Friends & Fiction
Friends & Fiction

Episode · 2 months ago

Friends & Fiction with Jamie Ford & Jason Mott

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

For the Spring/Summer 2022 season finale, the Fab Four are joined by bestselling authors Jamie Ford and Jason Mott. Jamie Ford discusses his research into epigenetics for his new novel THE MANY DAUGHTERS OF AFONG MOY, his own muti-cultural background, his inspriation for writing about a real historical figure, and the challenges of telling a tale that spans 250 years. Jason Mott discusses the phenomenal success of and the winding road to publication for his National Book Award winning novel HELL OF A BOOK. We hear about Jason's inspiration, his bravery in branching out into a different direction with his writing, the challenges of incorporating current events while still weaving in humor, and what he hopes "all the other mad kids, the outsiders, the weirdos, and the bullied" take away from the novel.

Welcome to friends and fiction for New York Times bestselling authors endless stories. Novelists Mary Kay Andrews, Kristin Harmel, Kristy Woodson Harvey and Patty Callahan Henry are four longtime friends with more than seventy published books between them. Together they host friends and fiction with author interviews and fascinating insider talk about publishing and writing to highlight and support independent bookstores. They discussed the books they've written, the books they're reading now and the art of storytelling. If you love books and you're curious about the writing world, you're in the right place. Hello, everyone, it's Wednesday night and that means we are right here with you for friends and fiction. We have an amazing evening ahead of us, so let's get started. I'm Kristy Woodson Harvey, I'm Patty Callahan Henry, I'm Mary Kay Andrews, I'm Kristin Harmel, and this is friends and fiction for New York Times bestselling authors endless stories, to support independent bookstores, authors and Librarians. Tonight we'll be talking with brilliant bestselling authors Jason Mott and Jamie Ford. But first, did you know that we at friends and fiction are currently reading the summer place by Jennifer Weiner and are behind the book club with fable APP. We'll dive deep into the themes, the characters, and I'm leading the discussion this month, sharing all my favorite moments from the book and talking about them with you. All you have to do is read along with us by downloading the fable APP and joining our club full of behind the scenes info you won't get anywhere else. It's just five dollars a month, so visit fable dot co backslash friends and fiction to sign up today. And don't forget, as you know, we continue to incre encourage you to support independent booksellers when and where you can and and one way, the best way, is to visit our own friends and fiction bookshop dot org page, where you can find Jason's books and Jamie's books and books by the four of us on our past guests at a discount. So this week, as you might know if you've been watching the last few weeks, we're going to be giving you all a chance to ask US anything. So if you have a question that you want the four of us to answer, a topic you'd like to discuss, we're all ears. So you can feel free to drop your questions in the comments now for future weeks or Um, post them on our facebook page, because we want to hear from you. So this week's question is from dinner for Jennifer Doutch, who Um, and this one really grabbed my attention. She said some authors change what genres they right over time. Do you find what you read over time changes also? I you know, I think it does. Um, I started out writing, Um, what we call category mystery and then I kind of morphed into writing now what's called women's fiction, and so I read some of that, but I think I read more widely. I read some thrillers, I read some literary fiction, I read some romance. Um, I read, you know, and I read nonfiction. I've always kind of like nonfiction with my journalism background. So yeah, I think I think my reading horizons are very much broaden. Yeah, you know, I think that's one of the nice things about being so involved with friends and fiction, both in terms of the books we read on the show or, you know, for the show, but also in terms of just the recommendations we get from people in our group. I mean I feel like people are recommending books all the time that are out of the genre or out of the genres that I normally read in. But you know, you hear a book recommended enough times and you're like, okay, I have to see what all the fuss is about. And I feel like the more I read outside my genre, like I'm reading more thrillers and mysteries than I ever have before, and I like that because I think that every genre has something to teach about the genre that you're writing in. You can always learn from what writers are doing well, Um, in other in other lanes, if that makes sense. I think I just like both of you. I think it's changed, but for me not that much. I mean just like you said, Chris, and I think friends and fiction has introduced me to authors I might not have picked up before. But I've always been kind of all over the map. I would read a cereal box if I was born. I read everything, you know, in high school and in college, especially on my bedside table there'd be a Graham Green and as Stephen King. So Um, I think I still read just as widely. I'm just introduced to more now, throwing a little poetry, a little nonfiction. Um, yeah, I don't think it's changed through time, though. I just think that I'm exposed to more through time. But I've always I've never just said, Oh, I only read romance or I only read mystery. So, like I said, I'd read a grocery list. I love that. Yeah, now I'm just gonna go what you guys say, because I really do like friends and fiction has...

