwards. Justice for Aaron Bailey. Justice for Ronell Foster. Justice for Stephon Clark. Justice for Antwon Rose II. Justice for Botham Jean. Justice for Pamela Turner. Justice for Dominique Clayton. Justice for Atatiana Jefferson. Justice for Christopher Whitfield. Justice for Christopher McCorvey. Justice for Eric Reason. Justice for Michael Lorenzo Dean. Justice for Breonna Taylor. Justice for George Floyd. Justice for… Justice for… Justice for… Justice for… Justice for…

How long do we let this continue? How long do we allow society to choose tranquility over justice? How many people do you know, more outraged over property damage than they were over the murder of a black man? Racism has never gone away, we’re just able to record it now.

#BlackLivesMatter


FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT:  AP Photo/Julio Cortez


 

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

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

Ever since launching Lehmann in 2018, I’ve wanted to revisit the era of the hachure map. The middle-19th century is easily my favorite era of cartography—a transition from rough representation towards accuracy had begun. Representing physical geography with flat top-down perspectives meant that maps would require a new way to display relief and hachures filled the transient space between hill profiles and the modern topographical maps we use today.

With that in mind, I’m excited to announce the launch of Zatta, my latest free hachure-focused brush set for you to create your own fantastical map for your books, games, or whatever creative cartographical project you want to tackle.

Hachure maps didn’t really see popularity until the 19th century, so finding extensive use in a map from 1775 meant I was able to capture them in their early transitory stage. This set comes from L’Estremadura di Portogallo a 1775 map of southern Portugal created by Italian cartographer Antonio Zatta as part of his Atlante Novissimo. (Fun fact: large portions of the maps contained in this atlas still use hill-profiles.) It’s a beautiful map, and the set that emerged from it is perfect for flintlock fantasy, steampunk, or anything that sits on that edge between the 18th and 19th centuries.

I did my best to organize the hachures in a way that would make sense—in this case, I organized them in the cardinal and secondary-intercardinal directions they “pointed.” But! The best part is hachures don’t really care what direction they point, and you can easily rotate the brush to orientate your relief whatever direction you want. (Use the left and right arrow keys in Photoshop to turn them by a degree – or use shift-left and shift-right to rotate them by 15º increments.)

You still find plenty of profile-style signs intermixed with the hachures. It creates a fantastic interplay between the symbols. Symbols for forests, towns, and villages all have a familiar look where the larger fortified settlements have opted for the top-down orientation to better fit within the contours suggested by the hachures.

Those little fortified settlements are interesting, as well—sometimes they were labeled as cities, and other times they bore the label “castel” and sometimes “villa.” Like the hachures themselves, I see these working as a bridge between historical symbols and modern top-down approaches to settlement boundaries. The distinctiveness between each of these signs allows for their use variety of applications—they can easily transition into whatever role you need them to play.

Zatta is a decent sized set, with over 500 brushes I’m sure you’ll find plenty here. The full set includes the following:

  • 25 ⬆️ North Facing Hatchures
  • 25 ↗️ Northeast Facing Hatchures
  • 35 ➡️ East Facing
  • 50 ↘️ Southeast
  • 60 ⬇️ South
  • 25 ↙️ Southwest
  • 30 ⬅️ West
  • 15 ↖️ Northwest
  • 10 ⏺ Crowns
  • 20 Small Settlements
  • 10 Towers
  • 30 Small Towns
  • 30 Towns
  • 70 Fortified Settlements (Castles? Forts? Cities? I provide! You decide!)
  • 50 Trees
  • 20 Unique
  • 2 Cartouches

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set (it’ll also work with GIMP and Affinity Photo) as well as a set of transparent PNGs in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files. I’ve separated them by type: Landforms and Settlements and Flora. They’re black, and on a transparent background, so they’ll look broken if viewed in Chrome, but trust me, they’re all there.


DOWNLOAD ZATTA


As with all of my previous brush sets, Zatta is free for any use. I distribute my sets with a Creative Common, No Rights Reserved License (CC0), which means you can freely use this and any of my brushes in commercial work and distribute adaptations. (Details on this decision here.) No attribution is required. Easy peasy!

Enjoy Zarra? 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. Let me see what you make!


🌏 Zatta In Use

Want to see this brush set in use? I put together a sample map, and you can see the results below. There are three versions, a black and white version, one colored, and a decorated sample. Click on any of the images below to view them larger. Perhaps this will inspire you as you get started on your own projects!

