Dear Google Maps: Here’s what writers need

Dear Google,

I know you don’t make your online maps for writers, but they sure come in handy when I’m researching city streets  or the routes between cities for a story or novel set in the present day.

But I want more. I want to be able to “age” those maps to see what the streets and highways looked like 5, 19, 15, 20, etc. years ago.

Most older city and county maps aren’t very legible when viewed online. Or, if you’re looking for them on eBay, you’ll find them folded up. (No help there.) Buying paper copies is time-consuming and expensive.

I’ve found apps that show what the land around my house looked like in the past–sometimes for hundreds of years back. But streets and highways, nothing, unless I want to drive to a dusty archive and get them to allow a Xerox of their ancient paper maps.

I’m not really sure how it helps Google to post current maps and directions online. And then to maintain them year by year. So probably for a one-time investment of several million bucks, your crack staff could merge in older and older paper maps to give us an aging application.

Just a thought.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the Florida Folk Magic Series that beings with “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and extends through three more novels to “Fate’s Arrows.”

Writing about a place that’s far away

Writers with a big advance from their publishers can often travel to faraway places, take pictures, and do research. Most of us can’t do that. Fortunately, Google Maps and Google Earth can help.

I live in Georgia and am writing about a speeding motorcycle on Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road. I’ve been there with family but wasn’t taking notes. I can’t afford to go back, even if there weren’t COVID restrictions. So, how do I learn more about the road from far away?

  1. I’ve picked a popular tourist destination. So, for almost every trail, a section of road, or mountain in the park, there are going to be “How to” guidebooks easily found via my search engine. The best of these give you plenty of information about hiking a trail, climbing a mountain, or sightseeing along a highway.
  2. Fortunately, Google Maps has “street view” activated for Going-to-the-Sun Road. Using that, I can see the road from a driver’s point of view, including points of interest visible from the highway such as trailheads and parking lots. In a sense, this allows me to “go there” and see what my characters will see.
  3. Hovering over the visitors center at Logan Pass.
    Once I’ve done that, I can switch to Google Earth and set my search terms on Logan Pass and go straight there, first as though I’m seeing it from a satellite view, and then–better yet–as though I’m looking at the road and the visitors center and the nearby mountains from a helicopter. I can hover as close to the road or the mountains as I want or gain some altitude and see many miles of highway or trail at once.

It’s better to go there, of course, but using these tools, I can gather enough information to make the novel work.


My novel “Mountain Song,” set partly in Glacier Park, is free on Kindle February 8 through February 10.