...um had me reading a little more widely than Um, maybe I used to or maybe I normally would. And I feel like, you know, going through school and college and I got my masters in literature, so I read a lot of like classics for years and years and years, and then I feel like I went through this phase of like I'm going to read all be treats, you know, like a like cleansers. But Um, but I've always loved historical fiction. Um, for sure, that's always been like way at the top of my list. But Um, and I have not read like thrillers have not been, you know, as much something that I've that I've really read, and romance wasn't something that I read that much. And so the show has really Um gotten me out of my comfort zone, I think a lot and reading new things and I agree with Christian that everything I read teaches me something about how to be about a writer. So that's always really, really interesting and exciting and I feel like I've gotten exposed to, you know, new voices and new worlds um through the show and the and the recommendations that people have for us. So, Um, well, ladies, thanks for answering that question and now I am so excited onto our main event. Let's welcome our first guest for the evening, Jamie Ford. Jamie Ford is the best selling author of several novels, including hotel on the corner of veteran suite, which spent two and a half yearss on the New York Times bestseller list months right. Hotel also won the Asian, Pacific American award for literature and it was named the number one book club pick in by the American Bookseller Association. This multicultural tale is now read in schools all across the country and it hasn't been optioned for a musical and for film, with George Takai serving as executive producer. And I should also say that Jamie was the one that introduced me to the concept of drop box. I was gonna say that magical, magical thing. He taught me about. It's amazing. Wow. No, I absolutely loved that books. I'm so excited to talk to him tonight. So Jamie's work has also been published in multiple anthologies and he's an award winning short story writer. He's written across many genres and including speculative, dystopian crime, noir and middle grade horror. So, Christie, your question that you have for us tonight was perfect. So Jamie is the great grandson of Nevada Mining Pioneer Min Chung, who emigrated from Kapping, and he'll tell me if I said that wrong, Kaping Kaiping, China, to San Francisco in eighteen fifty six, where he adopted the Western name Ford, which we are going to talk about tonight. So Jamie currently lives in Montana with his wife, who was a nurse, and their one eyed pug, which is hilarious. His new dovel, novel the many daughters of a Fong Moi, has been named the number one indie next pick for August two. It will be released in just a few days on August second, Sean on. Can you bring Jamie on to join us there? Thanks for having me. Uh, we're so excited to have you I think the last time I saw you was in a huge room of women in Texas. Am I right? Yeah, East Texas. People were wearing feather Boa's, there were I think there was a smoking Mohito Fountain, if I recall Um, and my my recollections are a little, a little hazy of that night, but good. Well, at least you have hazy one. Mary Kay, and I don't even know if we have any. I remember seeing your glasses. It was about the same moment where you learned about dropbox. We were all sitting at that back table. So, Jamie, I'm so excited about this book. We've been talking on and on through the years about what to right next. Where do we go? What do we do? And before we dig into what you call, which I love this, your big box of Cryans, and we'll get into all of that, I want you to tell us, in a nutshell, with the many daughters of a fun Moy, is about. And then our second favorite question that goes with it is, what is it really about? Hm, those are good questions. Um, the book is about inherited trauma. It's about epigenetics. Um, we think of genetic inheritance and we think of e color and hair color Um and the book explores the very real possibility that we inherit psychological traits as well resiliency and levels of empathy and um in many cases, our ability or inability to interact or love other people. And it follows the the genetic line of of a real woman. Her name was off Moy. She was the first Chinese woman to come to American eight three or four and its it follows not in chronological order, but it goes through a bunch of subsequent generations and the main character is actually Dorothy Moy, who's living in Seattleogy just a little bit into the future,...

