Interview: Peter Orullian On Fantasy Maps


The Unremembered by Peter OrullianOn April 12th, Tor Books and author Peter Orullian will publish The Unremembered, the first book in a new epic fantasy series.

While I am really looking forward to the book as a reader, I am always fascinated by how a forthcoming debut author tries to market their book to a readership who doesn’t have one clue who the writer is. Peter is interesting in that regard. He has extensive marketing experience at his beck and call and that experience coupled with his natural inclination to the fantasy genre—both as a writer and a reader—puts him in a unique position to wow us all with some things we haven’t seen before.

So when Peter invited me to see a map he commissioned for his Vault of Heaven series, my curiosity got the best of me!

Why? Because writers don’t often commission their own map.

Publishers do that.

I walked into his house and he immediately took me to the fireplace, a giddy grin on his face. Lavishly framed behind archival glass, his map sat upon the mantle, a physical representation of his dream. I admired it a great deal, going in close to get a better look at the details, a part of me giddy with him.

Here is what I saw:


As you can see, it is gorgeous.

After we went to lunch and talked industry shop, I decided I’d ask Peter a couple of questions about the map and how it came to be.

Here is that interview:

Shawn Speakman: Your debut novel, THE UNREMEMBERED, will be published April 12th. Tell us a little about it and what genre of books you’d liken it to?

Peter Orullian: Well, it’s epic fantasy, for sure. And not simply because it’s a big book. “Epicness,” for me anyway, has a lot to do with the stakes. It would be hard, for instance, to write an epic novel about getting the laundry done. Though, as sure as I say that, someone is going to send me a kind note about a book that does just that, epically. But The Unremembered is a novel that takes the conventions of the genre and says, “Okay, there you are. Been there. Now, let’s see where else we can go.”

What I tried to do was really think through how I could upend a few of the tropes, and make it as powerful and natural as possible. I think we’ve all read books that try hard to subvert or avoid the tropes, and in so doing, read like fairly transparent efforts to do precisely that. I liken it to the rash of band names that came out in the Grunge Rock era. I lived in Seattle at the time, and as opposed to reading the funnies each Sunday morning, I’d pick up a local rag called The Stranger and read the various bands playing clubs over the next week. These guys came up with some of the most preposterous band names for the sake of having something that sounded preposterous and different. That’s not a comment on the music—which was sometimes great—but you get the point.

There’s also this undercurrent through the book of: choice and consequence. My delight is trying to put a character in a situation where their choices have real consequences, and where there’s often the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” thing working. I find you learn more about a character by the choice they make in those extremities than anywhere else.

I don’t know why, but the example that leaps to mind is from the end of Denis Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone. At the end, the main character is forced to chose between exposing a man who has taken a little girl, and letting this man who has essentially abducted the girl give her a happy and clearly more promising future. It’s a tough spot. You find yourself wrestling with the idea of it being okay that the girl is separated from her irresponsible, alcoholic mother and the unlawfulness of spiriting the girl away from the bleak neglect she’s going to face if she remains with the trashy mom. Our investigator’s decision is further complicated by the fact that his girlfriend asks him not to expose the kidnapper, played by Morgan Freeman. Our “hero” chooses to turn Freeman in; he loses his girlfriend in the interest of doing what’s “right.” And then the story ends with him going to the trash mom’s house where the little girl is once again the object of neglect and in danger from a mom who had no business pro-creating in the first place. Could be me, but that scene where our “hero” goes in and sits with the girl punctuates how the right choice ain’t always right.

I love those kind of moments in stories, and try to make them part of what I do as a writer.

As to books I’d liken it to, well that’s hard, since I think if I’m a filter for everything I’ve ever read, there’s a library in this thing. But I can say that folks who’ve read it (and who’ve read most of book two, for that matter) have called out elements of George R.R. Martin’s series, The Wheel of Time, some of Brandon Sanderson and Pat Rothfuss’s work, and several others. But that’s all so subjective. Really, the best thing is to get a taste for yourself. Libraries for that are awesome!

SS: Do you think it is important for a fantasy reader to have a map in an epic fantasy?

PO: Well, let me first state the obvious: No map is a substitute for good storytelling. But to your question: I don’t think it’s necessary or a prerequisite or anything for a fantasy reader to have a map. I’ve met some readers who no more want a map than they want actual art inspired by the world; their thinking is that they can do just fine imagining it all on their own, and would find their own take on it corrupted by seeing how someone else interprets a given fantasy world. I respect that. But I’ve also met readers who are fairly strident when there’s NOT a map in a fantasy novel. I don’t think it’s necessarily because these folks lack their own vision of what the author has written; they just take a certain amount of delight in immersing themselves in such things. I respect that, too.

For me, I dig maps, as is evidenced by the map pic you have here. I enjoy paging back to the map when there’s movement in the world, to get a sense of place and context. This may be a vestige of my role-playing days. I remember buying The World of Greyhawk, which had this gorgeous, immense two-part fold-out map. I studied it for hours, wondering what things took place in every nook and cranny. I then went forth and populated it with my own stories—I was the DM, don’t you know. So, yeah, maps can be really cool. I’m just geeky enough to dig period maps of our own world, too. They’re something of a reflection of the culture and thinking of the time. There are stories in ‘em. Why should fantasy maps be any different?

So, to recap: Good map don’t equal good story; and I dig maps.

SS: How did the map come into being?

PO: I had this idea for an interactive map for my website. I wanted something that had clickable placements for folks who were so inclined to click and get more information. And I figured if I was going to pursue having a map done for my website (since I’m no Rembrandt), that I’d find a good illustrator. I happen to have a friend who actually is a professional illustrator. I chatted him up about it. When he said yes, I shot him some examples of maps I like. And voila, we got this: I did give him my crummy drawing of my world—or at least the part of it you’ll hear about in The Unremembered. And I answered a lot of his questions as they arose. He was good about taking feedback, too, so that we iterated a bit. But I’m fairly pleased at where it landed. There’s a more vibrant image of it here:

SS: What do you like most about it?

PO: As a feature, the mountains are probably my favorite. I get how nerdy it makes me sound to love the drawn mountains in a map of a fantasy world. But I gotta be me. Abstracting slightly, I’m fond of the sense of authenticity I think the map has; meaning, I can see a cartographer from the period in my world, which the map references, actually producing this map. I’ve had a few folks hit me up, wanting to buy copies of the map. And I typically ask them what they like about the map enough that they’re willing to lay down cold hard cash (however modest the amount), and they almost all say something similar: this sense of authenticity.

Also, I love the sayings added to the map—poems and short extracts from the novel. I don’t know why, I just think that’s friggin’ awesome. I have to thank my illustrator for that idea.

SS: Why was it important for you to have the map framed so beautifully and put over your fireplace?

PO: As is abundantly clear by now, there’s a healthy measure of geek in me. And I figured if I was going to put it up at all, I was going to do it once and try to have it done well. Framing costs are painful, though! Good thing I had a coupon.

I suppose, too, if I were a psychologist, I might have to ask whether or not having a physical manifestation of my book (and more particularly of the world of my book) on display gives me some desperately needed personal validation. The answer to that is an unequivocal: Yes! Writers are all insecure, aren’t they?

Aren’t they?

The Unremembered by Peter Orullian will be published April 12th. You can read more about it HERE. And be sure to visit to read Peter’s first short story set in the same world, Sacrifice of the First Sheason, and be on the look out for the next two short stories!