Matthew B. Gilmore
Star Spangled Scandal: Sex, Murder, and the Trial that Changed America. Regnery History, 2019
1. Tell us about the book.
A Congressman killed the US Attorney across from the White House for having an affair with his wife. And that’s just the beginning.
2. What’s your thesis? Story arc?
This incredible story forever changed the way news is reported in the United States. And for the next 100 years, it was almost impossible to convict a killer who was motivated by avenging their family honor.
3. What are the most important influences on your writing?
I try to write in the compulsively readable style of people like Erik Larson, David Grann, and Candice Millard. They prove that history can read like the world’s best novels.
4. What are the myths or misconceptions you’d like to dispel about this subject?
Sickles was an incredibly divisive figure. His enemies said all kinds of things about him and his biographers found many of these things too good to verify. For instance, he did not present a prostitute at the court of Queen Victoria. I would have loved to include that detail. But it didn’t happen.
5. What are the classics in field (if any)?
“In Cold Blood” tends to mark the beginning of narrative non-fiction in true crime and remains a standard of the genre.
6. What challenges did you face in this research?
This was the most covered event in human history. The challenge was finding the best information in thousands of articles.
7. What were the most important resources you found (and where)?
The trial transcript. But there were tens of thousands of newspaper articles written about the case and its players.
8. Are there sources you wish existed but don’t?
The murder was provoked by an anonymous letter written to the killer. I worked with a handwriting expert and doggedly tried to unmask the writer, to no avail. It still bothers me.
9. Who’s your audience?
Anyone who loves a good story.
10. Tell us about you.
I’m a lawyer by training, formerly a law professor and the Clerk of the Superior Court for Maricopa County, Arizona. I’m a Chicago native living in Phoenix with my wife, a radiologist. Our favorite thing to do is putting stamps in our passports. More about me and my previous work can be found at www.chrisderosebooks.com.
11. What inspired you to write this book?
It’s one of the best stories in American history and it was almost totally forgotten. As a lover of history and great stories, I try to focus on subjects that I would want to read about.
12. What’s unique about your perspective?
It was a huge help writing about one of America’s exciting trials from the perspective of a lawyer.
13. What’s your favorite DC history book?
“Empire of Mud,” by JD Dickey.
14. What’s next for you? What are you working on?
A book about a group of World War II veterans who returned to find their home in the grips of a corrupt political machine. They formed a non-partisan GI slate to chase the machine from office. On Election Day, the machine attempted to steal the election. A small band armed themselves and fought a six hour battle against the sheriff and his men.
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