Friday, August 18, 2017

The Fast Friday Interviews: Joe Clark.

Tell me about yourself, Joe.

From very early, I enjoyed writing and making up stories. As a young child I would take my gyroscope and my brownie camera out to our garden patch to develop stories about adventures on distant planets. I was also quite religious. When I graduated from high school in 1961, I had two options: a terrific opportunity to study physics on a work study program and a spot in a Jesuit Novitiate. I chose the novitiate.
Joe Clark

I spent two years in the novitiate. That is where I started writing sermons. I was writing my first sermon when John Glenn orbited the earth. We didn’t have TV in the novitiate but an exception was made for Glenn’s flight. Coverage was primitive at that time so we were stuck watching Walter Cronkite and his team kill time. At one point, the cameras moved outside. It was a dark, drizzly day and a woman in a trench coat was walking in the distance. I couldn’t resist a wolf whistle. I was promptly called in for a visit with the Master of Novices who told me how disappointed he was in my worldly behavior.

In our second year we were assigned to missions. I was on the prison mission. We visited the prisoners at the Berks County Prison every Saturday afternoon and then went back for mass on Sunday morning. At Christmas we threw a little party that generally included a movie. I suggested that we put together a little play. The Novice in Charge tasked me to write the play. I wrote it and I directed my fellow novices. The prisoners responded very well. The whole thing ended with a rousing rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

At the time, the play was an enormous undertaking. I recently found a copy.  It was three pages long.
I was sent home at the end of the second year. I went back to college in the fall. But things had changed. When I first applied, our local college was Norfolk William and Mary and the school of engineering was run by Virginia Tech. By the time I got home from the novitiate, the school was Old Dominion College. But the Dean of Engineering remembered me from my earlier application. He graciously accepted me back into the fold without the usual qualifying tests.

I had just started my senior year in September 1966 when I received my draft notice. A “friend” convinced me that I could avoid going to Vietnam if I volunteered instead of going in as a conscript. That didn’t work out very well. I did spend six months in Engineering OCS at Fort Belvoir. I was dropped on the last cut in week 21. I managed to get a position as Chaplain’s Assistant while I was waiting for my orders to Vietnam. In early December 1967, a group of young GIs flew from Fort Dix to Bien Hoa via Juneau, Alaska. The temperature in Alaska was hovering around zero. The temperature in Saigon was hovering around 100. We landed in the middle of the night, piled onto a bus and road to a tent city. There were no lights in the tents so we had to feel our way around and find an empty bunk.

The next day, we were shipped up to Dong Ba Thin, a small camp just west of the main post at Cam Ranh. I should mention here that my “specialty” was mines and explosives because of the time I had spent in OCS. When we got to Dong Ba Thin, the personnel staff informed us that they were going to tear up our orders because the idiots back home had sent the wrong specialties. I said, “I would like to be a Chaplain’s Assistant.”

Miraculously, the Chaplain was not on speaking terms with his assistant. He was happy to have me. He was almost as happy about getting me as I was about getting the change in my MOS. At the end of my one year tour, I extended for 6 months rather than return stateside for my last 10 months. The deciding benefit was that I got to fly around the world, spend a week in Israel and a couple of days in Bangkok. I was transferred from Dong Ba Thin to Pleiku for the last six months.

I returned to school in September 1969. Old Dominion College had become Old Dominion University while I was away. The advisor I was assigned to went all out to get me through my last year in one year. The French I studied in the Novitiate counted for one elective. The correspondence courses that I took in Accounting while I was in Vietnam counted for two more electives. But I still had to take one course in the summer semester. I don’t remember the name of the course but I did lot of research on cities and I looked into simulating traffic patterns.

I had to take three courses in order to qualify for GI bill benefits. The extra courses were two of the best courses of my college career: Industrial Psychology and Business Management 101. The real business majors disliked me because my quirky solutions to the problems generally turned out to be right.

