Author of ‘Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet’ visits Avon Library
May 18, 2011
Sometimes even authors don’t plan for a certain plot line to emerge in a story. That’s what happened in Jamie Ford’s book, “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.” Though the book, set in Seattle and a Japanese internment camp during WWII, is mainly about widower Henry Lee and his first love Keiko Okabe, the book also explores the complicated relationship between Henry Lee and his son.
“That part kind of surprised me,” Ford said during a recent telephone interview. “Sometimes these things just manifest when you’re writing. Sometimes writers’ Freudian issues just appear on stage,” he continued, referencing a Mario Vargas-Llosa quote: “Writers are the exorcists of their own demons.”
Ford admits he didn’t have a “stellar” relationship with his father, who passed away 10 years ago, and his father didn’t have a great relationship with his own mother, Ford’s grandma, who he called “a hurricane in high heels, a real handful – all 90 pounds of her.”
“Once those family dynamics popped up, I just went with it; It just seemed like it wanted to be expressed in the story, so I let it be,” he said.
Ford will visit the Avon Library on Thursday as part of the Books in Bloom author series. Adult services librarian Michelle Marx organized the event and chose Ford in part because of the popularity of his book. Many local book clubs have read it.
“The book is always checked out,” Marx said. “It’s a really sweet story and a good book. It’s been highlighted by a lot of indie charts and it’s always suggested as a good book club read.”
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As for what attendees can expect from the event, Ford calls himself a “reading minimalist” and will likely read only a page or two from the book. He’ll tell the back story to the book and answer questions “til they turn the lights off,” he said.
“I did a book event in Palm Beach, Florida or somewhere and I was about to read and this sweet, white-haired old lady stood up and yelled ‘We already know how to read,'” he remembered. “She was very offended I would read to her like a third grader so when it comes to author events, I believe in giving audiences what they need rather than what they want. People think they want to hear the author read the book, but they really don’t want that, that will make people fall asleep.”
“Hotel” is the Ford’s first book. The idea came from a simple button his father wore as a kid.
“It really started with the ‘I Am Chinese’ button – this thing my father mentioned wearing as a kid,” Ford said. “There was a bit of an identity crisis in the International District in the wake of Pearl Harbor. Many Chinese families feared for their safety, especially as the FBI was rounding up prominent members of the Japanese community. It piqued my curiosity and really led me to research the whole period.”
Ford is part Chinese and he recently tracked down his family history.
“It turns out my great-grandfather, a man named Min Chung, immigrated to America and later adopted the name William Ford – supposedly from the famous outdoorsman, not the father of Henry Ford. My grandfather, oddly enough, switched back to Chung as a screen name, going by George Chung and appearing as an extra in movies during the ’50s. He went on to be a consultant for the ’70s TV series Kung Fu. His son, my father, was 100 percent Chinese and fluent.
“Unfortunately, I don’t speak Chinese –I had four years of German and that doesn’t get me very far at family reunions. In general, I had a very American childhood, though when you’re half-Chinese, you never fully fit in. You don’t feel white and you don’t feel Chinese – you’re half, or hapa, as they say in Hawaii. Census forms don’t have a box to check for half.”
The novel, while a touching love story, also sheds light on an important time in American history. Ford took about six months doing research for the book, and three months writing the first draft.
“I love cultural history and am always pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoy the research process,” Ford said. “I feel like an archaeologist, dusting off the past and presenting it to the reader. And of course, it adds context to my characters, giving them a rich world to splash around in. I find the whole process incredibly motivating as a writer.”
High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or email@example.com.