★ Roanoke readers gather for Martin Clark

It’s fun to be a fan. Unabashed enthusiasm is one of life’s real joys. And when someone shares theirs with you, you feel a little lucky. You get to see them light up—as Martin Clark did on Friday evening.

Book No Further was packed. Proprietor Doloris Vest described it as, “our coziest reading yet.” Clark, a retired Patrick County circuit court judge, spoke in conversation with Vest about his fifth novel, The Substitution Order (Knopf, 2019). He recounted his path to writing and the writing process. Then he brought out “the letter.”

But first: it’s generally a pleasure to spend time with writers promoting their books, and in the case of the hour with Martin Clark, doubly so. Sure, Clark’s written a good book, and, yes, he’s probably proud of it, but surrounded by three dozen people, he was also a reader—someone who cares about words, and he was ready to share his enthusiasms.

On Clark’s list: the writing of the late Larry Brown, Beth Macy (whose Dopesick is affecting readers and sparking community conversation and action), Rita Mae Brown, independent bookstores, and Clark’s former editor, Gary Fisketjon, who has edited a host of heavy hitters, including four Pulitzer Prize winners.

Like the late Larry Brown, Clark is trying to “create an interesting character, load him up with troubles, and see him through.” Good writers are good readers. They look to others in shaping their craft, and Clark’s conversation was peppered with quotes and references to other writers and their work.

Now for the the letter: It’s more than 35 years old and slipcased in protective plastic. The missive was from Rita Mae Brown in response to Clark’s early attempt to identify a writing and publishing mentor. You should find Clark on his 30-stop tour of independent bookstores. Maybe he’ll share the letter again. Watch him carefully construct the story. Watch him laugh at his own early audacity. Watch him enjoy the crowd’s reaction. See him light up.

If the Roanoke readers enjoy the book as much as they clearly enjoyed their time with Clark, they’ll be lined up again for book six, which Clark says to look for in about four years.

Read the BOOK CITY Q&A with Martin Clark.
★ Read Alafair Burke’s review of The Substitution Order in the New York Times

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