One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

MAP ART LAB~Interview with author Linden McNeilly

We’re thrilled to have Linden McNeilly with us today talking about her newly released book Map Art Lab. I met Linden in the MFA in Writing For Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts years ago and have had the exceptional good fortune of being in a writer’s critique group with her in San Francisco for the past few years.

Sharry: Welcome, Linden! I’ve always been intrigued by maps—I love the way they look, the information they contain and the way they provide insight and guidance to a landscape, so I’m really, really excited about your new book! Could you give our readers an overview of what Map Art Lab is about?
Linden: Well, the whole book is about maps, or map parts, and the history of certain aspects of maps. We have 52 mappish projects. Some have to do with pirates, or sea monsters, or making your own cartouche. We show maps in the endpapers of books, stitched maps, and art objects made of maps. We have maps in the style of various artists.
Sharry: Mappish projects—I love that. What a great resource for parents and teachers and kids of all ages! Can you tell us about any of the projects?
Linden:  One project is making a map of a story you are reading or writing. It’s super fun to do. The example includes a map of the village Okno in which The Cabinet of Wonders—a most fantastic book by Marie Rutkoski —takes place.
Sharry: I bet you had fun creating the example!
Linden: I did. I drew the map with watercolor pencil and fine tipped pen. It has lots of green and black, and is surrounded by yellow, since there are brassica flower fields all around. There’s a little central part of the town that I imagined, with the Leather Shop, Tack Shop, Metalworks and Sign of the Compass, all important places in the story. I had to read through the story to find references to the river and where the mayor’s house was with respect to the forest, and in which direction the characters went to the next town, Morado.
Making a map of a story, whether you are writing it yourself or reading it, helps you understand it so much better. I kept this one simple, since the story takes place at the end of the 16th century, but even still, it had complexity.
Sharry: I’ve always loved stories that include maps showing the landscape where the story takes place and I think that creating a map of a story’s landscape is such a great idea. How important do you think a landscape is to a story?
Linden: It’s just plain essential. Landscape, and thus the map of that landscape, is the soil on which every story stands.
I think that topography and geography are the underpinnings of all human stories. The land gives us the lives we lead, whether they are oriented toward boats or camels or skyscrapers.
Likewise, maps show us how land and people interact. They situate us. Maps demonstrate the limitations geography places on us. For example, towns stop at the shoreline, and topography affects how much building you can do, or where vantage points can be found, where villains can escape, and where the dragon’s lair is hidden.
Sharry: Wow. Beautifully articulated. I completely agree.
Linden: Thank you.
Sharry: Could you talk a little about what inspired you to do a map book—what sparked the idea and maybe a little about the process of putting it together?
Linden: The inspiration for this book started after my co-author and sister, Jill Berry, published her first book, Personal Geographies. It is an excellent book about making artful maps to explore your inner self: your goals, dreams and history. We decided we wanted to try a different kind of book together that had teacherly aspects combined with fun and beautiful art, all tied together in quick projects. We were delighted to be included in the “Lab” series produced by Quarry Books.
Putting it together was somewhat tricky as we live 1000 miles apart—she’s in Colorado and I’m on the California coast—but we worked it out by emailing and drop boxing things to each other, having regular phone conferences, and then also working for several weeks in each other’s studios. She’s more of the artist and I am more of the writer, but we each did both things while pulling together the projects for this book. We also had contributions from wonderful guest artists from all over the world, which was very fun and stimulating.
Sharry: What a wonderful collaboration. After such a great interview, I’m sure our readers would love to know more about you.
Linden: I’ve been a public school teacher for 27 years. I always seem to put art into my classes even when it’s not officially part of the curriculum. We knit, draw, paint, doodle, dye things, make our own books, etc.