Zatta Sample Map    Zatta Sample Map in Color     Zatta Sample Map Decorated


💸 Supporting This Work

If you like the Zatta brush set (or any of my free brushes, really) and want to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my speculative fiction novels. Digital copies of the first book—The Stars Were Right—are only 99¢ right now. With 100% of the profits being donated to the World Coastal Kitchen. I think you’ll dig it, You can find all my books in stores and online. Visit bellforgingcycle.com to learn more about the series. Tell your friends!

The Bell Forging CycleNot interested in my books but still want a way to support me? Buy me a coffee.


🗺 More Map Brushes

Zatta isn’t the only brush set I’ve released. You can find other free brush sets with a wide variety of styles over on my Free Stuff page. Every set is free, distributed under a CC0 license, and open for personal or commercial use. I’m sure you’ll be able to find something that works for your project.

Janssonius: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set

A topographical brush set with a nautical focus based on Johannes Janssonius’ 1650 nautical chart of the Bay of Bengal. Along with the standard symbols of settlements, flora, and landforms, I’ve also made sure to incorporated a whole host of maritime signs—rocks, sounding marks, shallows, and a whole bunch more.

Vischer: A 17th Century Cartography Brush Set

Based on the amazing Archiducatus Austriae inferioris, an incredibly detailed map of lower Austria created by Georg Matthäus Vischer in 1697, this is the largest set I’ve released. Loads of detail and a unique approach to rendering forests and landforms aids this set in standing apart. A perfect set for the right project.

Braun: A Free 16th Century Urban Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy City MapsBraun: A 16th Century Urban Cartography Brush Set

The brushes within this urban-focused set are based on the incredible work of Georg Braun taken from his Civitates orbis terrarum—easily one of the most significant volumes of cartographic antiquity. The detail and density represented in these symbols give an extra layer of texture and is perfect for the right fantastical city map.

Ogilby - DecoratedOgilby: A Free 17th Century Road Atlas Brush Set

Taken from John Ogilby’s 1675 book Britannia, Volume the First, this set allows the creator to recreate road atlas from the 17th century in stunning detail, placing the traveler’s experience front and center. With over 800 brushes, this is my most extensive set to date and useful for a variety of projects. Several bonus downloads are also available, as well.

Van der Aa Sample Map - DecoratedVan der Aa: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

This regional map set is based on a map by Dutch cartographer and publisher, Pieter Van der Aa. It’s a beautifully rendered version of the Mingrelia region of northwest Georgia. While not as extensive as other sets, the size of the map allowed for larger brushes that helps highlight the uniqueness of each symbol. It also features a failed wall!

Gomboust: A 17th Century Urban Cartography Brush Set

My first brush set to focus on creating realistic maps for fantastical urban environments! Gomboust is a huge set, and its symbols are extracted from Jacques Gomboust’s beautiful 1652 map of Paris, France. His style is detailed yet quirky, isometric yet off-kilter, packed with intricacies, and it brings a lot of personality to a project.

Harrewyn: An 18th Century Cartography Brush SetHarrewyn: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

Based on Eugene Henry Fricx’s “Cartes des Paysbas et des Frontieres de France,” this set leans into its 1727 gothic styling and its focus on the developed rather than the natural. It’s hauntingly familiar yet strikingly different. If you’re looking for more natural elements, Harrewyn works well alongside other sets as well.

Popple: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush SetPopple: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

This set has quickly become a favorite, and it’s perfect for a wide variety of projects. The brushes are taken from 1746’s A Map of the British Empire in America by Henry Popple, and it has a fresh style that does a fantastic job capturing the wildness of a frontier. Plus, it has swamps! And we know swamps have become a necessity in fantasy cartography.

Donia: A Free 17th Century Settlement Brush SetDonia: A Free 17th Century Settlement Brush Set

While not my most extensive set (a little over one hundred brushes), Donia boasts one of the more unique takes on settlements from the 17th century. If you’re looking for flora, I suggest checking out other sets, but if you want to pay attention to your map’s cities, towns, castles, churches, towers, forts, even fountains, then this is the right set for you.

Blaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush SetBlaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set

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: An 18th Century Cartography Brush SetAubers: 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: An 18th Century Battlefield Brush SetL’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 for mapping out the combat scenarios in your fantasy stories.

