A Tale of Two Maps — Part II

Previously, on “A Tale of Two Maps”…

PK hired genius map-maker Tom Parker to create maps of his world, and learned valuable lessons about friendship and growing up.

With Lake Province mapped and hung, it was time to turn to the world itself. Fortunately, fantasy worlds tend to have only so much “discovered” territory, so it makes the job a lot easier. Still, it’s your World, and once it’s spinning, there are no re-dos, unless you write an apocalypse. OK, so yeah I guess there are re-dos.

I’ll start this by showing you the finished product, and then break it down once you’re able to start breathing again:

It’s gorgeous, right? I mean it just leaps off the page and catches your eye. It feels at once old and dynamic, tangible and ethereal, a symphony of details which all coalesce into a breathtaking, unified tableau.

I really can’t take much credit. Like I said in my previous post, I only applied two lessons — pick a POV, and let the art happen. We’ll take a tour of this masterpiece, but first, let’s look at how it started…

Sepia. Wouldn’t wanna… beepia?

My previous world map was done in Photoshop. It represents the absolute limits of my creative skills. You can tell I put a lot of thought and detail into the big continent on the left, and then got really tired.

This took me like 200 hours

There was no way I was going to put this map in any of my books, but it at least gave me something to give to Tom. Now, as we got to talking, my mind went crazy with ideas for the border, so I also sent Tom this sketch:

Look at my lightning bolts. Just look at them.

Now I want you to go back and look at the finished map, then come look at this. It’s… I can’t even. When I explained this drawing to Tom I think he described it as “A graphic novel in a frame”. I said, “Yup!” or something. It’s possible what he really meant was, “You’re not paying me enough to do a graphic novel.”


Anyway, this particular story starts in Ennyk Land, one of many island kingdoms in the Union

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The people of Ennyk consider themselves to be above pretty much everyone else. They are the only nation in the union where “Etificer” — someone who keeps track of etiquette — is a full-time job. Think, the court of Louis XIV, with maybe a soupçon more pretension.

As masters of their own PR, it seemed natural to me that Ennyk would take charge of designing the world map, highlighting all that their rich culture has to offer, while subtly throwing shade at the nations they despise.

It was the East of times, it was the West of times

Yes, I used that joke already in Part I. It just gets funnier.

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Ennyk is in the East, the oldest part of the world, the most polished draft of history. Hence, their half of the map is written on the finest velum, heavy with the black ink of night, the stellar remnants of the oldest gods, and the divine emblem of Talfar — the Dawn, the one true power.

The East is also sealed with the stars and lion of the Union Leaver — a coin minted by the greatest realm in history.

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The Union Gold Leaver

The West, meanwhile is home to the dirty mines of Gleistus, the frozen wastes of Wintereiss, the backward, religious zealotry of Olo. Never mind that the greatest library of all time is in the West, or that the fabled King of the World built his Winter Palace there. It’s a hot wild mess, a hastily scribbled first draft of a story that makes the civilized folk of Ennyk roll their eyes and cluck their tongues.

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Epinyres, the hundred-handed god of the old religion, unfurls the scroll of the world with his human hands, as his other hands scribble the rough shores of the western kingdoms.

The Gods Must Be Crazy

While Ennyk folk are devoted worshipers of Talfar, the one True™ god, they’re not above borrowing from other faiths to round out the borders of their maps.

In addition to enlisting Epinyres, (a scribe god invented by the King of the World and still worshiped by Monarchics throughout the modern realm) to help unfurl the scroll of the world, the map’s authors enlisted two other cultures to frame the north and south.

Up north, we have Munnikot, the beast god of the Hyfnar pantheon. My conversation with Tom went like this:

PK: Munnikot is like this nine-headed bull, with like a lion head, and a wolf head, and a bull head, and a snake head, and like a horse, and maybe a goat… oh yeah and an ape, a fish, an eagle… yeah… yeah, but sometimes he’s a bearded man whose head constantly changes.


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Munnikot. Look at how those faces are stacked. It’s just… ugh. I love it.

