It has been a little over 3 months since I last posted on January 28th, and boy, does it feel like I’ve been gone for a lifetime!
To be honest, after close to 9 years of posting weekly, I began to feel a little burned out last year. Of course, posting weekly wasn’t the only reason why I was no longer inspired—2020 was the year I transitioned from employed to self-employed, where I had a few business ideas and partnerships that flopped, and… well… the pandemic in general. The accumulative effect of all that transpired in the last year made 2021 feel like an extension of it. And perhaps, I just lost my drive to keep writing for this blog—one that I’ve spent many years building. But, the good news is…. I’m back! And, I’ve also gotten my first dose of vaccine!
With that being said, however, there will be one minor change in how I blog from now on. For many years, I made posting here a ‘job’. After all, I found myself feeling guilty whenever I missed a week. Hence, to find the joy in blogging, storytelling, and creative writing in general, I’ve decided not to impose the ‘once a week’ rule upon myself. Additionally, I will kickstart this renewed blogging spirit with the final story of 12 Genre Months—that I didn’t publish last December, nor write for that matter—this month. Yes, it’s time to get back to writing!
Oh, and to all who stuck around in my absence, thank you so very much! Oddly enough, I’ve been getting traffic and new subscribers in the past few months… of which I’m quite confused about since I’ve stopped posting for a while. But thank you, nonetheless, for joining me here. I do hope you will stay onboard as we embark on a ‘new’ blogging adventure together!
There are countless voices across the internet, sharing tips and tricks on how you can discover your purpose in life. It is, after all, one of the most common questions—one we ask ourselves at least once in a lifetime. And so I thought, perhaps I could share my take on this too—perhaps there is something in my past that aided in my own process of uncovering my passion for storytelling. But as I scoured high and low, I realised that there was nothing. I didn’t undergo a process. There wasn’t a lightbulb moment. And that was when I knew… I didn’t find my passion.
If you haven’t found your passion, this is for you.
It’s great that you’re trying, testing, and exploring—embarking on new experiences in search for that uncontrollable love for the very thing that will define you. But as you set out on this quest, remember this: you don’t find your passion, your passion finds you.
There’s nothing wrong in the hunt but knowing that passion isn’t forced will put you in the right mindset. Just like how you can’t ‘make’ yourself fall in love with someone—no matter how hard you try, no matter how great that person is, no matter what others say—the same rule applies with your passion in life. And strangely enough, you’ll find that the one you connect with the most is sometimes the one you least expected.
The fact is, I didn’t choose storytelling—I neither tricked nor trained my brain into crafting tales and adventures. My passion for storytelling came from within—it was an innate desire to imagine, to create, and to push the limits of my reality, without any effort on my end. I didn’t look for it. I didn’t strive to make it mine. My passion found me… all on its own.
So if you haven’t found your passion, fret not. We uncover our own passion and purpose at varying stages. Even at crossroads—in moments of uncertainty and wonder—our passion is within us. And don’t be surprised when it changes. Because passion and purpose can change to meet the different seasons of life. Simply believing that you’re not left out—that YOU have it too—will remove the very burden that is perhaps stopping your passion from finding you.
One of the most enjoyable phases, during the production of The Slave Prince, was having two maps cartograph-ed by my author friend, John Robin. Now, if you’re an author, having your fictional world realised on paper is an amazing feeling. It takes the publishing experience to a whole new, fantastical level. It makes your work feel legit, as though it’s ready to play with the big boys! So truly, I am very grateful for the work John has done. And today, I’m giving him the spotlight.
Having worked with him, I believe John can give great insight on world building from a writer/cartographer standpoint. As a writer himself – authoring A Thousand Roads – he is able to approach this facet of ‘creation’ from a unique perspective. So whether you’re a writer, an artist, both, or neither, what he has to say will certainly make an interesting read. But… before we get to the Q&A, let’s take a look at what he has done for the realm of The Slave Prince.
FROM DOODLE TO ART *Click image to enlarge*
Oh, look! My child-like sketch!
John’s first draft based on my doodle.
The quest of naming everything.
John’s second draft, followed by a series of emails…
… that eventually led to the final map!
CHATTING WITH JOHN ROBIN
Me: So John, let’s start with how you begin mapping a universe?
John: This is actually the hardest part for me. I always need a starting point. Usually, when it is my own world, I will begin one map by expanding another, or drawing beyond the boundaries of others where I have been curious about what lay beyond them. I just need a starting point, then my pen tells me where to go.
I find it much easier to draw someone else’s fantasy universe because I can always ask for a sketch. In your case, with The Slave Prince, the two sketches you provided me were excellent because I was able to begin translating your vision into something produced by my own hand.
