Swanson Weaves Tales of A Manhunt and A Massacre

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James Swanson, Photo: Lisa Nipp

James Swanson’s Manhunt Becomes Apple+ TV Series

James Swanson is the author of Manhunt: the 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killers, the source material for a new Apple+ series, premiering March 15th. The book was described by Janet Maslin of the New York Times as “vigorous and clear without sacrificing accuracy” and by Kirkus Reviews as a “compelling narrative of John Wilkes Booth’s desperate final days.” I recently interviewed Swanson who discusses Manhunt, the series, and his newest book, The Deerfield Massacre, recently released by Scribner. 

Literary Hill: Manhunt will be available for streaming on March 15th. Can you tell us a little about what to expect of series?

James Swanson: I am an Executive Producer of the seven-episode, seven-hour Apple TV Plus series. We have a stellar cast. Tobias Menzies from “Outlander” and “The Crown” plays Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, Lincoln’s right hand. Stanton played an indispensable role after the President was assassinated on the night of April 14th, 1865. He had to hold the whole country together: prevent the murder of other top officials, launch an immediate investigation of the crime as Lincoln lay dying, organize a nationwide manhunt for Booth, wrap up the Civil war, and plan the magnificent funeral train journey that carried Abraham Lincoln home to Illinois.

Hamish Linklater is our Abraham Lincoln. I’ve met several Lincolns, including Sam Waterston and Gregory Peck, and Hamish is superb. Anthony Boyle from “Masters of the Air” plays the assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Lili Taylor is Mary Lincoln, and Patton Oswalt plays one of the principal detectives during the manhunt for John Wilkes Booth. Tobias and Hamish are wonderful in the way they capture the close partnership, friendship and even love between Lincoln and Stanton, the man who Lincoln nicknamed his “Mars,” the god of war.

Manhunt was originally slated as a two-hour movie. It was a blessing in disguise that that project never happened. It was impossible to capture all the action, drama, passion, frenzy, intrigue and emotion of the Lincoln assassination in a single film. We needed a TV series to do that. We filmed most of the show in Savannah, and the sets and performances were so authentic that I felt transported back in time to Civil War America and the moment of the Lincoln assassination.

LH: How did writing Manhunt prepare you to write The Deerfield Massacre?

JS: I used the same style and techniques that I used in Manhunt. Both books are sus-penseful, action thrillers that unfold in real time, staying faithful to the original chronology of what happened. I try to write in a day by day, hour by hour and minute by minute style that evokes what it must have been like to live through these events. I try to combine the “ticking clock” urgency of a novelist with the historical accuracy of non-fiction.

March Reviews

Deerfield Massacre: A Surprise Attack, a Forced March, and the Fight for Survival in Early America

A photo of an imposing, dark, and tomahawk- scarred door opens this page-turning history with a sense of imminent dread. The door is still housed in a small Massachusetts museum, we learn as we read, as we also learn about the Indigenous people’s attack on encroaching colonists in 1704. From the first moments of the massacre, through the harrowing forced march, and the captives’ eventual return, Swanson paints a vivid picture of the sacrifice, tenacity, and resilience necessary to survive in colonial America. Swanson adds in gripping layers of historical information from the memoir of Rev. Williams, a bestseller in its time. Readers of colonial U.S. history will be thrilled by this often forgotten story.

William Kurtz

Rescued

“At night, the voices rise from the Long Waters and wander through the forest of our island. I fly through the night trees searching for the stories they tell,” Owl writes at the beginning of Ollie’s Tale, Ben’s Tale, and now Rescued. The third of a six-book series, William Kurtz’s Rescued is a whimsical and poetic series of letters written by the animals who inhabit a small island in northern Lake Huron. The Animal Post Office series is inspired by the summers Kurtz and his family have visited that small island. If you have ever wondered what the many animals gathered at lakeside might say to one another, this imaginative and heart-filled series will delight you. Kurtz’s chapters are peppered with drawings and photos.

Kurtz is a long-time resident of Capitol Hill. Rescued and other titles can be purchased at https://www.wildwoodbook.com/.

John Lawson

Kurtz

This romantic thriller, Lawson’s third, gives us Annie Kurtz, a marine grappling with the ethics of war time decisions. Annie reconnects with friend Nick Willard, a journalist, who has carried a torch for Annie for many years. As they confront the complicated attraction that arises be-tween them, they must consider their duty to the truth and the deep psychological scars of war. Lawson’s story benefits from his years as a military analyst, news reporter, and Marine.

For more information: johnlawsonauthor.com/

Natasha Trethewey, 2024 Eudora Welty
Lecture; March 21, 7:30 p.m., National Press Club

 

The Folger invites readers to the annual Eudora Welty Lecture, featuring Pulitzer Prize Winning author Natasha Trethewey (Memorial Drive, Native Guard), this year’s Eudora Welty Prize winner. Previous Welty Award Winners have included Salman Rushdie, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Richard Ford, Jesmyn Ward, Ann Patchett, and Elizabeth Strout. Trethewey will speak about her own beginnings as a writer, inspired by Eudora Welty’s legendary memoir “One Writer’s Beginnings.” W. Ralph Eubanks (Ever Is a Long Time) will introduce Trethewey. The lecture will be followed by a book-signing. Tickets: www.folger.edu/poetry.

Michelle LaFrance is Associate Professor of English at George Mason University. She teaches creative nonfiction, life writing, and civic writing at the Hill Center and blogs about writing, her upcoming writing classes, and writing retreats at writinglostriver.org.