For the fish part of Munnikot, Tom incorporated a creature who is extremely prominent in my novels — the benthite, a creature inspired by the Russian Zolotaya Rybka. Tom did such an amazing job capturing this creature, it has basically become the emblem of my series:

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The Benthite

One of my D&D players even tattoo’ed a benthite on his arm:

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Now, in the south, we have Patheran, a vast continent of nations that have always known conflict with the north. Their cultures are old, their cities are mighty, and their gods are numerous.

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The city of Wulluk Rypethiti is guarded by clay labyrinth a mile thick and nearly a thousand feet high. It traps sea water and desalinates it, providing clean drinking water to the city in times of drought.

Of all the Patherene gods the map-makers could have chosen to border the south, it’s a little suspicious that they settled on Thyriel, the God of Desires, whose symbols are the snake, the ram, and a harp made from the bones and hair of his slain bride. Again, one suspects the Ennyki authors are trying to highlight the strangeness of their southern rivals, but Patherenes are proud of their pantheon, and Tom did a masterful job bringing their gods to life:

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A Million Little Things

There are, of course, lots of little details I won’t bore anyone with that will give me endless pleasure to study as this map hangs in my work space. We’ll probably colorize it at some point, and there will probably be revisions as we get closer to publication.

For now, the big takeaways are:

1. Don’t hire Tom Parker

If he gets too busy I’ll never be able to afford him again.

2. If you do… let the art happen.

There’s a reason this world map is 60% border.

Oh, and here it is in its beautiful 3’x4′ printed form, about to go on my wall:


A Tale of Two Maps — Part I

It was the east of times, it was the west of times…

“Lake Province” — A PK Merlott Original

The best thing about writing Fantasy is that you get to include a map. You don’t find a lot of maps in other genres. There is no map in Pregnant By My Boss, for example (though there SHOULD be).

I know, some people think maps are cheating. Like this guy:

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Tweedy VonCritic – Professional Strawman

“Your readers shouldn’t need a map if your story is told well,” he would say. And he’s RIGHT. But he’s also sweaty and dumb.

The truth is, your reader doesn’t need a map for your story — They need it for theirs. They need to let their own imaginations wander about your world, to ask “What the hell goes on in that place?”

With two installments of The Nameless Day coming closer to reality, I desperately wanted a map that I could get lost in. Sure, I could worry about that when it was time to publish, but I’ve never thought of publication as the point of writing. And if publication isn’t the point, then why wait?

I found Tom Parker on Twitter a couple of years ago, and instantly connected to his artistic sensibility. He draws living places (literally, they’re often on the backs of big animals), and conveys emotion and scene with an economy of ink that immediately reminded me of Dave Trampier’s D&D stuff.

Tom Parker’s “Nautilus Romanus” belongs in the Met

Among other things, Tom is the map-maker for RJ Barker’s fantasy novels (The Bone Ships, Age of Assassins). Fortunately, at the time, his star in the literary map-making world was still ascendant, and I was able to commission two maps at an affordable (read: exploitative) price.

We began work on “Lake Province”, where the first two Nameless Day installments take place. The region is inspired by the Quebec Laurentides, a rolling wilderness with glacial lakes, breathtaking summers and harsh winters.

I sent Tom a rough sketch (see above), and entirely too much text — passages, poems, a world “bible”. He read it all, asked brilliant questions, and got to work sketching. Soon, there was this:


Then this:

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And finally: This:

Which now hangs on my wall, over my writing space, like this:

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I could go on for days about the collaborative process but it basically went as follows:

PK: Make my mountains spooky



I can’t say enough about how fun this was, watching a part of my world come to life exactly as I imagined it, and in many cases better than I imagined it. But I can sum up the experience in two valuable lessons:

1. Have a Point of View

Your map is a story, so tell it like one. Decide who, in your world, would be “telling” this map. What do they think is important? Who are their friends? Who are their enemies? What are their aspirations for the nations and peoples living in the borders of their map. Once you figure out who is making the map, all the artistic decisions become a lot easier. Which brings us to the second lesson:

2. Let the Art Happen

As fantasy authors, we’re all proud of our ideas, our stories, and our worlds. It’s easy to get precious about the details. These hills wouldn’t be here, this lake is too wide… where should we put the roads?

