DL Fowler's Blog

In Memoriam: Hank Searls 

Posted in Favorite Books, Hank Searls, Inspiration, Intimacy, Show Don't Tell, Sounding by DLFowler on May 14, 2017

I recently learned that one of my favorite authors, Hank Searls, passed away at 94 years old, on February 17, 2017. He was a gifted and prolific writer. You might recall Jaws 2.

I had the privilege of meeting Hank several years ago, and we spent a good hour or more talking about writing.  One of my all-time favorite novels is Sounding, Hank’s story about an aging sperm whale. It has been called the best whale novel since Moby Dick.

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Who is Right?

A recent post in this blog celebrated Abraham Lincoln’s declaration “Right Makes Might.” When I looked at who ‘liked’ that post on Facebook, I was fascinated by the contrasting political and religious opinions of those who gave it a thumbs up. I wondered, how can opposites claim to occupy the same moral high ground?

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Right Makes Might

On February 27, 1860, Abraham Lincoln closed his address at New York City’s Cooper Union with the following words that turned an age old phrase on its head.

Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.

His speech at Cooper Union set him on track to win the Republican nomination for president. The world view he capsulized in this quote is what fueled his greatness.

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Character in Characters

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Those words define what we mean by character. They are words that remind us of  the difference between a leader and a con-man. For writers like me, these words are a guide to crafting characters who inspire readers through stories. Characters with character are more important today, than ever before.

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Why Write Another Book About Lincoln?

I’m often asked that question. With more than 20,000 books written about him, I suppose the question shouldn’t surprise anyone. But my answer might shock you.

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What’s Your Story About?

We are going to be asked, “What is your story about?” There is a three-part answer to that anxiety-inducing question. The short answer is the story’s theme. Another reply is to outline the moral dilemma—a choice between opposing principles that lies at the heart of the Lead’s psychological journey. We can also describe the physical journey that our Lead character pursues. All three answers help focus our writing.

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Lincoln’s Blackouts

Lincoln’s law partner, Herndon, described episodes when he’d find Lincoln sitting in a catatonic state from which he couldn’t be aroused. Often there’d be a book of poetry in his lap.

No one has any idea of what went on in Lincoln’s head during those episodes. He never talked about them.

One possibility is that were flashbacks of an earlier trauma that his body was defending himself against. That happens to people who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Lincoln suffered several traumatic moments early on. At 7 he almost drowned, at 9 he suffered a life-threatening head injury, and months later helped bury his mother, at 10 his father left him and his sister to weather a brutal winter unattended and on the brink of starvation, as a teenager his father beat him often and when he was just past 20 his first love died. Lincoln’s emotional responses to these and other events are explored in Lincoln Raw-a biographical novel.

Maybe his psyche just went into overload from processing flashbacks of too many traumas at once.

Would we let someone with that much emotional baggage be President today?

Lincoln’s Footsteps Part One

My research assistant and I recently set out to trace some of Lincoln’s footsteps during his years in the White House. This post covers highlights of our visits to Richmond VA and Washington DC.

Here’s a pic of the spot on the James River where Lincoln’s boat landed when he arrived in Richmond (accompanied by his son Tad) for his triumphant visit to the Confederacy’s abandoned capital.
  

Here’s the entrance to the Confederate Whitehouse (Jefferson Davis’ home). When young Tad Lincoln stepped across the threshold, it’s likely he sneered at the relatively compact size of the Davis home compared to the spacious Executive Mansion in the nation’s capital.

  

The picture I really wanted was Davis’ desk where Lincoln’s son Tad sat during Lincoln’s triumphant visit, but “no photography please.”
Speaking of pictures, I noticed a portrait of George Washington hanging over Jeff Davis’ mantel and asked if he would have hung it there. The guide replied that both sides of the war revered Washington.
Next we braved a rain storm to make our way to the American Civil War Center. This museum adds an interesting twist. Not only does it give equal treatment to the Northern and Southern perspectives, it gives the same weight to the African point of view (again photography was not allowed). 
Sunday morning we drove down to City Point at the confluence of the Appomattox and James Rivers. Gen. US Grant set up his headquarters here during the final weeks of the war. 

Here’s a photo of the cabin Grant stayed in out on the grounds of the Epps’ plantation so he could be close to his troops, 
  
Instead of staying in the ‘big house’.

  

This is the spot where Lincoln’s boat, the River Queen, docked when the president stayed at the front for two of the war’s three final weeks. One night while sleeping aboard the boat, he dreamt that he had been fatally shot.

  

The massive Union Army presence at City Point must have greatly bolstered Lincoln’s optimism that the war’s end was at hand. 
   
 
On Monday morning we headed to Washington DC for a visit to Lincoln’s Cottage at the Old Soldiers Home where the Lincoln family stayed during the summer months while he was President.

I’m standing outside the gate.
  
Here we met our tour guide Rob. He’s one on the best guides we’ve encountered, and were treated to a treasure trove of insights into Lincoln’s personality. (We also opened the possibility of selling copies of Lincoln Raw in the bookstore there, and Rob agreed to consult with me on scenes in my sequel to Lincoln Raw).
  

The ‘cottage’ was bigger than the Davis residence in Richmond.

  

Unfortunately, inside photos were not allowed, but here are some outside shots.
   
 

A statue reminds us that during summer months, Lincoln often made daily round trips (3 miles each way) on horseback without military escorts. Sometimes he stopped at camps of runaway slaves and joined them in singing spirituals, he always gave poet Walt Whitman a nod as he rode past his home, often he stopped at a military cemetery and wandered alone among the graves.
  

Here are some pictures of the veranda from which he could gaze out over the grounds and at the Capitol.
   
   
  

The cobblestone drainage ditch along the carriage turnaround in front of the cottage. 
  

I suppose it’s only fitting that we should pay a visit to the home where Lincoln died (across the street from Ford Theater).

  

Lincoln suffered from PTSD?

Abe Lincoln was anything but normal in many ways, including behavior that demonstrated hyper-vigilance, suicidal thoughts, exposing himself to mortal dangers, extreme emotional swings, unexpected eruptions, etc.

After almost drowning in a creek at 7 years old, his mother died when he was 9. He sat on her grave during a storm to be sure her body didn’t float up out of the ground. He had a similar reaction a dozen years later when Ann Hathaway, his first (maybe only) true love died.

During the Civil War he sometimes ventured to the front lines and was nearly wounded. Once he stood on the ramparts of a fort, wearing a top hat, giving Rebel soldiers a 7 foot target to shoot at. He even talked about suicide during Cabinet meetings.

Twice as a young man he was on suicide watch. Once he subjected himself to torturous medical treatments that were the equivalent of self mutilation.

All of these behaviors could be symptomatic of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Lincoln Raw-a biographical novel explores the possibility. Read it and decide for yourself.

Exploring Lincoln’s Psychology

Posted in Lincoln, Lincoln Raw, Lincoln's Diary, Lincoln's Psychology, Psychopaths, PTSD, Themes by DLFowler on July 23, 2014

Was Lincoln the most successful white-collar psychopath in American history? His psychology suggests he suffered from personality “disorders” that are common to red-collar psychopaths (violent criminals.) But in his case, those same traits likely enabled his greatest contributions to American society.
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