Category Archives: Author & Literary Trivia

Lincoln & Speed Mystery Series Author Releases Latest Novel

Lincoln scholar Jonathan F. Putnam has just released his newest Lincoln & Speed mystery novel, A HOUSE DIVIDED, available for order today.

Set in Springfield, Illinois, during Lincoln’s time as a frontier trial lawyer, the series has already captured the imagination of mystery fans and history buffs alike, including Doris Kearns Goodwin.

The novel retells the story of the greatest unsolved murder mystery from Lincoln’s actual law practice, a case in which a man accused his two brothers of murder, even though the corpse was nowhere to be found.  Of the real-life legal case that inspired the mystery story, Lincoln later wrote, “It may well be doubted whether a stranger affair ever really occurred.”

A HOUSE DIVIDED also marks the appearance of a beautiful, intelligent young woman named Mary Todd.  Few figures in American history are as misunderstood as Lincoln’s future bride and First Lady.

Below, he shares with The Writing Well his writing process for his latest book,

Q. What inspired you to feature Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed, a close friend from his Springfield, IL days, in your historical mystery series?

As a long-trial trail lawyer (for a large New York City law firm) and lover of history, I was fascinated by the young Abraham Lincoln in the period of his life when he was just starting out as a trial lawyer on the frontier, in Springfield, IL, long before he became a famous politician. Then I learned that he shared living quarters for four years with a well-born Southerner named Joshua Speed, who had come from a wealthy, slave-owning family in Louisville. The two men, I discovered, became close lifelong friends. I realized I could tell the story of young Lincoln through the eyes of his best friend Speed.

Q. What kind of readers does your series attract? How do you reach them?

Hopefully anyone who enjoys an entertaining murder mystery with a dollop of real-life history. As you know, I do a lot of in-person book talks at historical societies, libraries, bookstores and the like. I love sharing my passion for history and the relatively unknown time period of the American frontier in the 1830s.

Q. Having attended your author talk in Lawrenceville, GA, I know you painstakingly research your time period to make your stories come alive with history. What is your research process?

I try to do as much original research as possible in order to bring to life the frontier and this time period in Lincoln’s history. I’ve done research at the Lincoln presidential library, the Speed family estate (Farmington, now a historic site), and the Mary Todd Lincoln House in Lexington, Kentucky. I’ve visited all of the locations around the Midwest where my books are set. I’ve tracked down dozens of travel diaries from the period, where visitors to the frontier recorded their observations about how the area looked, smelled, tasted, etc. I’ve spent countless hours looking through the records of Lincoln’s actual legal cases in order to pick out ones on which to base my mysteries. I’ve also read many, many non-fiction books about Lincoln.

Q. What was the most interesting kernel of history that you uncovered in your research into the courtship of Lincoln and Mary Todd, the subject of your latest book? Do you think history has been kind to the Lincolns or accurate?

In my new book, A HOUSE DIVIDED, a big part of the story revolves around Mary Todd, who shows up in the book, as she did in real life, in Springfield in late 1839, having moved in with one of her elder sisters, Elizabeth. In my story, as in real life, Mary is a huge hit in Springfield as a whip-smart, beautiful, and highly political young woman. (This latter point was particularly important, as Springfield was the new state capital at the time.) Mary had a great many suitors, including both Lincoln and Speed. In the book, we see the two men fight over her hand even as she helps them uncover essential clues toward solving the murder mystery.

Mary Todd Lincoln

As I did my research for the book, I came to realize what an unfair reputation Mary has in history. While Lincoln is one of our most beloved presidents, Mary is one of our least popular first ladies. But the Mary Todd who appeared in Springfield in 1839, and shows up in my book, is a complete stranger to her historical reputation. In fact, in real life, Mary’s family was strongly opposed to any potential match with Lincoln on the basis that he was unmannered and without prospects. (Mary, by contrast, had come from a prominent Kentucky family; her father, Robert Todd, was president of the Kentucky State Bank.) Mary herself was in no hurry to get married, although this had less to do, I think, with Lincoln specifically than with the fact that married women at the time had very few legal rights or options. Well-to-do young women — that is, women who did not have to marry for financial reasons — tended to put off marriage for as long as they could.

Q. What can you tell us about your writing and editing process? What is the most challenging aspect of going from idea to a publish-ready novel?

I am pretty disciplined about writing five days a week. I don’t have a set word count per day or anything like that — if I have a few good hours of writing in the morning and a few more in the afternoon I consider it a successful day, whether I’ve advanced the manuscript 500 words or 1500. I heard someone say at a writers conference recently that skipping one day of writing means missing an opportunity for a small break-through, and skipping two in a row means missing the opportunity for a large one. I think that’s a great way to think about the process.

