Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

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Random House Audio | Jan 27, 2009 | 660 Minutes | ISBN 9780739382844

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Awards

Washington State Book Award FINALIST 2010

Praise

"Mesmerizing and evocative, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a tale of conflicted loyalties, devotion, as well as a vibrant portrait of Seattle’s Nihonmachi district in its heyday."

– Sara Gruen,
New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants

“A tender and satisfying novel set in a time and a place lost forever, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet gives us a glimpse of the damage that is caused by war–not the sweeping damage of the battlefield, but the cold, cruel damage to the hearts and humanity of individual people. Especially relevant in today’s world, this is a beautifully written book that will make you think. And, more importantly, it will make you feel."
Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain

“Jamie Ford’s first novel explores the age-old conflicts between father and son, the beauty and sadness of what happened to Japanese Americans in the Seattle area during World War II, and the depths and longing of deep-heart love. An impressive, bitter, and sweet debut.”
Lisa See, bestselling author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

"Sentimental, heartfelt novel portrays two children separated during the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. In 1940s Seattle, ethnicities do not mix. Whites, blacks, Chinese and Japanese live in separate neighborhoods, and their children attend different schools. When Henry Lee’s staunchly nationalistic father pins an “I am Chinese” button to his 12-year-old son’s shirt and enrolls him in an all-white prep school, Henry finds himself friendless and at the mercy of schoolyard bullies. His salvation arrives in the form of Keiko, a Japanese girl with whom Henry forms an instant—and forbidden—bond. The occasionally sappy prose tends to overtly express subtleties that readers would be happier to glean for themselves, but the tender relationship between the two young people is moving. The older Henry, a recent widower living in 1980s Seattle, reflects in a series of flashbacks on his burgeoning romance with Keiko and its abrupt ending when her family was evacuated. A chance discovery of items left behind by Japanese-Americans during the evacuation inspires Henry to share his and Keiko’s story with his own son, in hopes of preventing the dysfunctional parent-child relationship he experienced with his own father. The major problem here is that Henry’s voice always sounds like that of a grown man, never quite like that of a child; the boy of the flashbacks is jarringly precocious and not entirely credible. Still, the exploration of Henry’s changing relationship with his family and with Keiko will keep most readers turning pages while waiting for the story arc to come full circle, despite the overly flowery portrait of young love, cruel fate and unbreakable bonds. A timely debut that not only reminds readers of a shameful episode in American history, but cautions us to examine the present and take heed we don’t repeat those injustices." - Kirkus Reviews

"Fifth-grade scholarship students and best friends Henry and Keiko are the only Asians in their Seattle elementary school in 1942. Henry is Chinese, Keiko is Japanese, and Pearl Harbor has made all Asians-even those who are American born-targets for abuse. Because Henry’s nationalistic father has a deep-seated hatred for Japan, Henry keeps his friendship with and eventual love for Keiko a secret. When Keiko’s family is sent to an internment camp in Idaho, Henry vows to wait for her. Forty years later, Henry comes upon an old hotel where the belongings of dozens of displaced Japanese families have turned up in the basement, and his love for Keiko is reborn. In his first novel, award-winning short-story writer Ford expertly nails the sweet innocence of first love, the cruelty of racism, the blindness of patriotism, the astonishing unknowns between parents and their children, and the sadness and satisfaction at the end of a life well lived. The result is a vivid picture of a confusing and critical time in American history. Recommended for all fiction collections." - Library Journal


Advance praise for Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

“Jamie Ford’s novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is deeply informed by an intimate knowledge of Seattle during World War II, of the tribulations of Asian peoples during the time of Japanese internment, and even of the Seattle jazz scene of that time. His story of an innocent passion that crosses racial barriers–and then, of the whole life of a man who forsook the girl he loved–is told with an artistic technique that makes emotion inevitable.”
–Louis B. Jones, author of Particles and Luck

“I loved it! Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a beautiful and tender masterpiece. A book everyone will be talking about, and the best book you’ll read this year.”
–Anne Frasier, USA Today bestselling author of Garden of Darkness

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet tells a heartwarming story of fathers and sons, first loves, fate, and the resilient human heart. Set in the ethnic neighborhoods of Seattle during World War II and Japanese American internment camps of the era, the times and places are brought to life by the marvelous, evocative details.”
–Jim Tomlinson, winner of the 2006 Iowa Short Fiction Award and author of Things Kept, Things Left Behind


From the Hardcover edition.

Author Q&A

Random House Reader’s Circle: Where did the idea for Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet come from? 

Jamie Ford:
It really started with the “I am Chinese” button, which my father mentioned wearing as a kid. 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. 

From there I wrote a sliver of a short story, really nothing more than a vignette, and I submitted it to the now- defunct Picolata Review, where it was ultimately accepted. A few weeks later I was accepted to an intensive, immersive, week- long literary boot camp run by science fiction and fantasy writer Orson Scott Card, where we literally read and wrote fifteen to seventeen hours a day. It was while attending that camp in Virginia that Scott inspired me to write what he termed “a noble romantic tragedy.” That story was called “The Button,” about a Chinese boy (Henry) that tried to prevent his best friend (Keiko) from being taken away. I workshopped the story, changed the title to “I Am Chinese” and sent it off to Glimmer Train, where it became a finalist in their 2006 Short- Story Award for New Writers. That story became a chapter in the book. 

RHRC: You’re part Chinese. Tell us about your Chinese family. And the name Ford, where does it come from? 

JF:
Actually, I didn’t even know the whole story until last year. I finally tracked it all down. 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. 

RHRC: How did you come to learn about the Panama Hotel? 

