Tag Archives: history

My Ongoing Blog Series You Can Read Today

My Ongoing Blog Series You Can Read Today

There’s plenty of writers on the internet who user their blogging platform to dish out advice on writing or focus on the craft. While that is all well and good, I’ve intentionally chosen to do something a little different with my blog. For several years, among the book updates, pleas for reviews, and general news—I’ve been writing several reoccurring series about all manner of things. Fake swearing, my books, plants, riverboats, history, the list is large and full of interesting things.

In this post, I’ve collected all my ongoing series and have provided links so you can peruse the various categories—I even offer starting suggestions. So, if you’re looking for something a bit different than your standard author-blog content, consider starting with one of these…

Wild Territories

Frequency: When they’re ready
Category: Bell Forging Cycle lore
Current Number of posts:
Three
Start with: Faiths and Creeds of Lovat

It’s always fun to explore the backstory of a series. I love extending some of the lore and legend that surrounds my novels. I’m also a fan of PBS and Marty Stouffer’s Wild America. That all came together for Wild Territories, a series about the extended lore of my books. Currently, there’s only a handful of posts, but with Gleam Upon the Waves coming soon, I’ll have many more on the way.


Garden of Horrors

Frequency: Monthly/Bi-monthly
Category: The natural world is gross
Current Number of posts: Nine
Start with: The Clathrus Archeri

Nature is a wild and weird place, in this series, I take a look at the more unusual bits of the earth’s flora. Generally, it’s pretty gross, sometimes it’s disturbing, but it’s always fascinating to see what sort of bizarre adaptations exist. Sometimes that feeling of disgust can come from the most unexpected places.


Raunch Reviews

Frequency: Monthly
Category: Language
Current Number of posts: Sixteen
Start with: Mork & Mindy/Starsiege: Tribes

The English language is a stupid language. It evolves, steals, shifts and absorbs, and it never looks the same across centuries. Slang is often the driver of this drift. Raunch Reviews is a series about slang, particularly, 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.


Riverboats! Revolution! Magic!

Frequency: Occasional
Category: History
Current Number of posts: Ten
Start with: A Riverboat’s Menu

Researching history for my big ol’ project Coal Belly has given me insight into bits and bobs of history and the details surrounding riverboats—stuff I never learned in school. In these posts, I share my findings, focusing in on the people or technology that made these vessels so unique and sharing a plethora of photos from dusty old archives.


#NoBadMaps

Frequency: Monthly (for 2019, at least)
Category: Cartography/History
Current Number of posts: Nineteen
Start with: #NoBadMaps

This started as a project to help fantasy indie authors develop their own maps for their books and has grown into something much more. Now, eleven brush sets and several tutorials later #NoBadMaps has become something greater, and it’s exciting to see people using these in their work.


Visual Inspiration

Visual Inspiration

Frequency: Occasional
Category: Art
Current Number of posts: Eleven
Start with: Yuri Shwedoff

I’ve been a graphic designer for nearly two decades now; I’m drawn to visual mediums. Often, I come across an artist’s work, be it paintings, concept art, or digital drawings that enliven me creatively. In this series, I share the work of artists who’s work I have found inspiring, perhaps they’ll inspire you as well.


Watching History

Frequency: Occasional
Category: History
Current Number of posts: One
Start with: Watching History 1

When I was a kid, my favorite TV channel was the History Channel. But in recent year, the History Channel has eschewed history in favor of scripted and reality programming. It’s a bummer. Thankfully, the internet has stepped in. There are all sorts of amazing creatives who run YouTube channels with a focus on making history come alive. In here, I share my favorites.


Lovecraft-Inspired Holiday Gift Guide

Lovecraft-Inspired Holiday Gift Guide

Frequency: Yearly
Category: Cosmic Horror Gifts
Current Number of posts: Five
Start with: The 2019 Lovecraft-Inspired Holiday Gift Guide

For the last six years, I’ve been assembling a highly-curated list of cosmic horror goodies that are perfect for yourself or the cosmic horror fan in your life. Books, Games, Music, Apparel, Housewares and a whole lot more! Loads of goodies worth checking out around the holidays or… at any time of the year, really.


I’m really proud of the work I’ve been doing. It’s been nice to work on blog posts in between writing sessions. Keeps me on my toes, lets me explore different concepts, and I think it makes my books better. Hopefully, you’ll find something entertaining or eye-opening among this list.

Have a question, comment, or want to drop me a line? Leave a comment below, or visit the Contact K. M. Alexander page for a list of handy ways you can reach out.


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 →

Why Early Cartoon Characters Wore Gloves

Why Early Cartoon Characters Wore Gloves

Ever since I first read it, historian Jason Steinhauer’s excellent 2017 essay “History is Not There to be Liked” has been rattling around in my head. His point of perpetuated myths often becoming more potent than reality has stuck with me. What we think of as normal can often have an unpleasant past obscured by more palatable lore or legend. It can be difficult for a culture to decouple the truth from its feelings toward a beloved myth.

