DL Fowler's Blog

Lincoln’s Cosmopsis and My Tribute to John Barth

Don’t bother looking it up. Cosmopsis isn’t likely in your dictionary. John Barth used (probably invented) the term in his 1958 controversial novel, The End of the Road. The image of Jacob Horner, Barth’s main character, sitting on a train station bench all night has stuck with me since my college days – yes, they had trains before I entered USC.

What was Horner’s problem? He was paralyzed by indecision. He had $30 with which to buy a train ticket and couldn’t find a reason to visit any of the available destinations.

No. That doesn’t parallel anything we know about Abraham Lincoln. Not the indecision, that is. But the paralysis, yes.  Many of Lincoln’s contemporaries describe episodes like the one his law partner William Herndon recounted. Lincoln sitting in a chair in their law office one morning, staring into the cosmos, disconnected from the reality around him.  Herndon couldn’t shake him out of his trance. Two hours later, Lincoln kicked one leg straight out then crossed it over his other leg and launched into telling a raunchy story as if the previous two hours never happened.

(more…)

Advertisements

Lincoln Trivia #20

Posted in Lincoln, Lincoln Trivia, Lincoln's Diary, My Books, PTSD, Research by DLFowler on March 7, 2011

As I travel the country in coming months, promoting my new book, Lincoln’s Diary – a novel, I’ll be engaging readers with some tidbits about the real Abraham Lincoln. Focusing on some thngs they never told us in school. There will even be prizes for people who invest in some research to answer the trivia questions on my website.

So here’s some help on your research, one of the questions – and the answer:

Which former US Presidents did Lincoln most dislike? (Dislike is putting it mildly.)

(more…)

I Believe In …

By the way, the opposite of belief isn’t logic, it’s disbelief.   Reasoning is what we do to fortify our beliefs. 

A friend of mine (we’ll call  him John because that’s his real name, and since I know so many people named John no one will know who I’m talking about) – anyway, he told me “Human beings are not rational, we’re rationalizers.”

While I was doing research for my novel, Lincoln’s Diary, I discovered that Abe Lincoln was great at rationalizing. My favorite example was his reply to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who complained the Emancipation Proclamation was unconstitutional. Lincoln replied that it  certainly was constitutional since, as commander-in-chief, he had the constitutional authority to appropriate enemy property to advance the war effort. But if slaves weren’t property, the Proclamation didn’t do anything, so it didn’t violate the Constitution. 

(more…)

Fourth Random Installment – Lincoln’s Diary

Posted in Kindle, Lincoln's Diary, Lincoln's Melancholy, Nook, Print Edition, Reading by DLFowler on February 26, 2011

As Sarah coaxed the door open just a crack, she stiffened her resolve and squinted into the dimness, inhaling a whiff of stale, dusty air. She opened the door a bit wider and scanned for hiding places, shadows along the corners of stacked boxes or abandoned furniture. She even studied silhouetted edges of support posts, anywhere Mom could be lurking, ready to chastise her when she stepped across the threshold. Scratchy recordings of Mom’s scoldings echoed in her head.   Sarah always cringed at Mom’s voice telling her “No” for venturing up to the attic or for demanding the truth that was owed her. But of course, Mom wouldn’t be up there this time; Mom was dead.

One step across the threshold, Sarah opened her eyes wide, taking in everything at once. A few boxes next to the wardrobe caught her attention. She edged toward them and lifted the lid from the box on top of the stack; it was full of Grandma Cassie’s things. A dusty picture caught her attention and made her smile. The photograph showed her leaning playfully into Grandma’s side. Mom stood stiffly, half an arm’s length away from them.

Sarah couldn’t remember who snapped the photo, but she remembered the occasion.  It would have been her fourteenth birthday, the only time she got to wear that necklace. Mom yanked it off her neck the next morning when she finally noticed it. Mom was sure a boy had given it to her, and she was right. His name was Nick.

(more…)

Another Excerpt from Lincoln’s Diary – a novel

Posted in Kindle, Lincoln's Diary, My Books, Nook, Show Don't Tell, Writing by DLFowler on February 21, 2011

Sarah took steady breaths as she walked down Cordova, a wide, lighted street lined with trees, bungalows, box houses and low-rise apartment buildings.  Interior lights filtered out of several windows, meaning at least a few people were still up. They’d be able to hear her screams if she got into deep trouble. Her pace slowed and her heart pumped faster as she remembered stories about people getting mugged in broad daylight, surrounded by diffident bystanders. So there was no guarantee anyone would help her. She scanned the shadows for anything that didn’t belong.

