It’s a Major Award!

I unlocked an achievement in Grammarly today.

Two-hundred and eighty straight weeks of writing. Well, using Grammarly—which I use all the time. I’ve been waiting on this one for a while, I even made sure to write when I was in Scotland last year to make sure I kept the streak alive, and I’m honestly pretty proud to have hit this mark. It’s a neato milestone sort of thing.

For those wondering, I actually really like Grammarly’s service, and I’d recommend it wholeheartedly. It’s improved a lot over the years, and while it won’t replace an editor anytime soon, it’s good for blogging and first drafts and finds many of my stupid sloppy mistakes. They didn’t pay me to talk about this. Just doing it because I appreciate their product.

Okay, back to writing.

Zuodong: A Free 17th Century Brush Set for Fantasy Maps 

When I launched Ishikawa last November, I wrote about how I wanted to diversify my brush sets and expand into techniques that weren’t exclusively European. Following that goal, I am happy to announce the release of Zuodong, a cartography brush set extracted from four woodblock print maps coming from 廣東輿圖 (Map of Guangdong), an atlas and gazetteer depicting the various settlements and locations of the Chinese province of Guangdong during the Qing dynasty. It’s a fantastic collection with mountain-profile signs and symbols rendered in a Chinese-calligraphy aesthetic, but the rough woodblock printing technique gives the whole set a lived-in feel that helps it stand out.

All my Map Tools will always be free. Want to help support this work?
Click here to learn how.

A sample of the settlement brushes you’ll find in Zuodong

The gazetteer this set comes from was first published in 1685 and was compiled by at least four cartographers, two primary Jiang Yi ( 蔣伊), Han Zuodong (韓作棟), with supplemented maps drawn by Lu Shi (盧士) and Liu Ren (劉任). I couldn’t find much information about any of the creators and often found others with the same name that were clearly not these folks. Since all have fairly common names, I chose “Zuodong” on a whim. Though I should stress that he was most likely not responsible for everything included in this set.

More of Zuodong’s brush offerings

With so many creators working on this work, and no unified scale, don’t be surprised to find some of the sizes of the brushes here will vary wildly. The four maps I used were all phenomenal, but they are essentially illustrations of the various locations within the province. As a result, I found Zuodong a little trickier to use than other sets. Especially when trying to create a unified look between the landmasses and rivers and the mountains, floral, and settlements within the brush set. Be willing to take your time here and adjust as necessary.

As with Ishikawa, I removed any of the Hànzì from the signs and symbols; almost everything in the original atlas is named or detailed, so pulling that text out should make it all more versatile. Inside Zuodong, you’ll find over 300 brushes, including…

  • 24 Buildings of various sizes
  • 3 Bridges
  • 7 Pagodas
  • 4 “Forts”
  • 25 Regular Cities
  • 8 Large Cities
  • 2 Huge Cities
  • 3 Unique Cities
  • 10 Unique Settlements
  • 45 Hills
  • 50 Mountains
  • 2 Unique Landforms
  • 24 “Fields”
  • 40 “Wilds”
  • 20 Regular Forests
  • 10 Forests with Villages
  • 4 Unique Forests
  • 62 Waves
  • 4 Cartouches (I’m being generous here.)

But that’s not all!

I’m also making another set available to download separately, something fun to add a little extra historical authenticity to your maps. The Zoudong Bonus Seals and Markers includes some Chinese Seals (often called chop marks or chops) I used in my sample map below. These were extracted from three sources: Night-Shining White by Han Gan, Old Trees, Level Distance by Guo Xi, and Orchids and bamboo by Zheng Xie. While seals spread beyond China, all included in this set came from Chinese sources. Thanks to some help from user nomfood on Reddit, most have been translated. But there are a thousand more examples on the internet, so plenty can be found if you’re wanting something specific.

Some of the various seals you’ll find in the bonus set

Zoudong Bonus Seals and Markers include…

  • 1 Non-Historic Dragon Seal
  • 25 Historic seals of various sizes
  • 10 Hollow Square Markers
  • 10 Solid Square Markers

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set (it’ll also work with GIMPAffinity Photo, and I’m told Procreate now) as well as a large transparent PNG, Settlements & Landforms (3.3 Mb), Flora & Cartouches (3 Mb), in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files. They’re black and on a transparent background, so they’ll look broken in some browsers, but trust me, they’re all there. Like this set? Click here to learn how you can support this project.



