Rick Lite shares a conversation with author Joe Clark about his recent book, the research required for it as well as his overall strategy on writing.
RL: Tell me about your latest book and why you wrote it?
JC: “The Walshes” is an experiment. I began working on it shortly after I published my first novel, “Survive.” The idea was to make the second novel bigger and better. It had to be grittier than anything I had ever written. My heroine is an ordinary, suburban housewife who is thrust into the world of pay-to-play sex. I knew she would lose everything, but the only way to discover what waited for her was to follow her on her journey. I had to write the story to learn how it would play out.
RL: What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
JC: I don’t have a schedule. I like to get to work on writing projects first thing in the morning, so I don’t spend the whole day doing other things. I generally work in spurts of two to three hours. But the main thing is the scene, which is like a short story. I will sit down with one in mind and stay with it until I’ve brought it to a climax. That generally means writing a thousand to two thousand words. One scene in “The Walshes” runs about 4000 words. A few are less than 1000.
Fitting the scenes together into a story is an essential part of the work. April Walsh is writing a piece about the sex industry. She has a deadline. Her kids have a swim meet every Saturday. The family goes to Mass on Sunday mornings. The club where she works is open on Sunday but closed on Monday. I put a lot of effort into keeping track of her daily activities.
Research is important. I spent a morning going through real estate ads looking for the right house for the Walshes. I spent another day studying handguns before settling on Eve’s choice of weapons. I read two books on prostitution. I read up on the 2008 election to get a timeline and a flow of events.
RL: Where do you get the information or ideas for your book from?
JC: The main ideas for “The Walshes” came from my life experiences. The story is set in 2008 because of the financial crisis at the end of Bush’s second term. Books and articles influenced the story. A couple of the characters were inspired by “The High Cost of Loving” which I read 50 years ago. Some of the key insights came from my reading of Rachel Moran’s memoir, “Paid For: My Journey through Prostitution.”
RL: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
JC: I think the correct question is: When did I realize I wanted to be a professional writer. I have been a writer as long as I can remember. Most published writers will tell you the same thing. I won an essay contest at 14. I wrote and directed a play at 19. But my first step to becoming a professional came in the form of a correspondence course on newspaper writing that I took in 1968 while I was stationed in Vietnam.
I submitted some of my work for publication in 1984, but that came to an end when my wife died in1985. I continued to write with some success, but I didn’t get the bug to publish until 2015 when I was 72.
I joined a group of writers for social reasons when retirement got boring. The price of admission was a couple of chapters that I had written. I didn’t have anything on hand. I quickly pumped out 20,000 words for a story I might write. Almost all of it was trashed. A few of the characters ended up in the novel that I eventually wrote and published. It took four rewrites to come up with the final version of “Survive.”
By the time I decided to submit “Survive” for publication, I had decided that I wanted to be a professional writer.
RL: What advice would you give other authors who are just starting out?
JC: Associate with other writers. They won’t always give you helpful advice. In fact, you will have to ignore a lot of what you are told. But at least you will be talking to people who understand what is going on in your life.
Read books you enjoy and figure out what the author did that you liked. You can also note things you didn’t like. This is a good way to study the art of writing.
Find helpful critics. One of the most important contributors to “The Walshes” was a Beta Reader who helped me see what I was doing wrong with my characters.
Write stories with characters that turn you on. That may not guarantee other people will like what you wrote, but if you don’t like what you wrote, you can bet nobody else will.
RL: Do you have any friends who are authors and have they helped you in any way?
JC: I have many friends who are authors. They are mostly supportive. I have lost contact with some of the more important ones that I met through writers’ groups. These groups tend to be transient. They thrive for a period of time and then fall apart. The meetings provided me essential feedback as well as the opportunity to practice my editorial skills on somebody else’s work.
I connected with a woman who was trying to write about a traumatic incident in her life. I was working on my third novel, “Demented.” We exchanged manuscripts and comments for over a year.
RL: Does your family support your career as a writer?
JC: My wife, Anita, is my biggest supporter. She reads the rough drafts, and she reads the rewrites. Our children are a mixed bag. Two of them support me on general principles but don’t really like my books. One daughter has become a fan.
My sister is a fan. My mom is dead, but I can assure you she would not have liked “The Walshes.”
RL: If you could meet anyone from history, who would you want to meet and why?
JC: I want to meet everybody and interview them all. If I have to pick one, it has to be Samuel Clemmons, a.k.a. Mark Twain. He is one of our most important writers, but before he wrote the novels and short stories that made him famous, he was a newspaper reporter in the wild west.
I would love to meet my Great Grandfather Tom Donal. He fought for the Union for almost four years from 1861 to 1865. After the war, he worked for the railroads, probably in upstate New York. I would like to know why.
He lost an arm in an accident while working for the railroad. After the accident, he moved to Kansas where he homesteaded. His first wife died during the birth of their second child. He remarried a year later and built a farm that lasted in our family for 100 years.
I would love to get his story.
Joe Clark writing has been his life-long hobby. He has written a play, short stories, essays and spent time as a reporter. But it wasn’t until he retired that Joe started writing novels. His first book Survive was published in 2016. His most recent book The Walshes: The Coming of Eve was first published in 2017 with a 2nd edition released in September 2019. His third book, Demented, is scheduled for release in the spring of 2020.
After serving 18 months in Vietnam and completing his commitment to the army, Joe returned to college and earned a degree in electrical engineering. During a 40-year career as a senior engineer, he served as the lead on satellite systems and other large-scale communications projects. He and Anita, his wife of 30 years, live in the Maryland suburbs on the outskirts of Washington, DC. You can read more about Joe Clark by visiting his website at https://joeclarkauthor.com.