â€œHotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweetâ€ is both. It is set alternately in the mid-1940s, when Japanese families are being shipped off to internment camps, and the mid-1980s, when the belongings they left behind are discovered in the basement of the Panama Hotel on what was once the edge of Seattleâ€™s Japantown. The story is propelled by the deep friendship and innocent romance between Chinese-American Henry Lee and his classmate, Keiko Okabe, a Japanese-American.
The New York Times best-seller is this yearâ€™s pick for One Book, One Community, an annual program that encourages a region-wide read of a book. Ford will be talking about the novel and signing books at 7 p.m. Thursday at Marshall School.
DNT: ARE YOU SICK OF TALKING ABOUT â€˜HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEETâ€™ YET?
JF: Iâ€™m not sick of it yet, but I can foresee a time when Iâ€™ll probably want to talk about other things.
DNT: WHICH CAME FIRST: THE IDEA THAT YOU WANTED TO WRITE A LOVE STORY OR THE IDEA THAT YOU WANTED TO WRITE ABOUT THIS PERIOD OF TIME?
JF: Probably the love story, even though I may not have (been cognizant) that I was leaning in that direction. When the story started to go in that direction, I shamelessly let it go that direction. Guys arenâ€™t known to write love stories. Guys are supposed to write about cars crashing into things.
DNT: NICHOLAS SPARKS?
JF: Someone mentioned that Nicholas Sparks and I should have a cage match and see who comes out alive â€” for charity, of course.
DNT: HOW OLD ARE YOU THAT YOU THINK HENRY LEE, AT AGE 56, IS AN OLD MAN?
JF: Iâ€™m 42. Iâ€™m probably just an old soul. When I was like 28 my friends called me the worldâ€™s youngest 40 year old. People younger than me, theyâ€™re not distressed by how I depict (Henry). People older than me are alarmed that I assume 56 is old at all. They feel like I made him this doddering old man. I guess itâ€™s just your angle of perspective.
DNT: HAVE YOU RE-READ THE BOOK IN RECENT HISTORY?
JF: I canâ€™t because itâ€™s like watching yourself on video tape. Iâ€™m not quite enough of a narcissist to go there. Iâ€™m much more distracted by the stories Iâ€™m working on currently. I read a bit here and there. Not more than a page or two at the most. There are too many other books Iâ€™d rather read for pleasure.
DNT: DO YOU READ REVIEWS, GOOGLE YOURSELF?
JF: I donâ€™t have time to Google myself. I barely have time for Facebook and Twitter.
I think I read my first review in Publisherâ€™s Weekly and I got savaged and a writer friend said â€œWhen you get a bad review you have 24 hours to wallow and then get over it.â€ Paul Newman was passed over for the Academy Award. He never read his reviews positive or negative. Itâ€™s better just to stick to the work. You find happiness in doing the work.
DNT: AT WHAT POINT DID YOU FEEL SAFE QUITTING YOUR DAY JOB?
JF: I didnâ€™t feel comfortable quitting my job. I tried to get out of debt and save up a bit of money. I was a partner in a firm, I had a great job that I stepped away from. I signed with an agent on a Thursday and left the firm on Friday. I fully intended to write three years, starve and then go back to work.
DNT: EVER RUN INTO SOMEONE READING YOUR BOOK IN PUBLIC?
JF: Iâ€™ve seen it a couple times. Mainly in airports. Lots of people in airports.
The first time I was in Hawaii and I was at a resort swimming in the pool with my wife. A woman poolside was reading the hard back and my wife was like â€œYou should go up and sign it.â€ Iâ€™m in my swim trunks and donâ€™t have a pen on me.
DNT: THIS BOOK COULD FALL INTO THE YOUNG ADULT FRIENDLY CATEGORY.
JF: I love hearing from high school kids â€œThis is the first book I was forced to read that I enjoyed,â€ which I love. Itâ€™s hard for a book to survive a hostile reading. I read â€œOf Mice and Menâ€ and felt like I was being punished.
I love YA. I have an immature writing style. I say that with no apologies. I donâ€™t get prose dense. Probably the books I write can be read by high school or college or junior high students.
DNT: ITâ€™S PRETTY CHASTE.
JF: I totally erred on the side of innocence. I had offers from five agents. One from New York would only represent me if I agreed to make my characters 17 or 18 so they could â€œfully explore their relationship.â€ I was like â€œAw, please.â€ Itâ€™s not that I canâ€™t write a sweatier book, it just didnâ€™t seem necessary in this case.
SPOILER ALERT: Do not read further if you do not want hints about the end of this book.
DNT: YOU WRAPPED IT UP SO CLEANLY. DID YOU EVER CONSIDER JUST BLOWING IT ALL UP?
JF: I hate those books. You have these books, you read 600 pages and the groom gets hit by a bus on the way to the wedding. It comes from this nasty cynical place in the literary world. Itâ€™s a clichÃ© literary trope that you canâ€™t be taken seriously if you have a redemptive ending. That you have to write dark. Thatâ€™s your way of slouching toward literary fame. I knew from the get-go I didnâ€™t want to end it ambiguously. You turn the page, where is the rest of the book?
I donâ€™t mind dark books and bleak books. I hate the ones that pull the rug out. Youâ€™re banking on a certain amount of emotional currency.
For Wednesday’s story on Ford, go here.