JF:
That came about as I was researching a different story—one dealing with the Wa Mei Massacre, which was a mass shooting in the mid- ’80s at a backroom casino in Chinatown, where my grandfather once worked. I was paging through some old news articles and there was an unrelated mention of the Panama Hotel about the owner finding the belongings of all these Japanese families. When I wrote Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, I dug further into that story and eventually contacted the hotel owner and flew out to Seattle. It was amazing and humbling to see what still remains to this day in that dank, dusty basement. 

RHRC: Do you personally know anyone who was affected by the Japanese Internment? 

JF:
I do, but I didn’t know it at the time. I lived in Ashland, Oregon, until I was twelve, and one of my best friend’s fathers had been uprooted as a child and sent to a camp in Arkansas. I never knew that until I was doing my research and saw that he’d written a book of poetry about his camp experiences (five actually). His name is Lawson Inada–he’s now Oregon’s Poet Laureate, by the way. We were able to reconnect and he was kind enough to read an early version of my manuscript. 

RHRC: Do you see any parallels between the Japanese Internment and, say, the desire by some to lock our borders, or round up Muslims because they might be a threat? 

JF:
Only vague similarities. The empire of Japan had been cornered, and lashed out by attacking Pearl Harbor, Singapore, the Philippines, etcetera–it was an unexpected, vicious attack, but it was an all- out declaration of war between nations with very obvious borders. It’s very different than having cells of foreign- sponsored terrorists within our country or operating overseas. And now, for the most part, we’re a much more integrated society. Rounding up 120,000 Japanese Americans didn’t slow down the ambitions of the empire of Japan, and I don’t think rounding up Muslim Americans will stop the machinations of evilminded people along the Afghan/Pakistani border. Let’s hope that we learned our lesson sixty- five years ago. 

RHRC: What about people like conservative columnist Michelle Malkin who have spoken out in favor of the Japanese Internment, even writing a book about it– saying it was a just endeavor? 

JF:
First of all, I really set out to write a people story—- a love story and a family story. It ended up as a bit more than that, but any kind of oblique political thing was not my intention. However, after I’d written Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, someone pointed out the Malkin book and I guess my answer to that is this: Ronald Reagan, the most beloved conservative in recent memory, was the one who signed legislation apologizing for the Internment and authorizing $1.6 billion in reparations to be paid to those who lost their homes and livelihoods in the camps. Case closed. 

RHRC: You delve a little into the Seattle jazz scene of the ’40s. How did that come about? 

JF:
I’ve always had a fascination with the paved- over history of Chinatown and Nihonmachi. My grandparents were always having these anniversary dinners at the China Gate restaurant–this funky old place that was originally a Chinese theater and after that a jazz club where greats like Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington played. As a kid, I was always fascinated by that. It’s sad because now the International District is ripe with decay, but in its heyday–from Prohibition until the Internment– it was the place to go for a wild time on a Saturday night. You could find booze, gambling, and jazz. I find it sad that these great places, like the Black Elks Club where Ray Charles had his first paid gig, have basically vanished. 

Also, growing up in Seattle my grandfather would always take me to his favorite seafood restaurant, which was in Rainier Beach between a soul- food restaurant and a Hispanic grocer. I was always fascinated with how Seattle’s ethnic communities ended up right on top of one another. Turns out it was because of the zoning laws in the ’30s and ’40s. It was illegal (though how well enforced, I don’t know) to sell land to certain minorities outside of certain zones. 

RHRC: The novel is told in a split- narrative: past and present. What made you decide to go that route? 

JF:
I wanted to give the book a more redemptive ending. That’s a literary way of saying, “And everyone lived happily ever after.” 

The short story wrapped up on a fairly tragic note. And even if I continued the story in the ’40s, there really wasn’t a way to give it an ending that felt satisfying. I mean, after the war was over, it didn’t suddenly get better for Japanese American families. Their lives had been completely turned upside down–sort of like people who survive a hurricane. Sure the wind stops blowing and the floodwaters recede, but what do you have left except rubble, and does that provide happiness, or just relief? It took decades for most of these families to recover. It just seemed natural to have that redemptive ending come years later as well. 

Also, I think that most people can relate to seeing their first love again, at a class reunion or just by chance, and there’s this wave of nostalgia and melancholy—- it’s very poignant and universal, I think. Plus, as a writer, it was interesting to explore Henry’s character as an adult. As the saying goes, everyone has two chances at a parent/child relationship, once as a child and once as a parent. To me, that was a rich dynamic worth exploring.

RHRC: You’ve written a compelling and touching novel, which also sheds light on an important time in American history. Which of those elements came most naturally to you? 

JF:
I’d have to say that the “love story/family drama” came most naturally. If I were to list my all- time favorite movies, they tend to be complicated people stories, a bit sentimental, and devoid of car chases and epic gun battles—- it’s just what I relate to and what I like writing about. 

The historical aspects are a close second, though. I love cultural history and am always pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoy the research process. 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. 

Plus, deep down, I think most of us like entertainment that is somewhat enlightening. My grandmother used to watch Jeopardy! because it was “educational.” Do game shows really boost your IQ? Probably not, but they can be strangely satisfying to a lot of people. 

RHRC: What is your writing process? 

JF:
It seems as though some authors meticulously outline everything, while others just write extemporaneously–working without a net. I tend to do a little bit of both. I do start with a few notes that are probably the least amount of words on a page that could possibly be mistaken for an outline– really nothing more than a beginning and an ending, with maybe a few scene ideas in the middle. But that ending is all- important for me. And by ending, I mean a real, unambiguous, nonmetaphorical ending. I look at storytelling as either banking or spending emotional currency with the reader. Good or bad, happy or sad, the ending is where those emotional debts are paid–if that makes sense? Plus, if I have a clear ending in mind, then the more nails I lay in the path of my characters, the more motivated I am as a writer to help them overcome them. 

