Jamie Ford

Jamie Ford


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Q&A with Jamie Ford

Can you describe your book in 10 words or less?

Can I cheat and describe it in a haiku?

Like Amy Tan, but

With a sweeter aftertaste

Keep Kleenex® handy

Where did the idea for the book come from?

Let's see, wasn't it St. Thomas Aquinas who said, "Only nothing comes from nothing, everything else comes from something." If that holds true, then my guess would be that the idea came from my father's death. When he died, I felt cut off from my Chinese heritage and began exploring his childhood. But that's a bit of a downer. I'd rather quote that other great philosopher, Billy Preston, who said, "Nothin' from nothin' leaves nothin' – You gotta have somethin' – if you wanna be with me."

How much research did you need to do, and what form did this take?

I love research, which is strangely akin to saying, I love doing my taxes. As a child you never dream that you'll grow up to say such absurdities, but I do, I enjoy sifting through the past – I love digging in the dirt, turning over rocks and looking at the squishy things underneath.

For Hotel, in particular, I explored the usual non-fiction texts, but I also spent hours at the Wing Luke Asian Museum in Seattle, combing their archives, and I joined the Densho Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving the oral history of the Internment experience.

I even interviewed a historian from the University of Washington. When I called him up he said, "Let's meet for tea at the Panama Hotel." He had no idea that was the hotel in my book. I took that as a good omen.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is your first novel. Have you always wanted to be a novelist?

Actually I graduated from art school, which is quite different than earning a degree in English or Creative Writing. My college years were spent basically drawing sweaty naked people all day. For me, a dangling participle was a part of the male anatomy. But in my sketchbook I'd write poetry, or the occasional short story – and that type of creativity felt different. With art, you perceive the world from in outside in. With fiction you perceive the world from the inside out, which was much more satisfying.

Which writers do you think influenced you?

Harlan Ellison is the one writer who's haunted my imagination from adolescence to adulthood. I love his work because he's an autodidact in both fiction and non-fiction. His prose is very unprocessed and unapologetic. Plus Harlan once said, "Write for the most intelligent, wittiest, wisest audience in the universe: Write to please yourself." There's something to that.

A more contemporary writer that I love is Sherman Alexie. Actually, a more apt description would be that I have ginormous man-crush on Sherman Alexie. When I finally met him I actually said that. He looked quite nervous.

What are you currently reading?

Well, I now have a Jenga-like tower of manuscripts sitting next to my desk, so I read a lot for blurbing. You know, those aphorisms that grace book covers these days saying things like, "If Jesus had a book club, he'd choose THIS BOOK!" That kind of thing. Actually, now that I think about it, if Jesus did have a book club they would probably choose Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin, which is a terrific novel. Read it and you'll realize I am in no way being sacrilegious.

What is your favourite book?

Dangerous Visions – a seminal anthology that was published the year I was born. With stories by Frederik Pohl, Philip Jose Farmer, Robert Bloch, Philip K. Dick, Fritz Leiber, Samuel R. Delany, it's like going back in time to witness the Big Bang of speculative fiction. Either that or Creative Writing For Dummies.

What are you working on now?

My second novel is with my editor at this very moment so now I've thrown off that yoke and have begun another book. This new story is multi-cultural yarn set in Hollywood in the 30s – a post-Victorian gaslamp fantasy. Stay tuned.


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