Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The lure of maps

Barbara here. Every since I was a little kid doing treasure hunts at birthday parties, maps – and especially hand drawn maps – have always given me a little thrill. Nothing like holding a puzzle in your hands, with directions to decipher, clues to follow, and a big X at the end to mark the treasure. It didn't matter what the treasure was (it could be a simple chocolate bar), because it was the challenge that mattered, not the prize. Had there been no treasure, of course, or worse a little note saying nyah, nyah, we would have called foul, but otherwise the fun was in the hunt.

In a sense, the hand drawn treasure map is a metaphor for the crime novel. The reader is invited to embark on a quest, with the thrill of following the clues and uncovering the solution at the end. Some readers are only interested in the characters or setting, or simply enjoy being along for the ride, but most commit themselves actively to this quest. For this reason, perhaps of all types of fiction, the crime novel engages the reader most. A good argument for reading crime novels to keep the mind alert throughout life!

Some crime novels go even farther. Not only do they present a metaphorical map for invite the readers into the story, but they also place a real one at the beginning of the book. These maps are usually simple and hand drawn, reminiscent of the treasure maps of childhood. They are like a little lure dangled before the reader, inviting them to turn the page.

My latest novel, FIRE IN THE STARS, is set in Newfoundland, in an area unfamiliar to most readers, and the reader is invited to follow my protagonist Amanda Doucette on her own wilderness quest to find her missing friend and solve a murder or two. I wrote this book with a multitude of topographical maps spread out on my dining room table so that I could get the geography right.

A number of readers have told me that they read the book with the atlas open beside them and would have liked a map at the beginning of the book. This idea had never occurred to me, but it shows how powerfully the readers were engaged in the quest.

The Amanda Doucette books are each set in different iconic locations across Canada, most of which will be unfamiliar to readers, and the setting will be an vivid part of the stories. As a result of these readers' comments, I am considering the idea of including little maps at the beginning of each book to show the major landmarks that appear in the story. There will not be an X to mark the solution, of course, for that will be included in the pages of the story, but it should be an interesting and helpful aid to those who like treasure hunts.

Drawing a map is proving more difficult that I imagined because of my limited software and design expertise, but I hope between myself and my publisher we will get a reasonable approximation  that readers can follow. Here is what I have so far for the next book in the series, THE TRICKSTER'S LULLABY.

What do you think? Do you ignore maps at the beginning of books or are they helpful. Do they add an extra enticement? Or do they seem like a gimmick, rather like the cast of characters at the beginning of a book?


Sybil Johnson said...

I really like maps at the beginning of a book if it's an area that I am unfamiliar with.

Roland Clarke said...

I like maps in a book, especially when it enhances the novel. I have my 1970s hardback editions of Lord of the Rings, which I treasure - they have beautiful fold-out maps. As for your map of the Mont Tremblant area, it made me want to read more. in part as I went to college in the Laurentians and one of the places that I skied was Mont Tremblant.

When is the book out?

Barbara Fradkin said...

It's out in September 2017. Time marches slowly in the publishing world! Thanks for the comment about the map, Roland. I hope it makes it into the book.