Jamie Ford's Blog: Bittersweet Blog
May 9, 2017
[image error]While my new book doesn't come out until September, if you're a blogger, reviewer, or professional reader--you can download a copy from NetGalley. In related news, I want to be a professional reader!
April 12, 2017
March 8, 2017
It'll be up at @jamiefordofficial for the next 23 hours, 47 minutes...
February 25, 2017
The calm before a storm of weirdness, courtesy of the freshman and sophomore classes at HPHS.Well, it finally happened.
After visiting more than 100 schools, from inner-city schools in New York, the kind with clear backpacks and metal detectors, to elite international baccalaureate high schools, including one where the previous year’s guest speaker was Justin Bieber—I’ve finally had a school visit…go sideways.
I’m looking at you, Highland Park High School, and I’m confused.
Yes, you’re in a lovely community, a monoculture of wealth and charm in north Dallas. And congrats on winning the most recent 5A state football championship. That’s almost as impressive—to me anyway—as your 100% graduation rate.
So I was surprised by my strange “welcome” to your school.
Yes, you listened as I took the stage. You laughed at my jokes, and you were kind as I shared personal stories about my own high school career.
You clapped and cheered.
Then as I opened my mouth to speak again—you began clapping. As I tried to answer questions you began clapping. For twenty minutes, as I tried to wrap up my presentation, you clapped and cheered randomly, a thousand students, trolling me.
I was perplexed as your teachers and your principal—who was just offstage, stood impotent, while you mocked me, a guest to your magnificent school.
Despite the 1000 to 1 odds, I wasn’t about to be run off the stage by a bunch children who had decided I was just another mark to be bullied. So I stubbornly kept going, while imagining the ending scene of the movie, Carrie—you know the one—where they’ve dumped a bucket of pig blood on her head just after crowning her Prom Queen, so they could collectively laugh at her expense. But then the doors slam shut and she telekinetically uncoils fire-hoses and begins spraying those in the auditorium, and the curtains burst into flames.
But, I have no such powers.
Instead, words are my weapons, and my solace, so here they are for all to see.
Are you ready?
You are part of an educational system that gave the world Levi Pettit.
Remember him? I’m sure you do, though I’m also sure you’d like to forget that video of Levi in a tuxedo, an Oklahoma frat boy on a bus leading a cheer that went like this:
Ring a bell?
In coming to Highland Park High School, I thought that was an anomaly by an immature alum, a racially insensitive apple in a barrel of healthy fruit.
But now I’m not so sure.
Yes, a handful of your students sought me out to apologize on behalf of their peers. And they were truly wonderful and I enjoyed our time together. But they also said troubling things like “This place is awesome, but half the kids are basically corrupt politicians in the making and future date rapists.” They even used an acronym, the FDRC, the Future Date Rape Club. (Please tell me that’s just a joke.)
Your staff was amazing. And the volunteer organizers did a fantastic job.
But what convinced me most of the connective tissue between Levi Pettit and your current student body—the elephant in the room, if you will, that attempted to stomp me on your stage for its amusement, was this:
I managed to end my talk on a bittersweet note about the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans and nationals, about how if we forget that bit of history, we are diminished as a people.
I got my point across and in that brief moment your impoliteness was forgiven and all was well. I thanked you, for not clapping and cheering the Japanese Internment.
Then you clapped and cheered the Japanese Internment.
You couldn’t resist.
That showed me more about you than I wanted to know.
But there it is, your applause still ringing in my ears.
So, Highland Park High School, you have a strange road ahead of you. And as saddened as I am, I know you can do better. And that you can be better.
I know you can.
And believe it of not, I’d love to come back someday.
But more importantly, I hope it’s a place I’d want to visit again.
(And to those who didn't clap and cheer, thank you).
September 13, 2016
August 16, 2016
I was recently asked to talk about my "life in books," which seemed like a simple assignment, but once you begin to look at influential books in the aggregate, a pattern forms. By this I mean, my list became a bit of a Dr. Phil moment. Curious? Here's My Life in Books, as compiled by the wonderful British book blogger, Anne Cater.
Speaking of books, I just finished edits on the new novel and the manuscript is back in the hands of my illustrious editor.
I'd say more but I'm too busy dancing around my office.
June 7, 2016
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Actually, it's all kinds of new things.
But, first and foremost, today is the release of Last Night, A Superhero Saved My Life. This collection of tales is the brainchild of Liesa Mignogna and includes essays by Leigh Bardugo, Neil Gaiman, Jodi Picoult, Brad Meltzer, Scott Westerfeld, and little ol' me. (Talking about losing my virginity, TMI?)
I also just had a short story called, The Dive, accepted into Montana Noir, which will be published by Akashic Books next year.
And best of all, I've heard more kvelling than kvetching from my illustrious editor at Random House regarding my new novel, which at the moment is called Prize & Consolations, but will probably be retitled by yours truly at some point in the not-so-distant future. (I'm ridiculously excited about this new book!)
Also, on a weird note, I'm taking a gander at Whispers of a Thunder God, a novel that I walked away from five years ago but is begging for an overhaul, so there's that.
And how have you been?
February 29, 2016
[image error]I have a love/hate relationship with Hollywood.
Because when my debut novel landed on the NYT bestseller list and stuck around for two years, I also landed my first film agent. She enjoyed my book. And she told me that she could easily sell the film option. But she also told me that a film would never get made—because my main characters were…Chinese, Japanese, and black.
I’ll pause to let that sink in for a moment.
Still with me?
