Hey folks and welcome to what is probably my favorite type of post to make — a map reveal! I have made it no secret that maps are one of my favorite parts of fantasy and, indeed, one of my favorite things altogether! From sitting around an atlas and mapping out a roadtrip with my Dad to following Frodo and Sam’s journey across Middle Earth, I have so many fond memories of maps. I just love them and I love their ability to make concrete the stories we read. You can learn so much from a good map! So, I am proud to unveil the full series maps for Thomas Howard Riley’s Advent Lumina series!
I had the distinct pleasure of revealing the maps for the Riley’s incredible debut novel, We Break Immortals, close to a year ago and the level of care and detail put into them by his wonderful cartographer, Thom Rey, blew me away. I was equally blown away when I got the chance to read We Break Immortals and you can read my full review here, if you’d like. Before we get into the reveal proper, Thomas generously lent me his time when we sat down for an interview.
Thank you so much for joining us for this short Q&A! Before we get going, please tell us a bit about yourself.
Thank you so much for having me! It’s always fun to talk about books and maps so I want to say a hearty thank you for hosting this reveal and for taking the time to find out more about this world that I have put so much love into! I love maps so much and so it was very important to me to sink a lot of effort into making them just right. I am super excited to be dropping the complete set of world maps for the entire book series today.
My name is Thomas Howard Riley and I am a sometimes funny, sometimes serious, always stone cold geeky weirdo. I live in the desert, I write rated R epic fantasy books, I have 6 cats 1 baby and 1 more on the way. I love to read and listen to music and plan the destruction of timelines.
Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of reading/writing? Do you care to elaborate?
I am a former sword fighter and I also play guitar and build things for cats to sit on. I am an extreme Led Zeppelin fanatic and I love 8 bit Nintendo games and comic books. I read history and physics books for fun and have a nasty habit of going down the rabbit hole researching the weirdest topics.
Tell us about your road to writing. What made you want to become an author?
I have always loved to tell stories and I like to stray from the norm. I loved being immersed in the stories I read and I tried to write on my own and found that I loved creating worlds as much as I loved reading about them. Years of trial and error and practice later and here I am.
Writing is a hard and lonely affair in the best of circumstances. How do you achieve a good work/life/writing balance?
*intense laughter* I wish I could get as much sleep as I should. But one of the best things I did was train myself to jump in and out of the creative headspace at a moment’s notice, so I could fill every little in-between moment with writing. It definitely helped take the pressure off my sleep schedule.
What are your favorite types of characters?
Morally grey neurotic non-heroes who are their own worst enemies.
How much of yourself do you write into your stories?
That is tough to answer. I’d say more like pieces of myself to into characters, and sometimes experience informs events and emotional states I write about. Like how I am a wizard for instance.
For those who haven’t read We Break Immortals, give us the elevator pitch.
A drug addict who hunts sorcerers, the most renowned swordsman no one has ever heard of, and a thieving magick-wielding woman hellbent on revenge collide in a last ditch effort to stop an insane superhuman serial killer from making himself a god.
What do you think is the overarching theme(s)?
*we are all ruled by our obsessions
*people must overcome themselves to overcome their obstacles
*being an outcast doesn’t mean you aren’t going to be something great
*the people you find along the way become your family & sometimes they are the most unlikely of people
Obviously, there was a lot of thought put into creating the world for We Break Immortals. How crucial was the worldbuilding specifically related to the story that you’ve written?
The map-making worldbuilding was absolutely essential to the entire Advent Lumina Series. My number one goal was to make a world that felt expansive and alive. I wanted a sense that outside of a character’s story there was a wider world that they had never seen, and might never see, but maybe had heard about. Even if we never got to see the rest of it, I wanted that Whole World™ to be out there. So my maps have a tendency to be more like pages out of an atlas than the average.
Some might call this overkill. But anyone who knows me knows that I am not one for doing things small. I am known to obsess about these things. But the consolation is there will be much more exploring of this world as the series moves along. I am going to be spending a LOT of time in this world, both in this series and in stand-alones, so it is worth it to have it perfect from the start.