Download Zuodong Bonus Seals & Markers


As with all of my previous brush sets, Zuodong 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 personal or commercial work and distribute adaptations. No attribution is required. Easy peasy!

Enjoy Zuodong? Feel free to show me what you created by emailing me 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!


Zuodong in Use

Want to see how I’ve used this set? You can see the results below. As with Ishikawa, it is a blend of styles, but I am pleased with the end results. There are three versions, a colored, black and white, 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 projects! Feel free to use these for whatever you want. Your next book? A TTRPG campaign? Lots of possibilities.

4000×3000 (12 MB)
4000×3000 (8.2 MB)
1080×1360 (1.6 MB)

Sample Details: Location names were taken from various places and points of interest from China’s Qiannan Buyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture. The font I used is Brughler Regular, which was licensed from Envato Elements. The paper texture is from True Grit Texture Supply’s Infinite Pulp, and they’re also where I got Atomica, which gives me ink-like effects for the text, the roads, the borders, basically everything—big fan of their tools.


Support this Work

Brushes and tools released through the #NoBadMaps project will always be free and released under a public domain CC0 license. If you’d like to support the project and help me cover the cost of hosting, research, and tool-set development, I’ve put together three ways you can help, and all are detailed below.

Buy My Books→

I’m not just a map enthusiast. I’m also a novelist! The easiest way to support me (and get something in return) is by purchasing one of my cosmic horror urban fantasy novels.

Buy Me a Coffee→

A simple and quick way to support the #NoBadMaps project is through a one-time donation of any amount via ko-fi. Your support helps keep this project going and is appreciated.

Join my Patreon→

If you want to continually support the #NoBadMaps project through a reoccurring monthly contribution, consider joining my Patreon and get sneak peeks into what’s coming.


More Map Brushes

This is just one of many brush sets and map tools I’ve released. You can find it and other free brushes covering a wide variety of historical styles on my Fantasy Map Brushes 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. Click the button below to check them out!


Want 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 ensure it’s not spammy and contains interesting and relevant information. Sign Up Today →

Raunch Review: The Blacktongue Thief

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.


The Authors: Christopher Buehlman

Work in Question: The Blacktongue Thief

The Profanity: “Kark”


Language is a funny thing serving not only as communication but as a window into a culture. The language you speak daily reflects your culture, your values, beliefs, and opinions. Without cultural context, a word or phrase may not hit the same way. This is doubly so in the world of profanity. What is profane here isn’t always profane elsewhere. Connotations require foreknowledge to be effective. I’ve discussed before how there are a few Chinese egg-centric curses that don’t translate into anything remotely offensive in Western culture but are often very offensive in China. That is the context we’re talking about, and that context matters.

Enter the fantasy world of Christopher Buehlman’s The Blacktongue Thief and its phenomenal faux-profanity “kark.” Throughout the book, it’s used in a variety of ways as a verb, adjective, and noun. We also see it used alongside more traditional real-world profanity as well. The word would already work well on its own, but it gets the added benefit of being a worldbuilding tool. Buehlman gives us the cultural context that makes it sing.

Within the kingdoms of Galtia and Norholt the word translates as “a wet fart.” On its own, it isn’t all that offensive. It’s mild grade-school bathroom humor. But, within the story, we get to see the cultural context and how “kark” evolved into a more impolite expletive and how it’s wielded by the native speakers. It’s also just fun to say.

While it might not offend English speakers (or mildly offend, if you’re irascible), it clearly strikes harder in the Holt Empire and serves as an excellent way to expand the world of The Blacktongue Thief through language.

Final Score: 5.0


🤬 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.


It’s the Writing

“It’s the writing that teaches you.”

