Central Vt. woodworker tries hand at mystery writing

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PLAINFIELD, Vt. (WCAX) – A central Vermont craftsman has been improving homes for half-a-century, but now there’s a twist to his story, and he couldn’t have written it any better.

When it comes to woodworking in Vermont, you could say 76-year-old Sam Clark wrote the book on it. “A lot of the information that you needed as a designer/builder to solve very ordinary problems,” Clark said. He’s written several how-to books over his career which now spans 55 years. “How big a timber to use to go from here to here? How well insulated is this wall? Things like that.”

Reporter Scott Fleishman: Was writing something that was also a passion of yours?

Sam Clark: No, no. It was a terrible struggle for me. Writing was not something that came easily to me, but I had good teachers. My carpentry partners were very good writers, so they helped me.

Clark didn’t just study the world of woodworking. He also researched people, specifically, New Englanders and their ideals. “People who are trying to be good and sometimes got in trouble doing that,” he said.

On Election Day in 2008, Clark was riding his bike home from a busy day at work. He was here about two miles away from his house when he got into an accident. He injured his upper body and couldn’t work for about three months. “So, it somehow occurred to me that some of these New England themes could fit into a mystery story,” Clark said.

And that’s how he spent his recovery time, writing “The Inland Sea,” named for the part of Lake Champlain east of the Champlain Islands, an area familiar to Clark. “The location is so evocative. It’s beautiful, but it’s also magical and it has this wonderful name, The Inland Sea. What does that mean?” he said.

In the story, one of the owners of the islands disappears. People think he’s drowned, but 18 years later he’s found murdered on the island he used to own. “So, that’s really the initial puzzle. First, who killed him? Where was he? Why did he go away?” Clark said.

Once Clark made some revisions to the first draft, he put that away. But a couple of years ago his wife, Michelle, suggested he send it to Rootstock Publishing in Montpelier.

“He reached out to Stephen McArthur who is our co-founding publisher and then once he was reading it, he realized what a good story it was and said, ‘Yes, we’d love to publish it.’” said Rotstock’s Samantha Kolber.

She has seen Clark’s cabinetry work in friends’ homes, but was surprised to learn that he’s a writer too. “It’s really quite fun to see somebody in one profession do something in another profession. It just goes to show that creativity knows no bounds,” Kolber said.

“Writing a book is not that different than building something. You have to bring a lot of elements together in a way that works, in a way that will stand up. It’s consistent and it follows the codes, as it were,” Clark said.

While Clark isn’t ready to turn the page on his cabinetry career, he’s broadening horizons thanks to “The Inland Sea.”

Copyright 2020 WCAX. All rights reserved.

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