WellesleyWeston Magazine


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LIBRARY OF CONGRESS books "historical events don't change" President Abraham Lincoln, 1865 War. Bates' book is online free through Project Gutenberg. Years William Martin www.williammartinbooks.com "My sense of how to write a big ago he would have had to go to scene, a big movie-style scene with Washington to read them but lots of cuts and action unfolding now he can read them online comes from the ability to see the from home while working eight whole story through the eyes of one hours a day in his spacious, some- character (in the Lincoln book, the what cluttered yet cozy third-floor fictional Lt. Halsey Hutchinson). study. He doesn't use a research That emerged from my training as a assistant, although he did in the screenwriter. I want this to be like a past and worked as one himself while in college. He has learned where movie running in your head." to find "the good stuff," he says. It works better because he never His books: City of Dreams The Lost Constitution Harvard Yard Citizen Washington Annapolis Cape Cod The Rising of the Moon Nerve Endings Back Bay "Many presidents show up in knows what will emerge. One example was his discovering that in the my novels," Martin says. "One of 1860s, black men in Washington were required to tip their hats to my goals is to humanize them. white men in the street, it being, of course, a southern city. That fact They all had foibles, human weak- became pivotal in The Lincoln Letter narrative. nesses, tragedies they had to endure, His books have what he considers the essentials —"narrative veloc- and you need to appreciate that before we made them into gods, ity," or forward momentum, characters whose moral evolution is "the they were men." heart of all storytelling," and a vivid sense of place — that which brings "We know that as a young man Lincoln experienced periods of clin- a city to life. ical depression," he continued. "I wanted to show you another Lincoln, "I want you to feel the mud beneath your boots and hear the floors the one who would say to a friend during the Civil War, 'If not for creak," he says. "Narrative for me emerges from the setting. It comes these funny stories, I would go crazy.' He used those stories to fend off from my growing up in Boston where everywhere you turned you the dark shadows that were always around him." heard about such-and-such happening in that spot. Settings carry the Martin used Lincoln's own tales to get readers close to the real man. ghosts of history for me. I'm respectful of the facts but the story comes Many were recounted in Lincoln in the Telegraph Office: Recollections of first. My rule is that historical characters don't do or say what wouldn't the United States Military Corps During the Civil War (1907) by David have been said at the time and actual historical events don't change." So what's best about being a novelist? I wanted to know. Is it the where Lincoln came nightly to pick up decoded telegrams from his We l l e s l e y We s t o n M a g a z i n e | s u m m e r 2 0 1 3 Homer Bates, an actual cipher operator in the army telegraph office moment you've hit on a great story idea? The research? The writing generals at the front. Elsewhere, Martin discovered that, during their itself? Press interviews and marketing? White House years, Lincoln told his wife when he left the presidency he wanted to see California. The Library of Congress has made available online nearly every edition of the Washington Daily Republican published during the Civil 174 "Actually," said Martin, "it's after the book is completed, the giveand-take with an audience about ideas. And what I learn while working on the book. In this case, it was better understanding the true breadth and depth of issues around race in America."

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