1. Mr. Stewart, thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed for my blog. Your new book THE LINCOLN DECEPTION came out on August 27. Tell us a bit more about this book.
Principally, it’s a mystery about untangling the conspiracy that led to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and planned attacks on the senior officials of his government. It takes place in 1900, and jumps off from an account of the death of John Bingham, who was the lead prosecutor of eight co-conspirators of John Wilkes Booth back in 1865. On his deathbed, Bingham said he learned a terrible secret during the trial, one he concealed for fear it would destroy the republic. In The Lincoln Deception, his doctor, Jamie Fraser, becomes obsessed with unearthing that secret and sets out to investigate the assassination conspiracy. He’s joined on this quest by a character, inspired by another true-life figure, who was the last black player in major league baseball between the 1880s and 1947.
In addition to being a mystery/thriller, the book also explores unanswered questions about the Booth Conspiracy – of all our presidential assassinations, the only one we know was a conspiracy. People rarely ask any more, however, WHY it happened, and who might have been behind it? Those are fascinating questions.
2. How much of what your write about Lincoln and his life is fiction and how much is fact?
There’s a great saying that in historical fiction you can make up a lot, but Lincoln has to be tall. I carefully researched the dozen or so historical figures who appear in the story, to ensure that they are plausible versions of the real thing. And I made up none of the clues and loose ends about the Booth Conspiracy that make it so intriguing. The adventures and dangers encountered by Jamie Fraser and Speed Cook were fictional. And when it came to what John Bingham’s secret was, I made that part up, too.
3. What kind of research did you do for THE LINCOLN DECEPTION?
I read a great deal about the Booth Conspiracy. Several recent studies have questioned the dominant thesis that Booth dreamed up the assassination all on his own.
I also researched the era of 1900, when the story takes place. It was a difficult time in America – we were becoming an imperial power after the Spanish-American War, fighting to suppress an Asian insurgency in the Philippines. Race relations were at a real flash point as the nation reached the peak of its suppression of African-Americans through segregation, Jim Crow laws, and mob violence. I also made a point of reading fiction written from the era (Frank Norris, Upton Sinclair, Edith Wharton) to get a sharper sense of how people then spoke and used written language.
4. Why do you write? Why try your hand at historical mysteries?
I write because I love to explore stories about people – real ones and imagined ones. We read to broaden our lives beyond the patch of earth and sliver of time we happen to inhabit. For me, writing is simply a far more elaborate effort to do the same thing.
I’ve always loved historical mysteries. One of my favorites is Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time, which questions whether King Richard III of England really had the little princes strangled in the Tower of London. Specifically, The Lincoln Deception happened because I discovered the report of John Bingham’s electrifying deathbed disclosure and realized that only a fictional treatment could explore what secret he took to his grave.
5. A word of advice for new writers?
Keep writing and reading. It’s the only way to get better.
6. What are your writing habits? How long does it take you to research and write a novel?
I write whenever I can. I also still practice law a bit, and am president of an online book review, The Washington Independent Review of Books, so there are lots of distractions. But ideas strike at any time of the day or night, and I try to get them down as soon as possible.
It’s hard to say how long a novel takes to write. I walked around with The Lincoln Deception in my mind for a couple of years. When I finally sat down to write the thing, it took about seven months. So, somewhere between seven and thirty-one months.
7. What are your favorite pastimes?
Writing (sorry, but it’s true), cycling, traveling with my wife,catching up with my kids, and now a new granddaughter!
8. What do you like to read and what are you reading at the moment?
I have pretty eclectic tastes and tend to read a number of books at once. At the moment, I’m reading The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Kenneally, a novel about nurses during World War I, and Daniel Stashower’s Hour of Peril, about the plot to kill Lincoln in 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War.
9. What is your next book going to be about?
I will write a sequel to The Lincoln Deception, which will bring Jamie Fraser and Speed Cook to Paris during the Peace Conference in 1919, at the end of World War I, where they will collide with fresh mysteries.
Before I can do that, I have to finish a non-fiction exploration of the personality and career of James Madison, which is tentatively titled The Great Little Madison. Madison is a terribly important historical figure who often gets rather short shrift, perhaps because he was short. I’m examining five critical partnerships in his life: with Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and (of course) Dolley.
10. What can readers hope to find in THE LINCOLN DECEPTION?
Intriguing characters trying to figure out a compelling mystery, while struggling with dangerous and secretive opponents, in a fascinating time.
Or so I hope!