“Kartographers” has been compared to Dan Brown’s work – a thriller inspired by real events, engaging and skillfully written, full of unexpected plot twists, scientific mysteries and magic. When Dr. Daniel Jong, one of the world’s most famous cartographers, is found dead in his office at the New York Public Library, his daughter Nelė Jong discovers an old cheap road map hidden in a secret drawer. This map ruined Nelle’s life years ago, got her fired from her job in the cartography department of the public library, and her father tried to ruin Nelle’s career and reputation as a cartographer forever. Only she never got an explanation as to why. It turns out that the map found by Nele is extremely valuable and rare, perhaps even the only one in the world. The author Peng Shepherd tells more about the novel “Cartographers”.
– The story engine of “Cartographers” is paper maps. What is the feeling and challenge to tell about what mobile phones and other navigation tools have changed today?
– I am interested in why we trust electronic maps more today. Indeed, they may be newer and more accurate, but without using paper maps we lose touch with the environment. When we use a paper map, we are comparing the objects on it with the real world, we are constantly looking back and forth. Meanwhile, when using a phone, people keep their eyes down on the screen until they reach their destination. Along the way, they miss many interesting things. In the book, I do not choose either of these maps, but use both of them.
– Why did cartography and cartographers become the driving force of your story? Tell us about Nele, the main character of “Kartografai”. Like her father, this young woman studies maps, but her professional path has not been without failures.
– Cartography was the whole life of this young woman, her biggest passion. She lived and breathed cartography from an early age. Both her parents were experienced professionals in this field, but Nelle’s mother died when she was still very young. All her life, Nele tried to live by making sense of her mother’s memory. She hoped that this would impress her father and get closer to him. But one day there was a big argument between them over a map found in dad’s drawer. Barney went so far that her father not only fired her, but also tarnished her daughter’s good name. So Nelle was cut off from the only activity she loved and the only path she thought could bring her closer to her father.
– Tell us more about the map she finds in her desk drawer, which becomes the driving force behind the entire book. What makes him so special?
– It’s a paper folding map, from a gas station near the highway. What we talked about as an endangered rarity. There was a time when such maps were handed out almost for free at gas stations in America. You simply picked up a map with directions to a certain location, and when you got there, a new map telling you where to go next. This is exactly the kind of map the book’s character Nelė finds. Although it looks like a worthless item on the surface, it turns out that it holds a deadly secret.
– In the book “Kartografai” you talk about a very interesting phenomenon – fictional areas, also called paper cities. What does this mean and why do cartographers depict such places on the map?
– Fictional settlements or paper cities is a somewhat confusing cartographic concept that basically means an error on the map. But that mistake is intentional. It could be a small cul-de-sac that doesn’t really exist, or a small mountain in a place where the plains really stretch. These phantom locations act as copyright traps.
– In the book, you talk about such a fictional settlement. Is that story based on real facts?
– This story is the biggest cartographic mystery I’ve ever heard. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were two cartographers who created small-scale maps. When drawing the maps, they decided to weave in intentional errors. The two invented a small town in rural upstate New York and used their initials to name it, as if signing it.
About a year later, a competitor of these cartographers, Rand McNally, published a map of the same geographic area. To the cartographers’ surprise, they spotted a tiny fictional town on McNally’s map. The cartographers sued McNally for copyright infringement because the only explanation for the fictional city appearing on his map was that the creator of the new map had stolen their data instead of his own measurements and calculations. If McNally had not appropriated the work of cartographers who had mapped the same area before him, the fake city would simply not have been marked on his map.
But McNally said the city is real. Distraught, the cartographers got into a car with their lawyer and drove to a remote area of New York state, where they hoped to find evidence: instead of cityscapes, they could capture the wait on camera and thus win a court victory. They were stunned when they went to the place and saw a gas station, a shop, houses and their residents standing there. It turns out that the town was actually recorded in the administrative records of Delaware County under the name invented by the cartographers.
– How could this happen?
– Most people believed that Mr. McNally rushed to build a fake town in the said area in order to get a clean skin from the court for the charge brought against him. But in fact, when the map drawn by the two cartographers was published, the people who lived in the real towns nearby thought that the new town was created just for them. Then they started moving to this settlement. It is common for a map to be created based on the real world, but this time the map led to changes in reality.
I think that if you want to become a writer, you have to be a little obsessed. I’m a bit crazy about maps. But at the same time, I have no doubt that there is something more universal in this book. I don’t want to give away details, but some characters focus on the map, while others believe the map represents something they can’t really have. It’s like with someone you really care about, but you can’t reach them. And sometimes other things remind you of that person – then you desperately want to have that thing that evokes memories of the person. This emotion can be no less powerful than feeling that person next to you.
– Your book is full of real places and real maps of New York. Why did you mix the real world with the fictional?
– I write about the real world, but tilted a few degrees to the left, because when we recognize certain specific details, even strange things become more believable. In the book, I tell about the town of Agloe, which actually existed in the United States, because I want magical events to appear possible.
– What made you interested in maps?
– To be honest, I don’t know people who don’t like maps. After all, they are so beautiful and charming. I doubt anyone can resist looking at a map when passing by, whether it’s a familiar place or an area they’ve never been to before. I think that to some extent we all hope that if we look at the map long enough and carefully enough, we will notice a previously unsolved riddle that seems to be inviting us to discover something new.
Tags: Cartographers paper cities change reality