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On The Table Read, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Claudia Clark talks about writing her new book, Dear Barack: The Extraordinary Partnership of Barack Obama and Angela Merkel.

the best creativity magazine in the UK, the best book magazine in the UK, the best arts magazine in the UK, the best entertainment magazine in the UK, the best celebrity magazine in the UK, book marketing UK, book promotion UK, music marketing UK, music promotion UK, film marketing UK, film promotion UK, arts and entertainment magazine, online magazine uk, creativity magazine
JJ Barnes

Written by JJ Barnes

www.jjbarnes.co.uk

I interviewed author Claudia Clark about her life and career, what inspired her to start writing, and the work that went into her new book, Dear Barack: The Extraordinary Partnership of Barack Obama and Angela Merkel.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

I am an American living in Berlin (via Michigan and California) I am a historian, feminist, and fourth generation progressive political activist.  I received my BA in history and public policy (with a French minor) from Michigan State University, my Master’s degree in Labor Relations from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, my MA in history with an emphasis on women’s history from San Jose State University, and my Master of Social Work with a focus on community organizing from the University of Michigan.

I speak English, French, and Spanish fluently, and am working on learning German.  I have worked on many social justice campaigns including a school bond measure in South San Francisco, California and a field organizer for abortion rights in South Dakota. 

Claudia Clark on The Table Read
Claudia Clark

In August I am going to get my certificate at the International Travel Tour Management Institute  so that I can work part time as a tour guide.  Additionally, in September I am going to spend two months in Rouen, France to prepare to take the French proficiency exam (DALF) to help improve my  chances of obtaining a job working with an NGO or the UN.

Reading Never Goes Out of Style

When did you first WANT to write a book?

When I was a child, I was creative and had a gift that my mother encouraged me to attempt to write—as a child I always assumed I would be a creative or fiction writer.  However, once I entered high school and college, analytical and nonfiction writing took so much of my time that I simply did not have the time to write creatively like I did as a child,.

When did you take a step to start writing?

When I was in elementary school, the local university had a contest for children to write a story and winners selected had the opportunity to present their work at the university among other students, and writers across the area.  My elementary school teacher encouraged me to enter—I am an avid animal lover, and if I weren’t a political activist I would work doing something with animals.  I wrote a story about a mamma koala Kristi, and her joey Kandi.  The short story gave me enough recognition that the story won first place for my elementary school and I was able to go the young writer’s conference.

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

I wrote my book in the middle of Covid, so many places were shut down, and there were delays because book fairs etc. were cancelled, but from start to finish it took me 4 years to write the book—from research to publication.  Of actual writing time, maybe 18 months.  The rest of that was “down” and waiting time.

What made you want to write Dear Barack?

I visited Berlin as a teenager for the first time in 1990 and fell in love with the city and knew I wanted to move there eventually, and for a variety of reasons that “eventually” happened in 2017 when my husband received a job offer with a company in southern Germany.   However my German was not good enough to work in a professional setting and I knew I needed to do something that would keep myself busy without interfering with my German language classes. 

I happened to hear Trump’s rhetoric about the usefulness of NATO, and compared it with how the media depicted Merkel and Obama’s relationship, and I realized Obama and Merkel really had a remarkable partnership—one that should be memorialized in some way.  I remembered reading books about the relationships between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, so I began to research if there were enough  substance between Merkel and Obama’s partnership to warrant such a book, and the next thing I knew I had a 250 page manuscript.

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What were your biggest challenges with writing Dear Barack?

I was an unknown author and I was attempting to write a major piece of nonfiction about two of the most powerful people in the world. I knew the story was worth telling, but the challenge was convincing people (i.e. publishers) that I was the write person to tell the story.

I attempted several times to contact key people from both the Obama and Merkel’s administrations, and my emails/phone calls went unanswered.  Hence,  because I was relying on secondary sources, I knew the book needed to be impeccably researched to combat this downfall, so I ensured that not only did I use a lot of sources, but a wide range of resources—everything from biographies to newspaper articles, to video clips—if it were at all relevant, I used it.

What was your research process for Dear Barack?

I started with biographies written about Obama and Merkel—then I  used a couple of the bibliographies from my favorite books and used those sources as well. I used newspaper articles and news sources on both sides of the Atlantic—for example, if Obama were in Berlin for a visit, I would see what the New York or LA Times said about his trip to Berlin as well as the traditional newspapers and magazines in Berlin and even Europe said.  Conversely, when Merkel was in Washington, I would see what the German magazine Der Spiegel said about the visit (German equivalent to Time magazine) and compared what they said with what American newspapers said. 

Fortunately most of my work was public domain, so I watched youtube videos recorded by the White House archives and watched the press conferences and other official meetings between the two of them, and I compared those video clippings to the official transcripts which were released .  Because so much of the interaction between the two was based on non verbal communication that was not reflected in the transcripts, I would watch the videos for the visual impact of the visit and compare the exchanges for accuracy with the official reports released by the White House. 

Dear Barack by Claudia Clark on The Table Read
Dear Barack

I  simultaneously had the book translated, and my translator would confirm and verify the German side, and informed me of corrections (she even found a few mistakes in Merkel’s official translator) 

How did you plan the structure of Dear Barack?

At my publisher’s suggestion, I wrote  a preface or author’s notes section which explained who I was and why I decided to write the book.  Then, I wrote an introduction chapter where I  outlined the book and thesis.  Because Obama was the first black president of the U.S. and Merkel had been the first female chancellor of Germany, I  knew a biography chapter made sense, so I knew that Obama and Merkel had 11 official encounters (state visits for example) during their time together, I planned one chapter for each of those meetings—which was the bulk of the book. 

There was one scandal(the spying scandal where it was discovered Obama had wiretapped Merkel’s cell phone) that was important enough that I gave that its own separate chapter, and then a conclusion where I tied everything together.  Because Merkel remained in office after Obama left, I added an afterward which described what had happened to the relationship between the U.S. and Germany post Obama. 

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Dear Barack need?

Because I knew I was an unknown author, I faced an uphill battle, and I did not want to give a publisher any reason to turn down my book.  Hence, I had two professional editors (and my translator) review the manuscript before it even went to any publisher. 

People told me it was unnecessary for nonfiction that if a publisher were interested they would take the manuscript and send it off to an editor anyway, and while that was true, I still do not regret having the manuscript in good condition before allowing publishers to see it. 

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?

Writing a book is a business and be prepared to spend a lot of money getting it published and sold.  I was not prepared for that component—I am not just talking about paying for editors, but most publishers do not help with publicity, so be prepared to spend the money on PR and marketing and other expenses associated with getting a book published and sold.  Writing a book is only a bout 1/100th of the work required to actually get a book published, so be prepared for that both emotionally and financially. I am just fortunate I had the resources to do it.

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

I am currently researching a book comparing the lives of people in Northern Ireland in the 1970s/80s at the height of the divisions in their country with the lives of Germans in Eastern Germany and Berlin during the Cold War. Both nations/people divided by walls.  How were their lives similar? How were they different?  Common lessons between both experiences.

And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

Yes—I have worked on many social justice campaigns and have done work I am very proud of, but this is my biggest accomplishment.  I can say that I am a published author in two languages

Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:

Website: https://www.claudiaclarkauthor.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Claudia-Clark-Author-2185350048200575

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/claudiaclarkauthor73/

Linked In; https://www.linkedin.com/in/claudia-clark-7682492/

Twitter: https://www.linkedin.com/in/claudia-clark-7682492/

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