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The Bloodier The Better

After learning of my novel, A Night of Horrors, my son’s Honors US History teacher asked me to come in as a guest instructor on the topic of Lincoln’s assassination to conclude her teaching segment on the Civil War.  She pretty much gave me carte blanche regarding the content of my talk. Ultimately, I zeroed in on the last year of the Civil War, the eventful week before April 14, and then the actual 24 hours of Lincoln’s assassination.  I concluded with a dramatic reading from the “Supped Full on Horrors” chapter in my novel, where Powell attacks the Seward household.  If you’ve read the book, then you know I literally mean he attacked the household!  Powell mowed through four other people to get to the Secretary of State of the United States of America.  (If you haven’t read the novel, what are you waiting for?)


I retell the attacks on Lincoln, the Sewards, and Rathbone in all their naked brutality in the novel.  So I warned the teacher – twice – that the passage I would read was violent and bloody. 


“When it comes to high schoolers, the bloodier the better,” she said.  “It’ll hold their attention and make it more interesting.”


Last Friday I arrived in the auditorium with an audience of not one, but three honors history classes.  I got a handful of questions and responses as I laid out the lead in to the assassination.  I also noticed a couple students who fell asleep.  But out of about 75 or 80 kids, I figured that it was okay to only bore one or two to sleep.  Then it came to the reading.  Believe me, I gave it all I had.  I used accents, voices for the different characters, and hand motions when Powell crushes Frederic Seward’s head with his Navy Colt.  When I finished, I actually got a round of applause followed by several eager hands signaling more questions until we ran out of class time. 


Now, as much as I’d like to take credit for the praise and the interest, it’s really the subject matter.  The actual attacks on Lincoln and the Sewards are riveting, rivaling the best of suspense fiction.  The factual attacks were very violent and extraordinarily bloody.  Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, went so far as to describe the near-dead Seward as an “exsanguinated corpse” when he saw him less than two hours after the attack, because he’d lost so much blood.  But the story of Lincoln’s assassination is also one of heroic sacrifice, the loss of a beloved husband, and the heartbreak of being robbed of a historic victory when it just eludes your grasp.  I gave the students what I gave the readers of my novel:  the actual events of April 14, 1865, with all their intrigue, love, passion, pettiness, nobility, pain, sacrifice, and shocking violence.  In the end, I suppose it is secretly true for us all what the teacher said of the high school students…when it comes to fiction, historical or otherwise, the bloodier the better.


(If you're interested, a copy of the presentation is to the left.  Click on the PDF icon.)

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