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.

Revisiting My American Horror Story Title Rankings… Again.

Revisiting My American Horror Story Title Rankings… Again.

Two years ago, I sat down and ranked all seven of the title sequences for FX’s anthology horror series American Horror Story. While I’ve never been the most die-hard fan, I’ve always been drawn in by its visuals and appreciated how well they set the mood of the show.

Recently, FX released American Horror Story 1984—the series ninth season. And, with a new season came new titles. So, once again I’m revisiting my rankings. Which opening sequence reigns supreme? How well did 1984 rank? See my updated list here.

💀 📺 💀

Visual Inspiration: Sam Hogg

Visual Inspiration: Sam Hogg

My readers know that I am an enthusiast of rich well-imagined worldbuilding. So when I stumbled across the work of artist and writer Sam Hogg, it’ll come as no surprise that I found myself enthralled. Her concept work is excellent, but I’ve become a bit obsessed with her high-fantasy project, The Whaler Girl.

This is visual worldbuilding at its best. Hogg captures and constructs a rich tapestry of a setting and inhabits it with fully imagined places, creatures, and characters. It’s something I strive for in my work, and here it feels so effortless which only makes it more enthralling and inspiring. These locations and characters don’t come across as templates, they feel like real people, and we can see hints of their story playing throughout the work. The sense of place is palpable and the shifts in style only cement that further, we’re exploring a world after all and worlds are not limited to a single style. As I moved through the project I found myself eager to learn more. I want to know all about Eidy’s story, and Saul’s troubles, and how a young whaler girl from Varlsbeyn ended up as a pirate courtesan. You will too.

With Sam Hogg’s permission, I’ve shared a few of my favorite pieces below. (Honestly, it was really difficult choosing, for each of these there were at least four more.) You can click on any image to view it larger.

This is just a small fraction of The Whaler Girl. You can see much more of the world and Hogg’s work on her website. Be sure to join me in following her on Twitter. Don’t forget to follow her excellent Instagram account, not only does she share work frequently, but it’s also often accompanied by evocative vignettes that only adds to the depth and richness of the story. Finally, you can buy prints of all this work from her store and hang the world of The Whaler Girl on your walls.


If you like Sam Hogg’s work, be sure to check out some of the other artists who I’ve found inspiring in the past. While there’s certainly a theme to the art that inspires me, you’ll find lots of different styles, tones, and moods.

It’s National Voter Registration Day

It’s National Voter Registration Day

It’s the fourth Tuesday in September, and here in the United States, that means it’s National Voter Registration Day! Voting is an essential part of our democratic process, and everyone needs to register so they can exercise their power and make the voice of the people heard.


There are a few ways to register, but here are a few of my favorite resources:

Vote.org

This is my favorite. Here you find tools to register, and you can check the status of your registration. Be sure to do the latter, some states occasionally purge voter rolls for inactivity and people can get lost in the shuffle.

How to register to vote #RegisterToVote

Google has built a handy tool to help you figure out how to register in your state. Just simply search for that phrase (or click the link above) and all the information is at your fingertips.

Rock the Vote

This nonprofit and nonpartisan organization focuses on increasing the turnout for younger Americans and has been around since 1990.


It’s worth noting that only 38 states allow online registration. Here’s the official list. Is your state missing? Do the leg work, register, and then elect leaders that will make online registration official. It’s 2019 for goodness sake.

Finally, as I’ve said before, today is an appropriate day to restate that anyone trying to prevent or making it difficult for citizens to vote are the bad guys. In an era of voter disenfranchisement, suppression, and gerrymandering, the people must step up and elect leaders that fight for the rights of the citizenry. Do your duty: register and vote.

Be a Sadist

Be a Sadist

“Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”

Kurt Vonnegut


One thing I like about this quote is how it challenges both the character and the reader to discover “what they are made of.” That “they” can work on multiple levels—making this quote both straightforward and yet layered.

Interestingly enough, this is just one of Vonnegut’s eight tips for writing (number six, specifically.) He’s not the only writer to dish out eight tips—seems like a comfortable number for a lot of us. You can read all of Vonnegut’s eight and the eight tips from other great authors over at this post.

Van der Aa: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Van der Aa: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

History is rife with “impregnable” walls and it’s a long list full of failure. The ancient Wall of Amurru didn’t last long, invaders got around the Great Wall of China (many times), and the Walls of Constantinople couldn’t stop the Ottoman forces. And that’s only three examples. The record goes on and on (Berlin, Hadrian’s Wall, Walls of Ston, the Red Snake, etc.) and we see the colossal scars they leave behind all across the earth.

With that in mind, I’m happy to present a new set based on Mingrelie autrefois Colchis by Dutch cartographer and publisher, Pieter Van der Aa. A beautifully rendered map of the Mingrelia region of northwest Georgia complete with, you guessed it, a wall. (The Kelasuri Wall to be precise.)

That’s right, you too can let your arrogant fantastical kingdoms erect a border wall! Watch as they bankrupt the royal treasury and overextend their defensive forces! Finally, shake your head as the barbarians invade anyway and the whole ordeal proves once again to be a monumental waste of effort and resources. Hey, it’s drama, and at least someone gets a tourist attraction out of it. Think about it, future generations of hotel owners will thank the ancient paranoid rulers for their ignorance.

Van der Aa isn’t my most extensive set, nor is it my most complex. But what it does, it does rather well. Because of the map’s size, the brushes tend to run a little larger than other sets (the biggest is over 1000px wide), and the settlements and landforms have a very unique style. Lots of little details in the settlements and craggy mountains. I think you’ll like it.

Inside Van der Aa you’ll find over 180 brushes, including:

  • 11 Hamlets
  • 1 Elevated Hamlet
  • 30 Villages
  • 7 Elevated Villages
  • 2 Unique Villages
  • 30 Towns
  • 12 Elevated Towns
  • 8 Large Towns
  • 3 Unique Towns
  • 3 Towers
  • 25 Mountains
  • 25 Mountain Ranges
  • 3 Unique Mountain Ranges
  • 25 Forests
  • 4 Walls
  • 1 Well
  • 2 Cartouches

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set (it’ll work in GIMP as well) 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, Settlements, Flora & Cartouches, and Landforms. They’re black, and they’ll look broken if viewed in Chrome, but trust me, they’re all there.


DOWNLOAD VAN DER AA


As with all of my previous brush sets, Van der Aa is free for any use. As of July 2019, I now 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 Van der Aa. 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!


🌏 Van der Aa In Use

Want to see this brush set in use? I put together a sample map using Van der Aa, and you can see a few variants below. Just click on any of the images below to view them larger.

Van der Aa Sample Map - Black and White     Van der Aa Sample Map - Color     Van der Aa Sample Map - Decorated

💸 Supporting This Work

If you like the Van der Aa 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. The first book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook. 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 Cycle


🗺 More Map Brushes

Van der Aa 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.

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 maps 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 for Fant

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 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 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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