When I emailed the novelist Lynn Clarke to set up an interview, I alerted her that I read more newspapers than books. Even when I read books, I rarely read novels. Undeterred, when she visited with me on my porch she brought me a gift of each of her two novels and told me which came first.
After talking with her I was so intrigued by her story that I set aside the time to read the
first novel, Evidence and Judgment, that was published by Anaphora Literary Press in 2010. I totally enjoyed the experience. I thought the action was well paced and the characters were interesting. I really liked the kind of sensibility that she brought to their dialogues.
I do not know when I may read the second novel, Walker’s Father, that was published in 2014. The story begins five years after the first novel ends with some of the same characters. I expect that my curiosity will get the best of me and I will want to go back at some point to find out what happened with them.
I have always heard that an author needs to write what they know. Lynn grew up in Buffalo, New York, graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in Anthropology, and then got her law degree from Harvard. She also has a Master of Studies degree in Jewish Christian Relations from the University of Cambridge.
Lynn’s mission for her art is to validate the experiences of women who came up in law and business during the 80s, when women had to deal with daily micrcoagressions in order to get by. Although some things have gotten better, she firmly believes that the same kinds of dynamics still affect women today.
I can attest to Lynn’s statement that women who read her novels say, yes, I recognize myself and some aspects of my life. I found myself shaking my head or laughing out loud at some of the things her characters said.
Lynn has a longtime involvement in the arts and the practice of a creative life. She served on the board of Charleston’s Fund for the Arts and became adept enough with her guitar that she could jam with other musicians and write a few songs.
She is a lawyer with a specialty in ERISA and employment law. For the past several years she has also done pro bono legal work with a small number of immigrants from western Africa who are seeking asylum in our country. The immigrants are fleeing religious and political persecution as they wend their way through a slow legal process in an overwhelmed court system.
Lynn loves gardening although she does not have enough time and only a small yard to work in. She and her husband have created a backyard oasis from the stresses of day-to-day life. I realized that for ten months I rented a small house that backed up to their yard. I could not see much over the fence but the glimpses I caught led me to wonder about the people who lived there. I look forward to accepting Lynn’s offer to give me a tour.
Lynn continues to take her creativity in new directions. She has been doing some paintings and is thinking about getting into pottery. She noted that she is attracted not just to the making of the objects but also to taking classes, meeting fellow potters, and attending art events. In talking with her I was reminded of my own experiences with fine art landscape photography and all of the doors that this opened following my retirement from work in West Virginia State government.
I was curious to learn more about how Lynn approached the themes in her novels and how these themes fit in with her work with the law and immigration. She pointed out that having stories and helping other people tell their stories is an integral part of her work with the law. In her immigration work, especially, she meets with a person more than a dozen times in order to understand where they are coming from and gain their trust, even with a translator present.
Lynn’s approach to the writing itself was a mixture of organization and inspiration. She liked to develop a plan with a timeline of the story, the years covered, a basic idea of what the story is, and what will happen at the end. Within this plan she found that the characters could take her in different directions as she developed and got to know them.
When Lynn wrote her novels during the 2000s her kids were still at home, she was working part-time, and she mainly only found time to write late at night. She recalled jumping out of bed to record things as they occurred to her. She also squeezed in writing here and there in whatever other time she had.
Lynn has an idea for another novel based on her own life and the lives of the immigrants she has met, but she does not know if she will ever get it done. She shared how her sessions with Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (Penguin, 1992) early on had helped her to discover and invest in a creative life.
I know from my own experience how intrinsically rewarding this kind of life can be and how, like the characters in her books, it can take us in directions that we may never have imagined. I will be interested to see where Lynn’s own path will take her in the future.
I think about how FestivALL Charleston celebrates that our city becomes a work of art. Lynn is a stellar example of the creative process at work.
You can read examples of Lynn's writings and connect with Lynn by visiting Lynn's artist profile