How the City of Ashara Became Grenoble

Today, I bring you an odd fact about my book that you would never know from reading it. Sparkers is set in a city called Ashara, and Ashara is Grenoble, France. By that, I mean the layout of Ashara’s streets, squares, neighborhoods, and geographic features is based on Grenoble’s. This was actually quite a late development. In 2011, in the middle of yet another revision of my manuscript, I decided I needed a map of Ashara. I wanted to know how long it would take characters to walk from Point A to Point B, the number of city blocks between key locations, what cardinal direction various landmarks lay in, and so on. Having a map would allow me to give every important place in the book an absolute location and keep the manuscript consistent with itself.

Part of the fun of fantasy worldbuilding is sketching maps of imaginary countries, but drawing an entire city street map from scratch sounded laborious and tedious. Luckily, I had just returned from a semester studying abroad in Grenoble, and I had kept the map of the city issued to us by our program. That map became the blueprint for Ashara.Ashara MapOf course, Ashara already had a geography—the Davgir River, a central market, a large cemetery—but I just superimposed these features on my map of Grenoble. Sometimes I adjusted the layout of Grenoble to conform to facts I had already established for Ashara. For instance, I decided the Drac (a real French river) corresponded to the fictional Sohadir River, but I pushed it farther west. More often, I allowed the layout of Grenoble to dictate the geography of Ashara, since much of that geography wasn’t worked out in detail in the manuscript. The result is that many landmarks in Sparkers have real counterparts in the city of Grenoble. Ashara’s Davgir River is the Isère. The bustling covered marketplace in Sparkers is located on the site of Grenoble’s Jardin de Ville. The Assembly Hall, from whence Ashara’s ruling magicians govern, occupies the same spot as the hôtel de préfecture in Place Verdun. And my main character, Marah, lives on the Ashari street corresponding to Grenoble’s rue de Chamrousse. Ashara doesn’t look much like Grenoble (for one thing, it’s not surrounded by mountains!), but it is laid out like it. So if you ever want to feel like you’re walking the same streets as my characters, you’ll have to visit Grenoble!

Next week, I might start in on a set of posts about some American folksongs. Stay tuned…

4 thoughts on “How the City of Ashara Became Grenoble

  1. I love making maps, and it’s exciting (and nostalgic) that you based your city on Grenoble! Does your city have a tram system or “les bulles”? 😉 If I remember correctly, the church we went to was not too far from the hotel de prefecture…

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