And of course along the way I’ll take a lot of spontaneous twists, turns, and unexpected detours. 

Process- wise, I try to get the entire story nailed in one draft–one chapter or one scene at a time. I’ll start my day by cleaning up what I wrote the previous day and just keep going from there, occasionally backing up a chapter and starting over. I try not to slather words on the page with the intent to clean the whole thing up later. If I do, my stories tend to suffer a “death of a thousand cuts.” 

RHRC: Is Henry you? 

JF:
I think readers sometimes feel that there is some sort of linkage between protagonists and their creators. The truth is, there’s a little bit of me in Henry–a small bit. Growing up in Oregon, I was the only Chinese kid in my grade school and my best friend was the only Japanese kid. That’s probably where the Henry/Keiko dynamic came from. But we weren’t outcasts–I think one year we were the class president and vice president. See what a difference thirty years can make! 

RHRC: Do you have a favorite character in the book? 

JF:
Honestly, I tend to fall in love with the characters that I’m writing at the moment. I’m working on a new book so I’m sort of emotionally vested in these other characters right now. But in the world of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, I really love Sheldon–Mrs. Beatty, too. I love them so much that I’ve written short stories starring each of them. I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye, I guess. 


From the Hardcover edition.

 

Random House Reader’s Circle: Where did the idea for Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet come from? 

Jamie Ford:
It really started with the “I am Chinese” button, which my father mentioned wearing as a kid. 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. 

From there I wrote a sliver of a short story, really nothing more than a vignette, and I submitted it to the now- defunct Picolata Review, where it was ultimately accepted. A few weeks later I was accepted to an intensive, immersive, week- long literary boot camp run by science fiction and fantasy writer Orson Scott Card, where we literally read and wrote fifteen to seventeen hours a day. It was while attending that camp in Virginia that Scott inspired me to write what he termed “a noble romantic tragedy.” That story was called “The Button,” about a Chinese boy (Henry) that tried to prevent his best friend (Keiko) from being taken away. I workshopped the story, changed the title to “I Am Chinese” and sent it off to Glimmer Train, where it became a finalist in their 2006 Short- Story Award for New Writers. That story became a chapter in the book. 

RHRC: You’re part Chinese. Tell us about your Chinese family. And the name Ford, where does it come from? 

JF:
Actually, I didn’t even know the whole story until last year. I finally tracked it all down. 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. 

RHRC: How did you come to learn about the Panama Hotel? 

JF:
That came about as I was researching a different story—one dealing with the Wa Mei Massacre, which was a mass shooting in the mid- ’80s at a backroom casino in Chinatown, where my grandfather once worked. I was paging through some old news articles and there was an unrelated mention of the Panama Hotel about the owner finding the belongings of all these Japanese families. When I wrote Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, I dug further into that story and eventually contacted the hotel owner and flew out to Seattle. It was amazing and humbling to see what still remains to this day in that dank, dusty basement. 

RHRC: Do you personally know anyone who was affected by the Japanese Internment? 

JF:
I do, but I didn’t know it at the time. I lived in Ashland, Oregon, until I was twelve, and one of my best friend’s fathers had been uprooted as a child and sent to a camp in Arkansas. I never knew that until I was doing my research and saw that he’d written a book of poetry about his camp experiences (five actually). His name is Lawson Inada–he’s now Oregon’s Poet Laureate, by the way. We were able to reconnect and he was kind enough to read an early version of my manuscript. 

RHRC: Do you see any parallels between the Japanese Internment and, say, the desire by some to lock our borders, or round up Muslims because they might be a threat? 

JF:
Only vague similarities. The empire of Japan had been cornered, and lashed out by attacking Pearl Harbor, Singapore, the Philippines, etcetera–it was an unexpected, vicious attack, but it was an all- out declaration of war between nations with very obvious borders. It’s very different than having cells of foreign- sponsored terrorists within our country or operating overseas. And now, for the most part, we’re a much more integrated society. Rounding up 120,000 Japanese Americans didn’t slow down the ambitions of the empire of Japan, and I don’t think rounding up Muslim Americans will stop the machinations of evilminded people along the Afghan/Pakistani border. Let’s hope that we learned our lesson sixty- five years ago. 

RHRC: What about people like conservative columnist Michelle Malkin who have spoken out in favor of the Japanese Internment, even writing a book about it– saying it was a just endeavor? 

JF:
First of all, I really set out to write a people story—- a love story and a family story. It ended up as a bit more than that, but any kind of oblique political thing was not my intention. However, after I’d written Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, someone pointed out the Malkin book and I guess my answer to that is this: Ronald Reagan, the most beloved conservative in recent memory, was the one who signed legislation apologizing for the Internment and authorizing $1.6 billion in reparations to be paid to those who lost their homes and livelihoods in the camps. Case closed. 

RHRC: You delve a little into the Seattle jazz scene of the ’40s. How did that come about? 

JF:
I’ve always had a fascination with the paved- over history of Chinatown and Nihonmachi. My grandparents were always having these anniversary dinners at the China Gate restaurant–this funky old place that was originally a Chinese theater and after that a jazz club where greats like Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington played. As a kid, I was always fascinated by that. It’s sad because now the International District is ripe with decay, but in its heyday–from Prohibition until the Internment– it was the place to go for a wild time on a Saturday night. You could find booze, gambling, and jazz. I find it sad that these great places, like the Black Elks Club where Ray Charles had his first paid gig, have basically vanished. 

Also, growing up in Seattle my grandfather would always take me to his favorite seafood restaurant, which was in Rainier Beach between a soul- food restaurant and a Hispanic grocer. I was always fascinated with how Seattle’s ethnic communities ended up right on top of one another. Turns out it was because of the zoning laws in the ’30s and ’40s. It was illegal (though how well enforced, I don’t know) to sell land to certain minorities outside of certain zones. 

