That’s a lot of time to write a book. What took so long?
When the idea for The First Assassin struck me, I wasn’t ready for it. The notion of writing a novel wasn’t new or unexpected. It was actually a long-term goal. But it’s a big project. I was working on another book at the time–my first, a piece of nonfiction. Learning how to do that was enough of a challenge. Also, writing a historical thriller that takes place in 1861 requires a lot of research. I had imagined a plot, but I wanted to make everything else about the book seem true to its time.
The first step was simply to think. Burton Rascoe had it right: “What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out of the window.” Then came the reading: books about Lincoln, newspapers on microfilm, and so on. I outlined. I drafted scenes.
All the while, real life intervened. My wife and I had three kids. I had to pay the bills, so writing books and articles that carried promises of paychecks was always a priority. As much as I wanted to concentrate on The First Assassin, I kept putting it aside.
So it’s not as if I toiled continuously for 13 years. There were bursts of activity, when I managed to clear my calendar of other responsibilities. There were stretches in which I wrote a little bit each day, usually first thing in the morning. And then there were long periods when I didn’t do much at all, except look out the window and think.
The work began in 1996. The first draft was finished in 2007. In the last two years, I’ve given the manuscript two major edits. The most recent was this summer. Now, at long last, it really is done.