I also write children’s literature. I love maps, and often draw maps to go with my stories or scenes in the novels I am working on. Sometimes the maps help me understand how my characters need to behave (or misbehave, as the case may be!). Often making maps with my stories helps me see the fictional world in greater dimension, and helps me locate my character and ground him or her, if you will.
I live on the central coast of California with my family. Besides writing and teaching, I love to knit, hike and ride my bike in the forest.
Sharry: I understand readers have an opportunity to win a copy of Map Art Lab—what do they need to do?
Linden: Yes! We are having a book giveaway for those who leave a comment here and then share on social media. The deadline is May 4 at midnight PST. For every share or comment your name will be entered into the pot. The winner will be drawn at random and announced here at Kissing The Earth on May 8th. Be sure to leave an email address where we can contact you.

You can also follow the official blog hop that starts on May 8. There will be more chances to win the book. If you visit all the blogs, you’ll have the highest odds in winning a free copy of Map Art Lab by Jill K. Berry and Linden McNeilly. Our first blogger on the hop is the artist Kim Rae Nugent at To see the rest of the blog schedule, check our websites next week at or
Sharry: Linden, thank you so much for visiting with us today!

Linden: It was great fun! Thank you.


  1. What a wonderful project, Linden...and Sharry, thanks for the post/interview. This kind of attention to the physical world of characters in a book (the street names, the north/south/east/west of things, the window of the house through which we our character sees the sun rise or set, the delineation of forest or shoreline, the walking route from here to there, etc. is just exactly what I tried to focus on in one of my small workshops at VCFA. I've got a very old map on my wall that shows the path from Dublin to Clonegall and Carnew, and when I compare it to what Google Earth shows, the little paths are still there. I definitely am in love with maps, too. I'll be looking for your book, Linden! Congratulations on its publication.

    1. Thanks, Julie! I always think of you when I make arty maps, and the the project in the book with a map of a story is very much influenced by that wonderful project you had us do imagining the landscape of our stories. And that path, from Dublin to Clonegall...oh...I want to go!

  2. How fortunate one would be to have Linden McNeilly as their teacher. For those who can't, we get to take home a piece of her through this book. Happy adventures!

  3. I've always been fascinated by maps and loved the dreaming that goes along with them. The possibilities seem endless, although as Linden says, they also show our limitations, really. Map Art Lab is just gorgeous--beautiful in concept and beautiful in result. I pre-ordered it long ago and can't wait until it gets here to Switzerland!

  4. Congrats, Linden! Your book is beautiful and I love that you've infused all of your many loves and talents into this stunning work. I'm remembering your own amazing doodles on the pages of your handmade, leather journal. So proud and can't wait to spend time with this up close. Cheers!!

  5. I love this interview, and the book sounds fantastic--especially for a map fiend like me. I can't wait to check it out. Congrats, Linden!

  6. I am a huge map fan and the book looks gorgeous. Great interview, too, Sharry and Linden!
    P.S. This is Jen Wolf Kam, I'm incognito until my blog launches next month. ;)

  7. Can't wait to get my hands on Map Art Lab--my girls love maps and we're always looking for fun new projects.

  8. I'm dazzled by the look of this book and can't wait for a peek inside! I'm eager to lose myself in this amazing world of maps. Congratulations, Linden! Thanks for the interview, Sharry.

  9. Hoorah, Linden! This looks gorgeous!

  10. Thanks everyone for stopping by! It was great fun doing this with Linden. Don't forget to leave your emails so we can enter you in the book-give-away!

  11. I am so excited about this book! I am wild about maps. And art. And this is both!

  12. "Making a map of a story, whether you are writing it yourself or reading it, helps you understand it so much better." I agree so much. I've been sketching a map of my WIP's community. I look forward to adding more detail, as I learn more about these characters and their two towns, separated by railroad tracks. Congrats, Linden!

  13. Even though I've retired from teaching in a middle school classroom, I want to use the imaginative projects from Linden and Jill's book with my grandchildren. They are appropriate for a wide range of ages, K through adult. The appealing page format, interesting side-bar historical tidbits, simple materials lists and possible extensions all make this a valuable resource.