Interview with Claudia Clark – Ramona Portelli Blog

Interview with Claudia Clark

Author Claudia Clark and her husband moved from San Jose, California, to Landshut, Bavaria, Germany in September 2017 where she was recently elected as the national Get out the Vote Coordinator (GOTV) with the Democrats Abroad Germany Chapter. Clark volunteers at the local Haus International in her hometown in Bavaria and gives English tours of her adopted city. She is currently conducting research for her next book about the fall of the Berlin Wall—30 years later, a reflection.

Clark holds three Masters Degrees: an M.A. in Labor in Industrial Relations an M.A. in U.S. History with an emphasis on women’s history and a Master of Social Work (MSW) from the University of Michigan with an emphasis in Community Organizing.  She received her B.A. in History and Public Policy from Michigan State University.  During her time at Michigan State, she served as President of the College Democrats and was an active member of the college’s Amnesty International, NOW, and Pro-Choice groups.

Clark has worked on political and social justice campaigns, including serving as: a campaign manager for a school bond measure for the South San Francisco Unified Schools Campaign; as a community organizer with ACORN; as a field organizer for the South Bay Labor Organization in San Jose, California; and as a field organizer for the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy families. She has volunteered for many Democratic Party organizations, NAACP Groups, Planned Parenthood affiliations, and for Toastmaster’s International.

Ramona: Tell me more about your latest book

Claudia Clark: My first book is about both the personal friendship that developed between former U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel and the importance that such strong relationships among allied world leaders is among the increasing globalized world.  Obama and Merkel did not start off under the best of circumstances, but because of their mutual respect and admiration for each other’s countries the two learned to not only work, but sincerely like one another.  The book explores how the relationship between the two evolved from one of sincere apprehension to one of profound respect—including Merkel crying when she said goodbye to Obama for the final time.  Their eight year working relationship was by no means linear—they had their ups and downs, and I explore all of those challenges, and how they overcame them. Additionally, I analyse the difficulties the world faced during their working relationship including the greatest economic recession facing the world since the Great Recession and the crisis which faced Ukraine when Russia illegally annexed Crimea.  Because of the profound respect Merkel and Obama had for each other and their countries, the two were able to accomplish some significant victories including the Iran Nuclear Deal and the Paris Climate Accord.

Ramona: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?

Claudia Clark: Since this was my first book, I am unknown.  I chose to write a book about two very important and influential people.  I did not doubt the importance of my work, but my biggest challenge was to find someone to take my seriously—to convince someone I was the right person to tell this important story.

The other challenge in writing this book is writing a transatlantic book with limited German. I had to hope the provided translations (when they existed) were accurate, and I had to find people to translate for me when translations were unavailable.  I had the book translated into German after my English editors finished it, and the most disconcerting feeling in the world is seeing your voice in print, but not being able to fully understand the words and have faith your translator did an accurate job capturing your voice.

Ramona: What kind of research did you do for this book and how long it took all the whole process until publication?

Claudia Clark: Since Obama and Merkel were unique in many aspects (Obama the first African American elected President, and Merkel the first woman and former first East German elected as Chancellor) I felt a one chapter biography was necessary.  For that chapter, I relied on biographies, autobiographies, and documentaries about Merkel and Obama.  For the bulk of the book, I relied heavily on primary newspaper articles from newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, Der Spiegel, and the archives from both the White House and the Bundestag.  Whenever I wrote about an event whether it was in the United States or Europe, I balanced what the news and media reported on both sides of the Atlantic.  For example, when Merkel visited Washington, I researched what the German/EU papers like DW said as much as the New York Times. Conversely, when Obama was in Europe, I looked at the Frankfort or Berlin papers as well as the American media. 

Since a lot of my book involved how Obama and Merkel interacted with one another as much as what they said to one another, that rapport could not be captured in print, so I relied on clips of Press Conferences, speeches, and states dinners simultaneously while reading transcripts to ensure for accuracy.  Since my German is still a work in progress, I had my translator verify the accuracy of the translations.  