Above all I wanted to avoid having a world-in-a-box map, with rectangular continents or square kingdoms arranged very conveniently to fit to the edges of a page. I wanted it to feel organic, sprawling, and very inconvenient.
I went through thousands of revisions over many years, in some cases making copies and cutting out the landmasses like puzzle pieces and moving them around, and pushing them together, and breaking them apart. It was like manually moving tectonic plates (and took almost as long to do).
But it was important. A good amount of the worldbuilding is tied to the geography. The concept for the series itself developed alongside the maps, so it was crucial to have everything thought out. I know this book is still just shy of being released, but I am already chomping at the bit to let you dive deep into some of these other places in the sequel.
Did you have an idea of what you wanted your maps to look like? What direction did you give the artist?
Oh yes, I had a very clear eye for what they needed to be. I had the entire world already drafted up myself, including mock-ups of the various regions. I already had the basic contours of every coastline, and had laid out most every mountain range, river system, desert, and forest. I had all the cities and every place-name thought out in advance. This made things both very easy and very difficult for my map artist. Because my templates were there to be the guide, but because it had to be as close to what my fixed worldbuilding required, it left little room to maneuver in the presentation when space became tight. But it came through wonderfully. My artist is an exemplary cartographer, and he of course put flavor into the maps, adjusting mountains and rivers to be more in line with real world geography than I had already set, and brilliantly beautifying my concept to bring my ideas to life. I brought the ingredients; he brought the sizzle. I really could not have found a more perfect artist for this process.
Map making is difficult because we all have a basic understanding of how our world is laid out. Were there any real world inspirations that you drew from? If so, do you care to explain?
Great question! I wanted this world to have as realistic elements as possible, but I wanted it in no way to resemble our own world in the aggregate. I wanted it to stand alone as its own place, so that people could not just point to a region and say, ‘oh, that bit must be meant to be the “Spain”, and that area must be the “China”, and over here is the “Norway”.
Yet because I also wanted to avoid the world-in-a-box, I spent a lot of time studying examples of our own geography for the elements I wanted to include in my own. I pored over atlases and cross-referenced geographic locations with real historical events. I studied the effects of our own geography on societies, culture, and warfare, and tried to include choke points in this world where conflicts would be bound to happen, or where cultures would be certain to mingle. This led me to focus mostly on areas where different regions tended to rub against one another and cause conflict.
So I would narrow this strip of land over here, or expand that one. I would place a desert to make a barrier between one place and another, or connect two distant places with a seaway so that they are more likely to interact. I would arrange the mountains and rivers so that some areas would be forced into conflicts with others. For a map geek like myself it was a lot of fun.
By setting up the geography in such a way as a part of the initial worldbuilding, it then became more than just points on a map. The maps themselves became a source of inspiration. Now when I look at my maps, cultures jump out at me from the different regions based on their geography, and from those cultures bumping against one another, conflicts emerge, and from that, histories begin to bubble up, and these histories provide context for more worldbuilding, and can give characters even more background. (These concepts will mostly come into play in the sequels, which are already well underway) So now with the next book and the next, I can place characters in certain locations, and the locations themselves will provide jumping off points for different types of conflicts and developments, sometimes generating entire story arcs for me just from looking at what places are near where a new character comes from.
When thinking about fantasy maps, are there any that stand out as your favorites?
My greatest inspiration came from my early reading—Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Lord of the Rings. All of these had corresponding RPG modules littered with glorious maps. The first two especially had worlds designed for their own “expanded universe” of franchised books, so they were compelled to design worlds that would be way too big for any one story to take over everything, and yet still have many common places that disparate characters might end up at one time or another. These worlds set my expectations very high for what a fantasy world should be, and I have not been able to escape that feeling. It has ruined me! Haha. (I have atlases of all 3 of those worlds, by the way, each done by the brilliant Karen Wynn Fonstad. The Middle Earth one is still in print now, but for the others you will likely need to flex your ebay skills).
