Thursday, May 28, 2009

Author Interview: Jamie Ford

I'm so excited that Jamie Ford was able to answer some questions regarding Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet for me. The book was truly remarkable and I look forward to his next book!! BEWARE: Possibly contains spoilers

GJR: I always hear that you should "write what you know" when you are doing your first novel, given that statement what part of the story is yours? Was it born out of historical research or family history?

Jamie Ford: Hmmm…I prefer to turn that maxim around and say, “Know what you write.” So there was a ton of historical research, which I love, but––confession time––there is also a lot of my own familial turmoil in the book. Not in an autobiographical way, per se, but more as it relates to the emotional content. There’s a little bit of my own story in there, as well as my father’s and my grandfather’s. They say that writers need to prick their fingers and bleed on the page––if that’s true then this story is more of a heart transplant.

GJR: What made you decide to write the chapters in the present, 1986 and the past, mid 1940s? Did you feel that it would perpetuate the story better if we read it from Henry's point of view? I wonder how different the story would be from Keiko's point of view. Was that considered?

JF: Well, I really wanted to give the story a redemptive ending, which is a literary way of saying, “And they lived happily ever after.” But I just couldn’t find that ending in the 40s. Because when Japanese families returned from internment, it wasn’t a happy ending, it was more like quiet relief. Jumping to the 80s allowed for the dust to settle, for families to rebuild lives, and for old wounds to heal a bit.

As far as Keiko’s point of view, I did consider that, but since I’m half Chinese, I felt more comfortable telling the story through that lens.

GJR: I loved the ending. In fact, I was at lunch reading it and crying. Why did you decide to give the readers the ending we were looking for? Was it also the ending you felt Henry and Keiko deserved?

JF: When I write, I feel like I’m either banking of spending emotional currency––I’m either tormenting my characters, or giving them relief, even joy. By that point in the story, I’d built up a lot of angst and it was time for an emotional payoff, so to speak.

Plus, as a reader, I’m not a fan of ambiguous, metaphorical endings. I always feel cheated. I loved No Country of Old Men, but the ending, not so much.

GJR: It's been many years since I've studied WW II and I'm almost positive the camps for the Japanese American's was not touched or barely touched in class. Why did you decide to center your book on this point of American history?

JF: My father wore one of the “I Am Chinese,” buttons mentioned in the book. That was really the genesis of the story––the tension between Chinese and Japanese communities that’s relatively unknown to Caucasian audiences. I knew I wanted to craft a bit of a noble romantic tragedy and those two communities became my Capulets and Montagues, but with fewer codpieces and rapiers.

GJR: Besides Keiko and Henry, my favorite relationship in the book was between Henry and his father. Do you think that Henry turned into his father in some ways with his own son Marty? Even though Henry and his father were both Chinese, I feel that their differences could be any ethnicity where the immigrant family wants their American born child (ren) to be American but yet respect the culture of the parents. Did you intentionally write Henry's father as a Chinese Nationalist or did that come about when fleshing out the story?

JF: This is one of those areas where the history of Seattle’s Chinatown really infected some of the characters–-like Henry’s father, who Henry ends up mirroring in some ways.

When I was doing my research and found a mention of Dr. Sun Yat-sen coming to Seattle to raise money for the war back in China, I immediately envisioned Henry’s father as the type of loyalist that would be behind that movement––that kind of nationalist fervor. It created a rich, and historically accurate mindset to contrast Henry’s modern, American ways.

GJR: Is Sheldon based on a real person who played with Oscar Holden or a portrait of different people you met during your research? I loved how you weaved Jazz into the story; it was such an important musical movement during that period of time. Did you feel that it key to Henry and Keiko's story?

JF: When I was rendering Henry and Keiko’s world it felt false to not include the jazz clubs and great characters like Oscar Holden, who was a real person. Sheldon though, is more of an amalgam of musicians that were working in the clubs of South Jackson at the time. Those clubs were such a part of the tapestry of the neighborhood––they needed to be included. Plus, it’s always good to remind people that there’s more to Seattle jazz than Kenny G.

GJR: You left me wanting more, is there any chance we'll meet Henry and Keiko again?

JF: I’m not sure, honestly. I still plan to write the story of Henry’s four years in China, so you might see him again, but I never planned for Keiko to be a part of that.

I’ve had so many emails asking for a sequel. I’d never revisit their story for financial reasons, but if there’s a natural extension––a story that’s dying to be told, I might consider it.

GJR: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is your first novel but you've written countless short stories. Are there any plans for publishing those? Would any of them be the great start of a novel?

I think the best short stories are ones with novel-length potential, so who knows? I am working on a special collection of short stories featuring the “other” characters in Hotel––Sheldon, Mrs. Beatty, Mr. Okabe, Henry’s parents, etc. All set in the same time period. If there’s interest, maybe it’ll see the light of day. If not, maybe it’ll just appear on my website.

GJR: Are you working on your 2nd novel? If so, what is the premise?

JF: The new book is about a failed kamikaze pilot, now in his 70s, who is still searching for a noble death, one that will allow his spirit to be reunited with that of his late wife. It’s another historical love story.

GJR: What has been most interesting aspect of having your book published and on the best seller list?

JF: Well, aside from the bodyguards, the limousines, and the private jet, it’s pretty much same ‘ol same ol’. Oh, and Paris Hilton, if you’re reading this, I’m just not that into you.

I want say a huge Thank You to Jamie Ford for taking the time to answer my questions!

2 comments :

Eric June 5, 2009 at 10:05 AM  

This is a great interview. I was also lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview this author, but I think you did a better job of it. Thanks for giving me tips on how do work it a bit better.

Julie June 5, 2009 at 10:53 AM  

Hi Eric! Thanks for stopping by. I always find author interviews hard. I try to have at least 10 questions and 2-3 of them I try to ask each author.

I always ask a friend what she thinks of the questions as well.

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