A Good Girl

I have been dreading this post. It’s as if somehow writing it instills a permanence into reality, a permanence I don’t want to acknowledge. Saying goodbye is never easy; somehow, writing about it feels like a culmination. A few weeks ago, we had to say goodbye to our 16-year-old toy poodle, Sugar. We knew it was coming. Suge had been dealing with heart and kidney issues for over a year, but when it finally came, it felt like our world had collapsed. We loved her dearly. She was a good girl.

With her loss, we are now petless for the first time in over sixteen years. The house feels so hollow without her presence. As with Tyrant before her, my brain has been playing tricks on me. I keep expecting to see her marching around the house, coming to greet me when I get home from work, or anticipating her snooting about as I wake up. Habits I formed as a pet owner that grew as we learned to care for an elderly dog aren’t necessary. There’s a Suge shaped hole in my life.

Sugar wasn’t the dog we planned or intended to get. She came to us after her previous owners gave her up. At the time, we thought she’d make an excellent companion to our other toy poodle, Tyrant. (Not sure if he ever fully agreed.) Early on, she was wary and untrusting of me and other large men, but over the years, that mellowed, and it was always a delight when she rushed to greet me after an absence. (There’s a reason she eventually received the nickname “Girlfriend,” Tyrant generally adored his mom, and Suge generally adored me.)

She brought an irreplaceable vibrance to our home, whether hanging out on the couch, joining Kari-Lise in the garden, cuddling in bed, or lying next to me (or at least within eyesight) as I wrote in my office. She was whip-smart, always a little devious, and kept us on our toes. She was bossy and brash and became the defacto leader of our pet brigade, and she believed herself to be a much bigger dog than she was. (An attitude that cost her an eye and never dissipated even after that injury.)

Those who knew her experienced her energy and excitement firsthand. She was quick to greet, scold, play, or snuggle. Even in her advanced years, toothless, deaf, and mostly blind, she behaved like a much younger dog. Eager for walks. Eager for discovery. Eager to be near us. She loved red wine her whole life (don’t give your dogs wine), and specifically hated the song “Happy Birthday,” howling in protest whenever it was sung (sing to your dogs). She was in many ways the gravitational center of our household.

I am so grateful you were in my life Sugar, and I am glad we were able to spend so much time together over these last few years. You were an amazing companion; the lessons I learned from you made me a better person. Thank you for everything. Thank you for spending your life with us. Thank you for loving us and keeping us engaged with the world.

My friend Richie shared a C. S. Lewis quote with me shortly after you left, and I keep thinking about it: “The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.” As ponderous as this pain has felt over these last few weeks, I’d still take that deal a thousand times over. You were worth it. I miss you, girl.

The “Quiet Corners” Collection Has a New Home

I’ve been experimenting with video content for TikTok and Instagram’s Reels for the last few years. No, I’m not doing reaction videos to people cooking or lip-syncing to someone else’s song. I’ve mostly been building off my work with the “Old Haunts” series, aping off the short looping mise en scène style and trying some new stuff that is weird and occasionally creepy. I’ve been calling these experiments “Quiet Corners.”

They’ve been fun to make, and the verticle phone screen is an exciting format, but this work takes time to make. The algorithms tend to favor creators who take weeks or months between posting new content. So it always felt like I was throwing my work into a void. To solve that, I’ve launched a new Reader Resource page specifically for “Quiet Corners.” Check it out here.

From now on, any experimental videos I create will be added there. I don’t totally consider “Quiet Corners” canon the way I do with “Old Haunts,” but they’re all set in Lovat and the world of the Territories, so don’t be surprised if there are hints and details that expand the world a bit more and connect to other stories playing out.

Enjoy the videos, everyone!

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!

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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.