RHRC: The novel is told in a split- narrative: past and present. What made you decide to go that route? 

JF:
I wanted to give the book a more redemptive ending. That’s a literary way of saying, “And everyone lived happily ever after.” 

The short story wrapped up on a fairly tragic note. And even if I continued the story in the ’40s, there really wasn’t a way to give it an ending that felt satisfying. I mean, after the war was over, it didn’t suddenly get better for Japanese American families. Their lives had been completely turned upside down–sort of like people who survive a hurricane. Sure the wind stops blowing and the floodwaters recede, but what do you have left except rubble, and does that provide happiness, or just relief? It took decades for most of these families to recover. It just seemed natural to have that redemptive ending come years later as well. 

Also, I think that most people can relate to seeing their first love again, at a class reunion or just by chance, and there’s this wave of nostalgia and melancholy—- it’s very poignant and universal, I think. Plus, as a writer, it was interesting to explore Henry’s character as an adult. As the saying goes, everyone has two chances at a parent/child relationship, once as a child and once as a parent. To me, that was a rich dynamic worth exploring.

RHRC: You’ve written a compelling and touching novel, which also sheds light on an important time in American history. Which of those elements came most naturally to you? 

JF:
I’d have to say that the “love story/family drama” came most naturally. If I were to list my all- time favorite movies, they tend to be complicated people stories, a bit sentimental, and devoid of car chases and epic gun battles—- it’s just what I relate to and what I like writing about. 

The historical aspects are a close second, though. I love cultural history and am always pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoy the research process. 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. 

Plus, deep down, I think most of us like entertainment that is somewhat enlightening. My grandmother used to watch Jeopardy! because it was “educational.” Do game shows really boost your IQ? Probably not, but they can be strangely satisfying to a lot of people. 

RHRC: What is your writing process? 

JF:
It seems as though some authors meticulously outline everything, while others just write extemporaneously–working without a net. I tend to do a little bit of both. I do start with a few notes that are probably the least amount of words on a page that could possibly be mistaken for an outline– really nothing more than a beginning and an ending, with maybe a few scene ideas in the middle. But that ending is all- important for me. And by ending, I mean a real, unambiguous, nonmetaphorical ending. I look at storytelling as either banking or spending emotional currency with the reader. Good or bad, happy or sad, the ending is where those emotional debts are paid–if that makes sense? Plus, if I have a clear ending in mind, then the more nails I lay in the path of my characters, the more motivated I am as a writer to help them overcome them. 

And of course along the way I’ll take a lot of spontaneous twists, turns, and unexpected detours. 

Process- wise, I try to get the entire story nailed in one draft–one chapter or one scene at a time. I’ll start my day by cleaning up what I wrote the previous day and just keep going from there, occasionally backing up a chapter and starting over. I try not to slather words on the page with the intent to clean the whole thing up later. If I do, my stories tend to suffer a “death of a thousand cuts.” 

RHRC: Is Henry you? 

JF:
I think readers sometimes feel that there is some sort of linkage between protagonists and their creators. The truth is, there’s a little bit of me in Henry–a small bit. Growing up in Oregon, I was the only Chinese kid in my grade school and my best friend was the only Japanese kid. That’s probably where the Henry/Keiko dynamic came from. But we weren’t outcasts–I think one year we were the class president and vice president. See what a difference thirty years can make! 

RHRC: Do you have a favorite character in the book? 

JF:
Honestly, I tend to fall in love with the characters that I’m writing at the moment. I’m working on a new book so I’m sort of emotionally vested in these other characters right now. But in the world of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, I really love Sheldon–Mrs. Beatty, too. I love them so much that I’ve written short stories starring each of them. I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye, I guess. 


From the Hardcover edition.

 

Random House Reader’s Circle: Where did the idea for Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet come from? 

Jamie Ford:
It really started with the “I am Chinese” button, which my father mentioned wearing as a kid. 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. 

From there I wrote a sliver of a short story, really nothing more than a vignette, and I submitted it to the now- defunct Picolata Review, where it was ultimately accepted. A few weeks later I was accepted to an intensive, immersive, week- long literary boot camp run by science fiction and fantasy writer Orson Scott Card, where we literally read and wrote fifteen to seventeen hours a day. It was while attending that camp in Virginia that Scott inspired me to write what he termed “a noble romantic tragedy.” That story was called “The Button,” about a Chinese boy (Henry) that tried to prevent his best friend (Keiko) from being taken away. I workshopped the story, changed the title to “I Am Chinese” and sent it off to Glimmer Train, where it became a finalist in their 2006 Short- Story Award for New Writers. That story became a chapter in the book. 

RHRC: You’re part Chinese. Tell us about your Chinese family. And the name Ford, where does it come from? 

JF:
Actually, I didn’t even know the whole story until last year. I finally tracked it all down. 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. 

RHRC: How did you come to learn about the Panama Hotel? 

JF:
That came about as I was researching a different story—one dealing with the Wa Mei Massacre, which was a mass shooting in the mid- ’80s at a backroom casino in Chinatown, where my grandfather once worked. I was paging through some old news articles and there was an unrelated mention of the Panama Hotel about the owner finding the belongings of all these Japanese families. When I wrote Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, I dug further into that story and eventually contacted the hotel owner and flew out to Seattle. It was amazing and humbling to see what still remains to this day in that dank, dusty basement. 

RHRC: Do you personally know anyone who was affected by the Japanese Internment? 

