Songs of Willow Frost

Songs of Willow Frost

For starters — second books are hard! Really hard. (Did I mention that they’re somewhat difficult?)

Aside from that, Songs of Willow Frost is a story of abandonment. I think we all have abandonment issues, whether it’s from being dropped off for the first day of kindergarten, moving away from home, or the loss of a loved one—a parent, a child, a spouse, a friend—we all have holes in our hearts left by the people we lament the most.

The novel is designed to break the reader’s heart, sometimes softly, other times with a sledgehammer. But, I feel that it’s my responsibility as an author to put the pieces back together again, hopefully in better working condition.

Your debut novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet became a worldwide sensation, so did you imagine that you would have such an impact with your first book?

Not in my wildest imagination (and authors have very vivid dreams).

To put it in perspective, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was the #1 book in Norway for almost four months. No one sits down to write a novel and thinks, “Oh yeah, this book is gonna kill in Norway!”

For me, success was too absurd a concept to even think about. I just wanted to tell a story, sell a book, and hopefully have someone buy it who didn’t share my same last name.

You were awarded the 2012 Asia/Pacific American Award for Literature, so how did this make you feel?

It made me feel Chinese—wonderfully Chinese. Growing up half-Asian, I never felt Chinese enough, mainly because I didn’t speak Cantonese like my father. Now I’ve learned to speak a new language, the one shared by authors. I speak it 90,000 words at a time.

Millions of people have enjoyed your books but who do you most like to read?

This might seem strange, but the one author who has haunted my imagination from childhood to this strange arrested development I call adulthood is Harlan Ellison. I love Harlan so much that I bought his first typewriter, a 1938 Remington noiseless portable that his mother bought for him at a second-hand store. I’m not really into material possessions, but I do cherish that magical hunk of metal.

At what point did you know that you wanted to become a writer?

My degree is in art and design, so I’ve always been inclined to the arts and I’d been toiling as a closet novelist for years. But my big “writer moment” came at a workshop in 2006. The author, Mark Childress, asked me, “Which do you like better, writing, or the idea of being a writer?” It was a powerful question. Because if you like the idea of being a writer, you can wear black and hang out in a coffee pub and have all the affectations of being a writer without doing the work. Fortunately, I just like writing.

 What is your writing process?

 I wish I had some Hunter S. Thompson-esque writing day to share—you know, wake up in a jail cell, get bailed out by a showgirl, go sit at the racetrack where I bet and drink all day while banging away at a manual Olympia, using my loaded .38 Special as a paperweight. The reality isn’t quite so sexy. Typically I’m up early, clearing through emails and correspondence, writing from 8-noon. Then I edit through the afternoon. Once in a while I’ll go completely buck-wild and write at the public library.

 Why did you decide to explore the story of an orphan in your book?

 Orphans fill the canon of classic literature. But unlike Oliver Twist, during the Great Depression, most of the orphans in the US still had at least one living parent. There’s something terribly painful about that—never knowing if or when someone might come back for you.

Why did you choose Seattle for the setting?

Seattle is where I first had my heart broken. So I’m emotionally wed to that city. But there’s something about the weather—the rain, the fog, the drizzle, the moss growing out of rain-gutters, the smell of wood-smoke, the perpetual sweater weather—not only does it send you indoors, but if you’re a brooding, Holden Caulfield-type personality, it can send you into fleeing into your own imagination, that was me as a boy. It’s the joke in my family that if I ever formed a heavy metal band as a kid it would have been named Melancholica. 

 What is next for you?

 I’m currently working on a new novel about a boy who was raffled off at the 1909 World’s Fair in Seattle. I don’t have a title yet but I do have a deadline, so as I get closer hopefully the title will manifest.

Oh, and I need a map. I think I have one scheduled for next year.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and Songs of Willow Frost  are published by Allison & Busby Visit Jamie Ford’s website at or follow him on Twitter @JamieFord.






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