When I set out to get my first real job, I focused on power companies because I had worked for the local power company in the summers before I was drafted. The power companies weren’t interested in me. I signed up for an interview with AT&T just for the heck of it. In those days, AT&T would assign you to Bell Labs, Western Electric or the local telco depending on your grades. My grades qualified me for a sit down with the recruiter from the local telco. The guy looked through my folder. When he came across a letter of recommendation from Captain Tom Lacey, the last chaplain I had worked for in Vietnam (Pleiku, he said something like, “Boy he’s a great guy. I was just down at Fort Jackson for my two weeks reserve training and he was the chaplain. I don’t have anything for you but the guy from Western Electric has openings all over the country. I’ll take you up there so you can talk to him.”
And that is how I got my first real job. The next 40 years were interesting. I was laid off a couple of times. One start up that I was working for folded and I worked as an independent contractor for a few years. I went from systems engineer to software developer and back to system engineer. I was usually working verification – making sure whatever I was working on did what it was supposed to do. I worked on communications systems – mostly satellite communications.

Most of my engineering career was driven by luck. The letter of recommendation from Captain Lacey got me in the door at Western Electric. I was selected for an experimental training program at Virginia Tech. I had just transferred to the ABM project in 1972 when it was killed by the SALT treaty. I was laid off but I was given a Graduate Assistantship at Virginia Tech (VPI) because of my participation in the experimental training program.

I left VPI without a degree to go to work as a test engineer for Sylvania on a Minuteman Missile System contract. The test site was in Waltham, Massachusetts a few miles west of Boston. When that contract ended, a friend helped me get a slot as a software developer. That led to a job with Sperry Univac on a NASA (Goddard in Greenbelt, Maryland) contract because I had managed to gain some experience in real-time assembly language programming on DEC computers.

I had a good run until 1992. At that time, I was getting a lot of heat from my supervisors. Their supervisor decided to jump ship and go to work on a start-up, Sky Radio. He brought me along. The company folded at the end of 1994. One of the guys I worked with had a friend with a six month contract on Motorola’s Iridium project in Chandler Arizona. The friend wanted out and I was able to jump in and take his place.

After the Motorola work petered out, I got a contract with Stanford Telecom which led to a permanent job in 1999. A short time later our group was absorbed into ITT. I stayed with the group until I retired in 2011.

In the 80’s I was trying to do some serious writing. I submitted one short story which was rejected with a savage critique. I submitted some poems. They were rejected as well. One interesting thing about those poems is that they draw a good response whenever I read them to a group.

My wife died in January 1985. I married Anita in July 1986. In between my life was quite hectic. I earned a masters in computer science from Johns Hopkins about that time. I graduated in May 1994.  Seven months later the company that I was working for, Sky Radio, folded and I was basically out of work for the next 4 years. I survived on a few contracts until I was hired by Stanford Telecom in July 1999. ITT bought out the government business from Stanford Telecom shortly after I joined the company.

A bike accident in 2010 destroyed my right hip. I decided to call it quits during a working vacation of the Christmas holidays. I announced my retirement at the beginning of 2011 but I didn’t actually retire until August. I had my right hip replaced in June of 2012. Anita and I went to Scotland and Ireland on a three week vacation in October. One goal of that trip was to connect with my father’s ancestors. I had dug up some information on Ancestry before the trip. I was able to locate places where they had lived but nothing is left of their lives. They left County Antrim in Northern Ireland around the time of the Potato Famine of 1848. It is possible that they moved to the Glasgow area of Scotland as a result of the labor crisis that followed the famine. They took up coal mining and lived in an Irish slum when they first arrived. That slum has been replaced by more respectable housing. The trip was mostly successful and enjoyable.

The pain from the arthritis in my left hip was so bad that I arranged to have that hip replaced in December of 2012.

By 2015 I was getting bored. The cure was Meetup. I joined a few writers’ groups. Natasha who was running a group called Write to Live asked for a couple of chapters of my work. I didn’t have anything current and I had never written a couple of chapters of anything. So I used a rant that I had written about nuclear waste to produce 10 thousand words of what would eventually become my first novel.

Tell me about your current Book:

“The Walshes – The Coming of Eve” should be coming out August 1st. April Walsh is a suburban homemaker – mother, wife, part-time breadwinner and aspiring writer. Her husband Joe is an out-of-work software engineer. It is 2008 and the bottom is falling out of the US economy. April is asked to write a six part series about the sex industry in the DC metro area. Her agent promises to get her a book deal. The Walshes could use the money but for April this is the opportunity of a lifetime. She can’t say no even though she is put off by the topic.