It usually takes me about a year to write a book. I have four long-time readers (two men and two women) who have very graciously agreed to read drafts of each of my novels and give me their feedback. They are invaluable to me. Also, my wife, Christin, is the first and last reader of every word I write. It’s a difficult position for her, giving me substantive input while still being supportive of the creative process (and divining which of those I need at any given moment!), but she’s very good at both parts of it. Which is why we’ve been married for so long, I guess!

Usually I start out knowing how a story begins and with some sense of how it ends. It takes me a while to figure out the path from A to Z. And then takes me even longer to realize that that initial path doesn’t work and I need a different one.

Q. How has your writing changed from when you began four books ago to where you are today?

Hopefully I’m a much better writer! Certainly I feel like my storytelling has improved with each book. And I’m much quicker now to realize when an element (character, plot point, surprise, etc.) is not going to work with the rest of the story and to change course, rather than becoming committed to the idea, and spending a lot of time on it, before realizing I need to change it.Many attorneys become successful authors.

Q. How has your legal background helped you embark on a career as an author?

As a trial lawyer my essential job was to tell stories to the judge and jury. I took the available facts and shaped them into a narrative that was as favorable as possible for my client. I’m still a storyteller, but now rather than telling my clients’ stories I tell my own. Also, my background as a trial lawyer gives me insight into Lincoln as a lawyer and definitely informs my courtroom scenes where we see him stand up and argue for the lives of his clients.

Q. Any tips for first-time authors — on how to make their stories believable and engaging?

I honestly wouldn’t worry about the ‘believable’ part – readers are very willing to suspend disbelief in order to get lost in a good story. We need to make an emotional connection with your story — either your characters or the stakes (or, ideally, both). We have to care about them, just as we care about people and issues in real life.

About the Author

Jonathan F. Putnam is a writer and attorney. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, he is a nationally renowned trial lawyer and a recognized Lincoln scholar. The books in his Lincoln & Speed Mystery series include A House Divided (July 2019); Final Resting Place (2018); Perish from the Earth (2017); and These Honored Dead (2016).  Jonathan has given lectures about Lincoln to historical societies, libraries, schools, civic organizations, and lawyer groups around the country. 

Find out more at Follow Jonathan on Twitter at @Speed_Lincoln; Jonathan F. Putnam, Author on Facebook; and @jonathanfputnam on Instagram.

The Odds Are In Your Favor with the Final Hunger Games


Today, The Writing Well features a movie review of the final Hunger Games’ movie, Mockingjay – Part 2, which opened over the weekend with an estimated $101 million in North America and $146 million internationally.  The post, written by Chicago-based blogger and movie buff Spencer Blohm, is a must-read for anyone who is a fan of Suzanne Collins’ blockbuster books and the film adaptations.  I last wrote about this film after a Dragon*Con YA panel that explored whether the first film delivered the goods given the huge popularity of the books.

Spencer tells Spencer_HeadShotme he is a lifelong movie lover and wishes it were possible to time travel back to the golden era of Hollywood cinema and meet Judy Garland — though Jennifer Lawrence would be “pretty cool, too.” Take it away, Spencer!

 * * * * * * * * *


For the past three years, no dystopian film franchise has garnered more audience and critical praise than The Hunger Games series. It blends all the aspects of action, science fiction, political commentary and romance that young audiences crave while giving viewers a grim reminder of what a corrupt society can do to the world. Although the end of this film series is bittersweet, Katniss Everdeen’s saga goes out with a bang in Mockingjay – Part 2.


The eponymous first book, written by Suzanne Collins, has flown off shelves since its debut in 2008, and the sequels, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, were both instant bestsellers. The trilogy revolves around teenage Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and the Districts of Panem, which are under the tight rule of the vindictive President Snow (Donald Sutherland), and the vicious Hunger Games, which sacrifice innocent children supposedly in the name of unity. While the first two films put Katniss in the arena to fight for her and her sort-of love interest Peeta’s (Josh Hutcherson) lives, the final two installments focus on the downfall of the corrupt society and the ways Katniss must change and fight for a better world. Before you see the newest film, you can catch up on the three previous installments on cable TV and Hulu.


The films in the franchise have become progressively more intense with each installment, much like the books. As Katniss grows from an unlucky adolescent to a true revolutionary, she’s burdened with her own morality and grittier ethical decisions. Mockingjay – Part 2 doesn’t hold back from the heartbreaking events of the final novel, edging it away from teen flick to a political and thought-provoking action/adventure film. Although still a teenager in the final installment, Katniss has grown into a powerful symbol of courage and sacrifice — all while remaining flawed and inarguably human.

KatnissDespite Lawrence’s acting capabilities, it is apparent she’s worn Katniss for just about as long as she can. Lawrence has simply outgrown the role, which shows onscreen. She has evolved into an Oscar-winning actress since the first Hunger Games film, and the young adult novel series just isn’t her platform anymore. But just because the role is a bit stale doesn’t mean the movie is a dud. In fact, it’s an explosive send-off to a beloved film series. The emotional climax is performed perfectly, and fan favorite roles (including Elizabeth Banks‘ flamboyant Effie Trinket and Woody Harrelson‘s sardonic Haymitch Abernathy) get their chance to shine before the series ends. This film also showcases the talent of several generations of actresses. Julianne Moore stuns as the icy Alma Coin and Game of ThronesGwendoline Christie appears as one of the only new characters to come into the last film.


