More from author Jamie Ford


With his debut novel, Jamie Ford wanted to write a love story and to cover a period of American history that doesn’t get much mention in text books.

“Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” 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 Seattle’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 year’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 ‘HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET’ YET?
JF: I’m not sick of it yet, but I can foresee a time when I’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 aren’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 — for charity, of course.

DNT: HOW OLD ARE YOU THAT YOU THINK HENRY LEE, AT AGE 56, IS AN OLD MAN?
JF: I’m 42. I’m probably just an old soul. When I was like 28 my friends called me the world’s youngest 40 year old. People younger than me, they’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 it’s just your angle of perspective.

DNT: HAVE YOU RE-READ THE BOOK IN RECENT HISTORY?
JF: I can’t because it’s like watching yourself on video tape. I’m not quite enough of a narcissist to go there. I’m much more distracted by the stories I’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 I’d rather read for pleasure.

DNT: DO YOU READ REVIEWS, GOOGLE YOURSELF?
JF: I don’t have time to Google myself. I barely have time for Facebook and Twitter.
I think I read my first review in Publisher’s Weekly and I got savaged and a writer friend said “When you get a bad review you have 24 hours to wallow and then get over it.” Paul Newman was passed over for the Academy Award. He never read his reviews positive or negative. It’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 didn’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: I’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 “You should go up and sign it.” I’m in my swim trunks and don’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 “This is the first book I was forced to read that I enjoyed,” which I love. It’s hard for a book to survive a hostile reading. I read “Of Mice and Men” and felt like I was being punished.
I love YA. I have an immature writing style. I say that with no apologies. I don’t get prose dense. Probably the books I write can be read by high school or college or junior high students.

DNT: IT’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 “fully explore their relationship.” I was like “Aw, please.” It’s not that I can’t write a sweatier book, it just didn’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. It’s a cliché literary trope that you can’t be taken seriously if you have a redemptive ending. That you have to write dark. That’s your way of slouching toward literary fame. I knew from the get-go I didn’t want to end it ambiguously. You turn the page, where is the rest of the book?
I don’t mind dark books and bleak books. I hate the ones that pull the rug out. You’re banking on a certain amount of emotional currency.

For Wednesday’s story on Ford, go here.

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