What I’m Reading Now
When I wrote the first draft of my screenplay Something Gray, there were many unique challenges.
The chief one was using the dialogue of the 1800’s for authenticity, but without making it too hard to read. (Initially, I didn’t use any contractions as folks spoke more formally then.)
This was especially challenging with slave vernacular (who made up contractions in their slang all the time) and rural phrases that we no longer use. I kept as many of them as I could when the scene made the dialogue’s meaning clear.
Here’s two examples of Aaron Burton, Mosby’s dear friend…and his slave:
“Well sir, I s’pose most figgered me just his slave, but them who rode with the 43rd knew how it cut.”
“We’d a whooped ‘ol Billy Yank sure, ifn’ Bobby Lee fought like I done taught the Colonel. Our fightin’ woulda’ warmed an Egyptian mummy.”
Eventually I had to tone in down quite a bit so as not to distract the reader from the scene.
Slotkin doesn’t do that in Abe: A Novel of the Young Lincoln. He picks you up and then slams you down into 1809 “right quick.”
I wonder if Lamar Trotti had the same problem in writing the screenplay for Young Mr. Lincoln with Henry Fonda.
At any rate, Slotkin caught my eye when I read his most recent book The Long Road to Antietam. The first third of that book is a masterful explanation of Lincoln’s politics and McClellan’s Democratic obstructions. One of the best books I read last year and definitely worth the price of admission.
Well, back to this current read…Slotkin makes it purty dang hard to read, but stay with it for the first 20 or so pages.
His rough style is purposely visual and choppy, dodging into character’s heads and bouncing descriptions offin’ arn, just like the times were for Abe growing up in Kentuck, and further west to the frontier in Indiana and Illinois.
Consider the frontier “house” in Illinois that his father, Thomas Lincoln, died in here:
But don’t give up cuz’ it’s hard. Some of his lines are priceless, like this tight gem describing a steamboat:
“The small sternwheeler’s single stack dashed a black scrawl on the overcast.”
It’s also worth the price of admission to get to Slotkin’s Promised Land: “…how Moses would grow up tall, and whup the man that whupped the children, change the serpents to sticks and break the sea so the children could get over, and home to their milk and honey…”
One more clip with another Lincoln to help you visualize the novel, with Raymond Massey (a fine actor when you contrast his performance as Jonathan Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace):
A great read…honest!