Map Reveal – Regional vs World

Map of Port Selumer and surrounding areas, by Steven Sandford

I am happy to reveal the official novel-edition map of Port Selumer and surrounding areas. Steven Sandford, who illustrated the world map seen in the Gift-Knight trilogy, returned to focus on all the world that’s relevant to the novel Alathea: Goddess & Empress.

The lay of the land

The city of Port Selumer springs up from the one large accessible beach to be found amidst rocky terrain and old cliffs. To the side and up those cliffs is the home of Emperor Maximian and his daughter, Alathea. Further to the east of that, and best accessed by an easily defensible causeway, is the territory of the old palace and village of Eirinikos.

It’s a city of tiers that gets divided by class along the upward slope. People at the bottom can live off the fruits of the sea and anything that might be desired for trade further up the city. North of the city, pastures and vast fig orchards exist to serve upper class feasts.

North of farms and orchards, you find some wilderness, most notably a sumac-dominated forest in which lurks a northern clan adept at stealth. And north of that, clan territories: different peoples who are alternately swinging deals and temporary alliances with the Port Selumer based empire or openly fighting against it, or settling disputes with each other, or just living life in a manner that’s most meaningful to them.

South of the city and a cross the water lies a more familiar world, but this novel isn’t directly concerned with that.


A writer who can’t really draw for the life of him can picture what he wants in fragments but not render it the way he likes. An artist is capable of rendering such visuals but doesn’t have direct access to the writer’s mind. That’s the first challenge with me.

I start with drawing a mockup map. Here I try to remain cognizant of what exactly I don’t know how to do well with it so I can communicate the difference to the artist later. I also make frequent use of words to describe anything I want placed in a general location but don’t know how to draw. It’s a step up from a completely word-based set of instructions because at least I have tried to visually arrange where things should go relative to each other.

Scale is a greater challenge to me on a regional map than on a world map. A building only appears on a world map to show where a landmark is, but we don’t expect it to-scale.

When I had to mock up this regional map after only ever having done the world map, I was left with vast pockets of empty space because the city was too small, and conversely, too much attention was being paid to the world-map shape of coastline around it. I was automatically focusing on something irrelevant to the story, which means it doesn’t need to be on the map.

A professional map artist might have clued into that on his own, but they don’t know what I mean until I spell it out. Unfortunately, they are probably used to clients who have made them guess, only to say, “No no, that’s not what I had in mind,” without being particularly helpful to the artist. You will generally have a better time working with artists when you figure out how to avoid doing that, or at least how to be mindful of their challenge in not being able to read minds.

That said, I prefer to listen to the artist on matters of making geographic sense. In the world map, not every border could be a mountain range, and most divisions between land and sea for an entire continent weren’t going to be cliffs (if you will, is that an active fault line? Are some of the mountains on the range sandwiched against the sea/ocean going to be volcanic?). If you want something to be prohibitively inconvenient to navigate, consider other reasons why ships might pass an area by for a more convenient port, like swamps, dense mangrove growth, shallows, for example. If you want a village best accessible by causeway, perhaps there should be a reason visible on the map for people to go to all that architectural trouble.

At the end of the process, I feel that I considered exactly what I needed to have on a map for the purpose of the story. A touch of realism to the lay of the land is appreciated, but I’m also not attempting to map out a product of our planet’s specific environments, plate tectonics, and eons of geologic time. If you require a deeper level of detail than I do, or a harder realism, then you’re the one who decides that for your project.

For my part, I’m happy.

Alathea: Goddess & Empress” releases May 1, 2020, and is currently available for pre-order.

Mapping out your world

TGKQ map by Steven Sandford

Maps are a staple of the fantasy genre. Sometimes, even if it’s contemporary urban fantasy, I want a map showing me relevant sections of the urban setting (though for real-world cities, we always have Google). If it’s period/historical, it can be great to have a map of how a place was at the time your story takes place.

I happened to be connected with an experienced fantasy map artist when I first self-published, and we negotiated a good price for a large hand-drawn map, plus a digital scan of it to send to the publishing service I used. The original is sitting on top of a box in an inexpensive plastic frame because I can’t yet afford a good one of the correct size, and it makes a great display piece for book fairs.

Here are a few minor considerations for mapping a place which has never been. You don’t have to follow any of these, but just in case they haven’t crossed your mind…

“Mountains that spew fire” – Are there any active volcanoes known to your mapped world? These can be a nice touch for some mountain range in your world, even if it’s not one that gets much use in your story.

Not every border needs to be set at a mountain range. If you need a reason why a shore wouldn’t make for a good landing or it’s difficult to get through somewhere, remember deserts, swamps/bayous, and other environmental/geographical features.

What’s the scope of your mapped world? In my case, it’s one known continent, and only the parts immediately relevant to the story are actually shown; I can always commission an expanded map if I’m lucky enough to publish a sequel. But once you know that, consider: is the southern part near an ice cap? The northern part? Neither? What would the climate expectations be living in each particular part of a map?

Do your rivers defy gravity, running up mountains instead of down from glaciers? They probably don’t, but this was funny to think about.

Are there any standard nautical routes to mark? Are there any warnings about where one ought not sail, due to reefs, sandbars, Longnecks, tentacle monsters, sirens etc.?

Good luck and happy cartography.