Monday, March 19, 2012

When Real Men Debate

Please welcome guest author and dear friend Camille Minichino, aka Margaret Grace, aka Ada Madison today. Camille Minichino is a retired physicist turned writer. She has three releases this spring: A re-issue of "The Hydrogen Murder" as an e-book; the second in the Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries, "The Probability of Murder" (by Ada Madison, March 6); and the sixth in the Miniature Mysteries, "Mix-Up in Miniature" (by Margaret Grace, April 2). Soon, every aspect of her life will be a mystery series.

I'm not one to dwell in the past. History—even my own—holds little interest for me.

Or so I thought, until I began writing the Miniature Mysteries.

The series started out innocuous enough—after writing 8 novels set in my real hometown of Revere, Massachusetts, I decided to avoid the annoying comments about how Malden Street is now One Way and how the ice cream shop hasn't been there for 20 years. I'd make up my own town; no one could complain, and I wouldn't have to do research.

Right? Wrong!

To give my fictional town character, I named it Lincoln Point, California, and gave its citizens an obsession with all things Lincoln. The streets are named after people, places, and events in Lincoln's life (Springfield Boulevard, Seward's Folly CafĂ©, the Mary Todd Hospital); government buildings feature quotes at the portals ("Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth"); and—most fun of all—there's a reenactment every year of one of the  Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Before I knew it, I was digging into Lincoln lore. I read Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals," Janis Cooke Newman's "Mary: Mrs. A. Lincoln," plus all the sites and bits floating in and around Wikipedia. Maybe I caught the bug from  my blog hostess and good friend, Ann Parker, who always looks so happy and excited when she's doing research or reporting on it!

For the third in the series, "Malice in Miniature," I got lost in the text of the   fifth debate, held at Knox college in Galesburg, Illinois.

What struck me even more than the content—the expansion of slavery into the then territories—was the format of the debates: one candidate spoke for 60 minutes, then the other spoke for 90 minutes, and finally, the first candidate was allowed a 30-minute "rejoinder."

A little different from the campaigns of today! Are today's voters lazy? Shallow? Suffering from short attention spans? Or are they being underestimated in terms of their ability to listen to political arguments?

That's probably another blog.

As different as the format and the content of the Lincoln-Douglas were from today's debates, I found surprising resonances in the arguments. Here's Lincoln 150+ years ago:

"Let us discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man—this race and that race and the other race being inferior, and therefore they must be placed in an inferior position . . . Let us discard all these things, and unite as one people throughout this land, until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal."

Here's another gem—Lincoln's take on a particular argument of Douglas: "it's as thin as a homeopathic soup made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had starved to death."

It makes you wonder if Lincoln might have turned to fiction if he'd lived longer!
My research taught me some embarrassing things, also. Embarrassing to me, that is, since I should have known that—what?—Lincoln lost that race!

And—what?—the debates were not recorded, so all we have are estimates from various reporters about attendance, and—what?—there's no official copy of the texts!

When my book was completed, I realized I'd used about 5% of what I'd read during my research. But I'd learned a lot and had a great time visiting the past.

Is that what Ann has been trying to tell me? Who'd have thought?

You can find out more about Camille/Margaret/Ada and her books on her website at


Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to learning about your Lincoln research as I read the next miniature adventure. It's wonderful I won't have to wait long.

Kathleen Ernst said...

I haven't yet tried your miniatures series, but I look forward to it! Great post.

Ann Parker said...

Hello retired and Kathleen! :-) You are both in for a treat if you like cozy/traditional mysteries ... Camille's Miniatures are a fun read! :-)

Carole Price said...

Nice team work, Ann and Camille. Super article, Camille. I like to learn something new every day, so thank you.

Camille Minichino said...

It's great to be here with Ann's friends!

I'm excited to have 3 releases this year so far. I hope to meet some of you at conferences, or (final resort!) on Facebook.

Liz said...

Interesting, as always.

Bob Sanchez said...

Nice post, Camille. I think research can be a rewarding part of novel-writing as long as it doesn't distract you TOO much. The concept of a Lincoln-obsessed town sounds like fun.