Stephan Eirik Clark was born in West Germany and raised in England and the United States. He is the author of the short story collection Vladimir’s Mustache. A former Fulbright fellow to Ukraine, he teaches at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.
The Poetics Project: Describe your novel in ten words or less.
Stephan Eirik Clark: A flavor chemist’s secret past tears his family apart.
TPP: What inspired you to write Sweetness #9?
SEC: Before reading Fast Food Nation, I hadn’t paid attention to the flavorings in my food. They were just there, like gravity or electricity. But after reading Eric Schlosser’s book, I couldn’t stop thinking about flavorings. It amazed me that a certain molecule smelled like cut grass, or barbecued brisket, and knowing that molecules like this were being added to my food, I had to stop and ask myself, Am I eating food? Or just the illusion of food? It was like going down a rabbit hole. Pretty soon I was looking at everything through the prism of food, and realizing I had enough questions to write a novel.
TPP: What do you want readers to take away from your novel?
SEC: First and foremost, I want them to be entertained by the story of a man who has to face the mistakes he made in the past. It’s a story we can all relate to. Can you make things right years after failing to do what’s right? If in addition to that readers would think about processed foods in a way they haven’t done before — that would make the novel a success in my mind.
TPP: What advice can you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would’ve been given?
SEC: Don’t become a writer unless you absolutely have to be one. Try to quit. If you are okay without writing, do something else. If you can’t help but tell stories, commit yourself to the craft completely and give it as much time as possible when you’re young and serving your apprenticeship. With the exception of a few stray prodigies, you only improve by spending years in the chair.
TPP: Name two to three songs that would be on a soundtrack for Sweetness #9.
SEC: Three time periods figure heavily into Sweetness #9: World War II, the early-70s, and the late-90s. The character who emerges from the rubble of Nazi Berlin, Hitler’s personal flavor chemist, Ernst Eberhardt, is nicknamed “Sonny Boy,” after the Al Jolson song (at least until the singer’s Jewish heritage made that moniker problematic). The main character, David Leveraux, comes of age in the sixties and seventies, but is in many ways a child of the fifties. For that reason, the song that defines him in young adulthood is “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” as performed by Mantovani. “World music” appears in the final time period, this being the music of choice of David’s vegan daughter, Priscilla.
To learn more about Stephan Eirik Clark, visit his website!