Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

I’m spending the day with family, but I wanted to make a quick post wishing all of my readers a heartfelt Merry Christmas! This year wildly exceeded my expectations, and that’s primarily due to all of you. So, thanks for buying and reading my books. Thanks for telling your friends, and thank you for leaving reviews. Thanks for showing so much excitement over my little brush-set project and for sticking around throughout the year. All of that means a lot to me.

I have come to greet you

What does this weird card have to do with Christmas or the holiday season in general? Your guess is as good as mine. But we still mimic other odd Victorian customs and don’t bat an eye, so this holiday season, let’s all take a moment and appreciate this strange goat emerging from the forest to greet a child. It just fills one with holiday cheer. I think? And, hey, at least I didn’t pick murder frogs. (Yes, there are two links there.)

The Victorians were a strange breed of people.

I blame sexual repression.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

2019 in Ten Significant Photos

2019 in Ten Significant Photos

Every December, it has become a tradition to assemble a post wherein I share ten photos from the year that represent the most significant moments of my past 365-ish days. I look forward to this every year. This annual ritual forces thought and introspection in a way algorithm-driven apps like Top Nine avoid. (I ranted about this a bit at length, last year.) It leaves me to ponder how I lived my year. What mattered the most? What experiences drove me? What did I find meaningful? What shaped me as a person, a partner, a creator? What made me or my world around me better?

The rules are simple but firm, pick ten photos from your past year that are the most significant to you: positive or negative—significance can be found in either. But it can’t be more, can’t be less. Some moments will have to fall by the wayside—and that’s intentional—culling is essential. It’ll help create a more realistic picture of your year. Some years will be harder than others and you’ll need to discover significance in the smaller quieter moments. The ten are irascible and relentless.

So, enough talk! Let’s take a look at my 2019 distilled into ten significant photos.


Lime Kiln Trail - 2019New year, old trails. Kari-Lise and I always like starting the year off right by escaping the city and heading into the mountains for a hike. (In this case, the Lime Kiln Trail and easy little seven-miler in the Cascades.) This year was no different. We had big plans to hike more throughout the year, but life got in the way. Still, it’s always refreshing to start a year in nature, and 2019 was no different.


Amsterdam - 2019
In mid-January, we took a trip with our ex-pat pals Kelcey Rushing and Jimmy Rushing to the beautiful (and infamous) city of Amsterdam. It was terrific. Great place. Wonderful sights. Amazing people. Delicious food. We were there nearly a week, it was packed, and I felt like we had barely scraped the surface. There was so much we didn’t see and so much more we could have done—I absolutely want to go back. If you’re interested in more details, read my Amsterdam Trip Report here.


ECCC - 2019
Emerald City Comicon happened, and once again they somehow let me returned as a pro. My buddy Steve Toutonghi and I attended together, and it was a really eye-opening in a lot of ways. As much fun as fan conventions are, I’m much more interested in talking shop, attending readings, and sitting in on discussions about story-craft. That said, it was enjoyable, and there are worse ways one can spend a weekend. Plus, I managed to see some good friends, and Steve and I sat in on some great panels. You can read about my experience in this debriefing.


Finished Manuscript - 2019Roaders celebrate! I finished another manuscript! (Two years in a row!) Gleam Upon the Waves has been a bit of a fight, but I am thrilled with how it turned out. I got some great feedback from my first round of beta readers, and I’ve been neck-deep in revisions since. It’s so close. I can hardly contain myself; I want to share it with everyone! Gleam’s a little different, but it’ll be worth the wait. I promise.


The Vision of Graces - 2019
Early in the summer, Kari-Lise and her friends Laurie Lee Brom and Syd Bee had a three-person show at Roq La Rue Gallery entitled The Vision of Graces. All three artists brought fantastic work, the show sold out, and the turnout was stellar. After moving to Seattle in 2008, I’ve attended hundreds of art openings across the city (and around the world), and this was easily one of the best.