...and she's someone that's that's trying to she's she's she's living an encumbered life with the issues that she's inherited and she's trying to work the way through those things. But through all of those timelines there's also a sense of searching and longing, of someone seeking someone else, and that's all all safe for now and it's you know, I don't think there's a wrong way to say it. Um, my publisher says a Phong. I say offong because I think that's how my my relatives would pronounce it, and lots of people say a fong and because China has so many dialects, there's no real I don't think it's a wrong way to say it. Even when there is a wrong way to say it, I would say it. We would nail that. If there's a wrong we're really good at that. Well, maybe this idea of five past generations seeking out and connecting with your main character, Dorothy Um, the sixth in line, while love binds them through generations, is just astounding. So I know you've talked about being in a dry spell and about feeling like you didn't know what you wanted to write next, and in your author note you describe this book as your big box of crayons. CRAYONS which a poetry, epigenetics, climate change, Buddhism and the history of the real woman. Oh, I'm going to do it wrong. Off on more moy Um, but I promise we'll get to all the other crayons. But first, Um, I had to ask you about epigenetics because I've always been fascinated by this. I actually studied this a lot in college and wrote about it Um a little bit for some publications and things, which so I really love that idea. So can you explain to people who might not be familiar with that concept what it is and how did you come across the idea and why did you want to put it in this novel? MM HMM, Um. Epigenetics is pretty broad. The probably a more specific term would be transgenerational epigenetic inheritance, which just rolls off your tongue like a mack truck. So we just say epigenetics. Um. You know, I first learned about it when that study came out in two thousand thirteen at emory university where researchers took lab animals, in this case mice, and they introduced a citrus fragrance and they electrified the floor Um sorry mice. And what what this did was it had quickly habituated the mice to have a panic fear reaction whenever they smelled that scent. And then they found three or four generations later they could take the offspring of those mice, the descendants of those mice, Um lab animals that had never smelled that fragrance, had never been shocked when they introduced that scent. They had the same fear reaction, and so it was evidence, or at least pointing to the way one traumatic event can be transmitted. You could cross several generations and that was just eminently fascinating. Um. I think a lot of us we had a sense that there's something else going on. I know in in large communities and native American communities have talked about generational trauma forever. Um, the descendants of Holocaust survivors have, um have been parts of studies related to inherited trauma. But I think most of us, when we grow up and we look at our own behavior in relation to our parents and then our children, it's you can only run so far from your genetics, Um, and you see evidence of that and I was just I was just wildly fascinated about that and I was I was interested in an Afong story, but there really wasn't enough there, I thought, for me to build an entire novel. And so, using epigenetics, I could tell her story expressed over all these different generations, Um, and that's that's kind of the rabbit hole that I that I stumbled into with this book. I love that. That's so interesting and what an interesting way to see it play out over the course of the novel. I think it's you know, it's something I've touched on in my writing because I write about the Holocaust. Something I've touched on in my writing a little bit, but much more, Um, much more on the edges of it. I think you just confronted so much more directly. It's brilliant. So, Um Jamie, for our members who don't know, but we did mention this the Intro, you're the great grandson of a Nevada mining pioneer named Min Chung, who emigrated from China to San Francisco in eight of the town I know I did because I was like I'm gonna say it wrong and you know I'm gonna let that just be on Patty. Why? Why? You know why. Doubled down. Why doubled down? Um So, he adopted the Western name forward and thus, as you say, he confused countless generations. Um So. The dedication to your book actually reads, and this...

...just I don't know, the second I read this I'm like, I'm gonna like this book. I'm really like this guy. The dedication says to anyone with a complicated origin story, I feel you, which I love. So yeah, that's great. So do you think you could tell us a little bit about the origin story? Of your character off on more. Did I say it right? I don't know, probably not. It's it's like a hundred different ways to butcher the same name. Probably on the show tonight it's perfect. Yeah, and and and also, Patty, when you said Kaiking, that was absolutely correct. But you nailed it. You nailed it, although I say wiping because that's Cantonese, so it gets even weirder. So, yeah, it's UH, there's no wrong way to do it. Um, oh my gosh. Well, that Gosh, that's so. It's so interesting. Um, and see, so I should have attempted to say it. After all, I wouldn't have sounded like as big of an idiot as I usually do. Nailed it. You nailed it. Evade it. That's the best ways, my general tactic. Yeah, so, Jamie, I'm interested. You talked a little bit about her, but could you tell us a little bit more about her origin story, why she inspired you and why that inspiration was so great that it became sort of the center point for this whole sweeping multigenerational novel? I think it's so fascinating. Sure, off on came to this country, Um, and she was she was, you know, she was written about and celebrated in hundreds of newspaper articles. She traveled widely up and down the east coast, from Buffalo, New York all the way to Cuba, and you know she was she was this sensation, but none of those articles or mentions or writeups have her telling her own story in her own voice. She spoke limited English. It was always spoken through, you know, the the mouthpiece of her promoters, people who were monetizing her otherness, her exotic nous, and she was kind of a sideshow attraction, for lack of a better term, and all the excitement around her, it office skates the fact that Chinese women couldn't leave China at that time and if they returned, but the punishment was deaf and so it's it's more likely that she was sold into Um this situation, probably by her parents, because at the time, extra daughters in China were you know, we're a burden often not a benefit. And she came to this country and it's a stranger in a strange land. Um. There's so much known about her and then she vanishes from the headlines. Around fifty there were rumors that she was touring Europe, that she finally went back to China. Um. But the last article about her has her living in a poorhouse in New Jersey, and so it's likely that she had a you know, had a tragic life and had a tragic end to that life. And you know, that's that's I wanted. I wanted to give her a voice, especially because she never, she never in those articles, she's never quoted. It's always through the sensationalized lines of her promoters. Um. And I just can't imagine how difficult that would be to come to this country as a Chinese person, but as a Chinese woman. And this is at a time when, you know, women were not really allowed to be on the street by themselves. That was, you know, a real lady wouldn't do that. You'RE gonna be seen as a woman of ill repute. So women at the time already had the deck stacked against them. And yet she's she's a minority within a minority. Um. And I skipped the second part of the first question of like what's this book really about? and Um, it's really about it's like all of my entangled abandonment issues expressed over four hundred pages. Basically that I could relate to offen it's just never fitting in and always looking for her place, and that's that's kind of the background of that main character. And this is my dog Lucy, who will occasionally pop up and say hi, you see, hi, she's being shy. Now she's now, she's she's right there. I love that even the dog is a woman, because every P ov in this book is from a Woman's point of view. It is and I know that Patty's favorite character is the nurse. was there a character, Jamie, that you connected more with across time than another? Um, this is almost cheating, but Greta, who her character is set around, because my other books are historical fiction, writing in a contemporary setting was such a pleasurable experience to not have...

