Many Lives of Clay G. Small: Dallas Tornado Football Player, PepsiCo Lawyer, SMU Professor, Author

Photograph by Jessica Turner.

Neighbor Clay G. Small grew up in and around New York City, before going to Ohio Wesleyan University to play football. A two-time American player, he was drafted by the Dallas Tornado, a Dallas-area professional soccer team from 1967 to 1981. After being released by the Tornado, team owner Lamar Hunt encouraged him to enroll in law school at Southern Methodist University. Later, Small returned to Manhattan, where he worked on Wall Street for five years before beginning a 30-year career at PepsiCo as general counsel for many divisions of the company. Small left the corporate world to become a professor at SMU’s Cox School of Business and a visiting professor at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Her second novel, The fake of the forger, starring Henry Lindon is set in Dallas, the city he calls home, and Amsterdam, the city he loves.

Why did you switch to writing books?

I always thought that at some point in my life, I would become a writer. And I started procrastinating for years. And when I was at my job at PepsiCo, I was general counsel for Pizza Hut. In this job, I became friends with the general counsel of McDonald’s. Over dinner he told me that his novel was about to be published. He said “every lawyer worth their salt has at least one romance in their life”. I was 36 years old. It has stuck with me for all these years. And when I started teaching at the Cox School, I found what I thought was a different approach – writing a novel as someone who was in academia without being an academic.

How did you choose the subject of your first book, Heels above the head?

I got a phone call from a friend of mine, who is a lobbyist in Washington, DC

And he says, ‘Hey, I did. I get it.”

I say, “What did you do?”

He goes, “Well, are you near your computer?”

I say, “Yeah, I’m sitting in front of one.”

He said, “I’ll send you a picture.

It’s his forearm, where he’s tattooed with “I wear the chains I made in life, but I forged them link by link.” And around, there was a slave chain that went all around his arm. And I started thinking about it. I have two brothers, one of whom is able to do something similar. I started thinking, what would my reaction have been if my brother had made that call. And this weekend, this subject became the first 50 pages of the book.

How did you feel after writing this first book?

In some ways, terrific. In some ways, very humble. I had an excellent editor. After I sent her the finished book, she sent me back her first edition, which removed 50 pages from the book that I thought were just great.

What’s your favorite part of the writing process?

You know, as Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black famously said, “There is no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting.” And for me, I love the process of thinking I’ve finished a chapter and then going back and realizing how much better it could be. And this process of editing my own work is something that I enjoy.

OIt’s the inspiration behind youbacklog, The Forger’s Forgery?

The second book is my love story with Amsterdam for 25 years. Let me tell you how it started. When I was first put in charge of all of PepsiCo’s European legal functions, I had a meeting of everyone in London. And when I got the bill, it was basically over half my travel and expense budget. And a friend of mine, a Dutch lawyer, said to me, “Why don’t you organize the next meeting in Amsterdam? It’s less than half the price, and everyone speaks English. The following year we had the meeting in Amsterdam. I have been to Amsterdam now 22 times. It started as a financial decision. And when I was there, I went to the Rijks Museum and saw three incredible paintings by Vermeer. And I decided that one of my life goals would be to see every (Johannes) Vermeer that exists. There are only 36, and I’ve seen 33. One, of course, was stolen from a museum in Boston, so I won’t see it. But that led me to being in Amsterdam, eating pancakes as always. One morning I read that in Rotterdam there was an exhibition of forgeries by a man named Han van Meegeren, a forger of Vermeer. And I thought to myself, “Why would there be an exhibition of a fake? And I went to Rotterdam to see it and was amazed by the exhibition. Frankly, I was amazed at how poor Vermeer knockoffs were. And I became interested in how this man pulled off this incredible fraud. And that became the center of the novel.

Did you know much about art forgery before the second book?

I would say that number is zero. I bought a bunch of books. I have read a lot of articles. The talk I’m giving basically revolves around how counterfeiters are treated in the court of public opinion. They are not treated like the criminals they are. They’re treated like some kind of schoolboys caught up in some kind of sophomore nonsense; these individuals go from being despised to being held high in society and making a fortune selling their art now under their own name.

Plans for a third book?

I’m thinking about it. And what I would really like to try to do is write a book with a female voice.

Would it be a spin-off of your first two books?

As I think of it now, it would be kind of a spin-off because it would be voiced by a character named Bernadette Gordon, who is an art teacher in Amsterdam. And I want to see, I’m not sure I can do it, but if I can write with a woman’s voice.

Why does that intrigue you?

I never tried. And I think women are more likely to read books than men. I think the public that buys books is mostly female. And I would like to try.

Is Henry Lindon based on you?

As Agatha Christie says, most fiction is autobiographical and all autobiography is fiction. In my case, where I go is where Henry ends up going. So the first book was Mexico and Buenos Aires, and this book was Amsterdam.

Was there a time when you got “stuck” as part of the writing process?

Each book took me four years to complete, from start to finish. When I say start to finish, I mean from when I started writing to when it’s published. I envy those with a strict writing schedule. For me, I can sit for five and six hours straight, if I have an idea. And if I don’t have an idea, I can’t force myself to sit in front of the computer. I can not do it.

Have you always had this interest in art, even before Amsterdam?

Yes. When I was in college, I was studying English literature. But I took a course called art appreciation. And I was probably 19, 20. And that kind of kicked my lifelong interest in art.


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