Historical Fiction and why I need a map.

I’ve just finished writing the draft of my historical fiction manuscript, The Jigonsaseh (or Famine Bay as I call it sometimes), and I’ve decided it needs a map. Maybe a couple. It’s set in  17th century North America, and a lot of the names of places and First Nations have disappeared from common use. I can’t really use the contemporary maps either, although there are a few, because they’ll confuse my readers too: most were French and they had their own words for places and people that were quite different from those used by the English, not to mention the First Nations themselves.

The French, for example, called the Mohawks, Agniers and the Senecas, Tsonnontouans, so those are the names that appear on French maps. And nothing is really to scale; after all, we’re talking about very early maps that were being put together at the same time that people were exploring new territories. Needless to say, they had none of the technology we take for granted now. Some of these early maps are covered with sketches of what these travelers/explorers/missionaries found interesting, like bears or elk or porcupines, or different tribes they encountered.

I’ve done a glossary of terms to include: here’s a few examples so that you can see how  how confusing it would be without some kind of guide:

Haudenosaunee. People of the Longhouse, also called the League. Known by the French as Iroquois Confederacy and by the English as the Five Nations: Mohawks, Senecas, Cayugas, Onondagas, and Oneidas.

Hurons. French name for the Wendat Nation displaced by the Five Nations in the 1650s and driven to Michilimackinac. Their traditional territory was between what are now called Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay.

Illinois. One of the western nations at war with the Five Nations. Located near Utica in present day Illinois.

Irondequoit Bay. A large bay that flows into Lake Ontario at its northern end, fed by Irondequoit Creek to the south. Located in present day Monroe County, New York.

Kanagaro. Mohawk village (Bear clan). Built in 1677 on the north side of the Mohawk River near present day Montgomery in New York.

Kaskasis. Main village of the Illinois. Located near present day Utica, Illinois, across from Starved Rock.

Kenté. Bay of Quinté. Located on the north shore of Lake Ontario near present day Picton, Ontario.

My pal, Victor Konrad, who is a very highly regarded historical geographer is going to give me a hand with this: he’s written extensively about this time period and some of the events that happen in my story.  I’m hoping Victor can do a map for me that has the names I need as well as their present day locations, but whatever assistance he can lend me will be fantastic.

This manuscript has been super hard to write. When I finished the draft yesterday and re-read it, I finally had the sense that I’d created something that might draw the reader in; it was flowing the way I wanted, and I’d managed to introduce some humanity, and humour, into it. Fingers crossed my agent likes it! A big shout-out to my external readers who didn’t pull any punches this time around.  I needed a good kick in the pants to remember that the history shouldn’t drive the story and that it needed to be character-driven throughout. Much appreciated.

A big shout-out to the Canada Council for providing me with a grant that gave me the time to do this. They’re awesome!


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6 Responses to Historical Fiction and why I need a map.

  1. Sandy Campbell says:

    Peggy…I follow this but ‘awesome’?? I fear I am too tough.



    • Peggy Blair says:

      I use “awesome” all the time. May come from having a 26 year old daughter. 🙂 I found the Canada Council to be enormously helpful. Name another country where a relatively unknown writer can get money to write!


  2. E R Brown says:

    Hey Peggy, congrats on finishing the draft. I’m *nearly* there on my second novel. It’s been a slog. A different kind of book for me… and consequently, lots of doubts. Looking forward to that weird feeling of “that’s it” that comes when the creative process turns to one of analysis and revision. A week or so…


    • Peggy Blair says:

      Hi Eric,
      I think we always have those doubts; I was ready to throw this book out more than once and give up. But now I’m starting to think I have something. Always a good feeling. Thanks for dropping by!


  3. Dianne Waite says:

    I applaud your diversity, however please do not abandon Inspector Ramirez. You have created a much loved character So please continue this series as you expand your horizons Respectfully, Dianne


    • Peggy Blair says:

      Hi Dianne,
      Don’t worry: there are two more Inspector Ramirez books in the queue! One will be out next June (Hungry Ghosts) and the other will be out the following year (Umbrella Man). Both written! Thanks – so glad you like the inspector! ~ Peggy


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