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Look to Lincoln

Using historical fiction to help veterans understand and overcome depression

Veteran and historical fiction author Larry Fowler. Photo courtesy of Larry Fowler

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According to a study conducted by the RAND Corporation in 2014, 20 percent of U.S. veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from PTSD and/or depression. That's 520,000 people -- neighbors, friends, family members, coworkers and spouses -- grappling with mental health conditions. Half of those individuals will not seek help for their ailments. 

These numbers stand as a powerful reminder that many veterans cannot overcome PTSD or depression on their own. They need tools and guidance, which can come from as unlikely a source as historical fiction. Veteran and historical fiction author Larry Fowler knows all about that fight, and he uses his writing on Abraham Lincoln to help other veterans overcome depression. 

"Abraham Lincoln faced great odds and suffered from depression all his life," said Fowler. "People who suffer from depression need an edge, an advantage to keep us afloat."

Fowler is a 10-year resident of Gig Harbor. He's also a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, in which he served three years as a Bulgarian linguist in the early 1970s. He's often regarded as an Abraham Lincoln expert by peers and in the media. Fowler has written four books since he left the Air Force, two of which closely follow the life of Lincoln. 

 "I love the way the story emerged from Lincoln's life, which was honest but isn't something we really focus on (now)," said Fowler. "I wanted to understand what made him special, what allowed him to overcome all the obstacles in his way."

 In his first book, Lincoln Raw, Fowler presents a biographical account of the 16th president during his most formative years. He gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at Lincoln as he fought depression and fears of mediocrity. The book can be found in the Lincoln Collection of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois.

"Lincoln Raw is a great book for people who really want to understand how to master depression and adversity. No one in our culture has demonstrated those things better in life than Lincoln," said Fowler. 

"He made a promise to his mother ... when he was 9 years old and she was dying. He promised to become someone special ... But if you look at where Lincoln came from and all the obstacles and challenges he faced along the way, it was almost an impossible thing to do ... Learning about that helped me."

In addition to a second novel titled Lincoln's Diary, Fowler also wrote Transform Your Fiction, a non-fiction book about the craft of writing, and Ripples, a suspense novel with recurring themes of experiencing and healing from trauma. Like the characters in his books, Fowler has battled against self-doubt, the repercussions of trauma and depression at various points in his life. His military career was no exception. 

"I was really overwhelmed by the thought of qualifying to even go to language school, let alone graduate at the top of my class," said Fowler. He went on to receive the Maxwell Taylor Award at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) in Monterey, California, at the end of his training. The award is given to a single graduating student with the highest scores at DLIFLC each year. 

In his fifth and forthcoming book (title and publication date TBD), Fowler returns to the subject of Lincoln. In this work, he tells the stories of unlikely heroes who greatly impacted Lincoln's life. 

"My new book ... focuses on paying attention to the humblest people around us," said Fowler. "You'll see the relationships Lincoln forged with the ‘little' people - the ‘fringe people' - and how profound their influence was in changing him from essentially, a segregationist, to a man who stood up for voting rights and for freeing slaves."

 To dive deeper into Fowler's work on Abraham Lincoln, head to He will also be reading and holding a book signing event at the Gig Harbor Summer Art Festival 2018, July 21-22. 

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