The One Where Becky Learns a New Word

I love maps. If I had known the word cartographer as a kid, I might have had an entirely different career trajectory.

I’ve talked many times about my huge family and how we’d drive all over Colorado when I was growing up. What I might not have told you is that I used to get carsick on those rides. In an effort to keep me from urping on every mountain pass, my parents installed me in the coveted center of the front bench seat in the station wagon. I know! Rewarded for barfing … a dream come true. But what it really meant was that I got to hold the map and help direct Dad on our route, tracing my finger along the roads, pointing out interesting landmarks. I’m sure my siblings still discuss in reverential tones those times I’d require silence to direct their attention out the left side of the car where, just over there, was a creek/campground/town I couldn’t pronounce. Reverential, I’m sure of it.

I don’t read deeply in the fantasy genre, but I love to pore over those intricate artistic maps in the front of the books. Works of art, most of them. Every time I examine one, I wonder where in their writing process did the author think about, or finalize, their map, because I’m also fascinated with other authors’ writing processes. I pepper them with questions any chance I get, in case they do something I think might help me tweak my process.

Because I do have a process. A fairly substantial one. In fact, I wrote EIGHT WEEKS TO A COMPLETE NOVEL because people regularly ask me about my writing process.

I have certain things I always do with a manuscript, most of which I learned the hard way … you know, by NOT doing it that one time.

You might not be surprised to learn I make maps for every book—towns, office buildings, train stations, apartment interiors … all kinds of things I don’t want to have to remember.

Now that I’m starting a fairly intricate new series—fifteen books, with a huge cast of characters—I knew I had to work a tad harder on my town map than I usually do.

As much as I love maps, I typically just make a quick pencil sketch of my fictional town. And I’m no artist, so it’s very rough!

But in the case of my new Sugar Mill Marketplace series, since there are so many people and places to keep track of, I decided to step up my game and create a bona fide map of Sugar Springs, my fictional town. It’s based on a real town in Colorado, Buena Vista, but I have to take liberties to bend it to my will.

I got a map of Buena Vista and my plan was to just tape it to a window and trace what I needed. Unfortunately, my map is one of those colorful Chamber of Commerce maps with printing on both sides, so the other side bled through and I couldn’t see what I needed.

So I went to my thotful spot—my craft room—and thunk about it. I haven’t had carbon paper since about 1983, but I do keep a supply of fusible interfacing on hand. You never know when you need to fake a quick hem or something. I placed the map on a table and taped the interfacing over it and started tracing with my sharpest Sharpie.

Then I was able to tape my Sharpied interfacing to the window with a piece of paper over it and actually be able to see the lines while I traced, like I wanted to do originally with the Chamber map.

Way harder than it sounds, btw. The thing that makes fusible interfacing fusible are all the little bumps on one side that make it stick when you iron it on fabric. Not so helpful when you’re trying to trace. But finally, after much creative cursing and a forgiving Sharpie, I got it done.

I’ve already filled in some things, most importantly where the Marketplace is going to be. But also some things that I needed to know when writing the novella that bridges my Mystery Writer series with this new Marketplace series. I can’t remember if I told you or not, but one of the characters in the new series is Dena Russo, the mother of Charlee Russo from the Mystery Writer series. I needed to know where her house was, a couple of offices, the sandwich shop … that kind of thing.

As I work on each new manuscript, I’ll be able to add in the new places I need, and remind myself where everything else is situated.

I’m pleased as punch with my new map and know it will serve me well, but now I’m wondering if Ptolemy or Leonardo da Vinci used fusible interfacing as their map-making medium.

What about you … are you a cartophile? (Yes, I had to look that one up.) Do you study maps in the front of books and as you read, flip back and refer to them? Will you notice if one of my characters drives the wrong way home? Do you make maps for your own books? Do you have a stash of fusible interfacing for map-making emergencies?

If you want to be the first to read my books—for free—subscribe to my “So Seldom It’s Shameful” news. I’ll have a new issue coming out next week with instructions about how to join my Review Crew. I only have a few spots left, so don’t dilly-dally!

