Burt SolomonOct 2, 2023
On the Secrets of Writing Historical Fiction
A Discussion with Burt Solomon, author of "The Murder of Andrew Johnson"
New Books Network 2023
The Murder of Andrew Johnson (Forge, 2023) is the third in Burt Solomon’s John Hay Mystery trilogy. Our conversation explores the art and craft of writing historical fiction. What licenses are taken? Solomon invented the murder of Johnson, who assumed the presidency on Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, became America’s first impeached president and died in 1875 from an apparent stroke. But there are no invented characters: Protagonist John Hay, Solomon’s alter ego, truly was Lincoln’s private secretary, a diplomat and a journalist. As in this tale, historical fiction rewards when it reveals the lineaments of an era—the seamy Gilded Age presents bountiful possibilities for a research-driven writer like Solomon—and captivates with a tight plot. Our conversation wraps up on a salubrious note, with Solomon’s riff on the scene in which the vice president of the United States is taking his bath in the marble tubs in the crypt-like basement of the U.S. Capitol building. Did those bathtubs truly exist? You bet they did.
Veteran journalist Paul Starobin is a former Moscow bureau chief for Business Week and a former contributing editor of The Atlantic. He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and many other publications. His latest book, Putin’s Exiles: Their Fight for a Better Russia (Columbia Global Reports) will be published in January.