Growing up in the Northwest, Jamie Ford learned that his father had to wear a button saying “I Am Chinese” during World War II, to distinguish him from the Japanese Americans who were being interned in the wake of Pearl Harbor.
It started him on a quest to find out more about the internment, which uprooted many from their homes and the lives they had known. What he learned about this episode in our history forms the basis for his best-selling novel “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” (See review on this page).
Ford will talk about the book and answer questions on Saturday at Schenectady County Community College as part of the Schenectady County Public Library’s One County, One Book program. At a reception following his talk, there will be music by the Al Haugen Quartet.
He continues to receive reactions from readers who were in the internment camps, or who had relatives or friends there.
For Gazette book writer Jack Rightmyer's review of Ford's book "Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet," click here.
“I get e-mails every day from different readers who grew up in that era,” he said in a phone call from his home in Montana. He was also invited to attend a gathering of former Japanese American internees in Idaho, where “I got a very interesting reception. I’m not sure whether it was because of the subject matter or because I come from a Chinese background.”
Becoming a storyteller
The novel began as a brief vignette, which he expanded as a result of attending a “literary boot camp” in Virginia, run by author Orson Scott Card, an experience he found both instructive and grueling.
Jamie Ford spoke about his book at SCCC. Cliick here for more info.
“There were no phones, no TV. We wrote and critiqued from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.,” he said. “When I called ahead of time to ask what there was to do there, such as sightseeing, they just laughed.”
But the intensive experience was also productive. “I arrived as a writer; I left as storyteller,” he said.
As a secondary theme in the novel, the young protagonist, Henry Lee, develops a friendship with a jazz saxophonist while growing up in Seattle during the 1940s. He gets involved in the jazz scene, and his love of the music persists into his later years.
Ford’s writing reveals his own knowledge and love of the music. Does he himself play?
“I’m a failed musician,” he said. “My son plays tenor sax in his middle school jazz band. I’m more of a blues fan, but I love the old-school jazz. In my old neighborhood there was a Chinese restaurant, and I was told that Cab Calloway and Ella Fitzgerald played there.”
Unlike some authors, Ford found the process of editing the book a pleasant experience. “It’s more like a conversation,” he said. “My editor liked the story; in editing it, she didn’t write herself into the story but wanted to know more about it.”
Working on his newest book is turning into a similar process. “First the editor reads it, then we talk about it.” The new book, another multicultural love story, will be called “Whispers of a Thunder God.’
At his talk on Saturday, he expects people to have questions about the craft of writing. His plan is to conduct a general discussion about the book and its themes of father-son relationships and race relations. The day before, he will be talking to reading groups and English classes in Schenectady.
In addition to his other projects, he is at work on a young adult novel.
“I’m involved in gathering research material now,” he said. “I’m a big fan of young adult books. They have some of the best writing out there.”
He feels that the genre will only get better. “When I’m on book tours, publishers say they have never seen so many young adult authors. . . . The gates are wide open. I think young readers will mature, whether they are reading electronically or whatever. I think we have a wave of great readers coming along.”
Other activities in connection with One County, One Book include:
-- Book discussion at Mari’s Japanese restaurant on Van Vranken Avenue in Schenectady at 6:30 p.m. on April 7. Rich Holt, retired English teacher, will facilitate. The cost is $20.
-- The winners of an art and poetry contest for grades two through eight will be feted at 6:30 p.m. April 16 in the McChesney Room of the Central Library as part of Art Night Schenectady.
-- A program on the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II at 7 p.m. on April 6 in the McChesney Room.
-- Free book discussions at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Glenville branch library and 2 p.m. on April 12 at the Glenville Senior Center.