45 thoughts on “The One Where Becky Learns a New Word

  1. Becky, thanks for this look inside your writing process.
    I cut my novelist’s teeth as a dungeon master for many years. Writing a D&D adventure is much like writing a novel, and of course, it involves maps; dungeon maps, town maps, encounter maps, even maps of larger geographic areas if the party is going to travel during the adventure. You can cut corners by buying a canned (that is, pre-made) adventure, but no DM worth their salt ever ran one of those without making some changes, including changes to the maps, or even drawing additional ones. So yes, I have many maps for my novels. Because the action occurs in the real world, I’m able to use Google maps for many things (and street view is fantastic to help with writing descriptions!). For buildings, I can find many plans on line. Often, I don’t need a detailed map–I just need to know where one place is relative to another, e.g. the bedroom is upstairs and the pool room is in the basement. For my Sherlock Holmes stories, I strive for realism, so I can use the Ordinance Maps of Victorian London on line, as well as the Bradshaw’s railway guides and the Baedeker’s travel books to help with period descriptions.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I didn’t know anything about D&D until my daughter married a guy who played. The whole thing fascinates and intimidates me, but those maps and adventures are so richly drawn. Very impressive! I’m also awed by historical novelists who can dig down into what a place was like in whatever era. I love to read those, but not sure I could ever write one!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Writing D&D id like writing a novel in that the writer puts his characters in a situation. However, the DM does not write a resolution to the situation because he does not know what the characters will do. He must wait and see, then make up the resolution on the fly. That’s why D&D experience is good for pantsers…

        Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s kind of funny how intimidated I am by D&D. It’s pretty overwhelming to me. Plus, my memory is like a sieve, which doesn’t help. You and I can join a game, get killed almost immediately, then sit in the corner and gobble up all the snacks.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. When there are maps in the front of books I do flip back and forth to see where the places are that are mentioned in the book. I think that is a great feature and love that some authors take the time to do that for us readers. It makes me feel like I know the town after a while.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I flip back and forth too. Now that you mention it, though, I wonder how much do the authors do it for themselves and how much for the reader? 50/50? 70/30? I’m curious now!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We used to hire people to create the maps in kids’ series books. The artists used the ms. For reference (and sometimes consulted the author—the author at least approved them). Then things got expensive, so publishers stopped paying for illustrated maps.


  3. Hmph! I tried to attach a pic of me holding my beloved Eight Weeks… book, to no avail. I love maps! While my mother has many positive traits, map reading isn’t one of them. Dad’s a hopeless, “I know where the {{ }} I’m going! Types of guys, so I had the map. I passed that on to my daughter, and the Mrs. was best in the passenger seat with coffee and a bagel. I do like maps of towns in my books. As I become more forgetful, I flip to them more than I care to admit. :-/

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It makes me so happy when people tell me they find Eight Weeks useful! As with all writing advice, there are things that make sense and things that don’t. I’m re-reading a bunch of craft books and it’s interesting to see the notes I took however many years ago, and what resonates with me today.

      We have a very funny picture of my middle-aged husband, sister-in-law, and me trying to decipher our map of Venice with our 25-ish son giving us The Look that said, “Can’t we just go and explore??” Venice is particularly hard to maneuver around in, and I’ll be the first to admit I have to “get in the map” to start. That probably stems from me tracing my finger along the route and turning the map when we turn and such. It drives me nuts when I turn my phone map and the photo rotates to help me. Not helping!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Lots of fun, Becky! With so many computer apps available for desktops and iPads, I’ve gone the tech route of creating maps. The same process you use, but done with tracing over an image using the app and digital pencil (or mouse). Done once, you can reuse, change it, color it, etc. For those who love those cute 3D images you see on fancy maps, Canva has a ton of images you copy and paste on to your digital canvas, which can range from a postcard to a poster sized. You can even have a poster made at a nominal charge and tape it to your wall for inspiration. One of my favorites is to use the same process and create evidence boards with images of the characters and their details.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Grant! I’ve toyed with the idea of doing computer maps because I love the idea of easier tweaks, resizing, etc, but my inner Luddite always wins out and I return to my beloved paper and pencil … and colored pencils … and crayons … and markers. (I loves me an art project!)

