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Interview: May 26, 2021

THE FORGER’S FORGERY is an international mystery set in Amsterdam that threads the history of notorious Dutch art forger Han van Meegeren with a modern plot to settle old scores. In this interview, author Clay G. Small talks about his favorite character and scenes in this follow-up to his debut novel, HEELS OVER HEAD; why he was drawn to van Meegeren’s story; and the stunning information he learned about forgery while he was conducting his research for the book.

Question: After writing THE FORGER’S FORGERY, would you share a new favorite place or places where you like to spend time in Amsterdam?

Clay G. Small: The Rijksmuseum is my favorite museum in the world. Not only does it house fantastic 17th-century paintings like Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and Vermeer’s The Milkmaid, but the building and surrounding grounds are fabulous. At the end of the day, I’m frequently at the Brouwerij’t IJ. My favorite restaurant is a tiny place run by two Italian brothers called Cucina Casalinga. Don’t go if you’re in a hurry!

Q: Your fictional story is based on the true story of master forger Han van Meegeren, who made quite a name for himself by forging the works of some Dutch masters in the 1930s and ’40s. What drew you to van Meegeren’s story?

CGS: It was Vermeer who drew me to van Meegeren. I became interested in Vermeer when I started traveling to Amsterdam on business in the 1990s. I made it a goal to see as many Vermeers as possible. (I have seen 30 of the 36.) I saw an advertisement in an Amsterdam newspaper for an exhibit in Rotterdam of all known van Meegeren forgeries of Vermeer. After seeing the exhibit, I was hooked on van Meegeren’s sheer criminal genius.

Q: Do you have a favorite scene in THE FORGER’S FORGERY? Would you tell us about it and why it holds special meaning?

CGS: That’s like asking who’s your favorite child! Since we have three children, I’ll highlight three scenes. First, Bernadette’s lecture at the University of Amsterdam. This scene forced me to distill all I have learned about van Meegeren into a few pages. Second, I enjoyed the scene of Marvin and Constance chasing wild pigs in East Texas. That scene required a fair amount of research since I’ve never been on a pig hunt. Third, I enjoyed writing about the boat race in Amsterdam. I saw such a race in 2017 as a memorial to Eberhard van der Laan, the very popular mayor of Amsterdam.

Q: You seem to know a lot about art and artists from all ages and backgrounds. Would you talk about whether you have a background in art, or is it a newfound love inspired by a particular experience?

CGS: In college, I was an English literature major. To graduate, students had to take either art or music appreciation. I chose art. That course launched me on a lifetime interest in paintings.

Q: Would you like to tell us about your inspiration in creating a character as vile as Guy Wheeless?

CGS: I don’t want to go there! As Marvin says in the book, some people are just no damn good.

Q: Do you have a favorite character in THE FORGER’S FORGERY? Would you discuss why this character was your favorite?

CGS: Bernadette is my favorite. Her calm and logical personality is so Dutch. She is an accomplished woman, very comfortable in her own skin. She is loosely based on my landlady and friend in Amsterdam.

Q: Did you find that some characters took over your writing process and did things that surprised you? Or were you in control of them the whole time?

CGS: I like to think I was in control of all the characters except Marvin. He is a wild card, but I try to be vigilant about not allowing him to run off the page.

Q: Who are some of your favorite writers or writers whose works have influenced you?

CGS: My favorite writers are Tom Wolfe, David Foster Wallace, Ian McEwan and Don DeLillo. I was most influenced by Tom Wolfe and his ability to blend fiction into real-life situations.

Q: If you could do a book reading in Amsterdam, do you have a favorite bookstore you would pick to host it?

CGS: That one is easy. For my first book, HEELS OVER HEAD, I did a reading at the American Book Center on Spui. That experience led me to have Bernadette do her book reading there in THE FORGER’S FORGERY. I look forward to returning there.

Q: How did writing THE FORGER’S FORGERY change you? What did you learn about yourself or any other particular topic?

CGS: One of the most fun things about writing THE FORGER’S FORGERY was researching the history of forgery. I was stunned to learn that many experts believe 40% of art in the world’s museums and private collections are forgeries!