At the Chester Avenue intersection, her heart went into overdrive. It was a narrow lane with no streetlights.  The trees that bordered both sidewalks arched toward the middle of the street, creating the illusion of a vortex that led into another world. All she needed was for the black-cloaked Lincoln aficionados to pop out of the darkness and start chasing her.

A short distance past the tennis courts she craned her neck and peeked between rows of shrubs that framed the opening of a path into the park. She could hear her heart pounding inside her chest as she stepped back, calculating her approach.  Out of the corner of her eye she noticed a second path veering off just a few yards further down the sidewalk. She took slow, deep breaths and edged her way in its direction.  No more than five yards down that path she could see the bench she was told to look for. It was in plain sight, even in the darkness.  She clutched her bag close to her side and hesitated. Was her stalker close enough that he, too, could hear her heart thumping?

(more…)

Strong Female Characters

Posted in Characters, Lincoln's Diary, My Books by DLFowler on February 11, 2011

As I created Sarah Sue Morgan for LINCOLN’S DIARY – A NOVEL I hoped she’d become a strong female character. One of my readers called her a “female MacGyver.” Hopefully, that means I came close to the mark.  But since my next novel includes a female protagonist, I decided to do some additional research on the subject.

I think I struck pay dirt when I came across an article on  overthinkingit.com.  The flowchart probably overthinks the question a little, but the trail that runs along the top of the graphic provides a pretty good recipe for creating strong female characters. All you have to do is answer the following questions in the affirmative. Let’s see how Sarah scores.

  • Can she carry her own story? [check]
  • Is she three dimensional? [more concrete – does she have internal conflict? check]
  • Is she more than a flag bearer for an idea? [check]
  • Does she have any flaws? [and we’re talking ditz here … check]
  • Does she survive the second act? [check]

Bingo! She’s a strong female character. 

Of course that’s how I see it. The trick is making her live that way on the printed page.  If you take the time to check her out, please let me know if I hit the mark.

Lincoln’s Psychology Behind the Emancipation Proclamation

Posted in Lincoln, Lincoln's Psychology, Research by DLFowler on February 8, 2011

Danny Jacobson from Vancouver, WA emailed me with a question about Lincoln’s motivation for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. He’s working on a documentary that argues that the purpose of the Proclamation was not to free slaves but to preserve the Union. 

The short answer is either both or neither, but not one or the other.

I haven’t read everything there is on the subject, but my sense is that Lincoln did not see a difference between preserving the Union and freeing slaves. The evidence for that lies in Lincoln’s psychology as well as the cultural/political realities of his time. In his mind, he had woven slavery and preservation of the Union into a single issue.

His psychology would not permit him to be at peace with the idea of slavery. Lincoln’s first encounter with slaves was when he was about 20 years old. He took a trip down the Mississippi River and observed African slaves being beaten by their overseers. He had immediate empathy for the slaves, because he was beaten frequently by his father in the fields of their Illinois farm. Lincoln hated labor, preferring reading instead, and when he was caught slacking, Tom Lincoln thrashed him severely. Lincoln perceived no difference between himself and the slaves.

Three bits of trivia from Lincoln’s life can help spotlight the effect his father’s beatings had on his psychology. The most poignant was his reaction to the news of his father’s death. He dismissed the messenger without comment and went right back to work. He did not attend the funeral. He and his father were estranged for the bulk of Lincoln’s adult life. 

Another insight comes from Lincoln’s declaration that he was a slave and the son of a slave. Though he never excused his father’s severity, he understood that Tom Lincoln was shackled to a life as a subsistence farmer, and that condition made Lincoln’s service in the fields a necessity. Lincoln berated Jeffersonian and Jacksonian ideals, claiming they had enslaved most Americans to a subsistence lifestyle. As a result, he fought to undo every political accomplishment of both men.

Furthermore, Lincoln made every effort to circumvent labor. He still holds the distinction as the only US President ever to hold a patent in his name. In addition, his political career was laced with efforts to promote technology and advances in transportation.

So the idea that his psychology was strongly anti-slavery is indisputable.