      I envy people (like you, apparently) who can BING-BANG-BOOM knock out a lovely, useful map quickly. Maybe that can be a lucrative side gig for you!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Satisfying my picky self is hard enough; thus, I can’t imagine a side gig where I tried to understand what the other person wanted, especially with creative endeavors like maps and evidence boards.

        My wife also has an affinity for paper, colored pencils, etc., but once she tried the easy-peasy Canva, there was no going back. She even started making how-to videos using Canva’s click-and-done process. Great for making book trailers, too.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. I love creating maps. Thank you for sharing I am not the only cartographer in our little group. Being prior military, I was forced to learn the different parts of a map.
    I use a map everything I plan a vacation. I want to know where I am going and what there is to do in the area. So most of my maps are well loved.
    I created a map for Camp Nanowrimo. Which was fun, trying to figure out the different writing buildings I needed. I was able to do that in Canva.
    Usually I use a real town and just place fake buildings. That’s hard enough as it is, cause you can’t really put a fake business in a well known historical landmark site without getting called on it, can you?
    I will be doing something along your vein in November for Nanowrimo if I get to do it this year. I am in the process of creating a fictional town where rich people with full household staffs live. Looking at the possibilities in the US and other countries as we speak. Because I need to have a butler in the story. Okay, the butler is the undercover amateur sleuth, cause you can’t have a butler who tells secrets, right?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Butlers are paragons of virtue and tact … they’d never be so crass as to blab! (I love the idea of a butler as sleuth, btw!)

      Don’t get me started on vacation maps …. I’m SO IN LOVE WITH THEM! Before I pick a hotel, I want to know exactly what’s nearby. Would this hotel be better? Where’s that restaurant I heard about? How close to the metro am I? I can get absolutely lost in the planning … so much fun, though!

      I’m big into using real places, just so I don’t have to figure out the street layout, and then putting my own buildings in there. I’ve never had to put a dog groomer at the Eiffel Tower or anything, though. I suspect your readers would allow it, if there was a good reason. Because my books are on the lighter side, I’d probably have a character say something like, “Weird. A dog groomer at the Eiffel Tower. Do they also have knife sharpening at the Louvre?”

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Becky, I am so looking forward to reading your new series! I do like the maps in the front of books when I see them. They are helpful. Real maps I was never good at following. Thank goodness for GPS. I swear it was created for me.
    As a child, when my Dad would bring out a road map and spread it on the kitchen table to map out a route for our big yearly vacation, I would get a queasy stomach just listening to him say “We will take Rt…. to Intertate… and then….” The trips were always fun and filled with memories I keep with me always.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Carol, that makes me so happy! Thank you for telling me!

      That’s interesting that your dad’s maps made you queasy, but you still have such wonderful memories of those trips. I love that!

      I still get nervous with GPS sometimes. When my niece invited me to her new house for the first time she told me not to use GPS because it would land me in the middle of a lake! And once, when I first got my iPhone, I was practicing with it going someplace I already knew how to get to. It send me the opposite direction when I was trying to get home so every block it yelled at me to make a U-turn. Nowadays I’d just turn it off, but back then I didn’t know how and had to listen to it berate me for 30 miles!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Very creative. I do like maps and I will refer to them as I read. I will not call you out on mistakes.

    Since I write in two real locations, I don’t need to create maps. But I do spend a lot of time looking at them as I write.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Bless you, Liz, and everyone who lets my mistakes slide!

      What do you do when you REALLY need a building that isn’t on your map? Does that just not happen for you? Or do you just find the nearest hotel or office building or whatever and use that? I’m in awe of writers who can use real locations all the time!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I will make up buildings that I need if they don’t exist – small ones, at least. Restaurants, drugstores, etc. I don’t commit major crimes in real businesses. If two characters are just having dinner, I’ll use a real place, but if anything shady is happening, I make it up.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I love your map and creativity, Becky! I dream of the day I can have a map (or floorplan) of my fictional town in the front of a book. My Lobster Shack books are based on real life Mystic, CT, except I left out a pesky bridge. Oh, the power we writers have.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I always have to laugh, Becky, because we are such good friends…and so different in our approaches!! I have never cared much for maps, other than admiring their prettiness and intricacy, and other people who can read them. I hated studying maps school (one step above math), and I can’t ever fold them back up, but oddly I do have an intuitive sense of direction. On long car trips, my job was monitoring the AAA TripTik. I was good at that. Oh, and I do a beautiful job of coloring in maps and adding mountain ranges. I can also spin a globe, so I’m not totally hopeless.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. LOL, Lisa! Yeah, I don’t think anyone would mistake one of us for the other. But viva la difference … it makes the world so much more interesting!


