story behind the book | kate tuttle

Novel rooted in a 1970s screenplay

(david wilson for the boston globe)

William Martin began working on his 11th and most recent novel, “Bound for Gold,” years before his first book was even published.

In 1974, Martin penned a screenplay that came to him while in film school at USC. “I looked around at all my friends and I thought, ‘We’re all just like those people who came to California 130 years ago, with stars in our eyes and dreams of getting rich quick,’ ” Martin said. Out of that notion came the characters and plot of a story about the 1849 gold rush.

That screenplay won a prestigious award, but never became a film. “It sat in my drawer. It sat there for almost 40 years,” Martin added. In the intervening decades, Martin wrote 10 works of historical fiction, one PBS documentary, and a cult classic horror movie, 1980’s “Humanoids From the Deep.” He doesn’t regret leaving Hollywood for his writing desk. “I think I’m probably doing what I was put on earth to do, which is write novels. But I think like a movie director when I’m writing.”

In “Bound for Gold,” Martin returns to his longtime protagonist, rare book dealer Peter Fallon. Using Fallon’s story as a way into historical mysteries and treasures, Martin added, “provides a particular kind of perspective for the readers, so that they always have a sense that not only is the history important in itself, but it’s important to these modern characters.”


When he returned to the original screenplay, Martin saw that the story he’d written in the 1970s, which focused on racism and inequality during the California gold rush, had contemporary relevance. “I kept thinking to myself, ‘The more things change the more they stay the same,’ ” Martin said. “History is always talking to us. If we listen, we can hear the echoes.”


Martin will read at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20, at Concord Bookshop.

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Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at