The influence of the Hunger Games films have reached far past theater screens, and they inhabit a vital place in YA and dystopian film history. The series did not necessarily need to be drawn out for four movies instead of three (a common Hollywood device), and the leading lady can definitely benefit from hanging up her bow and arrows, but luckily, this last film is sure to leave a lasting impact on fans and newcomers alike.

Combating the Darkness: Inside the Writing Process of Multi-Bram Stroker Award Winner Jonathan Maberry

Jonathan Maberry

Jonathan Maberry

There are few horror writers out there today as prolific as New York Times’ bestselling author  Jonathan Maberry, who won the Bram Stoker Award for his first horror novel, Ghost Road Blues, in 2007, and has gone on to receive horror fiction’s most prized honor three additional times. As I write this post, he is nearing completion of his 25th novel.

A multi-dimensional writing talent, Maberry is known not only for his adult novels such as Dead of Night and Patient Zero, but also for his comic books and his YA books. ROT & RUIN, a SciFi novel set in post-zombie-apocalypse and told through the eyes of 15-year-old Benny Imura, made it on Booklist’s Top 10 Horror fiction for Youth in 2011 and is now in development for film.

Maberry is a busy guy  but not too busy to make time to share his writing journey DragonConLogowith other aspiring authors. At this year’s Dragon*Con convention in Atlanta, I had the privilege to hear him speak on two author panels and included some of his more memorable soundbites on my DragonCon wrap-up blog post.

Dead of Night Book OneA week before Halloween, while in the throes of reading book one of Maberry’s Dead of Night series, I asked him to be featured on The Writing Well. He not only agreed, but he also responded to my questions within a few hours  the day before a major trip.  That says it all.

Here’s our Q&A about his journey as a writer — sit back with your favorite Halloween brew and enjoy!


THE WRITING WELL: What drew you as a writer to the dark themes that are prevalent in your novels, especially the zombie-apocalypse?


JONATHAN MABERRY: I know monsters firsthand. I was raised in an intensely abusive household and in a very violent and very poor neighborhood in Philadelphia. My father was a

Beloved and wacky Harry Potter character, Luna Lovegood.

Wacky Harry Potter character, Luna Lovegood.

genuine monster. A couple of things cast a little light into that darkness. My grandmother (imagine Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter movies as an old lady) was very knowledgeable about folklore, myths and legends, mostly from Europe. She gave me many books to read, told me wonderfully creepy stories, and encouraged me to imagine the endings to the folk tales she’d tell. And my middle school librarian encouraged me to read science fiction, fantasy and horror. She knew I wanted to write and my stories tended toward the dark. She was also the secretary for a couple of clubs of professional writers, and so was able to introduce me to some of the members. They included Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison and others. Those writers, especially Bradbury and Matheson, took me under their wings, offered advice and critiques of my stories, and they encouraged me to read even deeper.

However one thing to note is that I don’t write about monsters. I write about people who confront monsters. I don’t write about darkness. I write about people who combat darkness. The difference is significant.

THE WRITING WELL: Why do you think that genre is so compelling to people (as evident by the phenomenal success of “The Walking Dead”?

JONATHAN MABERRY: We are all afraid of something, even the bravest of us. I’m now a big man and I’ve been studying martial arts for over fifty years. I’m an 8th degree black belt in jujutsu, a member of the international martial arts hall of fame, and a former professional bodyguard. I’m not afraid of, say, a maniac with a knife, but that doesn’t mean I’m free from fear. I fear diseases, mishandled technologies, religious extremism, and so on. Things that are too big (or, in the case of pathogens, too small) for me to fight. Those are things that I can’t defend my family against. We all understand fear.

Horror fiction allows us to explore extreme cases of fear. Zombies are a perfect example of that. We see the zombie outbreak in books, TV, comics and movies and we wonder how we would survive. Could we, in fact, survive? Could we keep our families safe? Could we fight back and win? This same what-if thinking flows over into stories about vampires, werewolves, pernicious spirits, and so on. We walk through the shadows of fictional horror carrying a torch of our own optimism and imagination.

Shows like “The Walking Dead” are not about zombies. They are about people trying to rebuild their lives after catastrophic damage. The title of the show, by the way, does not refer to the zombies. Robert Kirkman has been quite eloquent in explaining that Rick, Daryl and the others are the ‘walking dead’. The lives they once lived have ended and they are searching for a new place to be alive again. Fiction allows us to share that journey and apply much of it to our own lives.