JF:
I do, but I didn’t know it at the time. I lived in Ashland, Oregon, until I was twelve, and one of my best friend’s fathers had been uprooted as a child and sent to a camp in Arkansas. I never knew that until I was doing my research and saw that he’d written a book of poetry about his camp experiences (five actually). His name is Lawson Inada–he’s now Oregon’s Poet Laureate, by the way. We were able to reconnect and he was kind enough to read an early version of my manuscript. 

RHRC: Do you see any parallels between the Japanese Internment and, say, the desire by some to lock our borders, or round up Muslims because they might be a threat? 

JF:
Only vague similarities. The empire of Japan had been cornered, and lashed out by attacking Pearl Harbor, Singapore, the Philippines, etcetera–it was an unexpected, vicious attack, but it was an all- out declaration of war between nations with very obvious borders. It’s very different than having cells of foreign- sponsored terrorists within our country or operating overseas. And now, for the most part, we’re a much more integrated society. Rounding up 120,000 Japanese Americans didn’t slow down the ambitions of the empire of Japan, and I don’t think rounding up Muslim Americans will stop the machinations of evilminded people along the Afghan/Pakistani border. Let’s hope that we learned our lesson sixty- five years ago. 

RHRC: What about people like conservative columnist Michelle Malkin who have spoken out in favor of the Japanese Internment, even writing a book about it– saying it was a just endeavor? 

JF:
First of all, I really set out to write a people story—- a love story and a family story. It ended up as a bit more than that, but any kind of oblique political thing was not my intention. However, after I’d written Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, someone pointed out the Malkin book and I guess my answer to that is this: Ronald Reagan, the most beloved conservative in recent memory, was the one who signed legislation apologizing for the Internment and authorizing $1.6 billion in reparations to be paid to those who lost their homes and livelihoods in the camps. Case closed. 

RHRC: You delve a little into the Seattle jazz scene of the ’40s. How did that come about? 

JF:
I’ve always had a fascination with the paved- over history of Chinatown and Nihonmachi. My grandparents were always having these anniversary dinners at the China Gate restaurant–this funky old place that was originally a Chinese theater and after that a jazz club where greats like Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington played. As a kid, I was always fascinated by that. It’s sad because now the International District is ripe with decay, but in its heyday–from Prohibition until the Internment– it was the place to go for a wild time on a Saturday night. You could find booze, gambling, and jazz. I find it sad that these great places, like the Black Elks Club where Ray Charles had his first paid gig, have basically vanished. 

Also, growing up in Seattle my grandfather would always take me to his favorite seafood restaurant, which was in Rainier Beach between a soul- food restaurant and a Hispanic grocer. I was always fascinated with how Seattle’s ethnic communities ended up right on top of one another. Turns out it was because of the zoning laws in the ’30s and ’40s. It was illegal (though how well enforced, I don’t know) to sell land to certain minorities outside of certain zones. 

RHRC: The novel is told in a split- narrative: past and present. What made you decide to go that route? 

JF:
I wanted to give the book a more redemptive ending. That’s a literary way of saying, “And everyone lived happily ever after.” 

The short story wrapped up on a fairly tragic note. And even if I continued the story in the ’40s, there really wasn’t a way to give it an ending that felt satisfying. I mean, after the war was over, it didn’t suddenly get better for Japanese American families. Their lives had been completely turned upside down–sort of like people who survive a hurricane. Sure the wind stops blowing and the floodwaters recede, but what do you have left except rubble, and does that provide happiness, or just relief? It took decades for most of these families to recover. It just seemed natural to have that redemptive ending come years later as well. 

Also, I think that most people can relate to seeing their first love again, at a class reunion or just by chance, and there’s this wave of nostalgia and melancholy—- it’s very poignant and universal, I think. Plus, as a writer, it was interesting to explore Henry’s character as an adult. As the saying goes, everyone has two chances at a parent/child relationship, once as a child and once as a parent. To me, that was a rich dynamic worth exploring.

RHRC: You’ve written a compelling and touching novel, which also sheds light on an important time in American history. Which of those elements came most naturally to you? 

JF:
I’d have to say that the “love story/family drama” came most naturally. If I were to list my all- time favorite movies, they tend to be complicated people stories, a bit sentimental, and devoid of car chases and epic gun battles—- it’s just what I relate to and what I like writing about. 

The historical aspects are a close second, though. I love cultural history and am always pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoy the research process. 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. 

Plus, deep down, I think most of us like entertainment that is somewhat enlightening. My grandmother used to watch Jeopardy! because it was “educational.” Do game shows really boost your IQ? Probably not, but they can be strangely satisfying to a lot of people. 

RHRC: What is your writing process? 

JF:
It seems as though some authors meticulously outline everything, while others just write extemporaneously–working without a net. I tend to do a little bit of both. I do start with a few notes that are probably the least amount of words on a page that could possibly be mistaken for an outline– really nothing more than a beginning and an ending, with maybe a few scene ideas in the middle. But that ending is all- important for me. And by ending, I mean a real, unambiguous, nonmetaphorical ending. I look at storytelling as either banking or spending emotional currency with the reader. Good or bad, happy or sad, the ending is where those emotional debts are paid–if that makes sense? Plus, if I have a clear ending in mind, then the more nails I lay in the path of my characters, the more motivated I am as a writer to help them overcome them. 

And of course along the way I’ll take a lot of spontaneous twists, turns, and unexpected detours. 

Process- wise, I try to get the entire story nailed in one draft–one chapter or one scene at a time. I’ll start my day by cleaning up what I wrote the previous day and just keep going from there, occasionally backing up a chapter and starting over. I try not to slather words on the page with the intent to clean the whole thing up later. If I do, my stories tend to suffer a “death of a thousand cuts.” 

RHRC: Is Henry you? 