But fantasy maps are, first and foremost, art. They should be eye-catching, emotional, visually immersive experiences, not engineering documents. If your descriptions are good, you’ve thought out your map’s POV, and you have a talented artist in your corner, something gorgeous will happen.

Which brings us to Part II… The World Map!

Splitting my Novel Part IV – Scrubbing in

This blog is part of a series chronicling the process of splitting my 250k-word novel into shorter novels for publication. The first installment is hereThe featured photo (above), from the National Park Service, is of the Vanderbilt mansion in Hyde Park, which inspired the haunted manor in both of these stories.

In earlier installments, I described the two parallel stories of Adam and Gaia, an old priest and a young girl who don’t know each other, but who each begin tragic and difficult journeys after chance visits to an old, ruined, lakeside manor house full of creepy paintings and religious artifacts.

I set out to write this book in the Game of Thrones style — rotating POVs, lots of interconnected stories, intrigues within intrigues. But I don’t have Martin’s patience and the book quickly started to resolve along two major plotlines, with a few side intrigues sprinkled in. By the second half of the book, I was almost writing two books simultaneously and alternating chapters.

This is sort of an ideal situation, and if you’re coming here looking for tips or encouragement on how to slice apart your 5 MC behemoth with overlapping POVs, this is about the part where you realize you may have wasted your time, but hopefully some of my experience will still resonate.

Step 1 – the Rough Cut.

I work in Scrivener, as many writers do, and am overly-anal about arranging my chapters in folders, so I can have as many options as possible for compiling. That’ll be another blog post. Maybe.

To kick off my surgery, I duplicated my novel and went through, identifying what was Adam and what was Gaia. You can see, in this one section, I have a few of each timeline, and one question mark — a side-intrigue that doesn’t entirely belong in either book.

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I overuse folders

So, I start by deleting (in copies, not the original) every Gaia chapter (for the Adam book) and every Adam chapter (for the Gaia book). For now, I leave my question marks in both chapters.

Hold on, Scrivener has this thing called “Collections” where you can collect disparate chapters into one group for compiling. Why don’t you just make collections for each one?

I tried that, and for a rough cut, it’s not a bad approach. But, it becomes really obvious, the minute you start reading your rough cut, that you are going to want to change things in the separate novels that you don’t necessarily want to change in the full novel. This brings me to…

Step 2 — Kill the Patient

I spent about three months fiddling with my two rough cuts. Maybe it was line edits, maybe it was a whole chapter rewrite in a new POV.

With each edit, I found myself going back to the Full Book™ file and replicating the edits, or replacing a whole chapter with the edited version. I was doing twice the work. I was still creating two new novels, but I was also improving the original, combined version. However, keeping an eye on the original version was creating mental resistance to making necessary changes in the separate novels.

For example, in the Full Book™, we meet Gaia’s father, Elt, well before we ever meet Gaia. We get to know his background, his motivations, a hint about the father he despised and the parent he wants to be (you can just skim it).

His father, who worshipped the King’s Gods, had begged Elt, on his death bed, to deliver half his fortune to the Temple of Epinyres. He hoped, perhaps, that by the exchange of coin, his name might be chiseled into the walls of Kingsfaith temples here on earth, and on the hundred-handed god’s scroll in heaven.

But before the man died, Elt abandoned the Kingsfaith and confessed for Talfar. He hired priests to chant Talfari prayers day and night over the agonies of his father’s death throes, and when the elder Piper expired at last, Elt buried him in a pauper’s cemetery, beneath an unmarked stone.

He had not always reviled his father. As a child, he spoke the man’s name with pride to the servants of the household, to the children of other guildsmen, even to the foreign tutor who taught him to write in illuminated letters. He rejoiced when the man would come home from his day’s business, and wept bitterly when he was called away. He said wretched things to his own mother whenever she dared to raise her voice to him, and he cried when the red cough killed her, but only because of how sad it had made the man. Always he cried. He cried when tea was hot. He cried when rain went on too long. He cried when he was not permitted to taste his father’s brandy. He cried when the man finally let him taste it.