THE WRITING WELL: How would you describe your writing process?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I am a methodical writer. I’m deeply passionate about the craft of writing and I love the business aspects as well. It’s both my job and my calling. Since it is my job, I put in the hours. I write every day. I hit my deadlines. I expand my business by developing new stories, I manage my own social media (I do ten minutes of social media every hour of my writing day), and I devote time to cultivating and supporting other writers.


On a typical workday I spend two to four hours each morning, usually working at a coffee shop. Then I hit the gym or go for a long walk with the dog. In the afternoon I return home and do another four hours in my office there. I try to write 3-4 thousand words per day. A bit less if I’m traveling, at a convention, or giving a talk. More if I’m closing in on a deadline. This year I’ll have written four and a half novels, twenty-two short stories, a dozen issues of comic books, and appeared at thirty-one events.


THE WRITING WELL: Do you write first from a character or a plot premise? 


JONATHAN MABERRY: I do both. My stories usually start with characters. They usually wander out of the back of my mind and into a story that’s forming based on something I’ve seen, read, or cooked up. Once I know the character, I think about what the character wants and what he needs. At that point I sit down and hammer out a loose plot. I always allow my stories to change in the telling, of course, because it’s unreasonable to assume that you had all your best ideas the day you outlined your book.


Once in a while a plot premise will come first, but as soon as I have that I shift gears to examine the human element of the story. Stories are about people, not events. That’s critical to good storytelling.


THE WRITING WELL: At a Dragon*Con panel you said you always run your stories by your wife for feedback. What was the most memorable feedback she ever provided?

Authors AJ Huntley and Jonathan Maberry at the 2015 Dragon*Con held in Atlanta.

Authors AJ Huntley and Jonathan Maberry at the 2015 Dragon*Con held in Atlanta.

JONATHAN MABERRY: One of the most important aspects of my creative interactions with my wife, Sara Jo, is that she is all about characters. She will call me on it if a character is ever acting contrary to their presumed nature. She calls it ‘acting out of integrity’. She is invariably correct. She isn’t a writer, but her understanding of people is superb, insightful, and wise.


We met walking in a park. Well, I was walking and she was jogging. The person with whom I was walking was a mutual friend, so Sara Jo stopped to talk. She and I had a little moment of shared electricity. But I thought she was married, and she thought I was dating the woman I was strolling with. Neither was the case. When Sara Jo found out I was single, she called me. I have never much believed in the ‘love at first sight’ thing, but you can call me a convert now.


THE WRITING WELL: Finally, what aspect of your own craft have you worked on the hardest to master or fine tune  (the thing that perhaps didn’t come as easily)? How can up-and-coming writers  do to get their writing to the next level?


JONATHAN MABERRY: Fiction was the real challenge for me. Even though I wrote stories as a kid, I planned to become a newspaper reporter. I went to Temple University to study journalism, and while I was there I began selling magazine feature articles. For twenty-five years I wrote articles, columns, and reviews for magazines of all kinds. While teaching at Temple University I began writing textbooks –not on writing, but on martial arts history, women’s self-defense, and related topics). And I also wrote greeting cards, song lyrics, poetry, plays, how-to manuals, training scripts, and a slew of other materials. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that I decided to try fiction. It was an experiment and I had no formal training in creative writing. None.

To teach myself the craft, I read everything I could, and then I began deconstructing my favorite novels in the genre in which I wanted to write. I read those books as a reader, and then I re-read them multiple times as a writer, breaking them down to the three acts, then to outlines, studying the elements of figurative and descriptive language, voice, pace, tension, action, dialogue. All of it. When I felt that I was ready I outlined a novel and began writing. It took me over three years to finish that book, and another six months to revise it.

bramstokerThat’s the point at which I had to go out and find an agent. I got a good one, too. Sara Crowe, currently of the Harvey Klinger Agency. Sara sold my first novel, Ghost Road Blues, and its two sequels to Kensington’s Pinnacle imprint. The book surprised the hell out of me by winning the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel. That award seriously validated my decision to try fiction. As I write this I’m three days away from finishing my 25th novel. And I write short stories and comics. Fiction is virtually everything I do in this phase of my writing career, and I have very little interest in looking back at my nonfiction days. Two of those novels are in development for film and another is in development for TV; and I’m adapting Ghost Road Blues into a pilot for a potential series.

However, I’m still learning the craft. It’s fun but not easy, and I believe it is incumbent on every writer to try and better their best. Always.

Dragon*Con 2015 — Memorable Moments


300 BC

I attended my fourth Dragon*Con this past weekend after a two-year hiatus and it didn’t disappoint. The event – dubbed “the wildest geek convention on the planet” by TripAdvisor – drew 65,000 fantasy and scifi fans to downtown Atlanta.

Sherrilyn Kenyon and I.

In honor of the annual Labor Day weekend spectacle, The Writing Well is sharing a few pearls of wisdom from some of the literary set of speakers who I heard present on author and writing panels (see last section of post).