From the time I began my initial research to now has been 2.5 years.  I began my research on earth day (April 2017) I finished the manuscript and turned it over to my first editor in March 2018. I had a second editor review it in September 2018. In January 2019 my publicist sent the manuscript to agents and publishers, and where I still await to hear feedback from several.  I am hoping to have the book published by the 2020 election.

Ramona: What motivated you to become an author?

Claudia Clark: Since I was a young girl I had a talent for writing.  In elementary school I won several awards for my creative writing stories.  However, as I grew older, I found my real passion to be in history and political activism.  I had lost sight of my initial talent.  In early 2017 we knew we were moving to Germany and learning German needed to be a priority, so I was looking for things I could do with my limited German skills while learning German. I happened to see the final press conference in November 2016 between Obama and Merkel and was amazed at the rapport between the two.  After doing some initial research, and talking to people I discovered there was enough material and interest to write a book

Ramona: How many books have you written so far?

Claudia Clark: This is my first book, and admittedly an ambitious task for my first one, but in the course of writing it I have discovered another passion—public speaking (very interesting for someone as introverted as I am.  In the last several months since I have finished the book, I have had the amazing opportunity to travel all over Germany to meet different types of people to tell my story. I have spoken in small groups in beer halls to large groups of 50 people in conference rooms. In these settings, interacting with audience members, I have obtained confidence that I seemed to have been lacking.  When I started this book, I assumed it would be my first and only—after all I am in my mid 40s and I thought I was too old to begin yet another career.  However, with the confidence and interest the public has given me, I have decided to pursue other topics. 

Right now, Germany is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, so I am researching the impact of a unified Germany.  Also, this Merkel was President Obama’s best friend on the international stage.  I am considering writing a book about Obama and Biden’s relationship. I think it is safe to say that Biden was Obama’s best friend domestically and it extremely rare for a President and Vice President to have the bond they did, so that is another topic I am considering as well.

Ramona: What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?

Claudia Clark: Even though I have quite an expansive educational background, school was not always easy for me and I faced tremendous challenges in my early years.  Throughout school, my grades never reflected how hard I really worked. In fact, my high school algebra teacher told me I was the dumbest student he had ever had in his 20 years of teaching.  It turns out I was in graduate school before I was finally diagnosed with two different types of learning disabilities and ADHD.  The counsellor who diagnosed me told me she was amazed I even managed to graduate from high school with the disabilities as severe as they were.  Fortunately, I am extremely stubborn, and there is nothing I like than proving people wrong. 

Additionally, I grew up in a social justice family—my great grandmother marched for women’s suffrage, my grandfather was a Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) union democrat, and my mother a gifted linguist joined the Peace Corps where she taught English in Africa for a period of time.  With my social justice upbringing, and my own challenges, I find books where people over extreme challenges to become successful the most inspiring.  Books about the Holocaust, the civil rights movement, the labor movement and the women’s movement are among my favorites—including the Diary of Anne Frank, Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. One of my editors told me that ideally a good piece of nonfiction should do three things 1) educate, 2) inspire, and 3) entertain.  She also added that it may not be possible to accomplish all three, if an author can succeed in 2 of the 3 components, then there is a good chance the book will be a success.  Admittedly some of the topics addressed in this book are a bit dry, even for the most faithful political groupies; I did attempt to bring a smile to the reader’s face on a few occasions.  More importantly, I hope that a book written by a severely dyslexic woman who had been told she would never amount to anything about the first African American elected as U.S. President and the friendship between the first woman from the former East Germany elected as Chancellor of a free and united Germany will serve as education and inspirational that all things are possible.

Ramona: What is your advice for aspiring writers?

Claudia Clark: To stay focused and to believe in what you are doing.  The rejection and criticism can be disheartening, but in the end if you believe in what you are doing, others will too.

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