Dead Men are the Poorest of All Rambled musings of an independent author

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I receive a fair number of questions about the maps created for my World’s Enough Cycle book series.   Beyond the simple expectation for a fantasy series to contain visual guidelines, I find the perusal of maps to be a pleasurable experience.  Utilitarian, of course, but also gratifying.  My grandfather owned a faded 19th century reprint of Florida, as produced by Joseph Hutchins Colton’s cartographic firm.  It is the earliest map I can remember.

The craft of mapmaking dates back nearly nine thousand years, and possession of accurate maps, especially during the historical ages of exploration, represented significant power for the wielder.  The very lives of a ship’s crew could be threatened if accuracy of their navigational maps, both for the world at large and the minute details needed to safely avoid shoals and other hazards, was questionable.

In today’s world, we have virtually flawless maps downloaded into our hands by our satellite-driven smartphones; I once used my iPhone to locate a restaurant whose parking lot I was already standing in.  But the adventurers of the world, the men (and occasionally women) who sailed or walked beyond the hazy line of civilization, had to create their maps, with ink and stain and blood.  Professional artisans of the era would then transform their findings, often for a monarch or other wealthy patron, into works of art in their own right.  It was a noble trade, in the newest sense of the term.

Thus, there was never a question about whether or not to include a map.  Only about the kind of map.  I began with two pencil drawings, corresponding to the northern and southern sections of the world where the characters of Dead Men Tell No Lies travel.  I am not an artist and these were my maps (I did a little post-production tinting as the pencil lines have already faded):


The sizes of the images were roughly 6×9 inches, sufficient for consecutive pages in a print or ebook.  These were the only maps I used during a large portion of the writing process.  I knew the maps could be more appropriately termed “northeast lands” and “southwest lands,” but since the textual content did not take any of the characters to the other portions of the world, I did fret.

If I had the chance to go back and change anything in my writing process, I would definitely have started with a completed world map.  As I work on volume two, and as I finished several rounds of editing on volume one, I found myself continually returning to my then-completed world map.  It is an invaluable asset for a writer of any virtually any fiction genre.  The tendency to make arbitrary, on-the-fly spatial decisions is too great.

Toward the end of the first full manuscript draft, I decided I wanted a “real” map.  One that covered a larger section of charted world.  My original plan was to hand my pencil drawing off to a local friend in Savannah who possessed general artistic talent, but not specific experience in map design.  This was going to potential bring the project beyond his wheelhouse and I tested out a cartography software package to see if the additional toolset would help.  After a horrid day of fiddling with the CAD engine, I made the decision to hire a professional map maker.  But how does one do that?

Turns out, there are cartographers still lurking in the shadows.  Many of these guys and gals are enthusiasts or table top gamers, who primarily design maps for their own hobbies.  But some make a living creating maps.  I found an online cartography guild and selected Robert Altbauer as my artist.  He needed to have the basics, so I did a second version of the map in pencil, this time with more of the world fleshed out:

My world is larger than this, much larger in fact, but this multi-continental section will be more than enough to cover the planned sections for volumes one and two.  Note how few cities and geographic features are here.  In fact, only textual city/geography was included.  But we now have a crisscross of empires, kingdoms, and other political demarcations.

I wanted a sepia tone color palette and, from this humble beginning, it did not take long for the map to take form:

You can see some of the geography being put into place.  One of the lead PoV characters finds himself in a desert during chapter 1, so that feature needed to be put into the map early on.  And because we wanted to get make the geography realistic, we need corresponding terrain to cause deserts, in this case mountains on one side.  This also means my world’s prevailing winds tend to blow from east to west, which meant I needed to verify the manuscript reflected this fact.  One iteration into the map and already I had meaningful interplay between written and visual elements.

A few iterations later and we have the majority of the final map’s cities and geography added, as well as the longitude and latitude lines.  As reference, I let the cartographer know the map should cover roughly the same distance as real world N. Africa to upper Scandinavia.  Each kingdom/political entity also has a specific language and their city names reflect this, adding further realism.

Quite a few iterations later we have the final product.  As soon as I decided to expand the map from my original concept to the larger continental/world map, I also decided someone had to be responsible for the map.  Specifically, someone contextually inside my world.  Thus, the prime meridian is considered to be inside the Great Yoshen Empire and the map is drawn by a scholar from that nation.  His blue artisan’s mark is at the top.  Some location names seen on the map have subtle, but fully conscious, differences from the actual novel to reflect a mapmaker from a nation different than the main characters.

All that was left was to crop out our two 6×9 images for the book itself.  I opted for black and white versions for better viewing on most/all eReaders.  Compare with the very first pencil images.  The skeleton is still there, but so much more vibrant and satisfying.


So next time you read a novel (or write your own), take a moment to consider the energy and thought put behind the map.  And if one isn’t included, let the author know you wish there was one.

Thoughts on “Maps

© 2018 Dead Men are the Poorest of All.

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