I’m Going to Be Reading on Barely Tolerable Tales

I’m Going to Be Reading on Barely Tolerable Tales

This Friday, November 20th, at 7:30 PM PST, I’m going to be joining a few other authors and reading an unpublished story for King County Library’s streaming spooking story session: Barely Tolerable Tales. Not a bad way to spend a Friday night in lockdown.

I’m excited. My story, Overture, is a little different from my books but still connected to the Bell Forging Cycle. As of yet, it hasn’t been published anywhere. While this event is streaming on Zoom, it won’t be recorded, so if you’re hankering for a little more from the world of the Territories until Gleam Upon the Waves arrives, you should register today and make plans to attend! Spaces are limited.

Barely Tolerable Tales is for adults and presented by fine folks at The Cresswell Club. They even enlisted me to find a suitable cocktail for our evening of stories. So, I called in my cocktail calvary and enlisted my pal and fellow writer J. Rushing to help. (Check out his novel RADIO.) And help he did. We’re calling this drink The Pallid Mask and the recipe below (and on the registration page.)


The Pallid Mask

  • 2 oz. young Mezcal
  • 1 oz. Dry Vermouth
  • 1 oz. Green Chartreuse

Mix all ingredients in a shaker. Stir with ice—strain into a cocktail glass. Squeeze a sprig of rosemary over the top and throw it in as a garnish. (If you like your drinks a little sweeter, consider adding a 1/4–⁠1/2 oz. of simple syrup.)


I think that covers all the pertinents. Hopefully, I’ll see you on Friday!

Ende: A 17th/18th Century Littoral Edger for Your Fantasy Maps

Ever since I put together my tutorial on replicating hatched 18th-century coastlines, I knew it was merely a stopgap. After all, the whole point of #NoBadMaps is to empower anyone to create high-quality historically-infused maps quickly and efficiently. While following along through complex Photoshop procedures can get you there, it still takes a bit more effort than I wanted.

Today, I’m proud to release the next iteration of the hatched coastline—Ende—a totally-free brush set where you can just paint-in your hatches. No longer do you have to go through multiple panels and several steps to get what you want. If you can draw a line, you can hatch in your littoral edges. Simple as that. Here’s a quick video showing how it works.

Ende is named after the first Spanish female manuscript illuminator and one of the first female cartographers. She lived around 1000 A.D.—her work is early enough that it doesn’t lend itself to a very robust brush set. Something I talked about in detail recently. But I liked the idea of naming a mapping tool after her.

Using Ende is simple. Install the brush set. Select the brush size you want from the Brush palette and paint it in. It is designed for Photoshop but should work in GIMP or Affinity. (No promises. I don’t use either tool.) It’ll work the best living on its own layer behind a solid landmass layer. You can also try using the “Wet” setting if you want the brush to have a more inky feel. You can toggle that on and off in the Brush Settings Panel (F5) in Photoshop.

The set itself includes ten brushes—1-pixel through 5-pixels with standard and wide variants of each. The wide variants double the white space between lines. You can see an example of each brush below. I recommend using a brush that closely matches the average thickness of lines and strokes on your project so it will look the most natural.

Left to Right: 1px to 5px, Wide variant on bottom row

That’s it! An easy-to-use littoral edger for your fantasy map projects. Just click the button below to download Ende and quickly edge in your coastlines.



As with all of my previous brush sets, Ende 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 Ende? Feel free to show me what you created by sending me an email or finding me on Twitter or heck, leave a comment below. I adore seeing how these brushes get used, and I’d be happy to share your work with my readers (let me know in your message.) Let us see what you make!


💸 Supporting This Work

If you like Ende (or any of my free brushes, really) and want to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my cosmic-horror soaked dark urban fantasy novels. The first book in the series—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. Learn more about the series by visiting the Bell Forging Cycle page.

The Bell Forging Cycle

Not interested in my books but still want a way to support me? Buy me a coffee.


More Map Brushes

Ende just one of twenty brush sets 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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Go Vote

Go Vote 🗳

If you’re like the nearly one hundred million other Americans who voted early (myself and Kari-Lise included), then this post is just noise. But if somehow you haven’t voted yet, today is the perfect day for it. Need to know where to go? Find your polling place here. If you’re an adult US citizen, remember, no one can keep you from voting. Stay in line. Get counted. You got this. As I quoted on Instagram earlier today…

“People shouldn’t be afraid of their government.
Governments should be afraid of their people.”

Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

Funny enough, that quote is loosely based on a similar spurious quotation often attributed to Thomas Jefferson. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation has a little article on it over on Monticello.org, and it’s worth a read if you like delving into the etymology of quotations. Often they’re like a little game of telephone.

No matter the outcome, I’m proud of every American who got involved in the process. This election is arguably the most important election of our lives. We’re seeing record turnout everywhere. For me, it’s thrilling to see so many Americans stepping up and making sure their voice is heard and their vote is counted.

