The Lincoln Letter

August 20th, 2012

After reading The Lost Constitution in 2008, I reached out to William Martin. Having never ventured into historical fiction previously, I was amazed at how he made our nation’s past come alive on the pages of a novel and wanted to thank him for showing me a new way to learn.

Later that year Kathy and I decided to go to New Hampshire to stay at the Mount Washington Hotel. Why? It was a key plot location in The Lost Constitution, and I wanted to experience it in person. On our journey, Bill met us at a Boston restaurant and spent a few hours discussing writing, family and his beloved Red Sox. We became friends and keep in touch.

His newest novel out today – The Lincoln Letter – takes the reader on a suspenseful ride. It’s likely to be another bestseller. (Here is a short video about The Lincoln Letter.)

Coincidentally, my other favorite author – in the non-fiction arena – marketing guru Seth Godin wrote a blog last month, stating: “Forty years ago, it wasn’t unusual for a typical bestseller to stay on the bestseller list for months or even years. Now the typical book lasts for two weeks. More titles, more churn means less cultural achievement.” Since William Martin has had bestsellers in five decades, I asked him a few questions last week about the publishing industry and The Lincoln Letter:

You’ve written bestsellers in five decades. How has promoting your novels changed?
“There have been many changes in the business overall, but then and now, here is the rule for writers: you do whatever you can to sell your book… from bookstore signings where one person shows up to book-and-author luncheons with a thousand people to television network appearances if they ever come your way. You just spent a year and a half in a room writing something. So be prepared to go to war for it. I’ve always believed that.”

What is the storyline of your new novel?
“In the spring of 1862, Abraham Lincoln ruminates in his diary about the need for emancipating the slaves and about the problems emancipation will create. He loses the diary. Who gets it then? What do they do with it? And who has it now? Boston treasure hunter Peter Fallon tries to find out. The book is a modern suspense tale and a historical thriller, too, and a vivid picture of life in that Civil War sinkhole, Washington, DC. And along the way, you’ll look into the eyes of Lincoln, Stanton, the notorious Wood brothers, the even more notorious John Wilkes Booth, General McClellan, Alan Pinkerton, young Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Walt Whitman, too.”

If new readers pick up The Lincoln Letter, what should they know about recurring characters Peter Fallon and Evangeline Carrington?
“Peter and Evangeline are like the Nick and Nora Charles of the 21st century. They are a team. They lived together once when they were young. They were planning to get married at the end of the last book. That’s up in the air now.  And when someone tells them about some amazing treasure that’s lost out there, they can’t help themselves, no matter how dangerous the hunt may become. They crack wise with each other all the time; sometimes they argue, but they always look out for each other.”

How many hours of research did you put into completing this one?
“It’s hard to divide the time between the pre-writing research and the in-action research. Creativity is seldom that linear. The reading and site-visits are going on throughout the process. My wife kept saying to me, in the first summer I was writing The Lincoln Letter, ‘What battlefields do you want to visit?’ And I would say I didn’t know… because I didn’t know what battle would be in the book. So we visited Manassas, Ball’s Bluff, Antietam, and Gettysburg. All the while I was writing toward a battle, but I finally settled on Antietam.”

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