Widman: A 17th Century Cartography Brush SetWidman: 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 SetWalser: 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 robust set of mountains 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 Sketchy Cartography Brush SetLumbia: 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 SetLehmann: 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. This set works perfectly in conjunction with my other sets from the late 18th century.


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Raunch Review: True Blood

Raunch Review: True Blood

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: True Blood
Raunch Review: True Blood
The Author: Charlaine Harris (Books), Alan Ball (HBO Show)
Work in Question: True Blood
The Profanity: “Fangbanger”

True Blood is the HBO series born from the pages of Charlene Harris’ The Southern Vampire Mysteries. The series follows the adventures and romances of Sookie Stackhouse. The story takes place in a Louisiana where, thanks to the invention of synthetic blood, everyone has recently discovered that vampires (among other things) are real, and they move freely among humans. As a result, awkward and sometimes violent situations arise from these two formerly adversarial communities now interacting.

In the novels, the term “fangbanger” comes across as a self-prescribed moniker, not unlike headbanger or hippie. Cult-like followers of people who allow vampires to drink from them. In the HBO series—which we’re focused on today—the term often used as a sort of derogatory expression calling out one’s proclivities regarding vampires. If you have sex with a vampire, you get called a “fangbanger” by those with an anti-vampire prejudice.

And look, I understand the intent here, but the term is just so downright ridiculous I can’t get behind it—especially in the intended use of the television series. I could see it being much stronger if “fang” was used as a slur, but it’s not. As a result, the phrase comes across as goofy and unintentionally injects odd comedic moments into dialog. It’s not the worst I’ve seen, but it ain’t great.

Score: Half Swear (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.


Give yourself permission—thoughts on advice

Give Yourself Permission

It seems like every few months on Twitter there’s a pile-on, as one author dispenses what they feel is critical advice in the career of writing. Then, a multitude of other writers push back. It’s due to the nature of social media that the tones of these interactions tend to be combative; as such, the results are rarely positive, for both the dialog within the community and for human interaction in general. Indeed, the way advice is shared also plays into its impact. “Thou Shalls” aren’t generally well-received outside of the sanctuary. But this isn’t about our collective tone on Twitter. I want to talk about advice, its giving and receiving. 

Advice is a tricky thing. When it comes from someone we admire, we tend to key into it more. We’ll listen and reflect, perhaps even embrace it. Yet, upon receiving advice from an unknown, or someone you actively dislike, the reactions tend to flare in the opposite direction—regardless of what’s being said. Likewise, it’s not uncommon to want to share advice and help others avoid the mistakes and pitfalls we’ve faced ourselves.

Yet, for some reason, occasional opinions often blossom within the zeitgeist and they become commonly accepted rules. Current trends with dialog tags have gone this direction. Not a week goes past without someone echoing Stephen King’s famous “the road to hell is paved with adverbs,” advice that King himself rarely follows. And a few weeks ago, literary agent DongWon Song made a keen observation on a common adage among genre writers: “Start with the action!”

It’s a refrain I’m sure you’ve heard before, and it’s been repeated for many years. It’s crept into books on writing, I’ve heard my fellow authors mention it on panels, I’ve seen reviewers praise it, and some readers have come to expect it. New authors hear advice like this from someone they admire and then try to force their story into its narrow confines. That can lead to frustration; it’s disheartening when your story doesn’t want to “start with the action.”

It’s not that the advice itself is terrible. It’s the spirit in which it’s presented which implies that there is no other way. The disorientation DongWon mentions is the result of a story being forced. For some books, it might be perfectly acceptable to start with action. But every story is different. Every story has its own agenda. Often, breakout novels succeed because they shirk trends. They do something different and in doing so they stand out. And what are the trends, if not the agreed-upon rules for that particular moment in time?

If you’re new to writing, take heart. There are no hard-and-fast rules for how your story needs to be told. Even language and grammar are malleable. (Collective gasp from the English majors.) Approach writing advice as if you were shopping. Glean what inspires. Ignore what holds you back. No matter how it’s presented, advice is nothing more than someone sharing what worked for them. Let your story dictate its own rules. If starting with action is the right path, then follow it. If that sentence needs an adverb, then use one. Throw an expressive dialog tag into the mix! Give yourself permission to write your story the way it needs to be told. You’ll write a better story and be a happier author.

No Rules!