JF:
I think readers sometimes feel that there is some sort of linkage between protagonists and their creators. The truth is, there’s a little bit of me in Henry–a small bit. Growing up in Oregon, I was the only Chinese kid in my grade school and my best friend was the only Japanese kid. That’s probably where the Henry/Keiko dynamic came from. But we weren’t outcasts–I think one year we were the class president and vice president. See what a difference thirty years can make! 

RHRC: Do you have a favorite character in the book? 

JF:
Honestly, I tend to fall in love with the characters that I’m writing at the moment. I’m working on a new book so I’m sort of emotionally vested in these other characters right now. But in the world of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, I really love Sheldon–Mrs. Beatty, too. I love them so much that I’ve written short stories starring each of them. I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye, I guess. 


From the Hardcover edition.

 

Random House Reader’s Circle: Where did the idea for Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet come from? 

Jamie Ford:
It really started with the “I am Chinese” button, which my father mentioned wearing as a kid. 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. 

From there I wrote a sliver of a short story, really nothing more than a vignette, and I submitted it to the now- defunct Picolata Review, where it was ultimately accepted. A few weeks later I was accepted to an intensive, immersive, week- long literary boot camp run by science fiction and fantasy writer Orson Scott Card, where we literally read and wrote fifteen to seventeen hours a day. It was while attending that camp in Virginia that Scott inspired me to write what he termed “a noble romantic tragedy.” That story was called “The Button,” about a Chinese boy (Henry) that tried to prevent his best friend (Keiko) from being taken away. I workshopped the story, changed the title to “I Am Chinese” and sent it off to Glimmer Train, where it became a finalist in their 2006 Short- Story Award for New Writers. That story became a chapter in the book. 

RHRC: You’re part Chinese. Tell us about your Chinese family. And the name Ford, where does it come from? 

JF:
Actually, I didn’t even know the whole story until last year. I finally tracked it all down. 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. 

RHRC: How did you come to learn about the Panama Hotel? 

JF:
That came about as I was researching a different story—one dealing with the Wa Mei Massacre, which was a mass shooting in the mid- ’80s at a backroom casino in Chinatown, where my grandfather once worked. I was paging through some old news articles and there was an unrelated mention of the Panama Hotel about the owner finding the belongings of all these Japanese families. When I wrote Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, I dug further into that story and eventually contacted the hotel owner and flew out to Seattle. It was amazing and humbling to see what still remains to this day in that dank, dusty basement. 

RHRC: Do you personally know anyone who was affected by the Japanese Internment? 

JF:
I do, but I didn’t know it at the time. I lived in Ashland, Oregon, until I was twelve, and one of my best friend’s fathers had been uprooted as a child and sent to a camp in Arkansas. I never knew that until I was doing my research and saw that he’d written a book of poetry about his camp experiences (five actually). His name is Lawson Inada–he’s now Oregon’s Poet Laureate, by the way. We were able to reconnect and he was kind enough to read an early version of my manuscript. 

RHRC: Do you see any parallels between the Japanese Internment and, say, the desire by some to lock our borders, or round up Muslims because they might be a threat? 

JF:
Only vague similarities. The empire of Japan had been cornered, and lashed out by attacking Pearl Harbor, Singapore, the Philippines, etcetera–it was an unexpected, vicious attack, but it was an all- out declaration of war between nations with very obvious borders. It’s very different than having cells of foreign- sponsored terrorists within our country or operating overseas. And now, for the most part, we’re a much more integrated society. Rounding up 120,000 Japanese Americans didn’t slow down the ambitions of the empire of Japan, and I don’t think rounding up Muslim Americans will stop the machinations of evilminded people along the Afghan/Pakistani border. Let’s hope that we learned our lesson sixty- five years ago. 

RHRC: What about people like conservative columnist Michelle Malkin who have spoken out in favor of the Japanese Internment, even writing a book about it– saying it was a just endeavor? 

JF:
First of all, I really set out to write a people story—- a love story and a family story. It ended up as a bit more than that, but any kind of oblique political thing was not my intention. However, after I’d written Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, someone pointed out the Malkin book and I guess my answer to that is this: Ronald Reagan, the most beloved conservative in recent memory, was the one who signed legislation apologizing for the Internment and authorizing $1.6 billion in reparations to be paid to those who lost their homes and livelihoods in the camps. Case closed. 

RHRC: You delve a little into the Seattle jazz scene of the ’40s. How did that come about? 

JF:
I’ve always had a fascination with the paved- over history of Chinatown and Nihonmachi. My grandparents were always having these anniversary dinners at the China Gate restaurant–this funky old place that was originally a Chinese theater and after that a jazz club where greats like Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington played. As a kid, I was always fascinated by that. It’s sad because now the International District is ripe with decay, but in its heyday–from Prohibition until the Internment– it was the place to go for a wild time on a Saturday night. You could find booze, gambling, and jazz. I find it sad that these great places, like the Black Elks Club where Ray Charles had his first paid gig, have basically vanished. 

Also, growing up in Seattle my grandfather would always take me to his favorite seafood restaurant, which was in Rainier Beach between a soul- food restaurant and a Hispanic grocer. I was always fascinated with how Seattle’s ethnic communities ended up right on top of one another. Turns out it was because of the zoning laws in the ’30s and ’40s. It was illegal (though how well enforced, I don’t know) to sell land to certain minorities outside of certain zones. 

RHRC: The novel is told in a split- narrative: past and present. What made you decide to go that route? 

JF:
I wanted to give the book a more redemptive ending. That’s a literary way of saying, “And everyone lived happily ever after.” 

The short story wrapped up on a fairly tragic note. And even if I continued the story in the ’40s, there really wasn’t a way to give it an ending that felt satisfying. I mean, after the war was over, it didn’t suddenly get better for Japanese American families. Their lives had been completely turned upside down–sort of like people who survive a hurricane. Sure the wind stops blowing and the floodwaters recede, but what do you have left except rubble, and does that provide happiness, or just relief? It took decades for most of these families to recover. It just seemed natural to have that redemptive ending come years later as well. 