Those thoughts cropped up again (around a less sober topic, surely) after I watched this excellent video from Vox on the reasons why so many cartoon characters wear gloves and the unfortunate connection between early animation and minstrelsy. It’s a nice bit of investigation around the craft of animation and the historical connations therein—worth checking out.


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 →

Watching History

Watching History

When I was a kid, I adored The History Channel (now rebranded as just History.) I could (and did) spend hours watching various documentaries on a whole smattering of historical times and events. But as time went on, things changed. Reality television rose in prominence and infected every channel. Scripted shows became more commonplace even on specialty stations. And while Vikings is fantastic, many of the time slots once devoted to actual history are now focused on conspiracy theory or propping up stereotypes. The beloved channel from my childhood has lost most of its luster.

Lately, I’ve discovered several sources that have filled the void left behind from The History Channel’s slow demise. In particular, a pair of unrelated YouTube channels that have rekindled some of that excitement I felt when watching history documentaries the mid-90s. I’ve been enjoying them a lot, and I’d love to share them with you as well.


🗝 Townsends

Townsends is a great many things. It’s primarily a cooking channel hosted by Jon Townsend focusing on 18th-century cooking using period appropriate methods, ingredients, and tools. But quite often it goes far beyond food and serves as an exploration into the daily life of the people who lived in early North America.

With over ten years of videos there a lot here and it’s all fantastic. Jon is a wonderful and engaging host who clearly cares about the subject matter. I’ve including a few of my favorite videos below, but I highly recommend subscribing to the channel and joining Jon as he “savors the flavors and aromas of the 18th century.” (Hope you like nutmeg.)


Food. As I said, Townsends is primarily a cooking channel and for a good reason. Eating is a constant in human life and an easy connection for writers to make when it comes to connecting a reader to a world. It’s fascinating to see the small nuances between 18th-century cooking and modern day.


Beyond the food, Townsends explores living in the colonies. There are videos about camping, marching, scurvy, map making, and eyeglasses… and there are series like this one about how canoes were made.


Ship’s biscuit or hard tack crops up all the time in history, but what is it exactly? How was it prepared? And, most importantly, how was it eaten? Thankfully the good folks at Townsends decided to answer those questions for us in this handy video.


Want More Townsends?

If you liked Townsends’ YouTube channel be sure to subscribe they’re always producing new content, and it’s the best way to be alerted anytime they release a new video.  Be sure to check out all the goods they offer on their website, follow them on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.



⚔️ Modern History TV

Businessman Jason Kingsley is one of the co-founders of Rebellion Developments, by day he makes videos games by night he is a historical reenactor who focuses on the medieval knight. (It also helps that he was actually knighted and holds an OBE title.) Along the way, he creates some fantastic videos that go into the details of everyday life for a knight with a focus on historical accuracy. He’s a great presenter, and the videos are full of heart and well worth your time. Here are a few of my favorites, starting (unsurprisingly) with food…

So yeah, I am including a lot of food-related videos, and for a good reason. As I mentioned above, food and our connection to it is one of the constant experiences in human lives. I think it’s vital for storytellers and world builders as well, after all… “what did they eat?”


The accurate medieval wardrobe is often ignored by movies and video games, focusing instead on our modern sensibilities and often ignoring reality. Jason’s dedication to exploring the truth is a refreshing change—if you liked this be sure to check out Jason’s video where he debunks the sword on the back.


Like clothing, armor is often overlooked. Many people don’t understand the time and effort it takes to equip a knight, and they rarely portray it accurately. In this episode, Jason walks through the effort required and how varied duties used different armors.


Want More Modern History TV?

As always subscribing to a channel is the best way to stay connected, but be sure to visit Modern History TV’s website where you can find out more about the project. You can also follow them on Twitter and Facebook where they share more content about medieval life.


💭 What about you?

Is there a show or channel or blog you like that harkens back to the classic era of The History Channel. The sort of content that you walk away from feeling informed and inspired and itching for more knowledge? Let us know about it by either leaving a comment below or sending me an email. I’d love to find more sources like these.

Watching History


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 →

How to Understand the Image of a Black Hole

How to Understand the Image of a Black Hole

I thought this quick video from Veritasium was an excellent explanation on the “why” behind yesterday’s historical announcement. Being able to present such a complex topic so simply is a talent that I admire. So sit back, watch, learn, and join me in staring in awe.


Looking for more?

🌌🔭🌌

On Armistice

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short day ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCraeIn Flanders Fields (1915)


It’s Veterans Day here in the United States, Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth of Nations, and  Armistice Day everywhere else. A day set aside around the world to reflect on the ending of World War I which ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918—one hundred years ago today.

World War I is a moment in history we should all consider, and its one we should not forget. The outcome and ramifications of that terrible mess of a war influenced so much of the following century. So, if you’re in the States thanking a veteran, take some time to pause and reflect on WW1 as well.