Isaac Asimov

Today is Mr. Asimov’s birthday, and I’ve always appreciated this quote and felt like it was a good day to share it. I’ve always been pleasantly surprised how writing, even my pulpy cosmic horror series, has expanded my own personal knowledge. It’s also National Science Fiction Day. To celebrate, I’ll continue reading the sixth book in The Expanse series, and perhaps finish 1899 tonight.

Happy 2023

Good riddance to 2022. Hello, 2023! Thanks for sticking around and being a reader of my blog. I truly appreciate you and hope your year is an excellent one. May you find love and joy and peace, and all that sappy stuff. May you surpass your goals. May your year be bright and full of many excellent things. I have not-so-very-cosmic-horror-y poetry for you!

In the past, I’ve shared H. P. Lovecraft’s silly Christmas poems, and I’ve shared his creepy Christmas poem, and I’ve shared his creepy Halloween poem! But the grandpappy of cosmic horror also wrote a New Year’s Day poem for his pal Munroe to send to his brother-in-law Smith, which I’ve posted below. Enjoy!


Verses Designed to be Sent by a Friend of the Author
to His Brother-in-Law on New-Year’s Day

by H.P. Lovecraft

Respected Smith, to mark the fleeting time,
Munroe salutes you in fraternal rhyme.
An infant year again the old o’erthrows;
Another twelvemonth meets its certain close.
May all your troubles, with the parting year
Depart as well; as surely disappear;
And may the new, with all-pervading peace,
Delight your heart, and ev’ry joy increase.


Happy 2023, dear reader.

My Reading List for 2022

On the whole, I didn’t enjoy 2022, it had some wonderful moments, but overall it’s been a challenging year. One bright spot—as it always is—has been my reading. Still, it took me until this last week in December to surpass my goal of forty-two novels ending the year with a solid forty-four books read. That’s three and a half books a month, a decent number for a reader as slow as myself. I primarily focused on novels and a few novellas. Like last year, you won’t find many comics or short stories below, but I did read some, and they are listed out though I won’t be naming a favorite in either category.

As it does every year, this list correlates with my Goodreads 2022 Reading Challenge. Occasionally, you might find some slight differences between the two. (Not this year.) This list is all strictly reading for pleasure—I typically forgo listing any research/history books I’ve read for a project as I read those differently than I do fiction. This list is always enormous, so l skip reviews except for the standouts. However, I’d invite you to follow me on Goodreads, where I occasionally leave other reviews.

Most links will go to IndieBound—now more than ever, be sure to support your local bookstore. If possible, I am directly linking to each author’s website—if you’re on the list and I didn’t find your website, please let me know about it. (I won’t link to social media, sorry.)


📚 Novels & Novellas

  1. Nemesis Games (The Expanse #5)
    by James S. A. Corey
  2. The Bright Ages
    by Matthew Gabriele & David M. Perry
  3. Storm of Locust (The Sixth World #2)
    by Rebecca Roanhorse
  4. Crossroads
    by Laurel Hightower
  5. High-Rise
    by J. G. Ballard
  6. The Wicked Blade
    by Jason Vanhee
  7. Between Two Fires
    by Christopher Buehlman
  8. Piranesi
    by Susanna Clarke
  9. Rise of the Mages (Age of Ire #1)
    by Scott Drakeford
  10. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York
    by Robert A. Caro
  11. The Final Girl Support Group
    by Grady Hendrix
  12. Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle #1)
    by Neal Stephenson
  13. Shorefall (The Founders Trilogy #2)
    by Robert Jackson Bennett
  14. Rivers Of Power: How A Natural Force Raised Kingdoms, Destroyed Civilizations, And Shapes Our World
    by Lawrence C. Smith, PhD.
  15. Sphere
    by Michael Crichton
  16. Mexican Gothic
    by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  17. The Forever Sea (Tales of the Forever Sea #1)
    by Joshua Phillip Johnson
  18. Bone White
    by Ronald Malfi
  19. Dead Silence
    by S.A. Barnes
  20. The Civil War, Vol. 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian
    by Shelby Foote
  21. The Shadow of the Torturer
    by Gene Wolfe
  22. Centennial: A Novel
    by James A. Michener
  23. Parable of the Sower (Earthseed #1)
    by Octavia Butler
  24. Three Moments of an Explosion
    by China Miéville
  25. Billy Summers
    by Stephen King
  26. The Hollow Places
    by T. Kingfisher
  27. Tigana …again
    by Guy Gavriel Kay
  28. The Thirteenth Hour (The Cruel Gods #1)
    by Trudie Skies
  29. The Devil Takes You Home
    by Gabino Iglesias
  30. Clown in a Cornfield
    by Adam Cesare
  31. Shōgun
    by James Clavell
  32. The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South
    by Michael W. Twitty
  33. Sandman Slim (Sandman Slim #1) …again
    by Richard Kadrey
  34. The Book of Koli (Rampart Trilogy #1)
    by M. R. Carey
  35. Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom
    by David W. Blight
  36. The Hollow Kind
    by Andy Davidson
  37. Dracula …again… but sequentially
    by Bram Stoker
  38. The Water Dancer: A Novel
    by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  39. House of Hunger
    by Alexis Henderson
  40. Black Helicopters (Tinfoil Dossier #2)
    by Caitlin R. Kiernan
  41. West of Innsmouth: A Cthulhu Western
    by Hideyuki Kikuchi
  42. The Gone World
    by Tom Sweterlitsch
  43. Fairy Tale
    by Stephen King
  44. Razorblade Tears
    by S. A. Cosby