But what about his dedication to preserving the Union?

On that score his motivation was only partly about slavery. His personal psychology was steeped in a hell-fire of personal loss. From his mother’s death, to nearly starving, if not freezing, to death when his father left for months to court a new wife, to the loss of his first love, to his estrangement from his father, to his separation from his companion Joshua Speed, to a loveless marriage, to the loss of two of his four sons during his lifetime, Lincoln had a clear obsession with holding relationships together. That fact was reflected in his choices for key appointments. It was easier to get a job in the Lincoln administration if you were his enemy than it was if you were his friend.

 But preservation of the Union was also key to ending slavery in the civilized world. The United States was the last civilized country to end human slavery and our approach to slavery was thought to be one of the cruelest to that point in human history. If the country split up, Lincoln and his abolitionist supporters would have no influence over the Confederacy and their timeline for ending slavery.

Abolition played a central role in Lincoln’s political ambitions. He retired from politics in 1854, returning to law practice, because he was convinced that the Missouri Compromise was secure and he had reconciled himself to the idea that stopping the spread of slavery was all that would be accomplished in his lifetime.

 But by the end of the decade, Stephen Douglas led a coalition that successfully repealed the Missouri Compromise. An all out race was soon underway to spread slavery into Kansas, Nebraska and the West. Lincoln was livid and re-entered politics with a fury.

Lincoln’s passionate opposition to slavery spawned two of his cleverest legal arguments. The first was his insistence that the Declaration of Independence was the supreme law of the land. He declared that the Constitution was unenforceable where it contradicted the principles articulated by our founders in the 1776 document. Specifically, he objected to the principle of States Rights as set forth in the Tenth Amendment. According to Lincoln, the Tenth Amendment was an “invention of the devil” which “only existed to preserve the insidious institution of slavery.”

 His other legal argument came in defense of the Emancipation Proclamation and gives us an idea of what he intended for it to accomplish.

It’s important to note that the Proclamation only freed slaves in the secessionist states. That’s why it drew a great deal of criticism from abolitionists. Lincoln’s angle was that the Proclamation appropriated enemy property in furtherance of the war effort. When the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (his own appointee) complained the Proclamation was unconstitutional, Lincoln replied that the Constitution granted him the power as Commander-in-Chief to appropriate enemy property. However if the Court chose to take the position that the slaves weren’t property, then slavery was illegal and the war was moot.

How Would Lincoln Have Scored on Myers-Briggs?

For you Myers-Briggs fans, I’m trying to pigeonhole Abraham Lincoln’s personality type ala Carl Jung’s perspective. If you’re not up to speed on Jung’s personality types and the Myers Briggs Type Indicators, click here. By the way, the best book I’ve read on Lincoln was Lincoln’s Melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk. I would have enjoyed his insight into this subject, but its’ something he didn’t address directly.

 In my research, I’ve seen three takes on the question. ENFJ, INTJ and INFJ.  Okay, so the N and J are solid. There’s agreement that Lincoln gave greater weight to ideas that to things he could touch and feel – that’s the N part. And he was decisive – that’s where the J comes in. The controversy is over whether he was an introvert or extrovert and if his decisions were driven by logic or relationships.

 And this is where it gets messy.

 If Lincoln was introverted, he would have tended to mask his weakest strong trait. So he would have shown his thinking skills to hide his sensitivity to relationship issues, or he would have focused attention on relationship issues so he didn’t have to expose his logic to criticism. If he was extroverted, that kind of masking wouldn’t have fit.

 Since Lincoln was renowned for his debating skills, his almost faultless logic, ENFJ seems to drop to the back of the pack in this three-horse race. And by default, INFJ would move into the lead.

A couple of observations add weight to the introversion argument. First, he withdrew inside himself frequently. So much so at times that he could block out all sensory stimuli. His associates couldn’t even shake him out of his trance-like states. He also brooded often, sometimes spiraling into near-suicidal episodes of depression.

And the masking of F with T may have been one of his most practiced skills. So much so that he never shrank from a debate, even surrounding himself with critics. He appointed one such detractor to the Supreme Court as Chief Justice. When his appointee argued that the Emancipation Proclamation was unconstitutional Lincoln argued that he had power as Commander-in-Chief to appropriate enemy property to advance the war effort. But if slaves weren’t property, no emancipation was necessary. The slaves were already free.

