An Interview with Jamie Ford

I became acquainted with bestselling author Jamie Ford on Goodreads, the “Facebook” for readers and writers. It is a wonderful site. I have found that authors are very approachable; and some, like Jamie Ford, are gracious enough to take time to have great conversations with their readers. I loved his first book, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and was equally enthralled with his second, Songs of Willow Frost. Jamie kindly agreed to an interview with me!

Jamie, your books are so heartbreakingly focused on family, loss, and the experience of being Asian in our American, WASP-centric culture. Readers always want to know if there is an autobiographical quotient in novels. How much of your own experience is reflected in your books?

Hmmm…the books aren’t biographical or autobiographical, but they’re definitely infused with a lot of familial angst. By that I mean, I’d been tinkering with fiction for years, but I never felt anything in my writing until my parents passed away. Only then did I have an emotional well to draw upon. As heartbreaking as I sounds––it’s true when I say that my real writing career began when I wrote my parent’s obituaries.

I know you must be working on a new book. Can you share a little about it?

Yeah! I’m always excited to talk about my new love, which is always what I’m working on currently. The new book (which doesn’t have a title yet, but it does have a deadline, so as I get closer to the due date hopefully a title will reveal itself) is about a boy who was raffled off at the 1909 world’s fair in Seattle. True story! No one knows whatever happened to this boy so I’m writing his life, which is bookended between 1909 and the other Seattle world’s fair in 1962. Oh, and it’s a love story.

Also, on a side note, I do have a short story in THE END IS NIGH, a collection of apocalyptic fiction, which was just released. My story that appears there is set in Seattle, circa 1910, and is my first foray into Steampunk.

I always wonder about authors as readers. What annoys you most about books you read? Is there something that would cause you to put a book down without finishing it?

I need a story to sink my teeth into. I get weary of books that are all about the linguistic jiu-jitsu on the page. I love beautiful, florid prose, but if the story is so subtle as to be almost non-existent, I quickly lose interest. That’s why I’m such a fan of Young Adult fiction (YA), because it’s all about storytelling.

Conversely, what book/s have you absolutely known you would love from the first paragraph?

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Most books by Pat Conroy, Sherman Alexie, and any essay by Harlan Ellison––these are writers who sink such deep story hooks from right out of the gate, immersed in poetic, musical language. To quote a cheesy line from Jerry Maguire, they always have me at “hello.”

As a reader, what do you wish you could tell authors?

Stop writing for other authors (or critics, who are usually failed authors)—stop being a performance writer. Be a storyteller, and a damn good one, and I’ll follow your characters into the wee hours of the night. I will skip my children’s dentist appointments. I will read your books while the house is on fire.

Is there a book that you had trouble getting into, but you are glad you stuck with it and finished?

American Pastoral by Philip Roth. He kind of goes on these weird historical tangents and goes on and on and on and on, and when he catches his breath he goes on and on some more. The story is dark, bleak, and complex, but I absolutely loved that book.

When you want to relax, what do you do?

In the winter, I catch up on all the great television that’s out there these days: House of Cards, Downton Abby, Mad Men, etc. In the summer, I go hiking and climbing along the Rocky Mountain Front and in Glacier National Park––one of the splendorous benefits of living in Montana, which means land of mountains. I’m relaxed half the year, then super active. Total yin/yang thing when you think about it.

Do you watch television? What show/s do you like? Is there one you watch that is a “guilty pleasure?” (Even if it is Duck Dynasty?)

See above. Let’s see, guilty pleasure? I’ve probably watched Anchorman more times than I should admit.

If you had to give us a list of five books NEVER to read, which ones would be on it?

The Scarlet Letter (a blunt object used to turn teenagers into non-readers), Finnegan’s Wake (fun to appreciate, but technically, unreadable), plays (see them, don’t read them), anything by Salman Rushdie (too much hype), and a book called Rabbit Years (my first, discarded novel. Please, NEVER read this. It’s awful).

How about a list of five books everyone SHOULD read?

Deathbird Stories by Harlan Ellison. Like Neil Gaiman? Everyone likes Neil Gaiman, right? This is the book that put Neil’s feet on the path to dark, lush, gothic fiction. He’s even said, “Without Deathbird Stories, there would be no American Gods.”

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie. An amazing, beautiful thing happens when accomplished poets write prose.

Essex County by Jeff Lemire. Quite, subtle, and heartbreaking––everything you’d never expect a graphic novel to be. Treat yourself to this fine book.

Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shen. American’s are jingoistic readers. We just don’t read much in translation. This book sold millions worldwide and when it was finally translated into English I inhaled the story and understood why. If you don’t read much foreign literature, check this out. It’ll open your eyes.

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. Science Fiction used to be read to BLOW THE READERS MIND—to dazzle us with concepts we’d never considered. Now technology has caught up to the foils of the fifties. Ted always takes the genre to a whole other place.

Finally, if you could interview yourself, what question would you just loved to be asked? And what would be the answer?

What is your go-to karoke song?

Paradise by the Dashboard Light by Meat Loaf, of course.

Check Jamie’s books out at the links below.

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