...to do quite so much historical research and worry about anachronisms and stuff like that. Um and she's a tech Geek and that's kind of part of my own origin story. I went to community college as a middle schooler and took computer classes and I'm I'm in this class with people who I thought they were like ninety years old. They were probably three years old, but I'm, you know, I'm thirteen years old. So they all looked like Um, you know, uh, serious grown ups to me, Um, and so I I relate to Greta from that standpoint. And plus she's her narrative of sentence Seattle, where I'm from, and so it's just there's so much connective tissue there. It was it was a joy to right. So it's fair to say that that timeline, the timeline, was the one that you felt most at home att yea, truly. Yeah, yeah, it was. It was the easiest from it was the most, surprisingly fun, because I never, I don't have written a couple of short fiction pieces that were contemporary, but for the most part even my short fiction is all over the place, in a different time three. It's like a whole bunch of mini his historical novels, like novellas in each one for sure really fascinating. Okay, Jamie, in the opening chapter, fame boy reads from an Edgar Allen, Oh headgar allan poem. Chris Cousin. First cousin. That's the dollar solar store version of Ed Growen. Her cousin, once removed, without the psychological issues. But she reads from the poem that says what we love with a love that was more than love. Gives me chose. So I want to go back for a minute and then we're going to bring Jason on. I want to go back to your box of Cryans. I want you to talk about how poetry, Buddhism, Art, storms and coxperimental private school, Climate Change. How did you do that? How? Because it works. It's just about broke my brain. My other books are historical fiction and they're set in a in the past and I'm more contemporary timeline and Um, I grew up reading speculative fiction. I and I read. We talked earlier about reading different genres. I read every genre and I and I love poetry. I'm I write tons of poetry. I never shared with anybody, but it was, you know, it's something that's uh, it's a creative sandbox that I play around in a lot. Um, you know, I'm going to ask you about it now, like like send me a poem, but I will and you can uh not share it with the world. Cannot share on twitter. My poetry is it's all like confessional poetry, like an sexton poetry, which I which I love, and she just really puts all of herself into her work and I am just too much of a coward to ever do that. So it's like it's a good creative place to go and I just sort of walked those away in the closet. Um, but I thought the book being my big box of crayons. I really felt like hotel, my first book, hotel and connerverter and sweet, my main characters are young. Um, I don't have very many points of view. I really looked at that book like my book that had training wheels on it, like okay, I can't screw this up too badly. If I don't know a lot of you know aspiring authors. They they want their their first novel to be, you know, part of a ten part series with twenty point of view characters and Um, it's like trying to play Rockman and off on your first piano lesson. Like it's it's just not it's not doable to most mortals. But as I'm writing these other books, I kept bumping up against Um and I wanted to tell a larger story and also I sensed from my publisher that they they weren't sure if I could make that transition. Um. And so I was very nervous about writing something so completely different. Um, in retrospect now I can see how, like with my my first book did really well, and so my second and third books. I would go on tour and people, you know, half the questions were about my first book. So I was I was still living in the shadow of that book and in retrospect, the best way to get out of that is just to write something completely different, which I didn't do that on purpose, it just I just was having all these other things I wanted to to try out, and then it just sort of exploded onto the page when I was finally let out of my cage, so to speak. You let yourself out, did yeah, it's and I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to stick the L ending. I'm...

