Fiction and history will cross paths Wednesday at The House of the Seven Gables, when William Martin discusses his novel “The Lincoln Letter.”
A fictional letter written by Abraham Lincoln, with clues leading to the whereabouts of an equally fictional diary that he kept during the Civil War, is discovered in the opening pages of the book.
“It’s a rather cryptic letter, and so is the individual he is talking to, a corporal in the 20th Massachusetts,” Martin said. “Those are the two clues that the historians have as the story begins.”
Those historians — Peter Fallon and his girlfriend, Evangeline Carrington — have appeared in five of Martin’s novels, starting with “Back Bay” in 1980.
In his 6 p.m. talk in Salem, which is free for The House of the Seven Gables members and $15 for others, Martin will delve into his process of researching and writing.
“All of my novels are very firmly rooted in a very particular place, and that place feeds into the drama,” he said. “In this novel, I’m writing about Washington, the sleek modern capital, and the dirty, muddy, intrigue and rapscallion-filled city of 1862.”
Photographs were an important source for Martin, and the slide presentation accompanying his talk will include “at least one photograph of Washington that no one has seen in any book.”
In the novel, Lincoln’s diary includes his thinking about slavery, which leads to his signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
“It slips from his hand, and people start to say, what was in it?” he said. “As Fallon and his girlfriend’s story unfolds, and they look to history for the answer, the history comes to life.
“There are two parallel stories that reflect off one another. They go back and forth in time. That’s how these novels work.”
Martin wrote a novel about George Washington 15 years ago and decided he should also write about Lincoln, “the other president who gets ranked as best.”
“Lincoln is a mountain that every author of historical fiction considers climbing in his life,” he said. “It was a great opportunity to look Lincoln in the eye and get close to him.”