Happy Monday, friends!
I hope you had a wonderful weekend, and I especially hope you’re excited for today’s post — as the time has finally come to share our first sample chapter for The Atlas of Connection. I’ve been looking forward to this day for a while 🙂
It’s been two and a half months since the giveaway post that started it all, and hardly a day has gone by where I haven’t thought about the project. But there’s one day in particular that I remember — a sunny Saturday morning in December, just two days after I posted the second call-out for your stories of connection from Asia.
That morning, I curled up on the sofa with a warm cup of coffee, opened a new notebook to its first blank page, and began to write:
“I want to use these next few months wisely, to bring an idea I can’t stop thinking about to fruition: THE ATLAS OF CONNECTION. It’s an idea that came out of nowhere — but on the other hand, it feels entirely destined to be…that of course it would involve maps, and of course it would involve connection, and of course I just happened to stumble upon it purely by serendipity…
This book is everything I want to give the world, and I love that it unfolded without me even having to try. Isn’t that the way inspiration should work? Shouldn’t it feel like a gift — and shouldn’t it arrive like a whisper?”
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I’m incredibly grateful for that first sense of flow and ease, and even more so that it continued to inspire the project throughout December and January, as I brought the next set of maps to life. But before I share some of them with you today, I thought you might enjoy a quick look behind the scenes — to follow the process that shaped your stories into the finished product:
Step #1: Collecting your stories
The first part of putting the sample chapter together was also my favorite — collecting more of your stories of connection.
There were really just two prerequisites for the stories that I included. Firstly, while the sample chapter is devoted to Asia, I also wanted it to have a good geographical mix from across such a vast continent. I decided to focus on three regions — South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia — and include a few stories from each area.
The only other prerequisite for stories was thematic, but again, I wanted to cast a wide net. I simply looked for stories that focused on a singular moment of kindness, connection, or understanding with someone you encountered on a journey — and I was continually moved by the moments you wrote about.
There are encounters with a monk in Tibet, local families in India and Nepal, and a trekking guide with the biggest smile in Malaysia, all of whom blessed you with their time, their homes, or their stories.
There were also many stories I didn’t have room to include this time, but I hope to be able to soon as this project grows.
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Step #2: Envisioning the layout
The second step in creating the sample chapter was to think about what the layout of the book itself would look like. From early on, I knew that I wanted it to feel like an actual atlas, but what sets the collection of illustrated maps apart are the stories, one on each page. At the same time, I wanted to make sure the stories didn’t get lost on the page, so I decided to embed them digitally on the finished maps, while writing all of the place names and contributor info by hand.
Whether for my own projects or for clients, I’ve always loved this step of storyboarding a project. Working within InDesign, I took screenshots from Google Maps of each country or region, placed the stories on their respective maps, and finally decided on what icons and images I would illustrate to bring the stories and countries to life visually. The resulting document looks like a funny little patchwork of images on its own, but it was exactly what I needed to have in place before creating the final maps.
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Step #3: Creating the maps
In my own experience, I’ve found there are two key stages in a creative project. There’s that first heady rush of inspiration, when you race to give a new idea shape; and then there’s the longer stage of steadily doing the work to bring that idea to fruition.
While I spent December either scribbling and scheming in my notebook of ideas or plotting out map layouts in InDesign, I spent most of January seated in the same place every day — at my desk, with a stack of fresh watercolor paper, making maps like there was no tomorrow 🙂 Each map took about a full day’s work to create, and I loved embedding smaller details into them — from the population of each country to fun little facts about some element of its history or culture.
My hope is that readers feel as though they themselves are journeying around the world as they move through the book.
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Sneak peek at our first sample chapter
At last, after one month of scheming and dreaming and another marathon month of map-making, we have our first sample chapter, friends! It’s amazing for me to look back at our first map of connections and see just how much this project has evolved over the last two months, and I will forever be grateful to you all for the original spark of inspiration.
In total, there are eleven maps in the sample chapter — one for each story, and a full map of Asia for the chapter opener — as well as a prototype cover. Today, I’m thrilled to share three of those maps and stories with you from the region of Southeast Asia. The stories are a little too small to read at this page width (especially if you’re reading this on your phone), so I’ve also uploaded the maps as high-res files — feel free to click on the images below and download them for a closer read.
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What’s next for The Atlas of Connection
Last week, I sent off the sample chapter and a short proposal into the world for the first time, and I’m excited to continue querying agents and editors about the project. It’s always been my dream to bring out a book with a traditional publisher, so that’s the path I’ll pursue first with The Atlas of Connection.
And yet, if the traditional publishing path doesn’t work out for some reason, I’m also open to pursuing other paths and bringing this project to life independently — because I believe in the power of your stories so much. At times, the state of the world today makes it seem as though kindness is disappearing, especially towards those different from ourselves — but for me, your stories are the living proof we all need that kindness is alive and well.
As the world wants to build walls and close itself off, The Atlas of Connection is proof that bridges still exist all around us, if our hearts and minds are open to them.
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