Martin, William 1950- (Frederick James, William Kevin Martin)
Martin, William 1950- (Frederick James, William Kevin Martin)
Born May 3, 1950, in Cambridge, MA; son of William E. (a communications manager) and Charlotte L. (a homemaker) Martin; married Christine Kunz (a development officer), August 4, 1973; children: three. Education: Harvard University, B.A., 1972; University of Southern California, M.F.A., 1976.
Writer and novelist.
Writers Guild, Authors Guild, Mystery Writers of America, Massachusetts Historical Society.
David McCord Prize, Harvard College, 1972; CBS fellow, University of Southern California, 1975; Hal Wallis screenwriting fellow, University of Southern California, 1976; New England Book Award for Fiction, New England Booksellers Association, 2005.
(Under pseudonym Frederick James) Humanoids from the Deep (screenplay), New World Pictures, 1980.
"George Washington: The Man Who Wouldn't Be King" (television play), produced on The American Experience, Public Broadcasting System (PBS), 1992.
Back Bay, Crown (New York, NY), 1980, reprinted, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Nerve Endings, Crown (New York, NY), 1984.
The Rising of the Moon, Crown (New York, NY), 1987.
Cape Cod, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Annapolis: A Story of America, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Citizen Washington, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Harvard Yard, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2003.
The Lost Constitution, Forge (New York, NY), 2007.
William Martin is a writer who has won acclaim with his historical novels. He launched his literary career in 1980 with a multigenerational saga, Back Bay, which centers on the Pratts, a fictional Boston family. In the early 1800s, successful trade merchant Horace Taylor Pratt seeks to purchase a silver tea set created by Paul Revere for President George Washington. When the White House burns during the War of 1812, the tea set is stolen. The thieves sail for Boston, where the wealthy Pratt has arranged to purchase the stolen property. A fight breaks out aboard the vessel as it approaches Boston Harbor, the thieves kill each other, and the stolen tea set falls into the harbor. Several generations later, the story moves to history student Peter Fallon, a descendant of Horace Taylor Pratt, who is determined to recover the objects from the harbor bottom. William J. Leonard, in his review of Back Bay for America, described Martin's fiction debut as "a grand story … packed with action," and added that it is "an impressive achievement."
Martin followed Back Bay with Nerve Endings, in which kidney recipient Jim Whiting, an advertising copywriter, becomes obsessed with the dead donor, who was killed in a boating explosion. Whiting soon discovers that the donor, film producer Roger Darrow, had planned to expose considerable corruption he had uncovered in the cable television business. With Darrow's widow, Whiting embarks on a cross-country adventure to undo Darrow's murderous foes.
In The Rising of the Moon Martin writes about events immediately preceding the Easter Rising that resulted in the separation of Northern Ireland from the rest of Ireland in 1916. The novel's hero is Padraic Starr, an Irish rebel who has arrived in Boston to procure arms and volunteers for the impending rebellion back home against the British. He soon joins forces with his cousin, Tom Tracy; the cousin's Zionist lover, Rachel; and a sympathetic priest. After various adventures, including a train robbery, the heroes begin their harrowing journey through storm-tossed seas and past prowling German submarines.
Martin's Cape Cod, which appeared in 1991, is an epic novel of Cape Cod and its inhabitants, from the Mayflower landing to present times. The novel is structured by a long-lived rivalry between the Bigelows and the Hilyards, two families whose members begin quarreling before they plan to go to America. The clash, centered largely on the disputed ownership of Jack's Island, continues throughout the ensuing decades, culminating in the Bigelow family's efforts to construct housing on the contested property while the Hilyards hope to keep the island natural and undeveloped.
In addition to writing novels, Martin penned the screenplay for the cult classic film Humanoids from the Deep under the pseudonym Frederick James. Of his experience in trying to enter the film industry, Martin once told CA: "Like most everyone who has sought to break into Hollywood during the last three decades, I spent time in [horror director/producer] Roger Corman's postgraduate, guild-minimum school for low-budget filmmaking. I did not, however, follow in the footsteps of Francis Coppola or Jack Nicholson or many of the other Corman novices because, in the same season that the film was released, my first novel was published and I was set free." In 1992, the television program American Experience broadcast "George Washington: The Man Who Wouldn't Be King," another screenplay by Martin. "In this film, I did not have the luxury of a fictional character through whom I could see history," the author told CA. "Instead I appeared as the historical novelist and narrator searching for the man behind the myth."
Martin marshaled his research on Washington into another form, using it in the 1999 novel Citizen Washington. The book begins shortly after Washington's death, when an old nemesis of the general's, who is also the publisher of a muckraking newspaper, charges his nephew with the task of uncovering the "truth" about Washington. The widowed Martha Washington has recently been seen burning her husband's letters, and the publisher is looking for scandal. Christopher, the young man in charge of the investigation, interviews family, friends, slaves, enemies, and military allies in an attempt to get a fully developed picture of the nation's first president. "Martin demonstrates full command of his material as he pieces together this widelens, multifaceted portrait," reported Brad Hooper in Booklist. "He exhibits remarkable talent in speaking through the voices of his various ‘testifiers.’ The result is both an authentic and absorbing fictional account." A Publishers Weekly reviewer also commended the author for avoiding sensationalism and accurately portraying the social customs and historical details of the time. "Yet," added the reviewer, "he enlivens the novel with ribald humor and even some graphic sex scenes, meanwhile humanizing Washington and delivering an entertaining slice of history."
