An interview with Jonathan Putnam

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By Evelyn C. McDonald
Arts & Culture Reporter
July 20, 2018 10:00 a.m.

“His latest book, the third in the Lincoln & Speed series, is Final Resting Place. The second book in the series is Perish from the Earth. Putnam will be speaking on Monday, July 23 at the Fernandina Beach Library at 11:30 am. Reservations are encouraged. Click here.

After 20 years as a lawyer, Jonathan Putnam wanted to work on writing. “I majored in history in college and wanted to be a journalist. Somehow, I ended up in law school and became a lawyer. But writing was always my passion,” he said.

He decided to take a one year leave of absence from his law firm to focus on writing. “I’m now in my eighth year of the one year leave of absence,” he added.

He became interested in Lincoln’s early years when he found out about Joshua Speed, Lincoln’s early acquaintance and long-time friend. Lincoln and Speed shared a room in Springfield for four years. Not much attention has been paid to this part of Lincoln’s life.

“It is impossible to see Lincoln before he became the man we know today. I wondered what it would have been like to know him before that all happened.”

Jonathan Putnam

Putnam did extensive research in Springfield. The law cases in the books are all based on actual cases that Lincoln had. He read letters between Lincoln and Speed. Speed ran a general store in Springfield. He was a Southerner, from a family that owned slaves, but beyond that there was not a lot of information. Putnam said that genealogical records helped fill in some details.

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I asked how he got started. He said at first, he thought that knowing how to write legal documents would help him but it didn’t. What did help is that trial attorneys understand that juries want a story with a beginning, middle and ending. That ability to construct stories seems to have served Putnam well. He has a writing routine – 2 hours every morning. He doesn’t worry about page count; just writing every day is what’s essential.

He got an agent who provided a lot of good advice. He submitted the initial version of his first book, These Honored Dead. Three more complete rewrites followed before he got a publishing contract. He has an agreement to write several more books. Book four in the Lincoln & Speed series will be released next year. The titles of his three books are all phrases from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. To Putnam, these were evocative phrases that we associate with Lincoln.

Putnam said he enjoys book tours. When I talked to him, he was in the car going between cities. He is happy to be on tour, he said, and being able to talk to people about his books.

His latest book, the third in the Lincoln & Speed series, is Final Resting Place. The second book in the series is Perish from the Earth. Putnam will be speaking on Monday, July 23 at the Fernandina Beach Library at 11:30 am. Reservations are encouraged.

Evelyn McDonald moved to Fernandina Beach from the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. in 2006. Evelyn is vice-chair on the Amelia Center for Lifelong Learning and is on the Dean’s Council for the Carpenter Library at the UNF. Ms. McDonald has MS in Technology Management from the University of Maryland’s University College and a BA in Spanish from the University of Michigan.

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