This feels like a pivotal moment for America to be reflecting on its identity and history. What drew you to Lincoln as a person - and a persona - in America’s national narrative?Honestly, I had no interest in writing about Lincoln, and even some aversion. It just seemed so hard. Like writing about Jesus, or Moses. But I was drawn to this little, sad anecdote I heard, about him entering his son’s crypt. That stuck with me. So, at some point, if you assent to writing something based on that, you are assenting to dealing with The Man. But I did it reluctantly and craftily – resisted making it “about” him, tried to find ways to minimize his screen time etc. And in the end I thought: “Well, it is, of course, Lincoln – but it is him in a particular role (father, grieving) and on a particular night, and for only a few isolated moments during that night. And then the writer’s habits take over and you find yourself turning away from the big question, to the smaller and more vital ones: “Where is he standing right now? Where has he just come from? What, exactly, might he be thinking? Is he cold? What sort of jacket is he wearing? Where is he going now?”
What was a surprising thing you learned about Lincoln and his family during your research for the novel?I always find it fascinating how people perceive situations differently, particularly conflict. I felt that a horrific situation like the one in the book would be infinitely more interesting if we were privy to multiple perspectives.
As you were writing, who did you envision as the prime audience for this book? It seems that the book contains lessons that could be useful to several age groupsI learned that he hated extemporaneous speaking. Always wanted to be speaking from a text he wrote (and wrote, and wrote). He felt that, given the incredible power of the office, he’d better err in the favour of being cautious and circumspect in his speech, and he knew, as all writers know (and I think he was the greatest American prose stylist) that truth is found through revision. So, I think it’s safe to say that Lincoln would not be on Twitter.
And finally, from a very big fan… are you really so funny in real life? No. I am often trying to be funny and falling a little short. So… see answer above, about revision. Not only is truth found through revision, but so is….funny?