13 Fantasy Map Brush Sets - 2019
I completed a project! A quite large mapping project. One that is really hard to capture in a single image. This year I began to release completely free brush sets for Photoshop that would empower indie authors (and anyone else) to create high-quality fantasy maps for their projects. The goal was to release a free brush set a month, and thanks to some overeagerness in February, I ended with thirteen free brush sets for the year. The response was overwhelming. I couldn’t be more humbled by the reaction, and I’m glad everyone has been so receptive. You can download the brushes from my Free Stuff page.


Two new nieces - 2019I leveled up as an uncle and now can dual-wield nieces! Up until this year, I was only proficient in nephews. Liesel Lynn (Left) was born in August to my brother Anthony and his wife, Aischa. Blakely Michelle (Right) was born in October to my sister Meghan and her husband, Tyler. Aren’t they adorable? I’ll be meeting both for the first time at Christmas, and I cannot wait. And, as a bonus, I have a THIRD niece due next year. Nieces! Nieces EVERYWHERE.


Art Happened - 2019
So. Much. Art. Beyond Kari-Lise’s show we attended two amazing exhibitions with our pal Kai Carpenter at the Seattle Art Museum, we hit up the Seattle Art Fair, and took in many many many art walks. Stand out openings include an incredible show from Rick Araluce and a recent one from one of my favorite artists working today, Peter Fugerson.


Haleakalā National Park, Maui, Hawaii - 2019For Thanksgiving, we went to Hawai’i with Kari-Lise’s family hanging out on O’ahu for a few days and then spending nearly a week on Maui. I’d never been to the Hawai’ian Islands until this year, and I’m generally not a tropical-destination traveler, but the trip was memorable. Even after nine-ish days, I came away feeling like I have unfinished business with Hawai’i. But more on that later—I’m in the process of putting together a more detailed trip report.


The Kari-Lise Klassic - Burke-Gilman Invitational Marathon - 2019On December 14th, Kari-Lise ran her first marathon. This spring, she started running again, and this summer, she decided she would train for a marathon as her eventual goal. We were traveling during the Seattle Marathon, so to complete her goal, she decided to host her own with me running ahead, setting up aid stations along the entire 26.2-mile course. Friends came out and cheered her on, I made her a teeshirt, a few ran with her some part of the way, and one all of the way. She crushed the run, and I couldn’t be more proud.


In Conclusion

Since changing the title last year from “awesome” to “significant,” I find myself taking more time with this list. Much of the labor from 2018 blossomed in 2019. Where last year felt sparse, this year, I found myself culling more than I expected. There were lectures and readings I attended with my friend Steve Leroux. Time in the backyard with Kari-Lise around our fire pit. I got really into smoking meat and making stock—cooking in general, really. Our friends Roxy and Redd deciding to leave Seattle and travel indefinitely (Follow them here.) Then there was the excitement of Moth & Myth, which I’ve barely mentioned here. The Sounders winning another MLS Cup. Birthdays and anniversaries and snowstorms. It was one hell of a year and if I wanted I could have tripled this list. But the rules are the rules, and distilling the year into ten is the requirement—no more, no less.

So, how about you? What did you experience in 2019? What are your ten? Assemble them and leave a comment with a link! Let us all know about the significant events in your year.


Want to revisit photos of past years? Click on any of the links below and check out my pictures from that specific year. I find it fascinating to watch subtle changes year over year.

2014 • 2015 • 2016 • 2017 2018


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 →

Thirteen in Twelve

By now, it’s probably no secret that I have a love affair with maps. Particularly the historical maps of antiquity and all their quirky idiosyncrasy. Because of this love, I took it upon myself to embark on an expansive project for 2019. One that I am excited to say I have finished.

As many of you noticed, every month for the last twelve months, I’ve been releasing royalty-free brush sets for authors, game masters, worldbuilders, and general map enthusiasts. Anyone interested in making a fictional map, really. It’s a part of my #NoBadMaps initiative. While there’s no substitute for a professional illustrator, I saw these brush sets as a quick way to enable storytellers to create authentic-feeling cartography for their worlds. Digital brushes can work like “rubber stamps,” allowing anyone to click and place map elements wherever they want—no artistic talent needed. It’s a simple but effective solution.

