January 16, 2009

Writing Tip 14: Map it Out - Larry Karp

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.


Helen Ginger said...

What a fabulous idea. Thank you for the information and the links!

SteveDoyle said...

Hey, that's pretty cool. I'm working on an historical novel that takes place in Plymouth, MA at the start of the Revolutionary War. This may come in very handy.

Anonymous said...

Get the map - great idea!

Joyce Anthony said...

Wonderful idea! You would think, being a genealogist, I would have thought of that--but nope, it never entered my mind! Thanks!

Patricia Harrington said...

Great tip from Larry, and also congrats on your novel. This is a very good resource; also a fun one for kids to use for their school work projects.

Thanks again,

Pat Harrington

Ann Parker said...

Well this is as cool as can be. I love Sanborn maps, but didn't realize I could access them electronically in this manner.

Thanks, Larry!

Ann Parker

Morgan Mandel said...

Great idea. I'll have to remember it to add authenticity to a novel.

Morgan Mandel

L. Diane Wolfe said...

That's a great idea! Yeah, libraries have access to some of the coolest sites, like Reference USA.

For modern times research, I use Google Earth. Great layout and I know just where all of the restuarants & gas stations are located!

L. Diane Wolfe

Chester Campbell said...

I could have used that idea in writing The Marathon Murders, which is based on a company that went bankrupt in 1914. Thanks for mentioning it. I'll keep that possibility in mind.