Me: Do you incorporate your own imagination into the maps?
John: Absolutely. Most of the flourishes that end up in the final map are discoveries that happen in the process of doing. For instance, the forest south of Alpenwhist on the kingdom map wasn’t in the plan, but our work developing the world map beforehand reminded me there are woods south of Alpenwhist. So, I drew the woods. I didn’t expect there to be so many details in the forest, but the process of drawing revealed surprises, as it always does for me when trees are involved.
I cannot explain how this happens. It’s a bit like writing a book I suppose: one might see many plot points, but there are the surprises that come a few paragraphs from when you write them, and they radically change the story. Aragorn in Lord of the Rings was a character like this, apparently – just walked into the story, but what an important player to the whole trilogy! This is much like how I’d describe my imagination at play when I draw a map. Be it my universe or someone else’s, the map is a drawing and it has a life and a story, much like a book. The lines are the storytellers, and I am their obedient scribe.
Me: What do you find challenging in each project?
John: The hardest part for me is usually the final touches, especially the labeling. I prefer to write my own labels in a styled script by hand, but as I learned in our work together, these don’t translate well in a smaller map on page. I learned a lot about incorporating fonts and spaces in Photoshop after the drawing was complete. However, I do want to develop my own fonts based on my handwritten letters for future. It was liberating working on the second map (Alpenwhist kingdom map) knowing I could draw it without placing any labels. In the case of the world map, which I drew first, I wrote in all the labels by hand, then had to meticulously erase every one to replace them with a font. The advantage of this was that the space for the label was created. What this taught me was to leave space for labels on future maps, and hopefully begin my own carefully crafted letters for future use.
Me: What do you enjoy about cartography?
John: Drawing a map tells me the story of a world. Seeing how mountains span, rivers bend, forests arise, coast lines bend and shape, lakes appear on empty page, islands dot the seas – all these things tell me a story. Not just in the shapes. Often I will see a stand of trees and know it has an important history or should have a name. Or, I will label a territory and the story behind it comes to mind just in how the name sounds once I write it down. Drawing maps is what, for me, makes a fantasy world feel truly alive. In fact, when I go to the fantasy section and look for new fantasy books, it’s the maps that I turn to right away and tell me whether I want to enter this new world or not. It was, after all, the map of Wilderland in The Hobbit, on my grandmother’s bookshelf, that I would flip to many nights before I knew how to read, that eventually pulled me to fantasy and my own map-making.
Me: Does cartography help you in your own writing endeavours?
John: Yes! There is a storytelling that augments the narrative form I experience when writing. It sharpens world-building in ways that listing details alone would not do. In a way, drawing a map is a third level of engaging with a fantasy world beyond writing and world-building. A bit like M.C. Escher’s drawing hands, one feeds the other, and the other feeds it, and it circles on and on into deeper levels of imagination.
What did I say – it takes someone who can channel both of his amazing gifts to be able to build worlds from a unique perspective. I’ve found myself trusting John in the decisions he has made for my world and I have no regrets. Thanks again John, for playing such an important role in the production of The Slave Prince! You the man!
I hope this post has given you some insight on cartography and how it can build a fantasy world. I’ve learned a lot from working with John, and I’ve learned some more just from this ‘interview’. If you’d like to know more about John and his works, take a peek below! I’ve included some extras for those who’d like to give this man and his talent a chance.
Release Date: October 31, 2018 (eBook) / January 19, 2019 (Paperback) Genre: Dark epic fantasy
Azzadul, the god-king, the Lord of Light revered by many. When the darkness corrupted him, he became the Dark Lord, feared the world over. His magic, once a gateway to immortality for his people, delved instead into horrors as he sought ever deeper levels of mastery. Children were stolen from their beds, coveted for his blood-rites. When he vanished, it all ended, and the people of the world tried to forget, to move on…
Jak Fuller has always wanted a home. An orphan born ten years after Azzadul’s disappearance, he has wandered far and wide, trying to forget the memory of a burning woman. When he comes to Fort Lasthall, on the outskirts of the Dark Lord’s former kingdom, he hopes to finally settle into a peaceful life. Instead, he finds himself unnaturally compelled by a dark, terrible voice, a voice that knows him, calls to him. A sense of destiny that fills him with fear.
New powers are rising in the dark places of the world. A master of fire-rites called Talamus the Red, arch-foe of Azzadul, seeks to enslave the world with a magic he has been developing for the many centuries of his life. Ready at last, there is only one weakness in his plan, an obstacle he is determined to destroy: a boy, bound to an old magic that just might resurrect the power of Azzadul.
The very power bound to Jak, before he was even born…