Okay, so was this agent racist? No, she was kind of awesome, actually. But she had the odious task of telling me, that by Hollywood standards, my baby was ugly.
I didn’t agree. So I signed with another agent. And in my search I found myself bouncing about Hollywood, spending time in very nice offices, with very nice producers, who all kept saying—and this is an exact quote:
“How do we mitigate the financial risk without a white, male lead?”
Uncomfortable? Need to pause again?
I love the famously cantankerous writer, Harlan Ellison, and envisioned him leaping across the table and punching someone in the gullet. I imagined him lighting garbage fires in elevators and burning studios to the ground, then salting the smoldering ruins. I daydreamed as I grit my teeth and kept moving.
And HOTEL was finally optioned, albeit briefly, to the founding CEO of Village Roadshow, a gentleman who was specializing in Asian markets at the time and who had helped finance Avatar and Marley & Me. I say briefly, because he passed away a year later (RIP Greg Coote).
So yes, there are opportunities in Hollywood. But they are buried in what Chris Rock so aptly described as “Sorority Racism.” And passive racism is still racism. Sins of omission, while not sins of commission, are still sins.
And to deny the racist, exclusionary, whitewashing reality of Hollywood is not just uninformed nonsense—it’s actually enabling this institutionalized behavior.
I guess what I’m saying is—if last night’s Oscars made you feel a tad uncomfortable—great! That means your empathy muscles are asking for a workout.
You can do the easy thing and shut down those feelings, deny what they’re telling you, or you can put yourself in the shoes of Hattie McDaniel who was the first black woman to win an Oscar, but had to play a maid 74 times, or in the shoes of Dean Tanaka and Chloe Wang who had to change their names to Dean Cain and Chloe Bennett to find success—entirely up to you.
I’ll pause again to let you think about it.
December 12, 2015
[image error]The photo is by the great Dorothea Lange. Her Internment images were impounded by the US government. Most of these images ended up in the US archives, but weren't published until 2006. Lange died in 1965.In the front of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet there's a photo of a Japanese American girl. She was born in the US, but sent to an internment camp along with her family because they looked like the enemy.
Now certain politicians are dismissing this injustice. They're vague-tweeting the idea that for the safety of all, perhaps we should be comfortable trampling on the rights of a few.
Do they REALLY believe this? I doubt it. It's political shorthand. It's reductive reasoning, designed to turn complex racial and sociological algebra into 1+1 = vote for me.
And while I'd like to think we're all smarter than that, we're also stuck with a 24-hour news Kraken that feeds on fear. That hectoring makes us wary of Muslim Americans. Or Sikhs. Or merely brown people with beards. And makes the idea of registering people because of their religious affiliation seem "reasonable" and "prudent."
That's disheartening, because not only do I have Muslim friends, but also my books have been translated into Arabic.
It's confounding too, because if I were invited to Saudi Arabia for book events, I'd hesitate. Not out of fear, but because I wouldn't be able to keep my big mouth shut with regards to Wahhabism and women's rights. (I have four daughters and when they graduated from high school I suggested Pomp & Circumstance be ditched in favor of Ride of the Valkyries, so yeah, I'm biased too).
But...back to the Mystery Girl.
She's not a mystery to me, because I've had the pleasure of meeting her. I've enjoyed dinner with her family. Her name is Mae Yanagi and she's as American as can be.
Like my ancestors and yours, her family came to the US to become part of something better. Not to infiltrate.
Think of this little girl the next time a politician suggests we begin registering people -- because freedom shouldn't be a mystery.
November 3, 2015
[image error]Ardent Amazon critic, Sherman Alexie, has books on display. Ironic photo by the Seattle Times.It's weird. It's mysterious. And it’s official. Amazon has opened an actual, honest-to-betsy, retail location in Seattle—a physical bookstore—the very thing that was anathema to all things Amazon for the last decade.
And no one knows quite what to make of it.
When looking at photos of the new bookstore my first thought was of the Final Fantasy movies. The producers used the latest, greatest, state-of-the-artiest technology to create what was then deemed to be the most “life-like” animation ever. But the characters on screen, while beautiful and gorgeously rendered, lacked a certain spark. Their souls were missing. One reviewer called them “cadaverous.”
That’s how Amazon’s bookstore feels to me. It appears to be a data driven replicant of a bookstore experience. A facsimile—like Frankenstein’s monster. On the one hand, the sheer audacity and genius is amazing to behold. But on the other hand, you’re left wondering when this creation will break loose and start eating villagers.
And yes, I am colored by my personal experiences with Amazon.
That is to say, I sell a ton of books via the giant online retailer. (So...yay!)
But I also once created a tiny promotion aimed at supporting Indie Bookstores and was told that by doing so I had jeopardized my chances of being one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Month. (So...boo!)
And a year later I was curious about all things Amazon, so I flew to Seattle to meet with their head of publishing, who was quite wonderful and told me how much she loved working there. And then she quit a month later. (So...huh?)
I guess that's a fancy way of saying that I have more questions than answers. Like you, I'm left wondering...why a bookstore?
Is it to find a physical presence for books from Amazon Publishing?
Is it to test drive/sell more Kindles?
Is it like sending in the infantry to mop up the retail battlefield that’s been crushed by Amazon's online cavalry charge?
Is it just a PR stunt to further augment stock price?
Of has Amazon renewed its vows and actually fallen in love with printed books?
Who knows? I certainly don’t. And maybe Amazon doesn't even know. But either way, I’ll be making popcorn and watching curiously from the sidelines.
What’s your theory, wiseguy?