🏆 Favorite Novel of 2022

Between Two Fires

by Christopher Buehlman

A gripping historical horror set in France during the Black Plague that is as bleak as it is intense. Buehelman beautifully builds out the hellish world of 1348 Avignon and populates it with empathetic, if not fraught, characters while weaving their journey into a much larger and significantly more epic tale. Angels. Demons. Redemption. Sacrifice. War in heaven and on Earth. I was absorbed from its harrowing beginning to its spectacular ending. I wish I could erase my brain and read it again for the first time— Between Two Fires has become not only my favorite this year but one of my favorites of all time.


🏅 Favorite Novel Runners-up of 2022

The Hollow Kind

by Andy Davidson

A southern gothic-cum-cosmic horror story that oozes atmosphere and dread with the turn of every page. Brilliantly written, The Hollow Kind weaves two tales of different generations of the Redfern family. Tragedy subsumes the story as each struggle with inner demons and even darker family secrets on their thousand-acre turpentine estate deep in the Georgia pines. A phenomenal book and Davidson’s best work to date.


The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York

by Robert A. Caro

Arguably one of the most extraordinary biographic explorations into an individual’s life and his incredible impact on the modern city. Moses is a complicated figure. Caro conveys a sprawling saga of a driven man who would stop at nothing to see his vision accomplished, shedding everything along the way, from his friends, family, and values, on a relentless quest for power and control over the city of New York. Gripped me from the outset.


🎈 Honorable Mentions of 2022

It took a lot of internal debate to last on those three. Overall, 2022 was a good reading year for me, and a lot stood out. So out of all that list, here are a few more I think you owe it to yourself to check out:

  • Nemesis Games by James S. A. Corey
    I read one of these a year, and every year, I walk away thinking it’s the best epic sci-fi series I’ve read in a long, long time. This book was one of the best.
  • The Wicked Blade by Jason Vanhee
    Beautiful and melancholy Arthurian fantasy told from the perspective of an elderly Morgan le Fay.
  • Rise of the Mages by Scott Drakeford
    A violent action fantasy with solid world-building, loads of combat, and a unique magic system.
  • Crossroads by Laurel Hightower
    Heartbreaking horror showing how far a mother would go for her child.
  • Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett
    A phenomenal continuation of Bennett’s Founders Trilogy, it builds on the plot from the first book and expands into a whole new direction.
  • Billy Summers
    Stephen King writes an engaging crime thriller about an assassin who is also interested in becoming and novelist.
  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
    A strange and beautiful fever dream about an endless house and the man who lives within.
  • Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes
    Space star-cruise horror—gripping and intense. Working salvage has never been this terrifying.
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
    A fantastic and bleak post-apocalyptic story that explores faith and the formation therein.
  • The Book of Koli by M. R. Carey
    A fascinating look into a post-apocalyptic society faced with ecological terrors.
  • The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch
    Deep-space-multiverse-time-travel-adventure following a Navy Inspector hunting down a killer across time and the multiverse.
  • Razorblade Tears
    A violent and often thriller about a pair of old criminals who team up to avenge their murdered sons.

