Nothing’s Where You Think It Is

The Mercator Projection

The Mercator Projection

If you read a lot of fantasy, you know how important the map can be. From Middle Earth to Westeros, maps do a great job of setting the scene. Of course, it helps that there’s no need to translate the map from a sphere to a rectangle.

(Yes, that was my flimsy attempt to segue from my interest in fantasy to my interest in this topic.)

One of my favorite West Wing episodes features the Organization of Cartographers for Social Equality (OCSE), which wants the US to replace the Mercator projection (the map you’re used to seeing in textbooks and the news) with the Gall-Peters projection.

The Gall-Peters Projection

The Gall-Peters Projection

CJ: What the hell is that?
OCSE rep: It’s where you’ve been living this whole time.

As you can see, that’s a huge difference, especially in the northern hemisphere. In order to preserve straight longitudinal lines for navigation purposes, the Mercator projection distorts regions near the poles. Here’s a short article and video explaining the why and how of this distortion. For one example, see how Greenland seems to be the same size as Africa? It’s actually 14 times smaller.

But wait, you say. What does any of this have to do with social equality? Well, the OCSE also argues that the Mercator projection emphasizes the first world in the northern hemisphere over the third world in the southern. Their solution? Flip the map.

The OCSE's recommendation

The OCSE’s recommendation

CJ: But you can’t do that.
OCSE rep: Why not?
CJ: Because it’s freaking me out.

Yeah, it freaks me out too, CJ. I love that the OCSE thinks outside the box on this one, but it’d be so weird to implement after centuries of putting the northern hemisphere on the top. Let’s just switch to the Gall-Peters projection and call it a win!

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Book Magic Series: Enchanted

enchanted_bookOkay, so it’s not really book magic, unless you count that first shot of the fairy tale book. But on my 97th viewing (or something) I made a connection to Narrator that I’d like to explore.

For those of you who haven’t seen Enchanted, the premise is that a stereotypical Disney girl gets dropped into the reality of New York City. And I mean stereotypical. Giselle sings, she’s friends to woodland creatures who help her clean, she falls in love with a prince at first sight.

But as Giselle spends more time in the real world, she starts to take on some of its qualities and values. The shift is most obvious when she sees her prince again. He sings — and she doesn’t join in. He wants to return home and get married — and she wants to go on a date.

Most of these values she gets from Robert, a cynical divorce(d) lawyer. He doesn’t sing or dance, he doesn’t believe in true love. He’s basically the complete opposite of Giselle.

enchanted_ball_sceneTake a look at Giselle and Robert from the end of the movie. Robert’s dancing. He even sings. But their outfits say it all: they’ve switched places. Giselle’s embraced the real world, Robert’s embraced the world where true love exists.

That’s pretty cool.

And what, I’m sure you’re asking, does any of this have to do with Narrator?

The premise of Narrator, if you remember, is that the Narrator hijacks a cliché fantasy story — with a world pretty similar to Giselle’s. Calder is a stereotypical fantasy prince, complete with dragon-fighting and damsel rescuing.

When the Narrator takes over, he creates a more realistic fantasy world (you know, closer to Game of Thrones than Snow White). And Calder has to adjust. It’s not as dramatic as Giselle’s transformation, granted, but I like the conflict.

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Playing with Fire: Writing Realistically or Not?


It’s a good thing I love the push and pull between fantasy and reality — seriously, that theme’s in almost all of my stories — because I had to deal with that balance of opposing forces when I wrote my last teaser.

In the teaser (which will soon be available to those who sign up for my free email newsletter), my hero Calder runs into a burning building to save his friend. He goes up to the second story, finds his friend, and escapes with little more than a singed head of hair. There’s also cool special effects you’d find in any action movie.

Problem is, in a real fire, he’d have died instantly.

One of my betas is an EMT, so he told me what you could expect in a fire. The kiss of death? There’s an eight hundred degree difference between the floor and standing height. As he put it, Calder’s head would have caught on fire when he entered the building.

So as a writer, how do I balance the reality of a burning building with the dramatic expectations Hollywood has given my reader?

I’ve read exactly one book that has a similar situation. Not sure if that’s good or bad, it’s just what I’ve read. It was Cold Fire by Tamora Pierce. An arsonist is setting fires in town, and the main character and her teacher go in and rescue tons of people. How? They’re forge mages. Their magic inures them to heat and smoke. They can hold red-hot pieces of metal, magically blow smoke out of the way, and — to a small extent — control fire.

Pierce’s characters are perfect for entering burning buildings. I doubt she had this purpose in mind when designing their magic, since this book is part of a second series. But their powers allow her to keep the reality of a burning building and have people going in for the rescue.

I don’t have characters with those kinds of powers so I had to fudge a little. I decided that since the fire was started by magical means, it didn’t have to behave like a real fire. That way I sacrifice reality, but get to keep the rescue — which is more important to the purpose of the story than a realistic portrayal of a burning building.

So in this case, fantasy won out over reality. But the next case will be a whole different fight.

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.