Thursday, May 7, 2015

Robert Lee Murphy--Maps Are Essential To Historical Fiction

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When I commenced writing The Iron Horse Chronicles, I decided that each book had to contain a map to help orient the reader to the terrain through which the characters act. From an early age, I appreciated the inclusion of maps in the books I read. As an adult reader, when given a choice, I select a book that contains a map over one that does not. 

Out of curiosity, I went to my local library and “researched” all of the books available that day for young readers to check out. Admittedly, my so-called research was not scientific, but I am convinced that it is good enough to prove my point. 

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The Paseo Verde branch of the Henderson, Nevada, libraries flags the spine of their books with a notation for “Historical Fiction.” I pulled each of the 114 historical fiction books present in the stacks on the day of my "research" and checked for maps. Not to my surprise, I found only 25 contained a map. That’s only 22%.

On the other hand, virtually every fantasy novel I examined contained a map. The author of fantasy fiction must create the landscape through which the characters will move. The resulting map aids the reader in not getting lost. For example, the Paseo Verde library on the day of my "research" displayed fifteen fantasy novels written by Brian Jacques. Each included a magnificent map helping the reader to visualize the locale of the action.

As a middle grade historical novelist, I do not believe it is right to assume my reader already knows the geography involved, perhaps because of other school studies, or assume the reader will have the initiative to find an atlas for self edification. I doubt that happens often. I owe it to my readers to help them.

Finished Map by Robert Lee Murphy and Phyllis Mignard
Original Sketch Map by Robert Lee Murphy
I was fortunate in having the assistance of an outstanding illustrator who took my rough sketches and turned them into works of art that the publisher has included in each book as a two-page spread. Phyllis Mignard, my friend and fellow member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, prepared the maps for both Eagle Talons and Bear Claws.

Soon, I hope to engage Phyllis in polishing the map for Golden Spike, the concluding volume in my transcontinental railroad trilogy. First, I must finish writing the book and draft the map.

1 comment:

  1. I too appreciate maps in stories and often refer to them as I read to ground myself in the setting. Our young readers will certainly benefit from the inclusion of maps in the books they read.