With December’s release of Vischer, I’m excited to say I exceeded my goal. The target was twelve brush sets in twelve months. But! I was over-eager in February and released two that month, so I ended the year with thirteen.

celebrate!

I intentionally didn’t make a big announcement when I started this project, this was more of a quiet personal ambition. Making these was a small way I could give back to a community I cherish. Hopefully, these sets allow creators to feel empowered to tackle daunting projects, and perhaps, the connection to historic cartographers and engravers has helped make the history of cartography come alive.

There’s a line in Robert Baden-Powell’s final letter that I recall people repeating when I was a kid, and it’s resonated with me as an adult. It’s a mantra I try to embrace in everything I do, and I think it encapsulates the spirit of this project: “…leave this world a little better than you found it…”


…leave this world a little better than you found it…”


I believed I achieved that. Giving back is one of the greatest things we can do as creators, I find it personally fulfilling, and I’ve been humbled by the results. Sure, it serves a small niche within our sprawling fantasy community, but it’s a niche that has welcomed these open-sourced sets. Since their launch, I’ve received many emails and twitter messages from creators making amazing things. That’s why I released these sets, and I couldn’t be happier.

✨🗺️


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 →

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

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

For December, I am releasing my thirteenth free fantasy map brush set of the year and it’s the most extensive collection I’ve ever assembled. I think you’ll dig this one.

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

Today’s topographic set is based on the Archiducatus Austriae inferioris, an incredibly detailed map of lower Austria created by Georg Matthäus Vischer in 1697. The style is unique and features a few stylistic touches that really help set it apart. Hills do double duty serving as forests, and the skylines of the cities, towns, and villages are rendered intricately, giving each their own individual look.

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

There’s also the matter of the Schlösser—the catchall German term for a château, manor houses, or palace. Vischer drew and labeled each of these. Often these buildings were moated, and while German has a word for “castle” (burg), it wasn’t uncommon for castles to also be dubbed “schloss.” (I recommend reading the linked page, there’s fascinating history surrounding those buildings, and it goes into much more detail.) For the sake of organizational sanity, I divided the schlösser into those that looked more manor-like and those that appeared more castle-esque.

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

Vischer included a key, in both German and Latin, and I did my best to follow it when labeling the signs and symbols. However, he didn’t always do the best job sticking to his own legend. Towards the latter plates, the symbol marking the schlösser changes, and it begins to often include an arrow (typically used to indicate a fortified location). I’m also half-sure that the mark for “town” might be more of an indicator that there is a market in that particular village or city. Likewise, he lists bathhouses on the legend, but they never showed up in the map itself! Those sorts of aberrations aren’t uncommon on old maps, and it’s part of what makes cartographic antiquities such fun.

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

This is a beautiful set, with a style that sets it apart from other maps of the era. I’m excited to be bringing it to everyone. I can’t wait to see what you do with it. With over nine hundred and fifty brushes, Vischer is my largest set of the year. There is a TON here allowing the map designer to make a really unique looking topographical map quickly and effectively. It includes the following:

  • 20 Small Settlements
  • 165 Villages
  • 20 Elevated Villages
  • 40 Towns
  • 25 Cities
  • 50 Manor-style Schlösser
  • 20 Elevated Manor-style Schlösser
  • 40 Castle-style Schlösser
  • 20 Elevated Castle-style Schlösser
  • 10 Monasteries
  • 15 Monasteries w/ Other Settlements
  • 30 Combined Settlements
  • 20 Houses
  • 10 Churches
  • 25 Unique Settlements
  • 20 Open Fields
  • 20 Furrowed Fields
  • 20 Hedgerow Fields
  • 20 Hedgerows
  • 20 Vineyards
  • 30 Wetlands
  • 20 Scrub
  • 20 Individual Trees
  • 15 Forests
  • 150 Regular Hills
  • 20 Steep Hills
  • 30 Cultivated Hills
  • 10 Mountains
  • 3 Windmills
  • 5 Glass Kiln Markers
  • 15 Postal Markers
  • 5 Transport Cartouches
  • 10 Ruins & Monuments
  • 5 Crosses
  • 5 Unique Cartouches

