Where there's a Will

Will Clarke has a deal with a New York publisher and a Hollywood studio, and it only took him eight years to become an overnight success

You know those guys you see in a Starbucks at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, nursing a cup of Iced Caffè Americano that sits by the side of the laptop over which he toils. (Maybe you are that guy; if so, wait, this story has a happy ending for you.) Maybe you always thought he was a banker or accountant or law clerk on his lunch break, moving his cubicle to the coffee shop for an hour so he can finish that Excel spreadsheet. Maybe he is. Maybe he's really there working for the boss.

Or maybe he's there for himself, writing the novel we all believe we have living within us, doing what every guy who buys a laptop imagines doing with his portable computer--making his escape, one Microsoft Word page at a time, from the humdrum blah-blah-blah. Maybe he's there tuning out the ruckus of caffeinated commerce, dropping into the zone like a pitcher on the mound as he writes, writes, writes till the cup goes dry and he calls it a day till tomorrow, and the next day and next, till he finishes that book, it goes in a drawer and he goes on with his life.

Or maybe he does something with the book--takes it to an agent, shops it around and dreams of instant-winning the literary lottery. Maybe the book'll get rejected, and he'll self-publish. Maybe a few will sell on his Web site or even Amazon. And then, what the hell, maybe it'll attract the interest of a screenwriter, who might just take it to an Academy Award-winning producer. And, screw it, since we're really dreaming, maybe a major motion picture studio and a major New York publishing house will buy the book within weeks of each other.

Clarke hands out Vishnu finger puppets at book 
signings.
Clarke hands out Vishnu finger puppets at book signings.
Denise Roy, an editor at Simon & Schuster, brought Clarke on after meeting him at a writers' conference.
Marion Ettlinger
Denise Roy, an editor at Simon & Schuster, brought Clarke on after meeting him at a writers' conference.

It could happen. Did to Will Clarke.

If you don't know his name, that's because you don't hang out at the Starbucks in Lakewood or at Mysteries & More bookstore on Abrams Parkway or at nearby Legal Grounds, where they used to sell copies of his wacky-brilliant-spiritual-set-in-Dallas-what-the-fuck "spy novel" Lord Vishnu's Love Handles, which Clarke self-published in 2002. Or maybe it's because you don't hang out at Borders Books and Music or Barnes & Noble, where, last month, Simon & Schuster shipped copies of Lord Vishnu's Love Handlesafter paying the dude Manhattan money for being a brilliant writer. Or perhaps you don't read the Hollywood trade magazine Variety, which announced in July 2004 that Lord Vishnu's Love Handleswill be made into a movie by Paramount Pictures, produced by Sideways' Michael London and directed by acclaimed indie visionary David Gordon Green.

It wasn't so long ago Clarke was just an advertising man, selling stuff for other people--Hershey's Milk, Texas Instruments, Folger's. It wasn't the job he was considering when he left Louisiana State University in 1993, just the one he took when he couldn't get any other work. But he's good at selling, one of those hotshots who goes to work for Larry Tate then takes the boss' job before he's 40. Or would have, had he not gone and sold his novel to one of the world's biggest publishers.

Now, as he finds himself at the beginning of a book tour with an indefinite end date and waiting for the cameras to begin rolling, Will Clarke is out there selling himself. He's a product now--a brilliant writer, too, but also a product, with all the makings of a franchise.

"It's a nice success story," says London, with the understatement of a pragmatist who knows something of nice success stories himself. After all, London disproved the movie studio suits who told him he wouldn't make a dime with a movie starring Thomas Haden Church and Paul Giamatti, long before Alexander Payne's Sidewayspocketed some $70 million in U.S. theaters alone. "I feel very confident about this one, as much as I did about Sideways."

Lord Vishnu's Love Handles is actually Clarke's second book, written when his Dallas agent could find no taker for his first, The Worthy, about a dead frat boy at LSU who haunts his killer. Clarke began writing Lord Vishnuin late 1999, when he was creating award-winning ads for the firm McCann-Erickson, and completed it in 2001. It's no easy thing to describe. Everyone you ask about it says the same thing--"It's the most original thing I've read in years"--but then offers his or her own interpretation of what makes it so special.

To put it glibly, it's about a shallow, golf-loving, booze-swilling Lakewood dot-commer named Travis Anderson who is cursed with being able to read and influence minds even as he loses his. It's Kurt Vonnegut by way of Alfred Hitchcock, a screwy comic thriller involving CIA agents, vacuous Lakewood dinner parties, wives who cheat with their spouse's business partners, albino wannabe vampires who could either be brother and sister or lovers, an apocalypse that threatens to destroy Disney World and a holy man who believes himself "death, shatterer of worlds." It's as though Alfred E. Neuman has rewritten the Bhagavad-Gitain his own gap-toothed image, this work of anarchic satire that's as much about the inability of the thirtysomething man to grow up as it is about his spiritual salvation. And it takes many wonderful digs at the city in which Clarke's lived and worked for nearly 13 years; it's no chamber of commerce giveaway, despite the writer's affection for Dallas.

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