It’s the kind of questions raised by real-life twists and turns that can inspire a writer, suggested a talk by author Martin Clark.
Clark, a retired Virginia Circuit Court judge in Patrick County, spoke at the Piedmont Arts Guild meeting on Thursday and handed out copies of his book “The Substitution Order.”
Clark is the author of five novels and has another in the works. He has received accolades from publications such as Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times and the Winston-Salem Journal and from writers such as David Baldacci, an American novelist who writes thrillers and legal thrillers.
The book is about an unlucky, disbarred lawyer, Kevin Moore, who is the target of a scam. After his attorney’s license was suspended, he moved from Roanoke to Patrick County, where he worked at a sub-sandwich shop.
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Clark graduated cum laude from Davidson College and went to law school at the University of Virginia. He was appointed to the Patrick County bench in 1992 at the age of 32, making him one of the youngest judges in Commonwealth history.
Clark began by saying that a few years ago, “I almost died…Despite what Greek tragic poets and college theology professors tell you, brush with ruin doesn’t make you a better person. smarter, wiser, deeper or better. In my case, it just made me more selfish and more idiosyncratic.
He did not specify what the medical emergency was.
This idiosyncratic nature, he said, was reflected in his book tour for “The Substitution Order,” because he did whatever he wanted to do and whatever pleased him on any given day.
“That’s what I’m going to do today,” he added.
“It’s a lot more fun for me to do something new and different and it’s really fun for me after doing a few things to answer questions, especially in small groups like this,” he said. -he declares. “A lot of times, after doing this for 20 years, I do the same gig over and over and… And also I never know if I’m doing something that you’re interested in or not.”
The first question he answered was how he finds ideas for his books.
“I have a big, big well to draw from and it works in the justice system,” Clark said. The twists behind “The Substitution Order” were kind of kickstarted by questions raised by a “horrible, really bad” sexual abuse case that involved a stepfather and the victim, his 12-year-old stepson. “It was awful,” Clark said.
In the case, Clark said, the defendant confessed on tape saying he was guilty and accepted responsibility. “The confession was compelling, it was relevant, it was factually correct and in that confession he was moved and in tears and asked for forgiveness.”
However, even after such a dramatic confession, once the defendant was in court, he ended up pleading not guilty. “We were all mystified” how he could backtrack on such a confession, Clark said.
The defendant gave the excuse in court that he had only made what he claimed was a false confession in an effort to prevent the boy from being charged with making a false report to the police .
Clark said the jury quickly discussed the case and decided the defendant was guilty.
Shortly after, Clark’s administrative assistant asked him if he was worried about getting a story that is “so blatantly untrue” and “checks all the wrong boxes” and that the defendant is actually telling the truth.
“It’s the start of the ‘substitute order,'” Clark said. “That’s basically what happens… and not only does it happen, it happens to a lawyer. So, as he progresses through the system, he realizes that everything he says, every defense he has, every step he takes seems hollow, empty and false.
“Number one he knows everyone will think he’s not telling the truth and number two he realizes how this is all going to end for him,” Clark said. “The tension in the story is how he solves this dilemma and tries to get a favorable outcome in a system that can be very difficult for you if you have prior beliefs and a story to tell that seems really, really, really strange.”
“It’s kind of the sad origins and the horrifying origins of the book,” he said. “And it’s not a sad or horrible book, it’s a fun book…but that’s how this book was born.”
Clark brought books for each of the Guild members, saying “I hope you enjoy them and take them with you… Maybe I’ll be like the bad drug dealer – I’ll hang some one and then you will buy more.”