Off the Bench 

Virginia judge Martin Clark has turned his day job into material for his latest novel.

“I got that idea from a case that I tried,” Clark says. “I tried that case three times, and it hung a jury each time. In the end, the person won and walked out of the courtroom with thousands of dollars that, in my opinion, were the result of a fraud. And as I was sitting there, it came to me about how the whole thing might’ve happened.

“So I took that idea and embellished it and changed it all around, but the basic backbone of the idea came from that case.”

Clark began writing while still in law school at University of Virginia and went to extreme lengths to get his fiction noticed. Once he slipped a manuscript and a bottle of Scotch into the mailbox of one of Charlottesville’s most famous writers, Rita Mae Brown. Brown gave him some advice that he still laughs about. “She wrote me and said, ‘You’ll either be a half-assed lawyer or a half-assed writer, but both are full-time professions.’ I like writing and it’s not work for me. Even though writing’s become more of a full-time endeavor now, doing court and dealing with people’s lives has to be paramount. I like being a judge, but maybe one day I’ll decide to devote everything to writing.”

While other lawyers-turned-writers like John Grisham and Scott Turrow are locked into the genre of the “legal thriller,” Clark’s books defy any real categorization. Both his books. “Plain Heather Mischief” and “The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living,” blend the excitement of popular fiction with the ethical and spiritual questions of more literary books.

“The tag that I’m pretty proud of is from The New York Times,” Clark says. “They wrote that I’m the ‘thinking man’s John Grisham … even better, the drinking man’s John Grisham!’” It seems like publishing houses are so vulcanized they want to pigeonhole you as either a thriller writer or a literary writer or whatever. All I know is that I think a writer should try and do three basic things: A writer should entertain the reader with a good story, give them some good writing and challenge their perspective. With my books I always try to do all three. Not all books do and not all books should — but for me I try and hit the trifecta.” S

Martin Clark will be having a birthday reading and book signing on Wednesday, June 23, at the Tap House Grill, 1212 E. Cary St. at 5 p.m. Call the Fountain Bookstore, 788-1594, for more information.

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