She turns to her brother, a public defender, to bring her up to speed on legal issues and introduce her to some of his prostitute clients. She quickly gets an inkling of trouble down the road. The editor wants an undercover investigation in the manner of Nellie Bly. Her brother introduces her to one prostitute, Bridget Allen. Bridget insists that April has to walk a couple of miles in her shoes or no story.

April agrees to participate in an amateur night topless dancing contest. Then another. She meets Jeff and quickly finds herself sexually involved with him. After she is fired from her part-time office job, Bridget helps her get a job as a waitress at the Tahiti, the men’s club where Bridget works. Then Bridget pressures April to work as an escort. When April says she couldn’t do that to Joe, Bridget points to the affair with Jeff. She adds that Joe would do it if he got the opportunity. It turns out Joe is already having an affair with an old girlfriend, April gives in and begins working as an escort under her stage name, Eve Sinful.

Eve is a glamorous dancer and escort who won’t back down from a fight. Her wit and charm make her highly desired at the Tahiti.  April enjoys feeling sexy and wanted. She even makes some new friends: a former call girl, a wise cab driver, and a hard-nosed cop.

As April ends up more fully embracing her Eve persona, she finds more and more to like about the new life she is living. Will she be able to find her way out, or is April destined to sacrifice herself and her family for the sake of a story?

April believes in the work she’s doing, but her family isn’t so understanding. As the relationship between April and her husband begins to break under the pressure of her undercover assignment, April must decide what is worth fighting for. Will the good wife or the firebrand emerge victorious?

What are you working on now?

I have a new short story for my blog, “Malone V O’Reilly” about the difficulties of dating in the modern era. I am developing essays for my blog “Clark’s Scribbles”. But I am trying to avoid being caught in the Trump Vortex.
I have started working on a new novel, “Return of the Rapist.”  The action takes place in 2009, 16 years after a brutal gang rape. The lives of the four participants – the three men and their victim – have arrived at a new nexus. The woman has gotten her life straightened out. She has a good job and has recently married. Two of the rapists work for the same company as she does. One of them happens to run into her at a Christmas party and begins subtly harassing her. The third man has just completed a 15 year sentence for the rape and he harbors very bad feelings towards the other participants in the rape as well as the people who put him in jail. When the woman’s husband is beaten so badly that he has to be hospitalized, the incident lands on the desk of Sgt. Jack Edwards, Eve’s cop-boyfriend. The two of them must figure out who dunnit before somebody gets killed.

Where is your favorite place to be when you write?

Our dining room table seems to be the most common place for my writing activities. I wrote my first novel in my office at my desktop computer. That is still a good place to write. But I switched to my laptop for “The Walshes” and I took over the dining room table. Right now, I am working at a table on my screened in porch. I am beginning to like this spot but it has weather problems.

What is your favorite lesson you have learned about the business of writing?

Writing is fun. Writing a novel is very much like reading a novel. I get to discover a new story with new characters as I write it out. One important trick is embracing James Patterson’s caveat: “I don’t write reality.”

Writing a novel is a little like directing a play. The author must direct the actions of the characters to show what is going on.

Writing a novel is also like solving a jigsaw puzzle. The author has to take a boxful of interesting pieces and fit them together to form a composite picture.

What is your favorite Website?

I am not supposed to pick Facebook but I spend a lot of time there because it’s a good place to connect with friends and family. I recently discovered Twitter and I love it. There is so much good material on that site. It’s all short and to the point with great graphics.

I used to be a big fan of “Crazy Guy on a bike.” Some very fascinating stories are posted there. People get on there to post a diary of their trips around the world, across the country or to some weekend getaway. I once followed a newlywed couple on a two year honeymoon tour of Europe and the Middle East.

Wikipedia is a go-to site. I do as much as half of my research on-line and Wikipedia is reliably informative and straightforward.


Blog:   Clark’s Scribbles (
Facebook: Joe Clark

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