My guest today is
Jamie Ford, author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet .
This debut novel, published just seven months ago, is already a New York Times bestseller and has been
translated into 21 languages.
Hotel tells the story of 12-year old Henry, who is Chinese, and his growing relationship with his classmate Keiko, who is of Japanese descent. Welcome to OpEdNews, Jamie. The historical backdrop of Seattle during World War II is itself a powerful force in your book. Were you ever concerned about that history overshadowing your story?
At the time I was writing HOTEL, I wasn't terribly concerned. I just kept my head down and spilled my heart onto the keyboard. But now that the novel has been out for a while, I do occasionally worry--maybe worry is not the right word--I'm apprehensive at times. Because I'm occasionally mistaken for a historian, or an authoritative voice on the Japanese Internment experience, which I'm not. I leave that to the professors of Asian American Studies.
I do my due diligence, and I absolutely love the research process, but I'm just a guy telling tales.
As you point out, you're not a historian. So, how did you go about immersing yourself in that historical period so you could authentically ground your characters in it?
I tried to give myself the amount of time a SF&F [science fiction and fantasy] author would devote to world-building, three-six months. But in my case, I was rebuilding the world of Seattle, circa 1942.
I began by collecting maps from the time period, since I needed to see what the area looked like before the interstate bisected the neighborhood.
Then I dove into all kinds of non-fiction texts. I joined Densho (a foundation that records the oral histories of those that were incarcerated), I watched interviews, read journal entries, I even went back to Seattle several times and spent hours doing research at the Wing Luke Asian Museum.
And mid-way through the writing process I met with Seattle historian and activist, Doug Chin, to validate some of my assumptions. It was during that trip that I finally spent time at the Panama Hotel, in the basement with the hotel owner--it was like stepping into a time machine.
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