By Marguerite Cleveland
Photo by Samantha Elise Tillman
DL Fowler is an award-winning author who is known locally as “the Lincoln Guy” for his writings on President Abraham Lincoln. He and his wife Judi settled in the Pacific Northwest over 40 years ago. In 2008 they moved to Gig Harbor to be closer to their daughter and her family. He spends his time writing and supporting the local writers’ community. Fowler taught creative writing classes at the Tacoma Community College Continuing Education program. With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting everyone, he partnered with Gary Parker, owner of BBQ2U and the subject of our March 2021 cover, to bring authors and the public together in a COVID-safe setting. It gave authors a place to sell and autograph books, and helped make up for canceled book signing events and festivals.
Fowler and his wife support the Peninsula Youth Orchestra of Gig Harbor. “It is a treasure for the community, especially families who want to give their children an opportunity to develop musically, regardless of skill,” he said.
Q. You are known as “the Lincoln Guy." Why President Abraham Lincoln? What did you find so intriguing about him?
A. I was drawn to Lincoln as a Boy Scout. I lived in a community in Southern California that hosted a pilgrimage each year, drawing youth from all over the region. I began writing about his life when I discovered he struggled with depression. In writing about him in an intimate way, beginning with his earliest days, I hoped to unlock his secret to leading a productive life despite emotional baggage. I found his example not only instructive, but highly motivational.
Q. You attended the prestigious Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, to learn Bulgarian and served in the Air Force during the 1970s and the Cold War. What was it like studying such a difficult language to learn as an adult? Did your service in the military influence any of your writing?
A. Yes, DLI was founded in 1963. I don’t know why, since I struggled with languages in college, but I didn’t find learning Bulgarian to be difficult. That probably was because of the immersion experience. Our instructors were lifelong native speakers, and for a whole year the language was our entire focus. We attended language class all day, five days a week. We had daily homework assignments that involved listening to hours of recordings. I had no previous exposure to the language, but at the end of the year I received the Maxwell Taylor Award as the top student for all languages and all branches of service: Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines.
I think my time at DLI and my service as a translator at NSA helped me with my writing. I had also studied Spanish in high school and college, and German for a semester of college—I was a disaster at German. That exposure to different sentence structures and nuances in the meanings of words has helped me find ways to use language to evoke a variety of emotions in readers.
Q. Your book "Ripples" is a complete departure from your previous books of historical fiction. What sparked your interest in writing a psychological thriller?
A. For me, “Ripples” was more of a writing exercise than an attempt to create a novel. I was experimenting with different approaches to giving readers visceral experiences that mirrored characters’ emotions. Of course, I had to put it out in the world to see how readers reacted, but the novel makes me uncomfortable, so it’s a hard book for me to market. The story is about six different people’s experiences with home or lack of home.
Q. Can you share with our readers how you use your writings on Abraham Lincoln to help veterans who are suffering from PTSD and depression?
A. There is a myth that Lincoln overcame a great deal of failure in his life. While that is not true, he was a highly sensitive individual who suffered many tragedies and emotional traumas. There is a part in “Lincoln Raw” where I describe the medical treatment he endured for his “melancholy.” It was so horrific he swore he’d never do it again, though his depression continued. Another doctor helped him identify triggers that incited his attacks and offered strategies for dealing with those triggers. That could be one of the most valuable models we can take away from Lincoln’s life.
Q. What are you working on now? Any plans for dates for your Lincoln Lectures?
A. I recently received a Creative Endeavor Grant from the City of Gig Harbor Arts Commission to produce a series of poetry events during the late summer and fall of this year. I like to promote our local poets because I find exercising my poetry muscles makes me a better novelist.
My current writing project is about an Army nurse who cared for the Lincoln family after Willie Lincoln’s death. According to Lincoln’s own testimony, and that of Mrs. Lincoln, Rebecca Pomroy was one of the most important people in the family’s support system during the most crucial period of Lincoln’s presidency.
As for the Lincoln Lectures, we discontinued them during COVID, mostly because I am terrible at hosting Zoom events. Once things are fully open, we’ll take a look at resuming the series.