I am so thrilled and honored to have William Martin as a guest on the blog today! He has written ten novels, an award winning PBS documentary, book reviews, magazine articles, and one of what he calls “the cheesiest horror movies of all time.” His first novel, Back Bay, spent fourteen weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List and introduced Boston treasure hunter Peter Fallon. Since then he has been telling the American story, from the Pilgrims to 9/11. His tenth novel — and fifth to feature Peter Fallon — is The Lincoln Letter which was published by Forge this past August. In 2005 he received the prestigious New England Book Award, given “to an author whose body of work stands as a significant contribution to the culture of the region.” There are now over three million copies of his books in print. He has three grown children and lives near Boston with his wife. He says, “I am fortunate to have lasted for more than three decades in a very unpredictable business.” I feel very grateful that he took the time to answer some questions for us about his latest book and his writing process. Enjoy!
Tell us about your latest book The Lincoln Letter.
Like all the Peter Fallon novels, it is a history/mystery. Abraham Lincoln loses his diary in the spring of 1862. What was in it? Who got hold of it? And where is it today? Like its predecessors, it’s two stories in one. Peter and Evangeline set out to find the diary in the modern day. Their search takes them into the Civil War history of Washington DC. And as they search history, it comes to life. Peter was one of the first of a fictional type that has become quite popular of late: the smart guy searching for the lost historical artifact that can change the world. What separates the Peter Fallon books from the others, however, is that the reader gets to live the history. The Lincoln Letter is both a modern suspense thriller and a historical novel set in gritty, muddy, conspiracy-filled Civil War Washington.
How does writing a novel compare to writing a screenplay?
Much more freedom with a novel. A screenplay should only be about 120 pages, tops. A novel can be however long it takes to tell the story. A screenwriter is an architect, drawing a blueprint for a movie. A novelist is director, writer, actor, cinematographer, set designer, special effects coordinator… Novelists have more freedom to write what they want and usually fewer people offering opinions when they are done.
How did you get started writing?
I went to LA to study moviemaking. I figured out that the quickest way into the business was to write screenplays. I wrote several that I could not sell (the fate of most screenplays). A producer said, “The way you write, you should write a novel.” So I wrote Back Bay and it became a best seller.
What is your writing process like? How do you balance writing and research?
I write on a computer, like most people these days. I used to write longhand on looseleaf, then type it all myself. That was a killer. The computer can’t write for you. I mean, how many of the great novels were written on computers? But it sure can make the whole process easier. As far as balancing writing and research, there really is no balance. You just do what you have to to give the story and its characters the truth that they need.
How do you get ideas for what you write?
I don’t know is the honest answer. But… I read, I ruminate, I talk to my agent and editor. And once I’m writing, I often let history give me my big scenes, like, say, the Battle of Anteitam or the assassination in Ford’s Theatre.
What is your biggest advice for young people reaching for their dreams?
If your dream is to write, WRITE. Don’t dream about it. Many people will tell you the odds against you, but you have to believe in yourself.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Samuel Johnson said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote for anything but money.” And yes, I write to pay the bills, to put three kids through college, to buy a few nice wines, to do some traveling. But there are easier ways to make money. Like most writers, I also write for fulfillment, for the fun of traveling to different places or times to meet, in my imagination, people whom I would never encounter in real life. I write to learn and perhaps to teach. I write to get myself through the day and to help others get through the night. I write because I hate traffic and would kill myself if I had to commute beyond my attic office. And I write because I love knowing that somewhere, right now, someone is reading one of my books and seeing the world through my eyes.
Connect with William Martin:
author, speaker, freelance writer
founder of Write On! Books and Write On! For Literacy