Touching Tributes to Nimoy, Lee

Before going there, I want to pay homage to some of the entertainment panels I attended this year. As a fan of classic Trek, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, I was thrilled to attend the tribute to Leonard Nimoy and iconic British actor Christopher LeeChristopher

Lee, who passed away in February and in June of this year, respectively. A few interesting notes about Lee I learned: he spoke seven languages, made a heavy metal album and was the only Lord of the Rings cast member who actually met J.R.R. Tolkien (and read the books every year).

As for Nimoy, I could devote an entire blog to my favorite scifi actor. He was much more than the token alien cast opposite Captain Kirk on Trek; he was an accomplished director, photographer and poet with seven books under his name. He touched all of those outcasts in the world who were nerdy before nerdy was cool.

He also had a record album produced named appropriately, Highly Illogical. He was well liked and respected by his cast members – he was accepting of certain cast members who were not well liked.

He hated being typecast as Spock in the early years but grew to appreciate the character and what Spock symbolized well beyond the series– a half-human and half-Vulcan who struggled to balance his warring halves and to belong. His final tweet to followers before his death on Feb. 27 reflected his wisdom and humanity: “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.” He signed the tweet off with “LLAP,” a nod to his famous Spock moniker, “live long and prosper.”

Snodgrass and Star Trek TNG
Vendor_StarTrekArtworkI also attended Melinda Snodgrass’s highly entertaining session on her early work as a screenwriter for “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” A good friend to author George R.R. Martin, Melinda got her break when she penned “A Measure of a Man” on spec.

Many fans consider it one of the greatest episodes featuring the android character, Data, as well as one of the best of Star Trek – the inspiration for the episode was the famous Dred Scott case. Data goes on trial and Captain Picard must prove he is legally a sentient being with rights and freedoms under Federation law when transfer orders demand Data’s reassignment for study and disassembly.

“Trek had never shot an episode like this that was very dialogue-heavy – it was a court room drama. When they finished shooting, it was 13 minutes too long so they cut 13 minutes out of it,” recalled Snodgrass. She was snuck a copy of the director’s cut with the full footage. She kept it until CBS Television decided to do a Blu-ray version of the series and requested her copy back.

One of the scenes in the extended version was between Picard and his first officer, Wil Riker, played by Jonathan Frakes where the two men were fencing. While Patrick Stewart was an accomplished fencer, Frakes wasn’t given time to learn technique for the scene and had to settle for doing the voiceover as an acting double fought Picard.

“I like the scene because I always thought Riker was overlooked and not given proper stature. He often ended up seeming weak,” Snodgrass said, pointing out how the character turned down the chance to command his own ship, preferring to remain on the Enterprise. “I wanted to see some rivalry. Jonathan nailed it – he said, ‘I’m going to beat you. I’m going to win.’ I like what they did in that moment. There was some power there.”

Six - BSGThe long queue line was worth it to attend the celebrity panel of “Battlestar Galactica,” the 2004 to 2009 remake of the 70s hit by Ronald D. Moore. Who doesn’t love Cylons – including BattlestarGalacticathe six impersonators of “Six” in the audience and Commander Adama (played by the incomparable Edward James Olmos)?


A few of my favorite costumes:

StarWars_Beauty Outlander The ShiningDragonCon_Constume2 DragonCon_Costume Avatar Mother and ChildSuperman_WonderWomanWeepingAngel_Dr Who

Writing Wisdom from Dragon*Con’s Wordsmiths:

NYT Bestselling Author Panel (L to R) Laurell K. Hamilton, Peter Hamilton, Michael Stackpole and Jim Butcher.

NYT Bestselling Author Panel (L to R) Laurell K. Hamilton, Peter Hamilton, Michael Stackpole and Jim Butcher.

#1 “I think my English literature degree set me back two years – telling a story is not the kind of thing you learn in an English class.” — Jim Butcher, author of The Dresden Files


Laurell K. Hamilton

#2If I over-outline it takes away the impetus for me to write.” – Laurell K. Hamilton, author of The Anita Blake Series

#3 The characters I have the most fun with are the ones whose views I never share.” – Peter F. Hamilton, Dragon*Con Literary Guest of Honor


Carol Barrowman

Carol Barrowman

#4 “When you’re done with your novel, put the whole book on a page, then a paragraph and then a tagline; you should be able to talk about your book in 30 seconds.” – Carole Barrowman, co-author of children’s book series, Hollow Earth, with brother, John Barrowman

#5 “I love drawing on real people. Writers are eavesdroppers and peeping toms (without looking through blinds). A lot of my characters are often amalgamations of real people. I knew a Quaker and I made him a pornographer who does snuff films. He loved it!” — Jonathan Maberry

#6 “[When using beta readers] one of the things I found helpful is to have them assign ABCD to passages – A is for awesome, B is for bored, C is for confused and D is for don’t care.” – A.J. Huntley

