Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is very happy to shine our Friday spotlight on author Jamie Ford. Jamie Ford is the great-grandson of Nevada mining pioneer, Min Chung, who emigrated from Hoiping, China to San Francisco in 1865, where he adopted the western name “Ford,” thus confusing countless generations. His debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, spent two and a half years on the New York Times bestseller list and went on to win the 2010 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. His second book, Songs of Willow Frost, was also a national bestseller. Jamie’s latest novel is The Many Daughters of Afong Moy. His work has been translated into 35 languages. (He’s still holding out for Klingon, because that’s when you know you’ve made it).
So, Jamie, where can people find your work?
Wherever you buy books, check out books, or listen to books.
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
What was the inspiration for The Many Daughters of Afong Moy? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
There was a study at Emory University in 2013, where researchers showed how genetic markers in lab animals, thought to be wiped clean at birth, were used to transmit a single traumatic experience across generations.
That study haunted me. I couldn’t stop wondering that if we inherit trauma, what else might we be encumbered with at birth? What about predilections to certain phobias? What about anxiety and PTSDs? And if we inherit negative things, could we also inherit positive experiences and useful psychological traits? How about our ability or inability to care for other people?
That’s when I set off to write what is essentially an epigenetic love story.
What kind of research went into writing this book? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
Fortunately, scientists, biologists, chemists, and geneticists at Emory University, MIT, Sarah Lawrence, and Harvard (just to name a few) have done a copious amount of research and as a writer of fiction I’m able to stand on their shoulders and look taller (and smarter) than I really am. Their trailblazing work is documented in countless scientific papers, which are written for peer review, not pleasure reading. My job was to harvest as much science as I could and present it in a way that would not only be understandable, but compelling. While also projecting where I think this technology might take us in a few short decades.
In a way, it’s analogous to how Arthur C. Clarke proposed the concept of satellite communication in 1945 before Sputnik 1 was launched into orbit in the late 50s. I have this vain hope that the concepts presented in the book might someday become reality, if only so I can iron out the wrinkles in my own epigenetic past.
What character did you love or hate the most while writing? And why?
I loved writing Greta’s story. Not because I’m a tech executive but I did take computer programming classes at Olympic College while in junior high, so I was kind of a turbo-geek. Or as Greta says, “I’m polynomial in a non-polynomial world.” I can relate to that struggle to fit in. I mean, I was a kid taking Pascal, and everyone else in the HP computer lab seemed like they were in their 70s. (In retrospect, I’m sure they were in their late 20s or 30s and I probably made them feel just as old as they made me feel like a toddler).
And in case anyone’s wondering, after being asked to write a program to track hotel occupancy (and not create video games as I’d hoped) I quit. Thus, becoming that rare fourteen-year-old college drop-out.
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, Jamie. I look forward to speaking with you at our YouTube Interview!