Maps and the Mind

categories: Cocktail Hour


 I don’t think I’ve ever written a book where I didn’t draw a map about the landscape I was writing about.  This goes for both fiction and non-, and includes the fantasy apocalyptic young adult book I’ve been writing with my daughter.   (For that one we’ve each drawn about a dozen maps.)  Maps serve as, among other things, living malleable outlines for my books.  They also serve as procrastination, inspiration and, in the case of two of the maps below, tools for the reader, since they actually ended up as the books’ frontispieces.  The one directly below is from Return of the Osprey, and marks out the four nests that I watched regularly during my osprey year.  


 This one above is from Under the Devil’s Thumb, my book about moving out west to Boulder, Colorado.   A shout out to Rahul on this one, since he reminded me, in Boston, that it’s a pretty good book.  Sometimes I forget about it–my orphan book.



 And finally here is the most recent map of the novel I’ve been writing, on and off, for twenty years.  If things go well I’ll be back at it on January 1, 2012.



















  1. Bill writes:

    I was not too happy with the map in Temple Stream, though I was very pleased to have one there. I’d pictured a hand-drawn map like yours, Dave. And of course, the 100-acre wood must be in the back of a lot of heads, certainly mine. I tried, though, and couldn’t draw a map that looked like anything at all. Apparently a custom-made hand-drawn map was prohibiitively expensive. I would have hired you and Hadley, if she hadn’t been a baby, and if I’d thought of it. The map we used was made digitally by a man in India who made funny mistakes, like spelling Maine without the “e” and drawing a three-story brownstone-type house where mine should have been… What we ended up with was pretty schematic, everything typed, the waterways lifted in perfection from topo maps.

    • dave writes:

      Maine without an “e” seems a deal breaker.

      • Tommy writes:

        Dave, I’ve always loved the disclaimers you write in the margins of your maps, “Warning, map not drawn to scale”, etc.
        Bill, you should have written to your publisher, re: your Temple Stream map saying, “I’d like to buy a vowel.”

  2. Elizabeth Frank writes:

    I love books that begin with maps. I have since I was a child, since The Hundred Acre Wood. I love them in mystery novels, even when they are not necessary!

    The top map, though it says Cape Cod, looks kind of like western Queens-Brooklyn. Just sayin’.

  3. Rick Van Noy writes:

    Maps and writing a favorite topic of mine. There’s a map like the above at the beginning of Stegner’s Wolf Willow. Barry Lopez told me at Orion’s Fire and Grit (what now seems a long time ago). that Stegner taught him and several others not only to be good writers but to be good . . . The book project sounds interesting. This is Dinosaur? Wilderness Letter? A colleage stopped by my office yesterday to tell me he is reading My Green Manifesto by a David Geffen? Gessner? and enjoying it . . . He’s from Orlando, so the book has made it to Disney Country. Might be interesting, as you look at the drilling and fracking operations that dot the purple mountain majesty, to analyze how that phrase, “a geography of hope,” seems to have come from a much differerent time and West.

    • Dave writes:

      Actually am writing about what I’m calling “the geography of hoplessness” this very morning. Been thinking a lot about what Stegner would make of what we are doing. It wouldn’t be too hard to read his mind……

  4. john lane writes:

    Up early here. Rain’s gone. Clear skies. Great maps, Dave. I have the map that was in CIRCLING HOME hanging above the windows in my study. I didn’t draw it, but still like it a bunch. I like it so much I bought the original from the map maker who drew it for the UGA Press book. Our house is at the center, and I’m at the center of that house, right now.

    • Dave writes:

      Well we certainly seem to be on the same page these days. Or at least similar pages. And I won’t forget about Stegner’s domestic virtues. That’s one of the reasons he’s there: not just as eco saint but as counter-balance to Abbey….the good man in the family-community sense. Something you obviously do well…and something I try to do, too, despite my occasional Abbey-ish tendencies…

  5. Sara Bader writes:

    Hi Bill,

    Great maps, thanks for sharing them.

    Have you seen the Hand Drawn Map Association’s website?

    Fun browsing.