  9. Becky, I’m a total cartophile! Like you, it started when I was a kid due to our family vacations. (Unlike you, I didn’t get the coveted front seat.) I loved pouring over maps, studying our route, and planning others. In my play LONG SINS, LONG SHADOWS, I even created a character called Roads. He got the nickname because he was a savant who was only articulate when describing map routes to anywhere in the country.

    BTW, here’s a word for you – Triptik! Did you travel with those? My parents got them from AAA for our trips and I LOVED them.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ohmygosh, no … we weren’t fancy enough for AAA! And truth be told, I doubt my parents needed my map reading skills. They knew CO like they knew their own house. (I was going to say “like they knew their own kids,” but more than once [a day] I was called by the dog’s name.) I have such fond memories of our family vacations when I was a kid and with my own kids. It makes me happy that other people do too! And, not to brag, but I was the barfiest kid on the planet. You should have tried that to upgrade your seating.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve been a cartophile sine grade school, when we’d take these tests about how to read a map and I’d looooove them! And I still adore maps–real paper ones, which you have to refold every time you pass over the crease into a new section. We took AAA maps on our road trip to Albuquerque for Left Coast Crime, and it was so much fun for me (the navigator) to get to point out this and that rock formation, old section of Route 66, and train track that we passed.

    My Sally Solari books take place in Santa Cruz, a real town, so I have fun going on Google Maps when I want to make sure my streets are running the right way and I’m not having Sally visit someone whose house is actually in the middle of a shopping mall.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I like the idea of being a cartophile. We used to have a shop near us that specifically sold maps–it was so fun browsing the aisles.

    But I had such a hard time with directions and map reading (it’s a little better now). We had paper maps, and I also used to consult Thomas guides. I was very grateful when online maps and detailed turn-by-turn instructions became a thing.

    As for maps in writing, I usually do a quick pencil sketch of places. And I love maps in the front of books–I don’t really flip back and forth, but I admire them a lot in the beginning of the book.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, those Thomas guides! How I loved them! I still have one kicking around here someplace. Can’t bear to part with it.

      There’s one of those old map stores in Denver too. I remember my brother and I trying to figure out how to ship some enormous topographical maps to my dad without getting them damaged. Quite an ordeal. So much fun to browse those aisles!

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Becky, make this reason #8712 that you impress the heck out of me. This is amazing!!

    I’m not cartophile–in fact I may be a cartophobe–but I appreciate the need to map things out in a fictional town. My settings spring from my head like Venus from Zeus’ noggin, so I’ve found it helpful to dig deep into my characters’ favorite haunts or the site of a body drop. I rely on written description rather than proper maps, but you’ve inspired me! This is beyond cool–just like your new series.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Aw, you’re sweet, Kathy! I’d like to say that I outline and make maps and lists and whatnot because I’m uber-organized, but I think it might just be because my memory is so bad. Once it’s written down, I don’t have to remember anything! lah-di-dah, lah-di-dah ….


  13. Becky, I make rough hand-drawn maps for each of my series, so I remember where stuff is. They are far inferior to your fusible interfacing method. I’m so looking forward to your new series!

    I’m very thankful for GPS. In the early years of our marriage, long ago, hubs used to hand me a paper map on trips. He quickly learned that was futile — and frustrating for both of us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s hilarious, Vickie! Just a step above asking for directions at a gas station and they give you 20 rapid-fire instructions all having to do with turning just before some barn, or the road after Old Man Tucker’s house, or where the fire station used to be.


      1. Lol, Becky! I always give directions using landmarks. Don’t try to confuse me with terms like east and west. My husband teases me that if they ever tear down a McDonald’s I won’t be able to find my way home!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. If I ever move from Colorado I’ll be in trouble. The mountains are always in the west. Of course, when you’re IN the mountains that’s less helpful.


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