Aim High, America
Friends Like These

Friends Like These…

Find yourself a community of writers and liked-minded folks who are willing to dress up like you for Halloween as a surprise. 🖤

Don’t they all look good? Black is the best color, obviously. Bonus points for the use of black and white. Double-bonus points for Drew rockin’ the all-black stealth MLB hat. Seriously though, this was sprung on me over Discord last night, and it absolutely made my Halloween evening. I’m feeling very loved today.

Thanks to Drew Gerken, Emily Earhart, J. Rushing, Richie Franklin, Scott Drakeford, and Will Munn for randomly making me feel special. Each of them are incredible people, and I’m proud to be apart of their writing community and to be able to call each of them a friend. They push me to be better every day. I recommend giving them a follow—links go to their site or to their various projects. They’re all doing amazing things.

Three Great Horror Reads for Halloween

Three Great Horror Reads for Halloween 2020

Today is spooky day! Leaves are falling. The full moon peaks out from behind rainclouds. There’s a pandemic raging through communities. Reality sorta sounds like the start of a horror novel these days. Instead of dwelling on our real-life horror, perhaps now is a good time to escape into some fictional horror. (Besides, you should be staying home, and reading is always a good excuse.)

To that end, I thought it’d be a great idea to follow my lead from last year and recommend three great horror reads for your 2020 Halloween. Since I’ve been reading horror since I was a kid, I figured I’d limit myself to books I’ve only read in the last few years. You can see my reading list for 2018 and 2019 here on my blog, and you can view my current list for 2020 over on Goodreads.

What three did I choose? Why let me show you…


In the Valley of the Sun

by Andy Davidson

I just finished this, and I was blown away. A deeply unsettling sun-baked vampire novel set in Texas that has become a new favorite. Tense in unexpected ways. Character focused and driven. Brutal. Anguished. Tormented. Bloody. Lyrical in ways that remind me of Cormac McCarthy without the weight. Davidson has a new book out this year, The Boatman’s Daughter, and after In the Valley of the Sun, it’s rocketed up my TBR list.


The Cipher

By Kathe Koja

It’s hard to categorize this one. But it’s perfect for the spooky season. Part haunted house story, part body horror, part descent into madness tale all told in the style of Transgressive Literature. The Cipher is one of those stories I was shocked I hadn’t read until this year. Koja writes stunningly physical characters and knotted complex relationships that feel eerily familiar to anyone who’s spent time in artist circles. Enjoy the Fun Hole.


The Only Good Indians

by Stephen Graham Jones

At its heart, this is a horror novel about growing up poor and native in western Montana. But The Only Good Indians also a novel about revenge, mistakes, and their extended consequences. I blew through it. I grew up not too far from where this novel is set, and I have yet to find a recent author that captures the behavior and actions of the rural poor quite as well as Jones. You’ll never look at elk the same way again.


So those three books are my picks for 2020’s Halloween reads. Funny enough, I’ve read all three this year. I think any one of them would be perfect for our extended autumn nights and a nice escape from the daily chaos of a pandemic stricken world. (And you just might learn something about humanity. All three have a lot to say about people and our behaviors, both good and bad.)

What are your favorite horror novels from the last few years? What would you recommend as a Halloween read? Leave a comment below and let everyone know!

Have a safe and happy Halloween!


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A detailed image of Pietro Vesconte’s world map

Why Early Cartography Doesn’t Work Well for Fantasy Maps

I got message in my inbox the other daaaaay…

“I’d love to see something from the Late Medieval or even Crusades period. Does the dearth of material from those eras prevent or make such a project more difficult? Are you simply uninterested?”

It’s a great question and one I’ve received several times in the last few years. The answer is longer and more complicated than it should be. We’re dealing with history and history is always messier than we’d like. Plus, I think it’s interesting enough that everyone will appreciate why I seem to ignore the Middle Ages’ maps in favor of later sources.

Also I blame Tolkien.

Strap in, cowpokes—I’m going history nerd on y’all.

Technology, Cartography, and Fan Expectations

We need to begin with technology. The proliferation of maps didn’t commence until after the printing press became ubiquitous. That’s why we have such an explosion of content after the 15th century. Before then, maps were all hand-made. Reproduction was difficult. You don’t find as many maps from those early eras, and often the maps you do find are reproductions done in a later style. That’s not to say they don’t exist, they’re just much different than the maps that came later, and they don’t correlate with what we think of as a map.

Then there’s the fan experience and the modern fan’s expectation. Fantasy maps serve a story, after all, and most fans want certain things from the map. Locations, distance, landforms, perhaps even enough to understand the climate. But the era of your typical fantasy novel is often set much earlier than the era of the printing press. (Yeah. Sure. It’s fantasy. And yeah, sure, you can fudge it.) But this is where it gets complicated.

In many ways, Tolkien is the one who set the expectation for fantasy fans. His famous map of Middle Earth, the one we all know and love, is more akin to cartography from the 16th, 17th, or 18th century than one from the Middle Ages. While it’s easy to point fingers, the reality is there is a good reason for his decision.

The art from the Middle Ages was weird.

