How does an author write nearly 90 books?
That’s an average of almost two each year, if you consider that Martin W. Sandler of Cotuit did not publish his first book until he was in his 30s.
The answer is that, in addition to having loads of talent, Sandler writes for nine hours a day, seven days a week, in his office, which is on the second floor of his home. During an interview in his sunny living room last week he said he believes in the old adage favoring perspiration over inspiration.
“It’s what I like doing most,” he says. “It’s still a miracle that I can sit up there with a blank piece of paper, and by the end of it I’ll have something 40,000 people will read.”
On Sunday, April 14, Sandler will speak on his two newest books: “1919: The Year that Changed America” (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019) and “Apollo 8: The Mission that Changed Everything” (Candlewick, 2018).
While many of his books are marketed to young adults, Sandler says he has as many adult readers as young adult readers.
Sandler grew up in what he describes as poverty in the West End of New Bedford. He went on to Providence College where he earned his undergraduate degree, and Brown University, where he earned a master’s degree in American Studies. He began his writing career in 1968 while employed as a history teacher in Quincy. Because the standard textbook was so dull, he rewrote several chapters in it before launching his own non-fiction writing career. He has been nominated twice for a Pulitzer Prize and has won five Emmy Awards for his writing for television.
Several of Sandler’s books have strong Cape Cod connections. Two such books are “The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found” (2017) and “The Letters of John F. Kennedy” (2013), which he edited.
His book on 1919 began when he was thinking of a new book topic. “Publishers for some reason go nuts over anniversaries,” he says. When he looked at 1919, “I was absolutely shocked.”
In six chapters, Sandler covers Boston’s Great Molasses Flood; suffrage and the fight for the 19thamendment; the “red summer” when black people returned from WWI only to find discrimination on the rise; the “red scare” when communists seemed to be taking over; labor strikes; and Prohibition.
“You might think that the most trivial of all the stories is the molasses flood—but out of that came the nation’s first building codes,” he notes.
In addition, in 1919 the influenza pandemic had not yet run its course. And “the greatest sports scandal” occurred when the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series. All in all, “there was never a year that had more eventful events than that year,” he says.
At the end of each chapter, Sandler includes a “100 years later” section that looks at current events in light of their historical precedents. In this section he is not afraid to wade into the controversies of today such as gun control, the anti-vax movement and immigration.
Sandler will also talk about “Apollo 8.” That flight, which took off on Dec. 21, 1968, was the first flight in which “man left the bounds of the earth and went around the dark side of the moon,” he says. What he calls the most famous photo in the world was taken on that flight—it shows the earth rising. The flight also spurred the birth of the environmental movement. The spaceship came within 60 miles of the moon but didn’t land because it had no loon lander. “Once that mission was over, it was a piece of cake for Apollo 11” which landed on the moon.
The flight came about because the CIA got the word that the Russians were planning to send cosmonauts around the dark side of the moon.
“Suddenly we have the most uplifting mission to the moon,” Sandler says. And after the multiple assassinations of 1968 and other violent civil unrest, “there never was a time that the U.S. so needed something good to happen.”
Sandler does a great deal of his research online. “I’m a genius at research,” he says. “I have very little discipline in my personal life—but I’m most disciplined in work.” As well as his online research, he reads a great many books pertinent to his topic. He also interviews eyewitnesses when they are available.
Right now, Sandler is writing a book on the birth of flight. The 100thanniversary of Chatham’s role in flight will have a spot in his story. It was May 1919 when the Navy seaplane the NC-4 stopped in at the Naval Air Station for repairs before making records as the first airplane to cross the Atlantic by air.
Sandler will speak at the Chatham Historical Society, 347 Stage Harbor Rd., on Sunday, April 14 at 2 p.m. Tickets, which are available at the door, are $10 for non-members; members are free. The door will open at 1:15 p.m. and seating is limited. For more information, visit chathamhistoricalsociety.org.