My novel takes place on Bodie and Hatteras Islands, but it includes references to Ocracoke and Pea Islands. Pea Island? I haven’t mentioned that one as part of the Outer Banks, and therein lies part of my problem. Pea Island is only a part-time island located on the northern tip of Hatteras Island. Due to the transient nature of the Outer Banks, storms cut through the land creating islands, but then, the ocean fills in the storm cuts eliminating island demarcations.
In the map I’ve provided, there is no mention of Pea Island even though everyone calls the northern tip of Hatteras Island—Pea Island. It is Wildlife Refuge also protected by the National Park Service. In September of 2011 after Hurricane Irene created cuts, engineers were constructing a new bridge from the renewed Pea Island to Hatteras Island. They found an old bridge buried underneath the new cut. Historically it has been an island, although just a year ago it wasn’t.
Because of this unique geography, I’ve found my fiction stumbles when trying to describe it to readers in a way that doesn’t take them out of the story. In mystery novels I’ve read, especially English mysteries, writers often provide map prefaces showing the geographic setting, a region or a town map that includes structures important in the novel. I’ve wondered if I should include such a preface to my novel.
I have mixed feelings about map prefaces. I’ve found them extremely helpful in the past, after all a picture is worth a thousand words, and yet I feel a bit irritated by them too, because what I want to do when I pick up a novel is read, not study a map. In a way, it’s an authorial cheat. But then, graphic novels seem in vogue even if I’m not considering the full graphics of this stylized fiction. I also become irritated by maps because I’m being given a glimpse into the story before the story begins.
In my imagination, I envision my preface to have one map, a tiny explanation and references to other sources of information on the Outer Banks. Would this offend you? Is it a cheat?