Lane and Ruckus Skye, husband-wife filmmakers

Lane and Ruckus Skye, husband-wife filmmakers

#“7How do you write realistic dialogue? How do you make it ‘real?’ Think of what the world would say – eavesdropping on people talking. One trick: they don’t talk in compete sentences – words drop.” – Lane Skye, independent filmmaker

Lou Anders

Lou Anders

#8 “Story begins with a character who wants something – you boil it down to what they want most and what’s the worst thing that can happen to them? And it does.” – Lou Anders

AJ Huntley and Jonathan Maberry

AJ Huntley and Jonathan Maberry

#9 “Books are organic. I allow for organic growth – which often calls for changes in storytelling.”
– Jonathan Maberry

#10 “Characters come to life when I know their voice – I know how they will respond to certain situations.” – Naomi Novik

#11 “Story has to come first.” – Delilah Dawson

#12 “Never give up.” – Sherrilyn Kenyon



Born Today: eBook Visionary Michael Stern Hart

The world’s love affair with eBooks is undisputed. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, a quarter of all Americans aged 16 or older have read an eBook in the last year. Juniper Research forecasts that annual revenues from eBooks delivered to portable devices will grow to $9.7 billion by 2016.

E-books are now “a multibillion-dollar category for us and growing fast—up approximately 70 percent last year,” noted Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos recently in his company’s fourth-quarter earnings report.

Michael Stern Hart (1947-2011)

But, it was a tinkerer and Eagle Scout — the son of two Indiana college professors — who is credited with starting the eBook revolution. On Independence Day 1971, Michael Stern Hart decided to type the text of the Declaration of Independence into a computer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and to transmit it to other users on the computer network.

From this beginning, making literature accessible to the world was Hart’s life’s work. He would have been 66 today, but his legacy as a champion for online books and literacy continues. Hart founded Project Gutenberg, an initiative born of a belief that important documents and classic books should be shared with everyone

At the time of his death in September 2011, Project Gutenberg hosted eBooks in 60 different languages. Currently, the site offers more than 42,000 copyright-free e-books for free download, with a library that includes The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Peter Pan, and A Tale of Two Cities. Proofed by volunteers, these titles are downloadable to eReaders or PCs.

Here a few of the noteworthy books made available to the public since Project Gutenberg was initiated:

#1 --          Jul 1971 -- The United States Declaration of Independence
# 10 --     Aug 1989 -- The King James Bible
# 100 --    Jan 1994 -- The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
# 1,000 -- Aug 1997 -- La Divina Commedia di Dante
# 2,000 -- May 1999 -- Don Quijote
# 3,000 -- Dec 2000 -- A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (vol.3)
# 4,000 -- Oct 2001 -- The French Immortals Series
# 5,000 -- Apr 2002 -- The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci
#10,000 -- Oct 2003 -- The Magna Carta
#15,000 -- Jan 2005 -- The Life of Reason
#20,000 -- Dec 2006 -- Twenty Thousands Leagues under the Sea (audiobook)
#25,000 -- Apr 2008 -- English Book Collectors
#30,000 -- Oct 2009 -- The Bird Book
#40,000 -- Jun 2012 -- Extinct Birds

In July 2011, Hart observed, “eBooks are the very first thing that we’re all able to have as much as we want other than air. Think about that for a moment and you realize we are in the right job.”

He had this advice for those seeking to make literature available to all people, especially children:  “Learning is its own reward. Nothing I can say is better than that.”

It’s only appropriate that March has been christened “Read an eBook Month.”

Happy birthday, Michael Stern Hart. Writers and readers the world over are in your debt.

Healing Soldiers: Civil War Devotional Back in Print

Mathew Brady portrait of Rev.
C.T. Quintard sometime between 1855 and 1865.
“If it be true that — ‘They also serve, who only stand and wait,’ surely
they serve who suffer and endure.”
                 — Balm for the Weary and the Wounded by Charles Todd Quintard
The Fourth of July inspires many Americans to look back on their national story.
For me, it always brings to mind the most trying moment in our nation’s history: the Civil War. The losses on both sides of the conflict were staggering – costing our country 1.1 million casualties and claiming more than 620,000 lives.

Much has been written about the conflict by eyewitnesses, by presidential biographers and historians, and by crafters of family memoirs. I came across a rare spiritual manuscript from that era thanks to Dr. Bill Nisbet, a retired Army Reserves chaplain who serves as an assistant pastor at my church.

A Regimental Doctor and Chaplain

Bill Nisbet with the devotional.

The Confederate Soldier’s Pocket Manual of Devotions, published in 1863, was compiled by Nisbet’s great-great-great grandfather, Charles Todd Quintard, a medical doctor and chaplain of the First Tennessee Regiment, who later became the Episcopal bishop of Tennessee. Throughout the Civil War, Quintard didn’t hesitate to care for the physical needs of soldiers as a hospital field surgeon. But, according to Nisbet, his primary calling was to nurture souls. As a chaplain, he counseled and comforted privates and generals alike.