💥 Graphic Novels & 📜 Short Stories

Both comics and short stories played less of a role in my reading this year. As for comics, I’ve started running out of space to store them and switched to reading more digitally, so I hope that changes. With short stories, I find them more unsatisfying these days. It’s more the format than any writing. I always want to spend a little more time with the characters and get to know their world. They all end too soon, and I always feel a little disappointed. Since I didn’t read enough short stories or graphic novels, it’d be unfair to pick top choices. That said, I did enjoy everything on this list.

  1. Preacher: Book Four
    by Garth Ennis (Author) & Steve Dillon (Artist)
  2. Gideon Falls, Vol. 4: The Pentoculus
    by Jeff Lemire (Author) & Andrea Sorrentino (Artist)
  3. 86 Volts: The Dead Girl
    by Bryan J. L. Glass (Author) & Michael Avon Oeming (Author, Artist)
  4. Paper Girls, Vol. 3
    by Brian K. Vaughan (Author), Cliff Chiang (Artist)
  5. a quarter of an inch
    by Bill Bradbury
  6. Mayday
    by Manu Zolezzi

🎭 Poems

Ah, poetry. How I want to read more of you. I subscribed to the Poetry Foundations’ daily Poem of the Day newsletter list this year, which helped. It’s an excellent and easily digestible way to get a bit of daily poetry in your life. I didn’t record every poem I read, but standouts usually made this list. My goal next year is to double this list—50 poems in 2023. Let’s see how I do next year.

  1. “New Year’s Day”
    by Kim Addonizio
  2. “What Just Came Out of My Head”
    by John Dev
  3. To _____________
    by W. S. Merwin
  4. “Fog”
    by Carl Sandburg
  5. “The Solitude of Night”
    by Li Bai
  6. “Drink Your Tea”
    by Thich Nhat Hanh
  7. “Ashglory”
    by Paul Celan
  8. “Oread”
    by H. D.
  9. “Selected Legends of Andre the Giant”
    by Todd Kaneko
  10. “Summer”
    by Chen Chen
  11. “I want to drown in the past and call it the best decision of my life”
    by Laura Marie Marciano
  12. “The Lyric In A Time of War”
    by Eloise Klein Healy
  13. “[I met a man a dying man]”
    by Diane Seuss
  14. “The Red Wheelbarrow”
    by William Carlos Williams
  15. “The morns are meeker than they were – (32)”
    by Emily Dickinson
  16. “How it Escaped Our Attention”
    by Heid E. Erdrich
  17. “The Witch”
    by Elizabeth Willis
  18. “Proust’s Madeleine”
    by Kenneth Rexroth
  19. “Line in the Wordcaves”
    by Paul Celan
  20. “A Divine Image”
    by William Blake
  21. “Ghost-ship”
    by Christine Garren
  22. “Ode I. 11”
    by Horace
  23. “[little tree]”
    by E. E. Cummings

So, that concludes the revisit of my year in the written word. Much more good than bad. Much more enjoyable than not. When it comes to reading, I look back at 2022 with fondness and can’t wait to see what I read in 2023. Here’s to next year. Here’s to more poetry. Here’s to more graphic novels and perhaps even more short stories. Time will tell, stranger things have happened, and there’s much more to read.

How about you? What were the standout books, graphic novels, short stories, or poems you read this year? I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment and let me know!


Are you looking for a good book? Want to see my reading lists from previous years? Check any of the links below and see what I was reading in the bygone days of yore.

 2013 • 2014 • 2015 • 2016 • 2017 •
2018201920202021

Next year, why not join me? Goodreads does a reading challenge every year, and I am an active participant. First, follow me on Goodreads (leave me a review while you’re there), and once the New Year arrives, participate in the Goodreads Reading Challenge for 2023.


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. Alexander

Want 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 →