Mapping Literary Landscapes: Designing Diagrams for Ricochet River and At The Waterline

If you’re of the bookish persuasion (and if you’re reading this blog post, the odds are probably good), you may also be of the mappish persuasion: when you pick up a book and discover it contains a map, a little piece of you erupts in excitement over this double-page spread that promises a literary quest is waiting inside.

At Ooligan Press, our collective Pacific Northwest theme recently lent us the opportunity to design two different maps, as well as an illustrated diagram, to be included in two of our upcoming titles: the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Ricochet River by Robin Cody and At the Waterline by Brian K. Friesen, both which take place around rivers in the Northwest.

Maps are most often included in books that follow place-focused exploration and discovery. Sometimes a map will function as a guide to introduce the landscape of made-up places, as in a fantasy novel; other times, maps will be based on real geography, nestling fictional experiences inside known landmarks and locations. Additionally, including a map in a book can serve as a visual invitation to readers to understand and engage with the terrain of the narrative. Regarding Ooligan’s treatment of maps, Pacific Northwest locations set the stage for fictional scenes and pivotal moments, and the choice to include these visuals in the book’s interior design helps to reinforce a robust reader experience.

Ricochet River: These Mountains Look Familiar

For the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Ricochet River, working with the map was a matter of updating the original. We wanted to preserve the key elements of the initial map while also revamping the style to fit with the new edition’s more contemporary design. We kept the general landmarks, mountain ranges, river outlines, and compass, while changing the style slightly and adding in updated textures, labels, and illustrations to arrive here:

Illustration and design by Riley Pittenger and Julia Skillin.

At the Waterline: Knot a Problem

For a novel like At the Waterline—where much of the story takes place in a houseboat community along the Columbia River—a diagram of sailboat terms was designed and included, in addition to a map of Oregon and Washington with key locations emphasized. An illustrative approach to these featured landmarks allows for a more visually interesting representation, while the simplified layout and typography contribute to a more technical design feel to complement the nautical diagram. This consideration was also applied to the diagram of the labeled sailboat with the types of knots referenced in the story.

Illustration and design by Leigh Thomas (me) and Cobi Lawson.

Illustration and design by Riley Pittenger, Cobi Lawson, and Leigh Thomas (me).

With a budget for black-and-white printing, variations in texture can help create a more robust layout with dimension and depth. Hand-drawn illustrations add character, while digitizing the images and adding text and flourishes bring all the pieces together. Both maps, as well as the diagram (which was also incorporated in the design for marketing materials), have undergone stylistic revisions and proofing, and they will go through any remaining necessary adjustments and a final round of proofing before being sent to the printer. Layout and placement specifications help ensure that not too much of the map gets lost in the area close to the spine (also called the “creep” of a book). Thanks to a hardworking team of mapmakers, editors, and designers, At the Waterline and the new Ricochet River will hit shelves in the spring as two of the few Ooligan titles to have a map, inviting readers to follow along.

For additional geeking out over maps and books, check out From Here to There: A Curious Collection from the Hand Drawn Map Association by Kris Harzinski; it’s an entire book of illustrated maps just begging to be revisited.

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