Margaret Atwood meets Beowulf.
So what’s it about?
A mapmaker, exiled for treason, who must come to terms with the home and children she left behind. It’s an exploration of good and evil and the choices that lie between. There’s adventure involved—a quest, of course, to find a dragon—and war and peace and love and betrayal. It’s told in the spirit of legends, like Beowulf, an account of a remarkable person’s life and deeds. However, unlike old tales of this kind, Aoife (pronounced ee-fah) tells her own story—and her own truth.
Why was the novel written in second person?
Aoife wanted it that way. I’m being literal here. Once the writing began, after years of thought and waiting, she was insistent about how the story would be told. For me as a writer, characters have their own minds and wills, and it’s best if I respect both. But from a craft perspective, the point of view works for this particular story. She’s speaking to herself, writing to herself. Most people have the experience of talking to themselves in second person. “You did ____.” “You are _____.” “You should _____.” Aoife takes herself beyond confession—which is the effect of first person’s I—and enters a place of inquiry and reflection.
Post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels have been popular in recent years. In a way, The Mapmaker’s War runs counter to that trend, focusing on a people who live in what some might consider a utopia. Did you deliberately choose to write about a community like this, or was that how the story itself evolved?
Both, although the story came first. When Aoife crosses the river border of her kingdom, she visits a hidden community of people who call themselves The Guardians. I’ll let readers discover whom they guard, but I will say their culture is based on compassion, equality, and non-violence. In time, she learns why this is so and how they actively, consciously, keep this balance. As a writer, I found I was challenged to be conscious, too. Personally, I believe our species and every being on this planet are in tremendous peril, much of which we’ve brought upon ourselves. Dystopian and post-apocalyptic stories have a crucial purpose—they allow people to experience, but contain, their feelings of terror and confusion and even rage. However, these stories also fuel bleak narratives of our collective future—a future that in fact isn’t fixed. I discovered I wanted to write from a place of hope, even though I struggled to find it. I realized part of this novel’s power was its offer of an alternative.
Throughout the novel, there are illustrations which resemble woodcuts from old texts, and each image relates to a specific event in Aoife’s life. Readers rarely see this in adult fiction. Why did you include artwork and link it to the story?
I love the aesthetic of old books, especially the woodcuts included in them. I always knew this project was going to have a graphic element because it’s so grounded in old traditions. On another level, I think most people can identify with the experience of an image representing the whole of a memory. For example, the tower illustration isn’t only related to the structure Wyl, the prince, has built for Aoife’s mapmaking work but also a moment when she realizes there may be something more to her relationship with him than she thought. But the illustrations have another purpose beyond this. There’s a forthcoming sequel to The Mapmaker’s War, and the images will appear in that novel, too. The illustrations link the two stories, past and future, Aoife’s life to a young woman’s many generations later.
The Chronicle of Secret Riven, the sequel to The Mapmaker’s War, will be published in 2014. What can you share about it?
In The Mapmaker’s War, Aoife is told a prophecy about children who will be born in a distant future and a great event that will take place in the land from which Aoife was exiled. Secret Riven, the daughter of a translator and an historian, is one of those children. From an arcane manuscript, Secret learns of her connection to Aoife, and in time, she discovers her role in these foretold events. I’ll say for the record it involves a plague… (For a hint about the aforementioned manuscript, take a close look at the translator’s note at the start of The Mapmaker’s War.)
What music did you listen to while working on this book?
I had several albums and musicians in rotation. Peter Gabriel’s Passion. Kate Bush’s Ariel and Hounds of Love. Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Philip Glass’ opera score based on La Belle et la Bête, Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film. Several albums by Louisa John-Krol, Loreena McKennitt, and Sting.
What’s your writing process?
I spend years thinking and researching before I ever sit down to write. I know the entire arc of the plot by then, although I don’t know all the details of how events unfold. Once the words start coming, I typically write several hours a day, five days a week, but it’s not unusual for me to work on weekends. My first novel, The Mercy of Thin Air, was written on a computer, but this one and its sequel were all written by hand.
What’s next for you?
A break, as soon as possible, that includes sun and turned soil and no words.
Ronlyn Domingue is the author of The Mapmaker’s War (Atria Books; March 5, 2013). Its sequel, The Chronicle of Secret Riven, is forthcoming in 2014. Her critically acclaimed debut novel, The Mercy of Thin Air, was published in ten languages. Her writing has appeared in The Beautiful Anthology (TNB Books), New England Review, The Independent (UK), and Shambhala Sun, as well as on mindful.org and The Nervous Breakdown. Born and raised in the Deep South, she lives there still with her partner, Todd Bourque, and their cats. Connect with her on ronlyndomingue.com, Facebook, and Twitter.