An Interview with Paul Clayton


Author of ‘Carl Melcher Goes To Vietnam’

By Paul Saevig

AUTHOR-NETWORK: Paul, could you tell us a little about your background, including how you got started writing?

PAUL CLAYTON: I was born in ’48, drafted one year out of high school, in ’68 (I had been working as an apprentice blacksmith at the Philadelphia. Naval Shipyard). I will never understand why the Government considered me expendable, but not someone majoring in Art History at State, but that’s another story. After receiving the so-called million dollare wound I was medevaced [flown by helicopter] to Japan where I spent two months. Then I returned to the States to finish my tour. For about two years I was lost, doing a lot of drugs, working in a car wash, a hospital, etc. Then I decided to shed that life and I went to college. Around then I began to fantasize about being a writer. I thought that everyone would be astounded by what I had been through. I know, silly. But I thought it. And the war experience had been so powerful that it drove me to it. So I took a lot of writing courses over the years and wrote a lot of stories.

I came out to California in ’81 with my almost completed manuscript (Carl Melcher) and put down roots here. I got married in ’85. A couple years later I finished my novel but could not find a publisher. I think I missed the Vietnam wave by about nine months. (You know how publishers are – “Give me another one with a shark! Aliens! Yeah, you got anything with aliens?). It was very depressing, but I could not stop writing so I went on to other things.

AUTHOR-NETWORK: What is your writing claim to fame, Paul?

PAUL CLAYTON: I wish I had one. I did manage to write another novel, very different from the first (Carl Melcher), which was based heavily on my own experiences. Calling Crow was conceived on a business trip to Jacksonville Florida. I stayed on Amelia Island, and after visiting some of the local museums, and reading some articles about the first contact between the Spanish conquistadors and the local Indians, I began to visualize that contact on the beach as I walked along. I worked hard on that book and drew heavily on the muses. I sent it out to about thirty agents and one wanted it – Richard Curtis. Despite his abilities and contacts, it was still tough selling it (one publisher wanted it re-written entirely from a female point of view). I ended up cutting it almost in half and concentrating on the Native American point of view. After Putnam Berkley bought it, I was walking on air. The cover they put on it bothered me, but I was stricken with the “ugly baby” syndrome and couldn’t let that bother me – I was about to be a “Published Author!”

Well, it was fun walking in to bookstores and seeing my book in the racks, telling the clerks that I was the writer and watching their reactions (several didn’t believe me.) Richard Curtis was able to get me a contract for two more books and the next two and a half years during which I wrote them were some of the happiest years of my life. I still had a full time job, but I loved having a contract and a delivery date. Like most “mid-list” writers, I did all right, but I certainly did not become a household name. Do I care? Not really. I still have a good twenty or thirty years in me.

AUTHOR-NETWORK: How did you start as a writer?

PAUL CLAYTON: I think I covered it in my earlier answer, but going back even further, I think it could have something to do with my youth. I was a loner. Loners see a lot of stuff, as opposed to doers, who are “in the moment,” and maybe because of that, not as impressed or infatuated with what is happening around them. I’m Irish on my mother’s side, so I guess I have a bit of the blarney in me too. My mother used to tell a lot of stories about the devil and the wee people and things that happened to her and my dad, and I guess that influenced me some. Writers are trying to impress. A finely-crafted sentence might impress some girls as much as a smartly thrown bullet pass. Another thing that drives writers is a hope that others will understand us. At least that’s a driver for me, for the more personal things.

AUTHOR-NETWORK: Are you glad you became an author?

PAUL CLAYTON: I guess I’m glad I’m an author, a “mid-list” writer. Many of my co-workers and acquaintances don’t know that I am, so it hasn’t impacted my lifestyle in any measurable way. It probably would be easier if I wasn’t compelled to write. I would have more time to waste. I try to spend the little writing time I have on projects that truly interest me, not something that might just have sales potential. I have so little time (after subtracting job, commute, sleep) that I spend it all reading and writing, maybe watching a movie to relax. Yeah, I’m glad. And I think that the e-book and “print-on-demand” technology are going to be a boon to all mid-list writers.

The following is an excerpt from’s interview with Paul Clayton:

AMAZON.COM: What authors do you like to read? What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?

P.C.: I majored in English Literature in college, with a minor in American Literature. I like the novel the most and will always remember works such as Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness, all of Dickens novels. I’ve read Faulkner, Mann, Cheever, Marques, and loved them all. The one writer who had the greatest impact on me would be James Jones, the author of From Here To Eternity. I had a deja vu experience as I read the scene in which Prew fires the machine gun at the Japanese planes from the roof of the barracks. Of course I was never there, but the strong deja vu was a tribute to Jones’s writing power. I read his other two WW II novels and will probably read them all again at least once before I die.

AMAZON.COM: Could you describe the mundane details of writing: How many hours a day do you devote to writing? Do you write a draft on paper or at a keyboard (typewriter or computer)? Do you have a favorite location or time of day (or night) for writing? What do you do to avoid–or seek!–distractions?

P.C.: I write an average of an hour a day. It doesn’t sound like much, but I have a full time job (few writers support themselves on their writing) and a family I don’t want to ignore. I write in the garage (how romantic) and usually at night after the kids are asleep.

Here are synopses of Paul Clayton’s novels:

1. Calling Crow:

The year is 1550. Wary Indians sight mysterious “cloud boats” off of what would someday be called, the Carolina coast. Shortly afterward, Calling Crow and others are captured by Spanish slavers and taken to the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. All but Calling Crow die. In captivity, Calling Crow is brutalized in the pit mines. He escapes, but is quickly captured and whipped to near-death. Rescued by Spanish priest, Calling Crow learns Spanish and gains limited freedom. As a messenger, he meets and falls in love with an island woman named Juana. Then, as part of the conquistador DeSol’s massive assault on the Floridas, Calling Crow sails back to the mainland. In the confusion of battle, Calling Crow manages to escape and make his way back to his village, bringing the novel to its conclusion.

2. Carl Melcher Goes To Vietnam

The year is 1968. Like thousands of other American boys, Carl Melcher is drafted and sent to Vietnam. His new company is infected with the same racial tensions plaguing the nation. Despite that, Carl makes friends on both sides of the color line. The war, like a tiger lurking in the bushes, picks off its victims one by one. Naively over-optimistic, Carl believes that karma and good intentions will save him and his friends. Then fate intervenes to teach Carl something of the meaning of life, and death.

“I think that what makes Carl Melcher unique is that it doesn’t rely on military minutia, weapons caliber, tactics, blood and gore, to dramatise the horrors of war. Rather Carl Melcher is the story of friendship, love and loss. It is not war from the point of view of the generals, sticking pins in maps, or even the company commanders, platoon and squad leaders who read the maps and lead, but rather it is all from the point of view of the cannon fodder, the clueless who make it all possible, for if they did not attend there would be no party. I think Carl Melcher will appeal to women who are turned off by most war novels, and it is also appropriate for teens and young adults, in my opinion, for all the reasons mentioned above”. – Paul Clayton

Paul’s e-book ‘Carl Melcher Goes To Vietnam,’ is being published by Electric eBook Publishing ( in April 2001.

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