Have you ever spent time looking at Western art from the Middle Ages at a museum? Notice how it’s always a little goofy? A bit off? Strange angles. Weird faces. There’s a flatness to everything. Eyes are looking in different directions. The artist had no idea what a cat looked like. The baby Jesus on Mary’s lap looks like a 34-year-old man. Camels look like horses and horses like goats. Trees are rendered oddly, and buildings are even odder. Art at this time was in its infancy and it’s like that with the cartography as well.

Let’s look at a few examples to see what I mean.


10th Century – Ende’s Map of the World – 975 A.D.

Most Western cartographers from the Middle Ages were monks, or in Ende’s case, a nun. The maps they made were often crafted alongside, or as a part of, “illumination” for religious manuscripts. Religious zeal tended to dominate many of those early Western works, making them almost useless as maps.

This “map of the world” is an excellent example of that fervor. It’s sparse, with more effort spent on the Garden of Eden cartouche than detailing the geography. It’s far different from the detailed maps we expect from our modern fantasy novels. Yet, the era it was created, the late 10th-century, is more often than not closer in era to our crafted fantasy worlds.


12th Century – Al-Idrisi’s Tabula Rogeriana – 1154 A.D.

During the 10th century, most of the progression in the science of geography and cartography was coming from the Middle East. Most of our modern understanding of mathematics and science is rooted in discoveries from the early Muslim world. Cartography is no different.

Muhammad al-Idrisi’s Tabula Rogeriana is one of my favorite pieces from those times and is largely considered the height of early Muslim cartography. While this work is rendered upside down, with North being at the bottom (not uncommon for Middle Ages work), the map itself is incredibly accurate—while scale is still being sussed out, it’s easy to spot recognizable landforms.

It’s also stunning.

Colorful mountain ranges dance across beige landforms, green lakes and seas drain into rivers, which in turn empty into the deep blue swaths of open ocean. It makes for a beautiful piece of history. While you can see the roots for the hill-profile style that would become the norm in later centuries, it’s quite different from maps we find in the opening pages of a novel. Everything here is a bit flashy, more like a painting—whereas, with later maps, engravers began using the symbols we expect. The map itself shifted in later years to become a tool for the commoner, not a piece of art for a fancy king named Roger.


13th Century – Matthew Paris’s Britain – 1259-ish A.D.

The other approach we find in the Middle Ages was more typographical. Take this 13th-century map of the British Isles from the Benedictine Monk Matthew Paris. It’s not bogged down in religious fervor the way Ende’s map was—but it’s also not as detailed as one would expect.

There are only a few signs and symbols, and much of the heavy lifting is done with text. Beyond the coastline, there is very little in the way of landforms. No flora is present. No mountains—well, maybe one mountain. Few rivers. And this is the 13th Century! We’re nearly three hundred years after Ende crafted her map, and still two hundred years before duel-beard wielding Johannes Gutenberg would invent his printing press. And etching—the process that rendered many of the maps that influence fantasy cartography today—wouldn’t show up on the scene until seventy-five years after that.

But you can see the origins of what was to come. You can see symbols begin to creep into the idea of a map. You can see where cartography is going.


I once read an article that compared these early maps to “storytelling” rather than representations of geography. This was undoubtedly the case in Western cartography during the Middle Ages. These maps serve to enforce a narrative. But beyond that narrative, most are unusable. They’re paintings. Piece of art. They’re not tools. We see more cartouches and illustrations than useful signs and representational symbols. This is why I avoid using these as a base. There aren’t enough signs to make a robust set, and the signs and symbols that exist are very limited. This is why early cartography and Middle Ages’ sources won’t make practical brush sets.

The Silver Lining

I don’t think all hope is lost. While it’s theorized to be a bit earlier than the Middle Ages, I think there’s potential for some sort of set to come from the Tabula Peutingeriana, an early map of the Roman Empire.

I’m not sure how effective it’d be from a landform-perspective, but there are so many variances in the Roman settlements that I could see it working for the right project. The trick will be finding a decent source, it’s been reproduced so many times and every time there are slight variations. Plus, I’ll need to dust off my High-School Latin before I tackle it.

There’s also an opportunity with some of Sebastian Münster’s or Girolamo Ruscelli’s work. It’s early as far as the hill-profile style goes, but it somehow feels older even though both are from the 16th century. The downside is most of the individual maps are fairly light in the number of symbols present, so I’ll need to pull from multiple sources. Unfortunately, neither did an outstanding job maintaining a uniform size with their signs or keeping line strokes consistent. Not impossible to overcome, but it is time-consuming.

In Conclusion

There are going to projects that will benefit from the earlier styles of cartography. The maps I shared are stunning and fantastic pieces of history. Creating in-era ephemera can add a level of authenticity to a story, and any of the pieces I shared would be great to replicate for the right project. But for those, I think proper illustration goes a lot further than trying to shoehorn brush sets into cartographic development. In those cases, one would be better off hiring an illustrator.

I design my brushes to help non-designers create period-authentic maps. For the vast majority of fantasy projects, I think mimicking the hill-profile style will satisfy fans. Tolkien chose it for a reason. It’s easy to wrap your head around and still feels properly antiquated even if it doesn’t precisely match era to era. It’s become the defacto fantasy style, and for a fantastical world, and you know what? That’s more than acceptable.


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