When his adversaries pointed to the Tenth Amendment to justify deferring to the various states to settle the slavery issue for themselves, Lincoln countered that the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution, was the higher law. Therefore, no part of the Constitution could be used to give authority to the institution of slavery.

 Notice that in each case the primary motivator for Lincoln’s decision based on human relationships – specifically the humane treatment of enslaved people. The logic was used means to an end, not the end in itself.

 Lincoln’s struggle with relationships was the common thread running through his entire life. From his mother’s death to surviving a brutal winter with his sister during his father’s absence – from the loss of his first love to his heartbreaking marriage – from being estranged from his father to losing two of his sons – and the loss of several family members in the war that he was often accused of starting – his live was defined by broken unions that he was impotent to save.

 So what kind of person was Abraham Lincoln? An extrovert? An introvert? A man who made decisions based on how they impacted people’s lives and relationships. Or someone who towed the line of facts and logic, regardless of where they led?

 What do you think?

Excerpt from Lincoln’s Diary – a novel

Posted in Kindle, Lincoln's Diary, My Books, Nook, Writing by DLFowler on February 5, 2011

Here’s the first page of Chapter One.

Chapter One

Wicomico County, Maryland, October 13, 2010

Sarah closed her eyes and cupped the rickety glass doorknob. Her breath stalled and the knot in her stomach drew tighter. The truth about her father and grandfather had to be stashed somewhere in that old attic.

Grandma Cassie always sidestepped questions about the missing men in Sarah’s life with “Both you and your mother were immaculate conceptions.” And Grandma’s myth got more mileage than the ones about the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Sarah clung to Grandma’s story at least until she learned what ‘immaculate conception’ meant. Her enlightenment came about the time she panicked over the blood on her underwear.

Now, at thirty-something, she didn’t question, anymore, whether they’d existed. She was after the truth about who they were.  It didn’t occur to her that the truth could hurt. Or that sometimes it killed.

The sound of a car door shutting on the driveway snagged her attention. Her eyes narrowed. Why hadn’t she heard the car coming up the magnolia lined asphalt? She cocked her head and brushed a handful of ebony curls away from her ear, focusing on the footsteps that creaked up onto the front porch. Had it slipped her mind that someone would be stopping by? That was unlikely; there was no extended family, and she kept her handful of friends at a safe distance.

Sarah lingered for a moment at the attic door, but hopes the visitor would go away were driven back by persistent knocking. So she turned and headed downstairs to assess the hazy figure who was peering through the screen door. Along the way, she snagged the lacrosse stick she’d left by the post at the end of the banister.

I Feel Like Being a Tease

Posted in Lincoln, Lincoln's Diary, Prologues by DLFowler on February 4, 2011

Below is the prologue to Lincoln’s Diary – a novel.  Tomorrow another excerpt.

Prologue

 “As God is my judge, I believe if I had been in the city, it would not have happened…” US Marshall – District of Columbia, Col. Ward Hill Lamon.

 Martinsburg, West Virginia, May 7, 1893

 Col. Lamon drew shallow, raspy breaths as he lay near death. He clutched President Lincoln’s private diary to his chest. He had not opened it, even once, since the President delivered it to him just before the assassination. Only Lincoln knew what it contained, and he never intended for its entries to live on after he was gone.

With the taste of death filling his nostrils, Lamon arched his back and wheezed as he fought to expel his final instruction — to keep the diary safe.

“You need to rest now, Father.”  Dolly wanted him to be comfortable in his final moments.

Lamon reached for her arm. His eyes bulged as if his words would force their escape by any conceivable means.

President Lincoln’s friend and bodyguard carried two measures of guilt to the precipice of eternity. He had disobeyed Lincoln’s order to destroy the diary, a failure he tried to excuse by complaining it was all he had left of his friend. On the other hand he lamented obeying Lincoln’s directive to travel to Richmond despite numerous threats against the president’s life.  By doing so he was absent from the Capitol on the fatal night of April 14. And Lamon berated himself for the remainder of his days. “As God is my judge, I believe if I had been in the city, it would not have happened.”

When Col. Ward Hill Lamon’s last breath slipped away, his final instructions dissolved behind his lips.

After kissing her father on his forehead, Dolly pried the diary from his grip and whispered, “I love you.”