If you want to know more about the Great War. Here are a few places to start.


📖 Something to Read:

The Guns of August: The Outbreak of World War I by Barbara W. TuchmanThe Guns of August: The Outbreak of World War I
by Barbara W. Tuchman
My favorite nonfiction books tend to read like fiction, they tell engaging stories. Tuchman is that sort of historian, and she makes the early days of WW1 as riveting as it was tragic.


🎧 Something to Hear:

Hardcore History 50 – Blueprint for Armageddon IHardcore History 50 — Blueprint for Armageddon I
by Dan Carlin

Carlin is a historian who does deep dives into moments in history on his podcast Hardcore History. I’ve been listening to him for years. He’s an invaluable resource and a dynamic storyteller. Very much worth a listen.


📺 Something to Watch:

Impossible Peace: The Time Between World WarsImpossible Peace: The Time Between World Wars
by Michael Cove
This documentary series produced for the History Channel looks into the time between the wars—only twenty years separated the tragedy of WW1 from the violence of WW2, and Europe was in turmoil.


lest we forget

A Riverboat's Pilothouse

A Riverboat’s Pilothouse

If the boilers are the heart, the engines the muscles, then the pilothouse is the brain of the riverboat. This small room perched high above the deck controls the steamboat. It is here where the pilot holds court, directing the engines, calling for leads, watching the waters, and guiding the big boat safely along its course.

Pilothouses came in all shapes and sizes, some were fanciful, onion-domed, and decorated with wooden designs known as gingerbread. Others were simple and austere, with little to no decorations and flat-roofed. Early pilothouses were open to the elements, while later pilothouses were glassed in to protect the pilot from the weather.

The expansive pilothouse of an unknown towboat
The expansive pilothouse of an unknown towboat

The enormous spoked pilotwheel was the focal point of the room. It rose arcing from the floor and connected to a tiller rope giving the pilot command of the steamboat’s rudders. Wheels varied in size, but most were quite large. The Steamer Sprague had an enormous wheel that measured over thirteen feet.

Speaking tube onboard the Str. W.P. Snyder Jr.
Speaking tube onboard the Str. W.P. Snyder Jr.

Communication between the pilothouse and the engine room varied from boat to boat. Before the inventions of the engine-order telegraph, pilots communicated by signaling the engineers via bells-and-gongs systems. Bells ropes were pulled and down below bells rang signaling the engineers to stop, start, and reverse engines. Many boats also had a series of hollow (usually one way) speaking tubes which allowed the pilot to get a little more creative in their communication. (See Mark Twain’s copious notes in Life on the Mississippi describing the flowery cursing that was common among pilots and crew.)

Most pilothouses had stoves to keep the pilot warm, and a lazy bench as seating for visitors and guests. Large bells on the roof of the boat signaled the leadsman. Whistles, often controlled by treadles on the floor, allowed the pilot to blow the steam whistle.

Mark Twain, served as Horace Ezra Bixby’s cub pilot on the steamer Paul Jones, a 172′ sidewheeler out of Pittsburgh. He described her pilothouse as “cheap, dingy, battered rattle-trap, cramped for room” but after the Jones, he and his mentor spent some time on a much larger and finer vessel1 and the pilothouse there was entirely different:

“…here was a sumptuous glass temple; room enough to have a dance in; showy red and gold window-curtains; an imposing sofa; leather cushions and a back to the high bench where visiting pilots sit, to spin yarns and ‘look at the river;’ bright, fanciful ‘cuspadores’ instead of a broad wooden box filled with sawdust; nice new oil-cloth on the floor; a hospitable big stove for winter; a wheel as high as my head, costly with inlaid work; a wire tiller-rope; bright brass knobs for the bells; and a tidy, white-aproned, black ‘texas-tender,’ to bring up tarts and ices and coffee during mid-watch, day and night.”

—Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

My new novel Coal Belly is a weird-west steampunky fantasy set on a planet crisscrossed by interlocking rivers. It’s a rough-and-tumble place where riverboats are omnipresent and necessary for everyday life. One of the main characters in the novel is a riverboat pilot, and learning the ins and outs of the pilothouse, how a pilot moved, and how they behaved in their domain was key to making my pilot an authentic character. I’m still hard at work on editing the manuscript (which I finished earlier this year), but I believe people will enjoy reading about her adventures among the Thousand Streams.

Below are some images of pilots and pilothouses which I have collected during my research. You’ll see rooms of all types, from the simple to the more fanciful and you’ll meet some of the people that worked there as well.



The pictures above have been collected over the last five years, so I am unsure where they all come (usually the Library of Congress.) But, they’re all old enough to be in the public domain. In some cases, I did some minor color correction and cropping. 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. I love comments.

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


1 It’s possible this was the pilothouse to the Crescent City, he and Bixby worked onboard from April to July of 1857, shortly after serving onboard the Paul Jones. It regularly ran between New Orleans to St. Louis.


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 →