This week I got to sit down (virtually, of course) and interview R.M. Clark. R.M. Clark is a writer and dedicated civil servant. He has written several middle grade books, including Dizzy Miss Lizzie. He lives in southeastern Massachusetts with his wife, two sons and crazy critters. Center Point is his debut “grown up” novel.
Mariah: Where did your love of writing come from?
R.M. Clark: I've had voices and stories in my head ever since I was a little kid. I took several creative writing classes at the University of Idaho and loved it. Nothing came of it until I was in my mid-20s and I took a fiction writing course at a local college to see if could really write something of substance. Unfortunately, I was not disciplined enough and I abandoned that endeavor. The voices died down for many years, appearing again in the internet age of the 2000's. I got together with a group of message board friends and wrote, via alternating chapters, a series of really bad but hilarious "group novels” (to use the term loosely). After a while, my contributions became larger and larger and the voices started speaking louder and louder. In early 2007, I decided to write a novel on my own and I did. I was hooked, big time. The voices continued to haunt me, so, what the hell, I wrote eight more novels in the next six years.
Mariah: Your biography on the Writers AMuse Me website says you've written several middle grade novels, tell me about them.
R.M. Clark: My first was Dizzy Miss Lizzie, published in 2012. It’s the story of a friendship between two girls--one modern-day and one Victorian-era--who can visit each other through a basement portal. I really love the story but, unfortunately, the publisher went AWOL and left all her authors without payment or rights returned. I wrote two follow-ons for Lizzie (Cat Scratch Fever and Running on Empty), but they are currently on hold. Next came Good Golly Miss Molly, about a batgirl who solves a mystery at a minor league park. This one got me an agent and will be published under a different title next summer. In the two years it took to sell Molly, I also wrote The Right Hand Rule, a mystery involving middle school science fair winners (think of it as a cross between The Big Bang Theory and Clue), then The Tock Tock Man, in which a boy finds an Alice In Wonderland-type world whose citizens are mostly clock parts and uncovers a centuries-old feud between neighboring clock villages. This one is currently with the agents. Finally, we have The Night Train, about a young girl who discovers that a model train village in her great-grandfather’s house allows her to journey into the past. This one is on hold while the agents work through the large pile of manuscripts I have given them.
Mariah: Was it hard for you to go from writing middle grade books to grown up novels?
R.M. Clark: Not really, because, as I later found out, I was really a middle grade writer attempting to write in an adult voice. I wrote my first novel (now trunked) as an adult paranormal mystery, then rewrote it as YA after months of rejection. Center Point is my second of nine completed novels and all the others after it are middle grade. The problem I had was rewriting CP four years after I completed the original. By then my work was exclusively middle grade and I no longer had a 25-year-old narrator voice in my head. I found it, fortunately, so I added some swearing and an “implied” sex scene to Center Point.
Mariah: Where did the inspiration for your book, Center Point come from?
R.M. Clark: First off, it’s not the least bit autobiographical. My parents were married for fifty years and I was never a professional student. Still, I wanted to show how a father could influence a son’s life years even fifteen years after he’s gone. I came up with the Native legend of Komaket and just went from there.
Mariah: Was writing a mystery challenging?
R.M. Clark: Absolutely! To me, the problem with mystery writing is trying to be unique. There are hundreds of novels with hard-boiled detectives, spunky reporters, alcoholic ex-cops and serial killers. These are all fine premises if done correctly, but none of them spoke to me. Guns and gore don't necessarily bother me; I just didn’t want to use them as plot devices. I needed to find angles that hadn't been done (or overdone) many times before. The idea of tying together cemetery patterns and Native American lore and zoning laws and a Revolutionary War battle along with a father's dying wish seemed daunting, but the voices spoke and it all came together eventually. I hope!
Mariah: What was the thing that challenged you the most?
R.M. Clark: Definitely staying the course and resisting the urge to trunk this novel. I'm a notoriously slow writer and the first draft of Center Point took a good ten months to complete (Halloween, 2008). In the original version, Dennis was just 21 and the stakes were not nearly as high. I tried to get an agent, but came up short every time. I started writing middle grade books and eventually landed an agent for the kid stuff, so CP faded into the background until 2012. On the agent's advice, I revised CP to make Dennis 25 years old with a bit more of an edge. So five years after appearing in my head, Dennis finally gets to tell his story. Adios trunk.
Mariah: Was there a scene that was harder to write than the others?
R.M. Clark: Sure. A major scene near the end takes place underground. I’m not a fan of tunnels and darkness, so it gave me chills as I went through it. The scene still kind of freaks me out when I read it.
Mariah: What are you working on now?
R.M. Clark: My tenth novel is a middle grade mystery about Devin, a sixth grader who aspires to be a magician but is really bad at performing magic. Then after a magic trick gone terribly wrong, he finds his body is being shared by a 19th century magician named Erich, who turns out to be a young Harry Houdini. Devin’s magic is better but he has to find a way to get Erich out of his head and back to his time.
Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to interview you!
Where to find R.M. Clark