Historical Research Tips from Beth Cato

My friend Beth Cato is visiting my blog again, this time to share some tips on historical research! Her latest book, CALL OF FIRE, comes out on Tuesday. It’s the sequel to her acclaimed novel BREATH OF EARTH, which takes place in an alternate 1906 San Francisco. Both books required an incredible amount of research, and, well… I’ll let you tell her about it herself! She’ll also tell you how to get lost in the New York Public Library, even if you don’t live in New York. Here’s Beth:

My Blood of Earth trilogy has involved extensive, all-consuming levels of research. The first book, Breath of Earth, introduces an alternate history 1906 where the United States and Japan are allied and in the process of dominating mainland Asia. My newly-released second book, Call of Fire, takes my characters from San Francisco and into the Pacific Northwest.

I publish a research bibliography along with each book– which is also available on my website– and have now reached 70 sources, most of those being full books. I live in Arizona, so I can find the obscure books I need at the local library. I prefer paper books for research, as I can add bookmarks and Post-It notes with lists of relevant data. I buy used books as often as possible. Sometimes, though, the titles I want are impossible to find or way too expensive. This is when the internet has come to the rescue.

There are free, legally-available old books available through various sites. Amazon has a number of titles that are free Kindle downloads, though sometimes the formatting can be bizarre. Gutenberg.org is one of the oldest, most famous free book sites. I have found lots of interesting data through Google Books– but not in books, but in old magazines from the 1910s and 1920s. There are full magazines about real airship science! Look up “Aerial Age Weekly.”

However, I want to giddily share with you my new favorite site, one that proved to be a godsend as I worked on my third book in the series earlier this year.

The New York Public Library has scanned over 144,000 old titles and has them available on Archive.org. (Seriously, go there now: https://archive.org/details/newyorkpubliclibrary. I won’t take
offense if you leave. This thing is glorious.)

What sets this site apart if the level of accessibility they have built in. You can flip through a book right on the screen, or choose among 10 download format options. You can grab a book in mobi (Kindle format) or epub (for Nook), or PDF, or full text. What I love about this is that I can conveniently read a book on the Kindle app on my iPad, and if I see a relevant bit of info I want to keep, I can search for it in the text version and easily copy/paste it into the doc files I use for worldbuilding. Mind you, the text files can be garbled sometimes, but the basic meaning still comes across. Many books are available there in multiple editions.

I’m sorry/not sorry if you now lose hours exploring the New York Public Library archive. It’s a wonderful place to procrastinate and work, all at the same time. Just like you might in any good library.


CallofFire_500x332At the end of Breath of Earth, Ingrid Carmichael had barely survived the earthquake that devastated San Francisco and almost crippled her with an influx of geomantic energy. With her friends Cy, Lee, and Fenris, she flees north, keenly aware that they are being pursued by Ambassador Blum, a cunning and dangerous woman who wants to use Ingrid’s abilities as the magical means to a devastating end.

Ingrid’s goals are simple: avoid capture that would cause her to be used as a weapon by the combined forces of the United States and Japan in their war against China, and find out more about the god-like powers she inherited from her estranged father. Most of all, she must avoid seismically active places. She doesn’t know what an intake of power will do to her body– or what damage she may unwillingly create.

A brief stopover in Portland turns disastrous when Lee and Fenris are kidnapped. To find and save her friends, Ingrid must ally with one of the most powerful and mysterious figures in the world: Ambassador Theodore Roosevelt.

Their journey together takes them north to Seattle, where Mount Rainier looms over the city. And Ingrid is all too aware that she may prove to be the fuse to alight both the long-dormant volcano…and a war that will sweep the world.

BethCato-steampunk-headshot100x150Nebula-nominated Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger duology and the new Blood of Earth Trilogy from Harper Voyager. Her newest novel is CALL OF FIRE. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat. Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.


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