In Annapolis: A Story of America, Martin uses the formula that worked so successfully for him in BackBay and Cape Cod to tell the story of America's preeminent naval town. The rival families in this tale are the Staffords and the Parrishes, who begin their rivalry in the 1700s. The Staffords have at least one man fighting in every pivotal conflict in American war history, from the Constitution's defeat of the Guerriere to the first Gulf War. Serving as a backdrop to the military action is the story of Fine Folly, the ancestral home of the Staffords. Martin's characters are somewhat stereotypical, noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer, but his "historical detail is impressive." The author's "smoothness equals his ambition," and in Annapolis, he has "written a panoramic entertainment that brings to vivid life the history of the American struggle to control the high seas."
Martin reintroduces historian and antiquarian bookseller Peter Fallon in Harvard Yard, a historical novel centered on the history of Harvard University and its intricate connections to the fictional Wedge family. As Harvard grad Fallon works during the university's latest round of alumni fundraising, he contacts a member of the Wedge family, Ridley Wedge Royce. Royce does not donate, but instead tells Fallon about a priceless, unknown Shakespearean manuscript that has been held for safekeeping by succeeding generations of the Wedge family. This version of "Love's Labors Won" establishes a connection between Shakespeare and university founder John Harvard. Intrigued by the possibility of the manuscript's existence, Fallon sets out to find it but is stymied by circumstance, resolute family history, and ruthless members of organized crime. In the process, he uncovers three centuries of history, including the development of one of America's most prestigious ivy-league colleges. The novel's "unexpected twists and turns through history will keep readers guessing and the pages turning," commented Booklist reviewer Margaret Flanagan. "Fallon's search takes a back seat to the historical material, but the novel provides good entertainment and copious Crimson lore," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor.
Another long-lost document occupies Fallon at the core of The Lost Constitution. This time, the determined Fallon is on the trail of an early draft of the Constitution of the United States. This draft is significant not only as part of the history of the great freedom document, but as a resource important in modern politics. This version of the Constitution, Fallon learns, is said to contain important marginal notes and clarifications on the meaning and intent of the Second Amendment and its provision for the bearing of arms. Martin details the origins of the document and its protected place among generations of the Pike family. He also recounts Fallon's modern-day search to find the document before it is discovered by criminals, radical politicians, supporters and opponents of gun ownership, a variety of Christian fundamentalists, or dubious entrepreneurs interested in the draft's high value. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the novel a "good mystery" and "a better examination of constitutional issues" as well as a "superb paean to New England, its people, natural beauty, and resources." Library Journal critic Ron Terpening commented favorably on the historical elements of the novel, concluding that they amount to an "engrossing family saga peopled with beautifully drawn characters."
"The simple truth I learned at the start of my career and have never forgotten is this," Martin noted: "people like stories. Readers (and viewers) like to be taken on a journey to a place they have never been, where the foreign seems familiar and the familiar seems unique.
"I like to take them into the past because it's a good place to study human nature, which always seems familiar no matter how unique the time or place may be. Moreover, most historical events can be examined as though they were stories. There are inciting incidents, rising and falling actions, crises, resolutions, denouements. So I can never complain about writer's block, because I always have a structure. And finally, I am fascinated by our own relationship to history, to the most world-shaking of events and the most private decisions of our own ancestors. History reaches for both of these poles, but often it is the historical novelist who is able to grasp them both at the same time.
"So I tell stories. In the process, I take people through time, across space, and—if I'm doing my job well—toward a deeper understanding of the things that make us all human."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America, May 24, 1980, William J. Leonard, review of Back Bay, p. 447.
Booklist, May 1, 1996, review of Annapolis: A Story of America, p. 1469; January 1, 1999, Brad Hooper, review of Citizen Washington, p. 792; October 15, 2003, Margaret Flanagan, review of Harvard Yard, p. 390.
Boston Globe, May 15, 2007, review of The Lost Constitution.
Christian Science Monitor, May 6, 1991, Shawn Michael Smith, review of Cape Cod, p. 13.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1996, review of Annapolis, p. 552; January 15, 1999, review of Citizen Washington, p. 90; September 15, 2003, review of Harvard Yard, p. 1148.
Kliatt, September, 1997, review of Annapolis, p. 12; July, 1999, review of Citizen Washington, p. 46.
Library Journal, May 15, 1996, review of Annapolis, p. 84; March 1, 1999, review of Citizen Washington, p. 110; May 1, 2007, Ron Terpening, review of The Lost Constitution, p. 73.
New York Times, February 19, 1984, Judy Bass, review of Nerve Endings p. 22.
New York Times Book Review, July 21, 1996, review of Annapolis, p. 19.
Publishers Weekly, May 6, 1996, review of Annapolis, p. 68; January 18, 1999, review of Citizen Washington, p. 329; October 13, 2003, review of Harvard Yard, p. 59; March 19, 2007, review of The Lost Constitution, p. 38.
Rapport, June, 1999, review of Citizen Washington, p. 26.
USA Today, February 22, 1999, review of Citizen Washington.
Genea-Musings Web log,http://randysmusings.blogspot.com/ (August 11, 2007), review of The Lost Constitution.
William Martin Home Page,http://www.williammartinbooks.com (September 9, 2007).