How quickly that love had turned to hatred. Is a child’s love so fragile that it can shatter thus, he wondered, or are some blows simply too mighty? Whatever the answer, Elt would never again let his tongue taste brandy, nor the whisper of his father’s name.

Even though Elt dies a few chapters later (uh sorry… spoiler alert), I like letting the reader spend some time with him. They’re gonna spend a lot of time with his daughter, and I want to leave them with his perspective as they consider her growth throughout the book. Besides, in a big epic, characters you get to know for only a short time are par for the course.

But Gaia’s story, separated from the big epic, is now mostly a single-MC adventure, and it’s a little weird not to introduce the MC’s perspective for 5 chapters.

And so we snip, and focus on getting to know him more through Gaia:

“Are you sure about camping in that place, Father?” she asked. “Your men don’t seem to like the idea.”

“Indeed, they do not,” he answered, resting his hands on the rail beside hers. They were becoming less the soft hands of a guild minister and more like those of the crew, coarsened by sun and rope.

“But what do you say, Daughter? You’ve read everything ever written about that place. Should we camp there, or weigh anchor and take our chances in the water?”

“That body in the reeds — was it Omruk?”

“So you were listening?” He raised an eyebrow. “Sometimes Daughter, I forget whose child you are. When your mother and I lived near the Fisher’s harbor, she could count the vessels from our bedroom by only their sound. That’s Toelgian wood against the pier, she’d say. That is the ruffle of Ennyki hemp…”

“… And that is the whip of Gleistian cotton… Father, you’ve told me this story so many times it is almost a Warding tale itself.”

He sighed. “Sadly, child, you inherited my own poor talent for grace and sentiment, instead of your mother’s. And Warding tales are for what we fear, not for what we love.”

Sure, it loses a little, but I’d rather lose some side character’s backstory than lose the reader.

But the important thing here is that this is a change that can’t go back into the original, 250k-word combined story. Elt’s chapters made perfect sense in the original novel with rotating POVs, but now they don’t. By rewriting this part from Gaia’s POV, I’ve officially killed (or at least shelved) the Full Book™, and given birth to The Work of Warding, the first of two standalone companion novels.

The upside is that, since that point, editing The Work of Warding has been a lot easier. If I find a typo, I no longer worry about fixing it in the Full Book™. If I end up needing to go back to the Full Book™, it will need its own editorial process, but there’s no reason to do it now.

Aide à la décision - Abdelaoui
When in doubt, go left. (photo credit: some random business blog)

I guess the point I’m making is, when you’re chopping a novel in half, the sooner you pick a direction and commit to the surgery, the less painful it will be.

So does this mean you’re giving up on rotating POV?

Heck no. I LOVE rotating POV. I’m letting lots of side-characters and even some villains have their own POV chapters along the way, once I’ve established my MC. The plan is to allow some rotating POV, but let the MC hog the microphone, or the good game controller, or the weed — whatever metaphor you prefer.

Next, we’ll talk about the other sibling, Brother Adam’s story, and give some thought to our publication strategy.

Thanks for reading?


Splitting my Novel, Part III – Tossing Kids from High Places

So to catch you up, I wrote a fantasy novel, it’s too long, I’m chopping it into two main stories, I’m using Siamese twins as a metaphor, you’re not supposed to say Siamese anymore. Cuz now it’s Thailand.

The first story is about an old priest trying to find an even older alcoholic so he can forgive him for killing his childhood friend (oh Lord, I suck at pitches). Anyway, the summary of that story is here: Splitting my Novel – A Tale of Two Tales

The second story is about Gaia, a young woman who loses her father and gets adopted by a mercenary miller. No, he’s not a miller for hire, he’s a proper miller, but he runs a mercenary group as a side hustle. Also, his name is Miller, because I like the challenge of being stupid confusing.

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Here is an old mill I found on Pinterest

Anyway, Miller the miller sends her to the Library of Gameen to study. OK, it’s basically a college, but I call it a library to be more medieval. It’s inspired by the Great Library of Alexandria, which sounds like it was a kick-ass facility before it burned to the ground.

