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To see the works of so many writers compartmentalized and ground into department store bargains is almost enough to turn one off from reading altogether. But inside a mall-bound Barnes & Noble in Charlottesville, Va., two dozen bookworms are seated in neat rows of foldout chairs, listening to still another new voice. Standing at a dais, Virginia circuit court judge and first-time novelist Martin Clark recalls his first public reading: “I thought the listless monotone I use when giving jury instructions would be fine.” This time, however, Clark’s laconic southern accent is sharp at the edges, and his obviously improved reading is fluid and laced with humor. After half an hour, he ends his excerpt to appreciative applause and hangs around for more than an hour to sign books and chat with the store manager. It’s become a routine for Clark, who over the past few months has bounced from bookstores in Missoula, Mont., to Oxford, Miss., reading selections from his improbably titled novel, “The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living,” published in April by Alfred A. Knopf Inc. The tour has been a bit wearying for the 40-year-old, who along with his wife Pam owns three horses and raises chickens on their 50 acres in the rolling hills of Virginia’s Southside. While he has widened his literary circle — dining with Jay McInerney, fly fishing with James Crumley, and opening for a reading by Frank McCourt — Clark allows that the tour is not the rock ‘n’ roll whirlwind it might once have been: “Damn,” he says, “if I was 25 …” The novel’s antihero is angst-ridden North Carolina superior court judge Evers Wheeling, a man stunted in adolescence and craving adventure. In languid prose dripping with hallucinations of the picayune, Clark unfolds a loopy tale involving a woman in white and her cream-colored tears, judicial bribery and corrupt cops, chase scenes, a murder trial, and the pot-filtered insights of Evers’s dropout brother, Pascal. This is not William Faulkner or Walker Percy, but it’s not airplane fodder either. “In the end, it’s a story of faith and redemption,” says Clark. Clark has unloosed the frustrated writer lurking in the undergraduate reminiscence of many lawyers. But it took some time. He started his novel more than 20 years ago while studying classics at Davidson College. Unsure what to do after graduation, he put down the book and opted instead for the University of Virginia Law School. When his classmates dispersed in 1984 to pursue the lifestyle illusions of “L.A. Law” and the solid reality of $55,000-a-year jobs at big-city firms, Clark returned to his hometown of Stuart (where his cousin is now mayor) to practice law with his father. Clark’s exposure to corporate finance may have been limited, but, he counters, “In six months I had 40 years of experience poured into me.” In 1992 he was appointed a juvenile and domestic relations court judge, making him, at 32, the youngest judge in Virginia. He was stationed in Stuart, and promoted just three years later. He’s still there, though, only now trying cases on the circuit court bench in the one-courtroom courthouse in his one-stoplight town. Clark has a perspective that’s fairly unique among contemporary novelists. On a given day he might try anything from speeding tickets to murder, and, unlike other writers, he has a voice in determining these stories’ outcomes. For real. The day before his reading in Charlottesville, Clark sentenced an 18-year-old crack dealer to an eight-month work-study program. State guidelines suggested two years’ incarceration, but Clark took into consideration that the youth had committed the crime as a minor. He also noted that the teenager’s mother and grandmother had both been crack dealers, and still he was a student brimming with promise. “[It's] the full-ratchet, bullish tension I get to sort through in one form or another just about every day,” Clark wrote about a similar situation in a diary for Slate.com. “Personal responsibility stacked up against an awful, impossible background.” Indeed, the young man’s is a drama that many fiction writers could latch onto. For Clark, it was just another day at the office. But, despite his novel’s protagonist, its rhythmic trial scene, and occasional musings on truth and lies, Clark says he keeps his two vocations distinct. “I write as a hobby, because I like it,” he says. Five years ago Clark decided to finish his novel. He dedicated evenings, weekends, and vacations to the task. When a publisher expressed interest in the book, Clark cut a deal with God: he would donate any profits to his church, if the book was published. It was — to sterling reviews in The New York Times, among other publications — and Clark says he has not kept a cent. “You want to cut the margins on that deal?” he asks. “The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living” is already in its fourth printing, and Clark, who is keeping his day job, is at work on a second novel. Does he have any other literary aspirations? “Yeah,” says Clark, an avid fisherman, “I’d like to write a couple of features for Field & Stream.”

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