Also, I think that most people can relate to seeing their first love again, at a class reunion or just by chance, and there’s this wave of nostalgia and melancholy—- it’s very poignant and universal, I think. Plus, as a writer, it was interesting to explore Henry’s character as an adult. As the saying goes, everyone has two chances at a parent/child relationship, once as a child and once as a parent. To me, that was a rich dynamic worth exploring.

RHRC: You’ve written a compelling and touching novel, which also sheds light on an important time in American history. Which of those elements came most naturally to you? 

JF:
I’d have to say that the “love story/family drama” came most naturally. If I were to list my all- time favorite movies, they tend to be complicated people stories, a bit sentimental, and devoid of car chases and epic gun battles—- it’s just what I relate to and what I like writing about. 

The historical aspects are a close second, though. I love cultural history and am always pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoy the research process. 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. 

Plus, deep down, I think most of us like entertainment that is somewhat enlightening. My grandmother used to watch Jeopardy! because it was “educational.” Do game shows really boost your IQ? Probably not, but they can be strangely satisfying to a lot of people. 

RHRC: What is your writing process? 

JF:
It seems as though some authors meticulously outline everything, while others just write extemporaneously–working without a net. I tend to do a little bit of both. I do start with a few notes that are probably the least amount of words on a page that could possibly be mistaken for an outline– really nothing more than a beginning and an ending, with maybe a few scene ideas in the middle. But that ending is all- important for me. And by ending, I mean a real, unambiguous, nonmetaphorical ending. I look at storytelling as either banking or spending emotional currency with the reader. Good or bad, happy or sad, the ending is where those emotional debts are paid–if that makes sense? Plus, if I have a clear ending in mind, then the more nails I lay in the path of my characters, the more motivated I am as a writer to help them overcome them. 

And of course along the way I’ll take a lot of spontaneous twists, turns, and unexpected detours. 

Process- wise, I try to get the entire story nailed in one draft–one chapter or one scene at a time. I’ll start my day by cleaning up what I wrote the previous day and just keep going from there, occasionally backing up a chapter and starting over. I try not to slather words on the page with the intent to clean the whole thing up later. If I do, my stories tend to suffer a “death of a thousand cuts.” 

RHRC: Is Henry you? 

JF:
I think readers sometimes feel that there is some sort of linkage between protagonists and their creators. The truth is, there’s a little bit of me in Henry–a small bit. Growing up in Oregon, I was the only Chinese kid in my grade school and my best friend was the only Japanese kid. That’s probably where the Henry/Keiko dynamic came from. But we weren’t outcasts–I think one year we were the class president and vice president. See what a difference thirty years can make! 

RHRC: Do you have a favorite character in the book? 

JF:
Honestly, I tend to fall in love with the characters that I’m writing at the moment. I’m working on a new book so I’m sort of emotionally vested in these other characters right now. But in the world of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, I really love Sheldon–Mrs. Beatty, too. I love them so much that I’ve written short stories starring each of them. I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye, I guess. 

 

Random House Reader’s Circle: Where did the idea for Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet come from? 

Jamie Ford:
It really started with the “I am Chinese” button, which my father mentioned wearing as a kid. 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. 

From there I wrote a sliver of a short story, really nothing more than a vignette, and I submitted it to the now- defunct Picolata Review, where it was ultimately accepted. A few weeks later I was accepted to an intensive, immersive, week- long literary boot camp run by science fiction and fantasy writer Orson Scott Card, where we literally read and wrote fifteen to seventeen hours a day. It was while attending that camp in Virginia that Scott inspired me to write what he termed “a noble romantic tragedy.” That story was called “The Button,” about a Chinese boy (Henry) that tried to prevent his best friend (Keiko) from being taken away. I workshopped the story, changed the title to “I Am Chinese” and sent it off to Glimmer Train, where it became a finalist in their 2006 Short- Story Award for New Writers. That story became a chapter in the book. 

RHRC: You’re part Chinese. Tell us about your Chinese family. And the name Ford, where does it come from? 

JF:
Actually, I didn’t even know the whole story until last year. I finally tracked it all down. 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. 

RHRC: How did you come to learn about the Panama Hotel? 

JF:
That came about as I was researching a different story—one dealing with the Wa Mei Massacre, which was a mass shooting in the mid- ’80s at a backroom casino in Chinatown, where my grandfather once worked. I was paging through some old news articles and there was an unrelated mention of the Panama Hotel about the owner finding the belongings of all these Japanese families. When I wrote Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, I dug further into that story and eventually contacted the hotel owner and flew out to Seattle. It was amazing and humbling to see what still remains to this day in that dank, dusty basement. 

RHRC: Do you personally know anyone who was affected by the Japanese Internment? 

JF:
I do, but I didn’t know it at the time. I lived in Ashland, Oregon, until I was twelve, and one of my best friend’s fathers had been uprooted as a child and sent to a camp in Arkansas. I never knew that until I was doing my research and saw that he’d written a book of poetry about his camp experiences (five actually). His name is Lawson Inada–he’s now Oregon’s Poet Laureate, by the way. We were able to reconnect and he was kind enough to read an early version of my manuscript. 

RHRC: Do you see any parallels between the Japanese Internment and, say, the desire by some to lock our borders, or round up Muslims because they might be a threat? 