Mercer University Press reprinted the devotional in 2006 and included a foreword from Nisbet. The first part of the book draws heavily from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, including 44 beloved Christian hymns. The last part of the manuscript is a reprint of Quintard’s Balm for the Weary and Wounded.

That portion of the manual most moves Nisbet. “I know soldiers who have, as he wrote, ‘exchanged active service of the field for the wearying service in the hospital in the bed of sickness and pain.'”

Ephemisms for the Scars of War

The physical wounds were an all-too-common sight from historical photos of Civil War anniversary remembrances, and the vast number of amputees from both the North and South.
Observes Nisbet: “It’s only been with the generation coming out of Vietnam that we’ve focused on the scars of war that are more internal than external.”

Nisbet notes that mental trauma of war has gone by many names over the years — in World War I it was shell shock, in World War II it was battle fatigue. In post Vietnam to present day it is called PTSD.

“During the Civil War, they used the phrase, ‘He’s seeing the elephant.’ These euphemisms have been used to describe people who have been incapacitated mentally by war or by any kind of trauma, so the fact that Quintard began talking about soldiers who have served not only in battle, but also those who continue to serve while wounded, he was honoring that service – it was just as real and just as important to him as any other service.”

Nisbet has encountered veterans and active servicemen and women throughout his career. A member of his first church included a survivor of a gas attack of World War I.

“He had lived his whole life with breathing problems,” recalls Nisbet. “I always had a deep interest in those people (who had such wounds) as a minister and as a chaplain.”
Quintard’s Legacy as a Unifier
He thinks his great-great-great grandfather’s biggest legacy was as a unifier and priest in the Episcopal Church after the war. He helped heal the divides that tore apart many denominations during the war. Catholic and Episcopal churches were among the few denominations in America that didn’t divide based on their allegiances to North and South. “The Episcopalians were lucky in that way. But they also had guys like Quintard. Many Southerners were actually Northerners. Quintard was in the Confederate Army but was born and raised in Connecticut,” Nisbet says.According to Nisbet, his great-great-great grandfather was never in favor of secession, but when Tennessee left the union and his parishioners asked him to be the unit chaplain, he went with them. He had by then married a Southerner, adopting the Southern culture.

Early biographical accounts note that while in Memphis, Tennessee, Quintard decided that “a man’s soul was worth more than his body so he became a priest.”

“That’s one of the reasons he wrote the second volume. As a doctor, he saw the suffering but he had a spiritual understanding of what it was about,” says Nisbet.

After the war, the Diocese met and elected Quintard as the next bishop for Tennessee.

Following in Quintard’s Footsteps

Nisbet has followed somewhat in his ancestor’s footsteps in the ministry and serving those in uniform. After 9/11, he spent eight years on active duty at Ft. McPherson, where he ensured that every National Guard and Army Reserve unit that mobilized deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq with its authorized chaplain and assistant chaplain.The credo of the Army Chaplain Corps, first used in the 1980s, could well be his great-great-great grandfather’s epitaph: 

Nurture the living.

Care for the wounded.

Honor the dead.

Nora Ephron — In Memorium

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

— Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron

A storytelling icon — you will be missed.

“She was the one you wanted to read, to listen to, to be in the company of. Nora Ephron. Incomparable wit; delightful friend. Sadness reigns.” — Steve Martin, StevetoGo, Twitter
New York Times Obit: Writer and Filmmaker with a Genius for Humor – June 27, 2012
Birthday Tribute on The Writing Well – May 19, 2012


