Let’s start with an introduction: Who is William Martin?
A guy who has been writing stories for forty years, since I left the USC Film School. And I’ve been very lucky. After a few screenplays, my first novel made the New York Times Best Seller list, and I haven’t looked back since. It’s now eleven novels, and counting, a PBS Documentary on the life of George Washington, book reviews, essays, and a cult classic horror film, too.
Your latest novel, Bound For Gold, will be published by published on July 3rd by Forge. The latest book in your Peter Fallon series, how would you introduce the novel and series to a potential reader?
History meets mystery, in a grand intermarriage of past and present. It’s about the California Gold Rush, one of the seminal moments in American history, when anyone could get rich if he was lucky enough, unless he was Chinese or Mexican. Those people, of course, faced the kinds of prejudices that have always boiled over wherever men of different races meet. And they boil over in the book.
One of the Gold Rushers tells this tale in a journal that also locates a mythical lost river of gold. He leaves the journal to posterity in the California Historical Society. But in 2018, the journal disappears. That’s where Peter Fallon and his girlfriend, Evangeline, come in. Turns out that people will kill to find that journal. So the race is on, a race through the wild, uproarious, violent history of the Gold Rush, and a chase through modern San Francisco, too. Peter and Evangeline met when they were young, in my first novel, Back Bay. He was a history graduate student from Harvard by way of the South Boston working class. She was running away from an upper crust heritage. Now, he’s a dealer in rare books and documents, and she’s a travel writer. They are on-again-off-again, which always gives them an interesting edge in their byplay. They want to be together but just can’t quite pull it off. It’s the treasure hunts through time that always bring them together.
What inspired story and series? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
I conceived the story originally as a screenplay. Back at the USC Film School, I looked around at all my friends and said, we are all here to get rich quick. It’s like the Gold Rush all over again, so that was how the original story came together. It won a fellowship given by the famous movie producer Hal Wallis but it didn’t get made. Anyway, I came back to it all these years later, thinking of the modern resonances — the anti-immigrant sentiments that seem to be born in 1849-51, for example — and thought it would make a great vehicle for Peter and Evangeline and a great opportunity to write a journal that carries all the historical narrative, all in the first person. As for inspiration, writing is a job. It’s also a chore. But it is also a passion. And ultimately it’s a joy. Tell yourself all that and inspiration will come.
How were you introduced to historical and mystery fiction?
Well, mystery-thrillers would be more like it. I loved the movies that Alfred Hitchcock made, plot-driven, MacGuffin-chasing stories that ultimately are about the love relationships of the main characters. One of my earliest movie memories is The Man Who Knew Too Much, with the great ending in the Royal Albert Hall. As for history, I was always drawn to movies about characters who seemed larger than life but in the end are all too human. Think of Mutiny on the Bounty with Marlon Brando or Lawrence of Arabia. And after I would see some spectacular dramatization of history, I would go and read everything I could about the event. I loved big stories on broad canvases, and I loved finding the deeper truths buried in the events. When I was a kid my father gave me a book called No Survivors by Will Henry about Custer’s Last Stand. I got to the deeper truths while telling a rip-snorting western yarn. I read that book and was hooked on reading historical fiction, in addition to seeing all those movies.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
I’ve been in it for forty years, and I would tell you that it beats real work all to hell. And I have never met a person in the publishing industry I didn’t like. No, really. Publishing has been very good to me.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
Get up every day and go to the desk and put in eight to ten hours. Some days a little more, some days a little less. Some writers have word counts and page counts. For me, it’s time. But I am a slow writer, and I’m little older now, so I try to be more jealous of my time. The best research practices: begin by reading a mile wide and an inch deep, then get more specific, find the newspapers of the era, which are now so readily available in digital archives. THEN go out and walk the ground. Go to the places where history happened, and even if it doesn’t look as it did — What does? Who does? — you will feel the ghosts. they will talk to you in the wind, in the lay of the light, in the smells at evening, whether you’re talking about little California rivers where the Gold Rush began, or the Roman Forum.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I went to Hollywood to become a movie director. That was my first dream. I quickly figured out that the best way into the movie business was to write a screenplay that someone wanted to produce. I said, Okay, I’ll write one. I got plenty of stories. This is what’s called the arrogance of naivete. And when no one wanted to produce my screenplays, someone suggested I write a novel. I had Back Bay floating around in my head, so I said, Okay, I’ll write it. It’ll be a best seller. More naivete, more arrogance.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
Well, it’s a popular genre, the history-mystery, what I call ‘the-really-smart-guy-goes-after-lost-stuff’ genre. Back Bay was one of the earliest of these. As the tag line for City of Dreams, my fourth Fallon novel, said, “Before all the others, there was Peter Fallon.” I liked that. It may even be true. But I’ve been around. And now you have great practitioners like Steve Berry, Dan Brown, etc. So I’d say it remains a very popular genre. I just try to write good stories that have the Martin stamp. That’s how I plan to fit in.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I’m writing a WWII thriller. Nothing more till it’s done.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
If you could recommend only one novel to someone, what would it be?
Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you
Oh, I don’t know. I once was a bicycle messenger for the Western Union. I once survived a thirty-foot fall in the mountains above Los Angeles. I can recite, word-for-word, “Ya Got Trouble… Right here in River City” from The Music Man.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Three things, in chronological order: My wife’s retirement, so that we can do more travel, the Congressional elections, and the completion of my WWII thriller.
William Martin‘s Bound For Gold is published by Forge Books on July 3rd. The first two novels in the Peter Fallon & Evangeline Carrington series are published by Grand Central. Since the third instalment, the series has been published by Forge.