The one and only WILLIAM MARTIN joins us today on Career Authors. Bill is the New York Times bestselling author of eleven novels, a PBS documentary, and a cult-classic horror movie, too. BOUND FOR GOLD, his latest, sweeps readers back to California in the legendary year of 1849 and “solidifies his claim as king of the historical thriller” (Providence Journal). He’s been awarded too many honors to count, among them the prestigious New England Book Award, the Samuel Eliot Morison Award, and the Robert B. Parker Award. He’s as a lovely a guy as he is a writer–and we’re thrilled to welcome him to Career Authors.
- What book changed your life? The first novel that swallowed me whole. A big western about Custer’s Last Stand, from the Sioux point-of-view. My father gave it to me to read when I was about twelve. It’s called NO SURVIVORS, by Will Henry, who is now largely forgotten except in the world of Westerns. It showed me how historical fiction worked. I couldn’t stop reading.
- Was your first published book the first manuscript you ever wrote? Yes. I had written three screenplays that no one wanted to produce, so I said, “Dammit, I’ll try a novel.” That was BACK BAY.
- Stephen King says, “The hardest part is just before you start.” What’s the hardest part of writing for you? Whatever part I’m working on at the moment. When I’m outlining, I wish I was writing. When I’m writing and realizing how the story is changing from the outline and I’m wrestling with the scenecraft and the sentence structure, I wish I was editing. When I’m editing, cutting, pulling strands out of the tapestry, I wish it was all over and I was out selling the book.
- Do you know the story’s ending before you start? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Sometimes every detail is clear, sometimes just a location. It changes from book to book.
- When you’re having a difficult writing day, what do you tell yourself to get through it? I remind myself that I have done this thing pretty well for a long time. I’ve been at it for forty years and never had to have a real job. I’ll get it done and it’ll be great.
- Do you read your reviews? Yes. But I have a thick skin because (see the previous answer) I got nothing left to prove, and I’ve internalized the truths of three giants: Hemingway, who is supposed to have said, “If you believe ‘em when they love you, you’ll believe ‘em when they hate you;” Stephen Sondheim, who once said, “I would rather be disliked than ignored;” and Oscar Wilde, who is supposed to have said, “A critic is one who rides around after the battle is over and shoots the wounded.” So folks, review my books. Say what you want. Just spell my name and the title correctly.
- Besides being persistent and correcting your spelling errors, what’s your best advice for a new author? Remember that a sentence is a fragile thing. Don’t ask it to do too much. And keep your day job
- What’s your definition of writer misery? The daily attack of “worst book in the world syndrome.” I get it around 5PM. Then I write through it and go have a glass of wine at 6PM and forget about it. Then I find at 6AM that the book isn’t bad. In fact, it might be pretty damn good. Also, like Sondheim, I hate being ignored. As another giant, George V. Higgins once told a group of students hungry for wisdom, “If you write a book, no one will care.” It’s a sad truth that you need to prepare for and find ways to fight against. The indifference of the wider world can be a miserable thing.
- What’s your definition of writer happiness? A clear dawn, a clear schedule, and a big scene to write.
- What’s your favorite book on writing? ON WRITING by Stephen King. I don’t agree with all of it. Everybody’s process is different. He says he never outlines, for example, just plows in, and that’s not my work method. But his book has so much that’s so helpful. And Honorable Mention goes to HOW TO WRITE A SELLING SCREENPLAY by the retired Emerson writing teacher and screenwriter Christopher Keane. A great primer on what story is all about.
- What book are you reading right now? FRANKLIN AND WINSTON by Jon Meacham. Research for my next novel, and a fascinating look at two amazing men.
Thanks, Bill, for spending some time here with us at Career Authors. Now, let’s all hang out with William Martin on Facebook with us….
New York Times bestselling author WILLIAM MARTIN‘s first Peter Fallon novel, Back Bay, established him as “a master storyteller.” He has been dramatizing the lives of the great and anonymous in American history ever since, taking readers from the Mayflower in Cape Cod to Ford’s Theater in The Lincoln Letter to the South Tower on 9/11 in City of Dreams. Bound for Gold, his latest, has been named a “must read” by the Massachusetts Center for the Book. He was also the 2005 recipient of 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.” In 2015, the USS Constitution Museum gave him the Samuel Eliot Morison Award. And in 2018, the New England Mobile Bookfair and Mystery Writers of America (N.E. Chapter) gave him the Robert B. Parker Award. He serves on the boards of many of Boston’s historical and cultural organizations, lives near Boston with his wife, and has three grown children.