A Birthday Tribute to Three Distinguished Writers

Today I want to extend a happy birthday to three accomplished writers who were born today:
 ·  Nora Ephron  71, Screenwriter, Novelist, Playwright
·  Jodi Picoult  46, Novelist
·  Ruskin Bond  78, Novelist, Short Stories, Children’s Literature
Ephron, a Wellesley graduate born in New York City to screenwriting parents, is best known for her romantic comedies. She’s a three-time Academy Award nominee for Best Original Screenplay for When Harry Met Sally, Silkwood, and Sleepless in Seattle, which she also directed.
Her novel, Heartburn, based on her stormy marriage to reporter Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame, was brought to the screen in 2004 by director Mike Nichols, Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson.
Her book, Crazy Salad, is a funny, deceptively light look at a generation of women (and men) who helped shape the way we live now.
I recently shared a copy of her 2006 book, “I Feel Bad About My Neck,” published by Knopf, with a friend after learning she had breast cancer. The book takes a candid, hilarious look at women getting older and dealing with the tribulations of maintenance, menopause, empty nests, and life itself.
Quotable Quotes:I try to write parts for women that are as complicated and interesting as women actually are.
“… the state of rapture I experience when I read a wonderful book
is one of the main reasons I read;
but it doesn’t happen every time
or even every other time,
and when it does happen,
I am truly beside myself.”
Jodi Picoult, who studied creative writing at Princeton and later earned her master’s degree in education from Harvard University, is the bestselling author of 18 novels, including Songs of the Humpback Whale (1992), Harvesting the Heart (1994), Picture Perfect (1995), My Sister’s Keeper (2004), Nineteen Minutes (2007), House Rules (2010).
In her most recent book, Lone Wolf, published by Simon & Schuster in 2012, a scientist and wildlife activist, who has made a lifelong study of wolves, now is in an irreversible coma following a car accident. His estranged family must decide if the plug should be pulled. 
According to the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Picoult has been characterized by critics as a women’s fiction author; she contests this label, however, citing her popularity with both male and female fans. Her novels cross many genres, including literary fiction, legal thrillers, psychological portraits, romances, and ghost stories.
The Long Island native now lives with her family in New Hampshire.
Quotable Quote: “If a woman writes about family and about the connections between people and what it means to be alive in this day and time, it’s called women’s fiction. And if a man does it, it’s nominated for a National Book Award. What – you can’t have a heart and penis? That doesn’t make sense.”
Ruskin Bond, a native of India, wrote his first novel, The Room on the Roof, when he was 17. It won the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1957. Over a 35-year writing career, he has written more than 100 short stories, essays, novels and more than 30 books for children. Bond’s writing is greatly influenced by the hills, and the valley of Dehra Dun, where he spent his childhood.
“I always wish to live life like Ruskin bond. A writer, a hermit, who lives on hills (Mussoorie, Uttaranchal) in an old rustic house, who knows about each nook of the place where he dwells,” writes blogger abhilasha, in her post, The Name is Bond…Ruskin Bond. “His writings are like the fresh breath of air. Short stories by him are always woven delicately with simplicity and magical charm. Nothing peculiar, mysterious or radical thought but they are about the things which we are bound to miss in our hectic lives and there only lies the real elixir of life.”
Quotable Quote: “People often ask me why my style is so simple. It is, in fact, deceptively simple, for no two sentences are alike. It is clarity that I am striving to attain, not simplicity.”

Harry Potter Film Legacy – Great Storytelling that Made Reading Books ‘Cool’

Photo credit: Warner Brothers.
I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part II a week after its record-setting opening weekend, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The opening scene begins with Harry, Ron, and Hermione continuing their quest to find and destroy the Dark Lord’s three remaining Horcruxes, the magical items responsible for his immortality. The movie’s satisfying conclusion has the beloved main characters, now married with children of their own, sending off their offspring to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
It was the most anticipated film of 2011, according to a Fandango moviegoer survey, and smashed box office records, earning $168 million in North America alone. By far the best of all the Harry Potter films, Deathly Hollows II is getting early Oscar buzz and deservedly so.

But, for this muggle, the legacy won’t be the films so much as the inventive storytelling and rich color that was brought to life on the page by J.K. Rowling in her fantasy seven-book series.

I’m not alone in that view. I recently chatted with Lawson Cox, president of the Atlanta chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators, who weathered the long lines to attend a midnight showing of the movie with his two teenage daughters.

For him, the mania brought back memories of the original Star Wars movie that exploded onto the scene in 1977 followed by a series of hit sequels.

“When The Empire Strikes Back was released, people camped out for tickets and waited in line for hours to see the movies. But I never saw anything like that surrounding a book release until Harry Potter — especially the last book in the series,” recalls Cox, whose family attended a local Barnes and Noble book release party back in 2007.

“It was an even more enthusiastic crowd than the final movie. There were literally hundreds of people, mostly teens and younger, willing to wait in line for hours and fork over their own money…for a book! In today’s multimedia-focused culture, that is simply unheard of,” Cox enthuses, adding, “Harry Potter introduced a whole new generation to the excitement of reading, and proved that books are certainly not dead.”

When I think of the lasting legacy of the Harry Potter books, I don’t have to look any further than my children, who are avid fans of the book series (we are reading them together, one by one).
Here’s what one young person had to say about the book series’ impact: “To me, Harry Potter is a defining piece of culture for my generation’s childhood and teenage years. Many of us who read these books as kids and then went on to read them ourselves. Some of our first real novels were the Harry Potter books. Just like ourselves, the stories matured and grew with their audience,” writes Alex Corbett, a Canadian 12th grader on a Canadian online newspaper site, This Week.  
Rowling has done what another British-born author, C.S. Lewis, did with The Chronicles of Narnia — capture the imaginations of a generation of readers, young and old. Last October, the best-selling author told Oprah that she was open to writing subsequent Potter novels, though she quickly followed up by saying, “I feel I’m done, but you never know.”
Personally, I don’t think she could do any better, except perhaps to write a prequel that more fully shapes the stories of the boy wizard’s parents and their colorful contemporaries, including the complicated character, Severus Snape, played brilliantly by English actor Alan Rickman. Such a treatment would also give fans the chance to delve into the influences that drove the young Tom Riddle into becoming the villainous Dark Lord.
I, for one, hope there’s more to come.