A to Z Challenge 2013

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Interview With Jamie Ford

Jamie Ford is the outstanding author behind Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, but this is merely the culmination of true writing talent waiting to be recognized. The winner of the 2006 Clarity of Night Short Fiction Contest, first runner up in the Midnight Road Reader's Choice Awards, and a proud survivor of Orson Scott Card's Literary Boot Camp, Jamie is a very down-to-earth author whom I've had the pleasure of interviewing. So without further ado:

The story told in Hotel is an emotional tale, not always bad but not always pleasant either. There are some similarities between Henry's background and your own. Was there any point in the process that you found it difficult to tell the story because of the subject matter?

Ah, the Joan Crawford/Mommie Dearest question. The funny thing is, I set out to write a love story, but this painful, father & son dynamic just sort of elbowed its way onto the stage. I didn’t intend for it, it just happened. And to be honest, my own father and I didn’t always see eye to eye, especially after my parent’s divorce. But I’d say we were more like the characters of Marty and the older Henry, rather than the culture war between young Henry and his own father. That part of the story was strongly influenced by my dad’s relationship to his Chinese mother (my grandmother), who was very stern. She was so strict that my dad wasn’t allowed to speak English at home, which obviously made it difficult for him to invite any non-Chinese friends over to the house. He had a rough go of it…

You've indicated that Hotel started out as a short story initially. Did you find it difficult to expand that into a full-blown novel?

It was actually surprisingly easy, like rolling downhill. There was a certain direction and gravity to the story since it was wrapped around historical events. I just had to hang on and pray for a soft landing.

You use a somewhat unorthodox mixture of writing and editing, ending up with a finalized product in one draft. Did you have to stumble through a few misfires before realizing this worked well for you? Does this cause more work for you, since you have to "get it right" before you can progress from one section to the next?

Most of my misfires were on my real first book, the one under my bed that will never see the light of day. I rewrote that thing four times before I put it into a medically induced coma and began Hotel. By that time I think I’d learned how to tell a better story, and how to tell it with fewer authorly embellishments. The process of writing and editing became simpler, which I think ultimately means less work. But, I could be wrong.

The cover for Hotel is perfectly in tune with the tone of the story, from the colors to the imagery. Knowing your experience with graphic novels, did you have a hand the cover's creation or was it handled by others?

With my design background most people would expect that I would have a larger hand in the cover art, but I didn’t.

When I was working as a full-time art director, I hated it when clients had a spouse or mother-in-law with design experience. It always constipated the design process and made it a painful experience for everyone involved, so I took a very hands-off approach. My editor asked for my input, and I mocked up some little thumbnail ideas in Photoshop, but that was about it. I really deferred to their designer, who did an amazing job. If I’d have hated it, I would have said so, but I didn’t. It was love at first sight.

Are you enjoying the book tour or are you looking forward to being back at home for a while?

Touring is great. I love meeting readers and spending time in bookstores and libraries. But––the airports and the traffic, not so much. Also, I try to do as many drop-in signings as I can while on tour, so in addition to an evening event, I might hit as many as 15 other bookstores that afternoon. It’s a lot of work, and a lot of fun, but as Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home.”

You were a willing participant of the Orson Scott Card literary boot camp. Can you share your thoughts on the experience?

The year I went (2006), it was held in Buena Vista, Virginia. I called ahead to ask what there was to see and do in the area, you know, in case I got bored and had a little downtime. The person on the other end of the phone laughed. That was my first sign that this was going to be an intense week.

Boot Camp is the antithesis of your typical writers’ workshop where you critique work that you wrote months ago and you basically hang out and commune with other writers while holding a glass of merlot. At Boot Camp, you write. And it’s not that it’s a competition, but you obviously don’t want to look like a schmuck in front of your fellow writers, so you write hard, and sleep becomes an afterthought. Plus Scott Card is very honest in his critiques as well, and he’s a great story doctor. It was extremely liberating to focus on the craft of storytelling rather than the craft of writing.

What books(s) are you currently reading? Who are your favorite authors?

Hmmm…favorite authors? I’m a huge fan of Harlan Ellison, especially his non-fiction––his essays from the 70s are amazing. Fiction-wise, probably Sherman Alexie, whose honest, lyrical writing never gets in the way of the story.

As far as what I’m currently reading, I just finished Alexie’s Flight, while on a plane to Chicago. The book has a chapter with a plane crashing into a Chicago neighborhood, so that was timely. I also just finished Astonishing Tales, a splendid, uber-geeky biography of comic legend Jack Kirby.

Thank you very much Jamie, for allowing us another peek into your world. I hope you don't mind me "borrowing" the photo of you from your site either. For those aspiring authors out there, I can tell you that Hotel is a training tool and a book to be treasured. Reading through it, I found many examples to learn from. If you'd like to know more about Jamie Ford, check out his site.


Rebecca said...

Great interview!

I'm still in awe with the part that said "mixture of writing and editing, ending up with a finalized product in one draft." ONE draft? WOW! I have to go digest that little tidbit.

After reading this I'll definitely check this book out.

Jamie said...

Thanks for the interview Eric!

Eric said...

Thank you for stopping by Jamie. It was really fun learning more about you, and I am anxiously looking forward to your next book.