Daily Astorian
Aug. 20-26, 2009

THE ARTS: Author jumps between Hollywood and prison camp

For Coast Weekend

'Dutch Clarke: The War Years'
By Brian Ratty
AuthorHouse, 496 pages

It's probably the same for many, if not most: You plan on one kind of life and fate delivers another. So it was with Dutch Clarke, the central character of author Brian Ratty's series of novels about a unique and fascinating man.

Dutch Clarke is a real person and pretty much lived the life ascribed to him in Ratty's two (soon to be three) novels. The books are a kind of fictional history, following historical events and accurate in detail, but written in dramatic form.

"Dutch Clarke: The War Years," by Brian D. Ratty.

In the first book set in 1941, "The Early Years," a young Dutch Clarke finds himself spending a year alone struggling to survive in the rugged British Columbia backwoods, a situation thrust upon him by no doing of his own. It follows the wild and dangerous adventures that help him build character and shape him as a man.

Author Ratty had fate give his life a bit of a twist as well. "After high school, I was comfortably making a good living as a milkman," he said. "One day I looked up at a much older, veteran milkman, and realized that he was making the same money I was. I suddenly saw no future as a milkman."

Author Brian D. Ratty

Then and there he made a life-altering decision. He had taken some photography classes in high school and liked them, so he decided to pursue a career as a photographer. He quit his job and enrolled in the Brooks Institute photography program.

It proved a wise and fruitful decision, as he would go to build one of Portland's leading still photography, film and video studios and a distribution company selling his own line of photography videos. Upon retirement, he decided to pursue something else he wasn't sure he could do: write a book. Undaunted by the fact he was not a writer, he pushed forward. "My high school English teacher would be rolling in her grave to think that I was going to write a book!" he said.

It was natural that his first subject was a photographer and one who also provided an opportunity to honor those who fought in World War II.

"The Early Years" wasn't the most polished book, but the second edition (release date: fall 2009) became a quarterfinalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. Building on that experience and the constructive criticism he received, he embarked on book two, "The War Years," the time following Clarke's rigorous outback year in B.C.

Clarke wants nothing more than to join up as a combat soldier and get in the fight, but circumstances, and some unwanted influential interference by his uncle, deal him another hand. He winds up in Hollywood at the Office of War Information. Without any prior knowledge about photography, he learns from his commanding officer he is to be the Marine Corps photographer. His pictures of celebrities will contribute to the war effort and help encourage Marine recruitment. Showing the kind of backbone that would mark the rest of his life, he learns the photography game and becomes not simply a photographer, but an exceptional one. But just as Clarke is getting comfortable living and working among the stars, he is reassigned to head a secret frontline photo reconnaissance mission. Seeing action as a combat photographer wasn't what he'd dreamed of, but at least he was going to see some action. But again, fate takes over and the Japanese capture Dutch and crew - he becomes a prisoner of war.

This second book in the series jumps back and forth between Clarke's days in Hollywood and his struggle to survive the Japanese prison camp. The novel ends in an exciting climax that is a fitting testament to the man who never gives up.

"The War Years" was selected an award winner in the Eric Hoffer Awards and as a finalist in ForeWord Magazine's 2008 Book of the Year Awards.

"The War Years" is an engaging and insightful look into Dutch Clarke's military service among Tinseltown's celebrities, his frontline action as a combat photographer, and his subsequent refusal to be cowed as a Japanese prisoner. It's an action-filled, satisfying read for any reader, especially if you like a good military novel.

The books are available at Amazon.com, or for an autographed copy, at DutchClarke.com

Author Ratty is now embarking on the third book in the series, "The Lost Years," covering Clarke's up-and-down adventures after the war.

By the way, the author is local, living in Surf Pines for the last seven years. "My license plate reads 'Dutch,' so honk and wave if you see me," he said.