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Q&A with Peng Shepherd, Author of The Cartographers

Q&A with Peng Shepherd, Author of The Cartographers

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Peng Shepherd is the author of The Cartographers, which will publish on March 15.

Peng was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where she rode horses and trained in classical ballet, and has lived in Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, London, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New York, and Mexico City. 

Her first novel, The Book of M, won the 2019 Neukom Institute for Literary Arts Award for Debut Speculative Fiction, and was chosen as a best book of the year by AmazonElleRefinery29, and The Verge, as well as a best book of the summer by the Today Show and NPR On Point. A graduate of the NYU MFA program, Peng is the recipient of a 2020 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the Elizabeth George Foundation’s emerging writers 2016 grant.

Her second novel, The Cartographers, is releasing on March 15. Here’s the synopsis:

Nell Young’s whole life and greatest passion is cartography. Her father, Dr. Daniel Young, is a legend in the field and Nell’s personal hero. But she hasn’t seen or spoken to him ever since he cruelly fired her and destroyed her reputation after an argument over an old, cheap gas station highway map.

But when Dr. Young is found dead in his office at the New York Public Library, with the very same seemingly worthless map hidden in his desk, Nell can’t resist investigating. To her surprise, she soon discovers that the map is incredibly valuable and exceedingly rare. In fact, she may now have the only copy left in existence . . . because a mysterious collector has been hunting down and destroying every last one—along with anyone who gets in the way.

But why?

To answer that question, Nell embarks on a dangerous journey to reveal a dark family secret and discovers the true power that lies in maps . . .

Perfect for fans of Joe Hill and V. E. Schwab, The Cartographers is an ode to art and science, history and magic—a spectacularly imaginative, modern story about an ancient craft and places still undiscovered.

Let’s get to know Peng as she talks favorite novels, story inspiration, genre and more!

What are some of your favorite novels?

Some of my favorites of all time include The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, anything by Kelly Link or George Saunders…

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu is a recent read that I absolutely loved, as well as Babel by RF Kuang!

When did you know you wanted to become an author?

As soon as I learned to read! I used to write stories for my mother when I was as young as five, and she’d take them to her office at work and get them laminated and bound with a plastic spiral spine. I cherished those early “novels” of mine so much. They were definitely the spark that lit the fire.

What inspired you to write The Cartographers? Did you have an interest in cartography prior to working on the novel?

Like many of us, I’ve been fascinated with maps for as long as I can remember. It seems like no one can resist glancing at one as they pass by, whatever the circumstance. I think we’re all hoping to discover something new within their subtle colors and curving lines—a name we hadn’t noticed before, an invitation, an adventure—even for the most familiar of places. The Cartographers is my love letter to this old craft. 

I didn’t have any formal experience with the subject, but I certainly have a love for it! I’ve always thought maps were so beautiful. So, that made the research a lot more fun.

What do you like best about writing a novel that included magical realism?

Not just this novel—everything I write has some sort of speculative element to it. Life is weird! Things that defy explanation or reason still happen all the time—take, for example, the very strange true story that The Cartographers is based upon (no spoilers, you’ll have to get the book and read the Author’s Note at the end!). No matter how much we think we understand about the universe, there will always be something new or mysterious to discover. That’s one of my favorite feelings in the world, and I’m always striving to capture that emotion in my work.

Without getting into spoilers, what was your favorite chapter or part to write? 

Half of the book is set thirty years in the past, and follows a group of seven inseparable friends as their lives slowly unravel after a discovery that changes everything for them. Those were some of my favorite sections. The secrets, the drama, and the way that it all reverberates even decades later, was really challenging, but really, really fun to write.

What are you currently reading and what’s on your TBR (to be read) list?

I’m currently reading You by Caroline Kepnes, and it is so wild! Up next is either The Overstory by Richard Powers or Geek Love by Katherine Dunn.

You can order The Cartographers on Amazon here. To support local bookstores, buy on Bookshop here.

Check back soon for my review and discussion questions!