Interview: Jeffrey Ford
by Colleen Cahill
SFRevu.com Interview ISBN/ITEM#: INTJF0606
Date: June 2006 / Show Official Info /
SFRevu: Your collection The Empire of Ice Cream is full of great stories and no two are alike. From the life of a sand castle fairy in "The Annals of Eelin-Ok" to the dark ghost story of "The Trentino Kid", each has its own feel. Is this something you have to work hard to achieve or does it just come naturally?
Jeffrey Ford: It's not something I have to work hard to achieve. It's something I need to do to not get bored with the process of story telling. I'm always interested in trying new approaches, new styles, etc. I do this in my novels as well as the stories. The Girl in the Glass was quite a drastic departure from the style of Mrs. Charbuque – much more pared down, more dialogue, more influenced by writers like Hammett. And with it's use of historical research, Mrs. Charbuque was quite a departure from The Physiognomy Trilogy. My goal in writing, whether I ever achieve it or not and/or whether it is achievable or not, is to attain a certain mastery in writing fiction. To do this one has to be willing to investigate, analyze, honor, and make one's own, all styles and structures so that I will have them at my disposal when I write. I read an interview with the artist Charles Vess once in which he said that he finally realized that what he needed to be able to do with his art is become so proficient at it that he could easily render anything his imagination could confabulate. He's obviously gotten there, but I'm still on the road enjoying the journey.
SFRevu: In several of the stories, your characters run into issues with a creative block and this is a major plot point in "Summer Afternoon" and "Coffins on the River." With your regular output it would be surprising but do you suffer from this affliction occasionally?
Ford: I've had it for quite a while now since quitting cigarettes. Usually for me my production is cyclical. I have periods of incredible productivity and then a couple of off months where I stare at the computer screen. I guess this is some kind of manic thing – I'm not sure, but that's the way it's always been. Since quitting the cigarettes it's been longer, but things are starting to come around. I'm lucky in that I have a full life of family and work and friends to bide my time until the guy inside me who is the real writer gets ready to write.
SFRevu: In "Coffins on the River" your narrator is a writer and his recent novel centered on Perno Shell who becomes the captain of a unusual vessel and tries to save his neighbors from a terrible flood. In another story in this collection, "Botch Town", the young protagonist describes this Perno Shell book and reveals there is a series on the adventures of this character and all are written by a different author. Will we ever see a Perno Shell story by Jeffrey Ford?
Ford: I've had that idea of the 8 story wooden boarding house cracking off its foundation in a deluge and sailing the seas of the waters with a crew of tenants led by a fellow by the name of Perno Shell for a long time. Maybe some day I'll turn it into a book. The adventures they would have would be grand. Perhaps a young adult book. We'll see.
SFRevu: In your Live Journal you once ran a contest, asking for inspirational title for a short story you needed to complete. Have you ever started working on any of your currently published stories based on just the title?
Ford: Yes. There's one in the collection called "Summer Afternoon." As is told in the afterward my friend Frank Keenan told me that Henry James once said that the two most beautiful words in the English Language were "summer afternoon." After hearing that I wanted to write a story using those words as a title. Usually the title comes after the story is written or it changes considerably while it's written. As for the title I mentioned here, the writer Rick Bowes told me James got it wrong and the most beautiful two words are really "paid vacation."
SFRevu: When I tell people that I am reading one of your books, I get one of two reactions: a knowing nod of appreciation or a look of who-is-that. While I tell them of your many awards (including a Nebula, two World Fantasy Awards, and most recently a Edgar Award for mystery) and try to describe your interesting plots, I am never quite sure which one I would suggest as an introduction to your work. What book or story of yours would you recommend to read first?
Ford: I've thought about this, but I don't really have an answer. I guess if the reader liked stories I'd suggest one of the story collections. As for the novels, that's harder. The Girl in the Glass is pretty accessible but if you like a lot of fantasy in your novel that's not going to cut it. If the reader likes science fiction and fantasy I'd say The Physiognomy. If they read a lot, I'd say Mrs. Charbuque. It's all a big crap shoot.
SFRevu: Do you have any new works that will be published in the near future?
Ford: There's a few stories coming up sometimes soon, I guess: "The Night Whiskey" will appear in Salon Fantastique, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. "The Manticore Spell" will appear in an anthology called Wizards edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois. "The Dreaming Wind" will appear in The Coyote Road, a YA anthology edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. "The Dismantled Invention of Fate" will appear in The Starry Rift, a YA SF anthology edited by Jonathan Strahan. The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror # 19 will be reprinting two of my stories – "The Scribble Mind" and "Boatman's Holiday" Edited, of course, by Ellen Datlow and Gavin Grant and Kelly Link. Feeling Very Strange an anthology from Tachyon Press edited by Jim Kelly and John Kessel will reprint my story "Bright Morning." Fantasy the Best of 2005 will reprint "Boatman's Holiday." Edited by Jonathan Strahan and published by Locus Press.
In addition to the stories, I'm presently working on a novelization of the long story from my new collection, "Botch Town" for Harper Collins (it will have another title when it appears in book form). And I have enough short stories right now for another collection, but I think that will wait for a while. The second book of The Cosmology of the Wider World is also in the offing of the not too distant future from PS Publishers.
SFRevu: Thanks for your time.