The Library at Alexandria (I drew this freehand from memory)

Moneyed girls in this world study at the best library. Why? So they can be more useful when the patriarchy marries them off to guildsmen and other nobles. It’s still medieval.

Gaia, our MC, is delighted. Except for the part about her father dying, this is all good news. She loves books, loves history, and is a bit of an annoying smartypants about it.

Anyway, the Library of Gameen was once housed in a bunch of gigantic towers, each large enough to fit a small city. There’s every type of craftsman, some light farming, animals, etc., all inside these huge towers, set atop thousands upon thousands of books and scrolls.

Most of the towers were lost in a war with people who hate reading but love building catapults. Naturally, a couple of these towers are ruined and abandoned, but still standing well enough to serve as the basis for a lot of rumors and ghost stories.

So of course, Gaia, our MC, ends up going for those lost, forbidden, broke down towers to find the books that she thinks will tell the real™ story, the history her College masters have conveniently edited out.

She ropes some friends into her quest, gets captured by an evil nature cult who force her to learn a bunch of dangerous spells that their religion forbids them from even looking at. It’s like if some dude on the Paleo diet kidnapped you and made you eat dinner rolls… but if like, nobody thought dinner rolls were real, and it was for world conquest.

OK, enough spoilers. It’s cool. You’ll like it. There’s a lot of climbing and falling, and a bit of flying and eating rats. And magic. Very low-key, lovely, gritty magic.

Next up, we’ll talk about how the two stories connect and how I’m chopping them.

Jöt’s Wife

Author’s note: My take on the #vss365 Twitter prompt “yoke” was a little too short to convey what was in my head, so here’s a fleshed out version in verse (shut up, I like rhyme). I’ve spent a lot of time just walking in the snow, battling armies of trolls and ice wraiths hiding in the woods.


There’s no soft snow where Thomas lives,
just the sort that sticks.
It does not fly like powder does
it stops him when he kicks

He pulls, just like the other boys,
the ones beneath the yoke
And listens to the ice troll tongue
(they call themselves troldvolk)

If little Mike stopped shivering
Tom could hear old Jöt,
who jabbers on in frosty breath;
His troldwyfe listens not.

She hums instead, a troldwyfe’s tune
beside him on their sled
while human children pull them on
with sunken eyes half dead

Jöt yanks the reins to make them stop
and more to make them go
Thomas knows the ice troll words
for pup and move and snow

As far as he can tell there is
no troldvolk word for love.
Nor word for human, friend, or hug
or any happy stuff

Atop the tiny hill between
the human town and theirs
Jöt commands the team to stop
he rubs his beard and stares

Then tugs the reins and off they go
careening down the hill,
The other boys all scream and run
They trample one — it’s Bill.

You pull too hard! his troldwyfe scolds.
Jöt puts down the reins.
It’s CRUEL! she says, and Thomas knows
just what that troll word means.

CRUEL? Jöt says, incredulous
Mike’s shivering now stops
CRUEL is what I took them from —
What nature gave these pups.

Cruel is hungry, cruel is cold
Cruel’s their father’s voice
Who bellows, bring my whiskey, Tom,
and slaps him on the face

Chastened thus, the troldwyfe turns,
resumes her humming song.
Jöt slaps the reins once more and now
the children move along.

Then Thomas stumbles, just like Bill
His ankle thrums in pain.
And limping up the second hill
He listens once again.

Let’s go back to troldvolk town
the troldwyfe now suggests
I’ll make a stew to feed the pups
and let them have their rest

Without warm food, they have no strength
to pull our heavy sleigh.
I’ll feed them and I promise you
they’ll pull another day

He has no clue what ice trolls eat
Still, Thomas does not care
If he had a bowl of troldvolk stew
he’d eat it then and there

I rather like Jöt’s wife, he thinks
reminds me of my mum
the way she says those gentle things
the lovely song she hums

We have no meat, the ice troll says
with which to make your stew.
Have no fear, my husband dear 
— The limping one will do.