'Sweetness No. 9' author Stephan Eirik Clark on 'the Colbert bump'

  • Updated: August 23, 2014 - 4:07 PM
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Stephan Eirik Clark

Photo: Stephen Geffre • Augsburg College,

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It’ll be another few days before we know if the Colbert bump was a hefty push or more of a nudge for Stephan Eirik Clark. His novel, “Sweetness No. 9,” hit bookstores on Tuesday, and that week’s bestseller list will be announced next Wednesday.

Clark’s book was recommended on “The Colbert Report” by Edan Lepucki, who was paying it forward after her novel, “California,” debuted on the New York Times bestseller list following a recommendation by Sherman Alexie.

The recommendations are part of Stephen Colbert’s crusade to boost authors whose book sales are suffering because of soured e-book negotiations between Amazon and Hachette Group.

Q: What was the immediate response to the Colbert bump?

A: The response has been phenomenal. Overnight, my Twitter feed exploded, I had trouble keeping up with my inbox, text messages from long lost friends came tumbling in, and so many of my colleagues at Augsburg College wanted to congratulate me. Before this, my novel had been a largely unknown debut. But now, with mentions of it in papers like this one, USA Today and the New York Times, I like to think it’s one that more readers are aware of — and one they might now pick up to see what it’s all about. As an author, that’s all you can hope for — that readers will give your story a chance.

Q: You were born in West Germany, raised in the U.K. and the U.S., Fulbright fellow in Ukraine, now living in Minnesota. Why did you move around so much? How did you end up here?

A: Back in the ’70s, my father sold life insurance to GIs throughout Europe, first while based in West Germany, then England. Living there was good for my mother, too, as she was able to travel more easily to Norway, where she was born and raised. By the time I was an adult, momentum had taken over, and I moved for school, work, love, money — anything, really. Only Augsburg College brought me to a stop. Since I started teaching there three years ago, the farthest I’ve moved is from Minneapolis to St. Paul (fighting words, I’m told).

Q: Your publisher is part of the Hachette Group. What’s your take on the dispute with Amazon?

A: It is frustrating (read as: British understatement). A writer has only one opportunity to debut as a novelist. Mine is now. But then again, writing a novel is an act of faith. Will I ever finish it? Will it be any good? Will anyone buy it? So I’m used to this, and will continue to believe that a good story will find its readers.

Q: Your first book, “Vladimir’s Mustache,” a finalist for a Minnesota Book Award, was a collection of stories. How is writing a novel different from writing short stories?

A: I think Fitzgerald said that a good short story can be written in three days. My novel took 13 years to complete, during which time my main character became such a lingering and powerful presence in my life that I probably should have put out a plate for him each Thanksgiving.

I’ve worked on a few short stories for several years, but I would inhabit them for brief, concentrated periods of time, then put them away again for a long while. A novel doesn’t go away. It wakes you up in the morning. It keeps you up at night. It taps you on the shoulder and says, “You could be working. Let’s go.”

Laurie Hertzel is the senior editor for books; on Twitter @StribBooks

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