JF:
Only vague similarities. The empire of Japan had been cornered, and lashed out by attacking Pearl Harbor, Singapore, the Philippines, etcetera–it was an unexpected, vicious attack, but it was an all- out declaration of war between nations with very obvious borders. It’s very different than having cells of foreign- sponsored terrorists within our country or operating overseas. And now, for the most part, we’re a much more integrated society. Rounding up 120,000 Japanese Americans didn’t slow down the ambitions of the empire of Japan, and I don’t think rounding up Muslim Americans will stop the machinations of evilminded people along the Afghan/Pakistani border. Let’s hope that we learned our lesson sixty- five years ago. 

RHRC: What about people like conservative columnist Michelle Malkin who have spoken out in favor of the Japanese Internment, even writing a book about it– saying it was a just endeavor? 

JF:
First of all, I really set out to write a people story—- a love story and a family story. It ended up as a bit more than that, but any kind of oblique political thing was not my intention. However, after I’d written Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, someone pointed out the Malkin book and I guess my answer to that is this: Ronald Reagan, the most beloved conservative in recent memory, was the one who signed legislation apologizing for the Internment and authorizing $1.6 billion in reparations to be paid to those who lost their homes and livelihoods in the camps. Case closed. 

RHRC: You delve a little into the Seattle jazz scene of the ’40s. How did that come about? 

JF:
I’ve always had a fascination with the paved- over history of Chinatown and Nihonmachi. My grandparents were always having these anniversary dinners at the China Gate restaurant–this funky old place that was originally a Chinese theater and after that a jazz club where greats like Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington played. As a kid, I was always fascinated by that. It’s sad because now the International District is ripe with decay, but in its heyday–from Prohibition until the Internment– it was the place to go for a wild time on a Saturday night. You could find booze, gambling, and jazz. I find it sad that these great places, like the Black Elks Club where Ray Charles had his first paid gig, have basically vanished. 

Also, growing up in Seattle my grandfather would always take me to his favorite seafood restaurant, which was in Rainier Beach between a soul- food restaurant and a Hispanic grocer. I was always fascinated with how Seattle’s ethnic communities ended up right on top of one another. Turns out it was because of the zoning laws in the ’30s and ’40s. It was illegal (though how well enforced, I don’t know) to sell land to certain minorities outside of certain zones. 

RHRC: The novel is told in a split- narrative: past and present. What made you decide to go that route? 

JF:
I wanted to give the book a more redemptive ending. That’s a literary way of saying, “And everyone lived happily ever after.” 

The short story wrapped up on a fairly tragic note. And even if I continued the story in the ’40s, there really wasn’t a way to give it an ending that felt satisfying. I mean, after the war was over, it didn’t suddenly get better for Japanese American families. Their lives had been completely turned upside down–sort of like people who survive a hurricane. Sure the wind stops blowing and the floodwaters recede, but what do you have left except rubble, and does that provide happiness, or just relief? It took decades for most of these families to recover. It just seemed natural to have that redemptive ending come years later as well. 

Also, I think that most people can relate to seeing their first love again, at a class reunion or just by chance, and there’s this wave of nostalgia and melancholy—- it’s very poignant and universal, I think. Plus, as a writer, it was interesting to explore Henry’s character as an adult. As the saying goes, everyone has two chances at a parent/child relationship, once as a child and once as a parent. To me, that was a rich dynamic worth exploring.

RHRC: You’ve written a compelling and touching novel, which also sheds light on an important time in American history. Which of those elements came most naturally to you? 

JF:
I’d have to say that the “love story/family drama” came most naturally. If I were to list my all- time favorite movies, they tend to be complicated people stories, a bit sentimental, and devoid of car chases and epic gun battles—- it’s just what I relate to and what I like writing about. 

The historical aspects are a close second, though. I love cultural history and am always pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoy the research process. 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. 

Plus, deep down, I think most of us like entertainment that is somewhat enlightening. My grandmother used to watch Jeopardy! because it was “educational.” Do game shows really boost your IQ? Probably not, but they can be strangely satisfying to a lot of people. 

RHRC: What is your writing process? 

JF:
It seems as though some authors meticulously outline everything, while others just write extemporaneously–working without a net. I tend to do a little bit of both. I do start with a few notes that are probably the least amount of words on a page that could possibly be mistaken for an outline– really nothing more than a beginning and an ending, with maybe a few scene ideas in the middle. But that ending is all- important for me. And by ending, I mean a real, unambiguous, nonmetaphorical ending. I look at storytelling as either banking or spending emotional currency with the reader. Good or bad, happy or sad, the ending is where those emotional debts are paid–if that makes sense? Plus, if I have a clear ending in mind, then the more nails I lay in the path of my characters, the more motivated I am as a writer to help them overcome them. 

And of course along the way I’ll take a lot of spontaneous twists, turns, and unexpected detours. 

Process- wise, I try to get the entire story nailed in one draft–one chapter or one scene at a time. I’ll start my day by cleaning up what I wrote the previous day and just keep going from there, occasionally backing up a chapter and starting over. I try not to slather words on the page with the intent to clean the whole thing up later. If I do, my stories tend to suffer a “death of a thousand cuts.” 

RHRC: Is Henry you? 

JF:
I think readers sometimes feel that there is some sort of linkage between protagonists and their creators. The truth is, there’s a little bit of me in Henry–a small bit. Growing up in Oregon, I was the only Chinese kid in my grade school and my best friend was the only Japanese kid. That’s probably where the Henry/Keiko dynamic came from. But we weren’t outcasts–I think one year we were the class president and vice president. See what a difference thirty years can make! 

RHRC: Do you have a favorite character in the book? 

JF:
Honestly, I tend to fall in love with the characters that I’m writing at the moment. I’m working on a new book so I’m sort of emotionally vested in these other characters right now. But in the world of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, I really love Sheldon–Mrs. Beatty, too. I love them so much that I’ve written short stories starring each of them. I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye, I guess. 


From the Hardcover edition.

Also by Jamie Ford

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