Interview with Martin Clark

What if the legal system worked as it was supposed to be? Read Martin Clark’s newest book release, The Plinko Bounce, to see what the world would be like if the legal system worked as it should.

TSM: Tell us about your upcoming book release, The Plinko Bounce.

MC: Generally speaking, it’s a legal thriller. What this book is about, generally speaking, is what happens if the legal system works as it should. There is no skullduggery. Everybody does their job correctly; there’s no corruption, but the system works as it should. And you do not get an outcome that objectively tracks the truth. And how do we handle that in court? Sort of in the abstract, and how do we handle it outside of court?

TSM: What sparked your passion for writing it?

MC: I’ve always really enjoyed writing. I started in college, and to this day, I enjoy it. I’m retired now because I was able to retire early because of my writing. But when I was working, it was wonderful to get up early in the morning, sit at my desk with my computer, and look at the pond outside my window. Everyone likes different things. Some people like playing golf or collecting stamps or writing something, you know, different genres of poetry, everybody has a passion. My story is interesting in that I wrote and wrote and got rejection letter after rejection letter. I always tell people that I did have to have a passion for writing and enjoy it because I had 20 years of rejection letters. And you get to the point, at least I did. And you say I don’t care. I want to see it. I don’t want to pay for it. I want to see it published. I want to be able to walk into a bookstore and pull it off the shelf. And in 2019, my agent called me and said, we have a buyer, and I could not believe it. And Gary Fisker Jonathan bought my book, and maybe six or eight months into that, it caught fire. 

One of the things that I still do is when I’m doing signings or events or whatever. I still have rejection letters, depending on my mood and where I am. I’ll read them because they’re not just the form letters. Some editors and agents despise my writing so much that they took the effort to tell me. I was sent a letter saying, ‘This is bad, and you need to give this up.’ So, I still read it from time to time. It’s fun.

TSM: How has your former work as a Virginia circuit court judge influenced your writing?

MC: Judicial or legal writing differs from fiction writing because I’m often asked, does it help? It doesn’t help. They’re different creatures. So, that doesn’t help at all, but it is just a world of ideas. It is just bizarre the stuff you see you would not believe. And the other side is that some of it is so heartbreaking. That it is impossible to get it down on paper. The idea for this book came from sitting in and watching a case where the defendant confessed. His confession is that he is a lawyer, and it was the right call out of the evidence on a paperwork technicality. So I’m watching the Commonwealth Steve’s case and watching the Commonwealth try to prove their case and to make this happen in front of a jury when everybody in there except the people deciding the case. Everyone knows the defendant is guilty. And I thought about it: What if the stakes were higher? What if it wasn’t a stolen chainsaw or weed eater? What if it were a murder case or theft of a lot more money? How does that impact people? And that was the little gem of this case. 

The last book that I wrote is called The Substitution Order. I won’t bore you with the details, but this defendant told us the worst story in front of a jury. It was so bad that the jurors were almost in unison. In my courtroom, I sat behind them, and they turned around and looked at me as if to say stop this dude. This is just terrible. And so we returned to my office, and my new administrative assistant said, ‘I know that was a lie, and it was a bad lie. And nobody’s going to believe what he said, but do you ever worry that one of these days, you’ll get something you think is a lie that checks every bad box? And, in fact, it is true.’ And that’s how the Substitution Order came to be. These weren’t real cases I could point, track, and write about. I just got an idea. 

TSM: What were the most challenging obstacles you faced while writing?

MC: I love, and I hate writing. Copy edits and the proofreading where you sit there, and is this the preferred spelling? Does this word have a hyphen? Do we use the Oxford comma? It’s just tedious, and it takes forever. Yeah, yesterday, for two days, and I had a deadline. I have really good folks who were kind enough to read my books. David, Aaron Baker, and Morgan Hallett. David has read it. I think he’s read several of my books. But if you read 300 pages, there will be some glitches, and it is just in the recording; the technical part is done. And I had to sit and listen to it. And it was great because, for the first time, it’s always fun to hear how somebody else is reading this. And David is a genius, and Morgan Hallett is great. And so that part was fun. But to track that and match it to the book, ‘Oh, here’s a word that was left out.’ And sometimes, if you’re doing 300 pages, you will mispronounce something. And to do that, it’s just painstakingly hard. Yeah, to read those galleys, first pass, second pass, and I will miss something. This should have been capitalized, or I left a comment out. I’m just at my age, having done it six times now. I hate that, and it’s not fun. I love writing. I love talking about writing and going on book tours now that I don’t have a day job because I can enjoy it. And I can take my time, and I’ve met folks along the way, going to bookstores and meeting readers. I love doing that, but I hate the editing.

TSM: How long did your research take before you felt it was enough to be able to write?

MC: Well, up front, let me say this: As all things are given, I don’t want to have a legal blunder in my books; that would just be so embarrassing. So, I don’t have to do much research, but I do their statutes and laws, and I will go, pull the code and read it. Make sure there are some Virginia rules and Professional Responsibility lines quoted. I double-check, but it makes my job much easier. What’s the rule? Write what you know, and this is stuff that I know and I’ve done for years, and it becomes almost second nature, but I still look a few things up occasionally. I want to make sure I got it right. 

TSM: Opposite to the previous question, what were the most enjoyable moments during the writing process?

MC: Many writers say they don’t read reviews, but I have read every review. Both good and bad reviews. Or, a well-written review that’s critical. You might learn something and avoid making mistakes, but I love getting good feedback. In a certain sense, honestly, that’s why we write exactly. I wonder why you would want to write in a vacuum and never understand if you’ve reached anyone. I love it, And maybe that’s because it took me so long to get through the door finally. But I love it when people say I read this book. I answer every email or Facebook message I get, so yeah, I enjoy feedback.

TSM: Are there any upcoming projects you’re excited to work on?

MC: I’m excited about Plinko Bounce and the audio because I just listened to it, and they do a great job. But my last book, The Substitution Order, has been optioned. It means it will be a movie or miniseries set to go before the writer strikes. We have an Oscar-winning director, and we have a writer, and I’m told I can’t do screenplays, or I can’t do TV writing, but I’ve been doing some buddy-writing films. And I’m very excited about that.

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