Author Larry Karp (THE KING OF RAGTIME, Poisoned Pen Press), offers maybe one of the most unique writing tips.
Karp says, "looking for a way to add authenticity to your historicals? Try Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. These are accessible online, but you'll need a card from your local library to do the work at home.
"Once logged in at your library's site, choose Sanborn Maps from the list of databases and web sites. It's then an easy matter to choose a state, city, and year. Not all years are represented, but there's usually one close enough to serve the needs of an historical novelist.
"There will be an overview map of the entire city, a list of streets to key the user to maps of specific regions, and a list of major businesses and public buildings.
"Not only can you locate particular streets, but many buildings are described as to dimensions and type of construction, and in many cases, the occupant at the time and his/her type of business. In addition, there are useful details, such as the location of alleys, where nasty work could be carried out.
"You can print copies of the maps for continued reference away from the computer
"I learned about Sanborn maps from Jeanne M. Dams, author of the Hilda Johansson series (INDIGO CHRISTMAS), set in South Bend, Indiana a century ago. South Bend jumps off the pages into the reader's mind, in full color and in three dimensions.
"The maps tend to be more useful for smaller cities. They were a tremendous help in setting scenes and following characters around Sedalia, Missouri in 1899, in my novel, The Ragtime Kid. The maps were less helpful for New York City in 1916, for The King of Ragtime, but came back into heavy use for Sedalia and Venice, California in 1951, for The Ragtime Fool, my current work-in-progress.
"Give these maps a try. You may be surprised and pleased."
--Larry Karp, author of THE KING OF RAGTIME (Poisoned Pen Press, Oct. '08) opens the window to the world of ragtime.
Scott Joplin leaves a major musical composition with Irving Berlin, but Berlin claims he never received it. Then, Joplin is found in Berlin's company offices, crouched over a blood-soaked body.
Music publisher John Stark and his strong-minded daughter, Nell, need to get around their edgy relationship to find the manuscript and exonerate Joplin.
Check out Larry Karp's blog.