Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Johnnie Clark - Semper Fi

Anyone who knew Johnnie Clark as a student would probably say that only a miracle could turn him into an award-winning, bestselling author. But miracles do happen, and Clark is living proof. After earning three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star, he penned six novels – one, a classic in military literature.

Since childhood, Clark wanted to write. “I remember writing a Batman book when I was eight,”he recalls, “but I didn’t know a noun from a verb. I was the least likely to ever become a writer. I think I got through high school because I was good at football.” At 17, he joined the Marine Corps and went to Vietnam. When he wasn’t serving as a machine gunner, he wrote letters to his mother. These letters would later become the inspiration for his first book.

When he returned from Vietnam, Clark faced the task of readjusting to civilian life. “I promised myself that I would never be around dead people or mud and rain again, he says. “But my first job was laying telephone cables, digging trenches in the mud and rain, and my second job was helping a whistling mortician at a funeral home. I learned never to tell God what you’re never going to do.” Clark then went to St. Petersburg Junior College, and after earning his Associate’s degree, became a mailman. Unfortunately, while delivering a box of books, he aggravated a back injury he’d incurred during the war. Unable to continue his job, he decided to find a way to make a living without using his back so he enrolled in a creative writing class at St. Petersburg College. “I took the same class 15 times,” he says. “It was an 8-week course where they’d critique my writing, so I kept retaking the course until they’d critiqued my whole book. In fact, I dedicated the book to my teachers at St. Pete College because they taught me how to write.”

That book was Guns Up, what Clark calls his “miracle book.” Embittered by the treatment of Vietnam veterans after the war, Clark wanted to write a book that told the truth about what the troops experienced. Guns Up was rejected by every publisher for almost four years, until Clark and his Bible Study class began praying about it. Since the book contained realistic language, Clark decided to rewrite the book minus the cursing. The process took six months. When he finished, the miracle happened.

“The week I finished the rewrite, I began getting calls from magazines saying they wanted to print the excerpts from Guns Up that I’d sent them years before,”Clark says. “That same week, nine publishers called wanting to publish the book. I picked Ballantine Books, and the same editor who’d sent me a rejection notice told me that all the editors thought Guns Up was the best war book they’d ever read.” It went on to become a bestseller, praised by The Los Angeles Daily News as “More than 350 pages of some of the toughest combat ever described on paper.” Published in 1981, it is now in its 37thprinting and is required reading in many high schools, colleges and military units. The Marine Corps has even established a “Guns Up” Award for machine gunners, named in honor of Clark’s book.

Guns Up was followed by a series of books based on non-fictional accounts of marines in combat: The Old Corps (1990); No Better Way to Die (1995);Gunner’s Glory (2004); and Semper Fidelis(2008). Clark describes these books as “military stories that are historically accurate, based on real people and witnesses for Christ.” His writing earned him the Brig. Gen. Robert L. Denig Memorial Distinguished Service Award for writing. Clark hopes his books will help Americans “remember and honor these incredibly brave warriors.”

Clark’s latest novel, Section 8, is a real departure from his other works. A military comedy that calls to mind Catch-22 and MASH, Section 8 takes readers on a zany romp through 1946 China with an offbeat platoon of marines suffering from varying degrees of combat fatigue. The cast of unforgettable characters includes a pudgy Navajo accountant who delivers questionable nuggets of tribal wisdom, an unrepentant scammer who runs several hilarious but semi-legal operations, a Jewish lieutenant who thinks he’s a Catholic priest, a young private with only one buttock, and a crazed Irish sergeant with a low frustration threshold. Clark’s crew of military misfits will have readers howling with laughter.

Going in a different direction with his newest novels, Clark is finishing up a two-book series that will be titled either "The Harlot's Cup" or “The Cup of Wrath.” According to Clark, "One editor at Random House loved the series so much, she changed the title to 'The Cup of Wrath,' then promptly retired without letting me know or anyone else at Random House. So now the title and publisher are in doubt, but the books are not." Clark is excited about this non-stop adventure based on historical facts and Bible prophecy. The story begins with the sinking of the USS Panay by the Japanese in 1937, and the action and mystery continue until 2015. "There’s a beautiful woman that will make every male reader sweat and a love story with a deadly ending," Clark says. "The Harlot’s Cup is very real and mentioned more than once in the Bible. It is believed to still exist deep inside the Vatican and its End Times meaning becomes frighteningly clear as you join the quest in China in 1937 and travel the world through years of war, love, murder and mystery until you find yourself where all things must end." He describes the books as "a little Casablanca, a little Raiders of the Lost Ark, and a little of The Omen."

Even though his new series is very different from the realistic military fiction that established him as a serious author, Clark is confident his readers will enjoy the thrill ride. "Writing is a gift from the Lord," he says, and he hopes to continue using his gift to create stories that will both entertain and inspire.

For more about Johnnie Clark, go to http://www.randomhouse.ca/authors/5037#

 

1 comment:

  1. I'm a big reader of all things related to the Vietnam War. My brother told me about "Guns Up" and I bought and read it immediately. It was everything he'd raved about and I am now a huge fan of Johnnie's work, as well as his courage and the way he lives his life. As a former wife of a Nam vet, I appreciate his efforts in bringing them the respect they were too often denied. He is a true inspiration to many. Thanks for highlighting he and his work, so that others may become aware of this awesome writer.

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