Some other maps I have seen more recently that have stood out to me are: Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames, which reminds me very much of the style of some of the old Middle Earth maps; the Malazan maps from Steve Erikson’s series, intense and jam packed; and Ben Galley’s maps for the Emaneska books, which are absolutely beautiful.
Maps are one of my favorite things in fantasy and yours are outstanding. Can you tell us who designed your maps and a little bit about them?
Absolutely! Permit me to gush for a moment. Thom Rey was my cartographer. He is incredibly talented and wonderful to work with. (And not just because his name is almost my name) His talent speaks for itself, and his communication is fantastic. He worked hand in hand with me to make sure every single detail would be realized in the way I needed it to be, including plenty of problem-solving to make sure everything was clear.
As you can see from these maps, I threw a number of challenges at him. The quantity of labels and the proximity of some of the landforms are not the easiest to pack together and still be clear, but he was able to work magick. I can’t recommend him highly enough. And I intend to work with him again for all my future maps.
I discovered him while perusing artists on Twitter and stumbled across a pair of maps from his portfolio, one color, and one black & white. The style was exactly what I had been imaging but had been unable to put into words. It was a perfect match for my world. Serendipity level ten.
Is this your first book? If so, what lessons have you learned from writing it? If not, what lessons did you learn from writing earlier books that you brought into this one?
We Break Immortals is my debut. I learned damn near everything writing and revising it. But the biggest lesson was to take time to develop character emotions and to allow them to reflect on the things that happen around them. I also discovered a love of making characters that are not designed to the traditional fantasy expectations. I love characters who are neurotic and damaged beings who are most definitely their own worst enemies. I like to make it seem like things are going one way and take a left turn.
Do you usually write to background noise, music, etc. or do you prefer silence?
I always write to music. I have some music when I draft, and when revising I choose certain music depending on which atmosphere I want to augment for a given scene. Almost always instrumental, or instrumental-heavy music. I also listen to music when I read.
What made you want to write in Fantasy? Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?
I love inventing entire worlds from scratch. It would have been much easier to write in our world, but it would also have been limiting. I want to make everything to my own design, from the languages to the plate tectonics. I have no plans in any other genres.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m definitely a hybrid. I will throw together some ideas and try to game out some worldbuilding and plots and character arcs in advance, but I follow a very loose outline, so sometimes conversations and action can take things in unexpected directions.
What can you tell us about what’s coming up next for you?
I am deep into writing a sequel for We Break Immortals, as well as a number of stand-alone stories in the same world. I am looking for add to being able to share those soon.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions for us! I always enjoy this little peek behind the curtain.
Thank You for having me!
And there they are! We Break Immortals takes place mostly in just a few sections of the map, the Northwest and the Northeast, but Riley promises more exploration of this entire world that he has created. The cartographer Riley is working with, Thom Rey, has created a beautiful set of maps and I love how they are broken down by region, panning in for a closer look at several places across the world. I am so excited to learn more about Luminaworld and read more stories set in this massive playground Riley has crafted! I’m a sucker for desert cultures, so I really want to learn more about the Saar Desert and the people that might inhabit it! What about you: where do you want to visit in Luminaworld?
About the Author
Thomas Howard Riley currently resides in a secluded vista in the wasteland metropolis, where he reads ancient books, plays ancient games, watches ancient movies, jams on ancient guitars, and writes furiously day and night. He sometimes appears on clear nights when the moon is gibbous, and he has often been seen in the presence of cats.
He always wanted to make up his own worlds, tell his own stories, invent his own people, honor the truths of life, and explore both the light and the darkness of human nature. With a few swords thrown in for good measure.
And some magick. Awesome magick.
He can be found digitally at THOMASHOWARDRILEY.COM
On Twitter he is @ornithopteryx, where he is sometimes funny, always clever, and never mean.