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set (it’ll also work in GIMP). I normally include a set of transparent PNGs in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files, but I’ve separated them out this time to save on file-size. You can download them via the link below. They’re black, and they’ll look broken if viewed in Chrome, but trust me, they’re all there.


DOWNLOAD VISCHER

Download all the PNGs


As with all of my previous brush sets, Vischer 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 Vischer? 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!


🌏 Vischer In Use

Want to see this brush set in use? I put together a sample map using Vischer. 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 in your projects!

          


💸 Supporting This Work

If you like the Vischer 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 CycleNot interested in my books but still want a way to support me? Buy me a coffee.


🗺 More Map Brushes

Vischer 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.

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.


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 →

William Faulkner

Read Read Read

“Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”

William Faulkner


The more I read, the more apparent it becomes to me how well-read an individual writer happens to be when I read them. It’s hard to pin down exactly, more of a general feeling that carries through the work as a whole. It makes me want to push myself to read beyond my own proclivities and focus on reading more/wider/broader.

Also and unintentionally, this is the second December in a row where I’ve shared a Faulkner quote. (Here’s what I shared last year.) Maybe this is becoming a tradition?

Four Ways to Support Your Favorite Authors This Holiday Season

Four Ways to Support Your Favorite Authors This Holiday Season

If you read my blog, odds are you’re a book lover. And like most book lovers, we all have our favorite writers—folks whose next book we’re eagerly awaiting, authors we reference to exhaustion, and people whose books we’ve read over and over and over. (As of today, for me, that’s Daniel Price’s final chapter in his Silvers trilogy, Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and all of China Miéville Bas-Lag books.) The holiday season is the perfect time to continue to support your favorite creators. Below I’ve listed four ways to further support your favorite storyteller (and only one costs money.)

Buy Their Books as Gifts1. Buy Their Books as Gifts

You already own the book yourself, and you probably don’t need two copies on your shelf. But, if you love a book, chances are someone else will as well! Why not gift your friends and family the work of your favorite author? It’s a great way to help influence the growth of an author’s audience, and the added sales will look great when they pitch their next novel to publishers.

Leave Reviews2. Leave Reviews

Reviews are vital to the author/reader relationship. But reviews aren’t for the writer, reviews are for other readers. Your honest thoughts and opinions can convince other readers to pick up the work of your favorite author, and in turn, it can help grow a fanbase. More reviews also unlock opportunities for authors to connect with new markets. They don’t have to be long detailed book reports; a quick review of a few sentences works as well as a long one. (As a reader, I actually prefer them.) So fire up Goodreads or pop over to the ol’ Amazon and let the world know how you felt about your favorite books.

Share Their Work Online3. Share Their Work Online

Most people are active on social media. Be it Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, or perhaps you run a blog like this one. No matter your follower count, you can help out the creators you admire by share their work with others. Talk about your favorite books over the years. Share a passage you love. Draw fan art! Do interviews! Like reviews, sharing can help expand an author’s audience.

Request Their Books at Your Local Library4. Request Their Books at Your Local Library

Libraries want books people want to read! If your favorite author isn’t there, why not ask the library to stock their books? Many people rely on libraries for discovering new work, and you can help widen your favorite author’s reach with a simple request. Your library will appreciate the effort, and so will your fellow readers.


That’s it! If you’re looking for a way to continue to support your favorite author this holiday season, why not try one of these simple tips? Three of them don’t even cost money, they take very little time, and all of them can have a significant impact on an author’s success. This holiday season, take time to support the creators you appreciate.

❄️🎄❄️


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 →