Our Fantastical World

Last week I finished painting the maps to my book. I still have some fine detail work to do with a pen, but the ticking of this To-Do box feels glorious. Painting these maps, after all, took over eighty hours of work.

I used color to denote biomes. Dips of dark green for boreal. A stroke of yellow for savanna. Light orange for steppes. Peaks defined by purple.

The people and places of The Book’s world, as most of you know by now, are reconfigurations of Earth. I wanted the book to mirror back the magic and mystery of our reality.

By painting the maps, I learned how temperate rainforests house some of the world’s most elusive creatures, like the white bear often called a Spirit Bear. Meanwhile the tropical forests proved to be dark and lush habitats, its nuances defined more by shadow than light.

Ironically, writing this fantasy novel involves way more research than any of my nonfiction project ever did. I’m not striving to invent some new species or even cultures in my book. I don’t see the point when our world offers an infinite array of the weird and unexpected.

One of the only magazines I read religiously is National Geographic. I love learning about the untouched tribes of the Amazon with their pet monkeys, the kumis-drinking nomads of Mongolia, the falconry celebrated for centuries by Arabs and Scots alike.

If my book accomplishes anything, I have this one hope for it: to remind us of the wonder of this planet we get to inhabit.

Where narwhals thread icy waters with their unicorn horns and Spirit Bears balance on mossy logs. Where hunters dip arrow tips in poison made of frog sweat. Where we can walk into the woods or library or city streets and discover the awesome diversity of life, again and again.

I know monotony and mundanity can sometimes hinder my ability to stay awake. Painting felt this way now and then. Whenever I start to feel disenchanted, I know it’s time to either open a book or lace up my boots. The world waits to be discovered anew.