...sure, if anyone would get it. Um, my my editor back at Random House, Um liked the book but didn't love it, and wasn't you know, it wasn't a real there wasn't a lot of there was an enthusiastic reaction about Um publishing this and so I went out, you know, onto the market again as a free agent. I'd never been without a contract since, you know, my first book, and that was a scary place to be. Or something completely different, knowing that your previous editor isn't crazy about it, um, but doing it anyway, Um, and whether it succeeds or fails, at least I know validated by conviction. Good for you. Well, you know, you could not have really created a better segue to our next guest, because Jason Mott has sort of a similar story that we're also going to be asking him about in just a second. Um, but in a really fun treat Jamie is actually going to hang around too, because he had a question that he also wanted to ask Jason. So, Um, he's going to hang around with us and Um, so we're so excited to get to get to have him stay on the screen with us, but also we are so thrilled to welcome Jason. Jason Mott is the best selling author of four novels, the return, the wonder of all things, the crossing and hell of a book. His fourth novel, hell of a book, was a read with Jenna Book Club Pick when it was released in June, and it was a Carnegie Medal for excellence and fiction long list selection, two Aspen Words Literary Prize Long List Selection, a Joyce Carol oates prize long list selection. Well, I know, but novel also won Thee Sir Walter Raleigh Prize for fiction and it was the winner of the, you know, just this little thing we call the National Book Award for Fiction. I hate this guy. It's like it's it's like looking in a mirror, it's like swirless. Yeah, I mean who hasn't done those things really? So, yes, I'm I'm kidding. So additionally, Jason's debut novel, the returned, was adapted by Brad Pitt's production company. I mean, who among us hasn't been adapted by Brad Pitt? You know, the list goes on. Um. So his production company has planned B in association with Brillstein entertainment and ABC, and it aired on the ABC network under the title resurrection. Jason is also the author of two poetry collections. We call this thing between us love and hide behind me. His poetry and fiction have appeared in various literary journals and he's a pushcart prize nominee and in an n double, a CP image award nominee. Jason has a B F A and fiction and an M F A and poetry from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington's not that far away from Christie. That's right. So welcome, Jason. We're so glad to have you. Hey. How's it going? appreciately went some awards. Just you know. I know we feel a little bit sorry for you, but you know, it's it's been a tough year. We're so glad you're here tonight. And what a book. I mean the whole time I was like, it really is just a hell of a book, but it's easy to see why this novel has garnered such massive praise. So to start us off, by chance, if there's anyone out there who hasn't read it yet, can you tell us what hell of a book is about, and then can you tell us what it's really about? So, Um, the basic elevator pitch is hell of a book is about an author on book tour. He's written kind of the first book of his career. It's a really big book. It is a hell of a book, people keep telling him. And as he's touring around the country he meets this ten year old boy who he said, he calls the Kid, and the kid keeps showing up at all these events that he's been to and the long grit goes on. It becomes this Farcicoo tale of what it's like to be an author, but it also leads into a very serious discussion about being black in America and police violence and just the daily kind of existence and like the things that kind of hang over the hedge of certain minorities and in America. So yeah, so that's kind of what it really bleeds into. It starts off being very silly and goofy and then it turns into something a bit more serious, but still silly and goofy as it goes along. It's such an interesting and unique balance. We're going to ask you about that later, but I think it's that blew my mind. Is it's like it's both of those things at once, which is just really amazing. But we're so glad that Jamie can stick around and he actually has a question for you. Awesome. Yeah, I mean I just love that you're gonna you're on tour promoting a book about being on Tour Um, which the Meta aspect of that just exactly kind of blows my mind. Um, but I have to I have to ask, and it's it's kind of a heavy question, but as a person of color on tour Um,...

...has this been cathartic? Has It transformed your perception of your travels, or has it in some ways validated some of the challenges of being a black man in America and people not knowing that you're a National Book Award Winning Author? Some people in certain parts of the country we will see you and pre judge you and I think, as all of us, I'm half Chinese, but I'm you know, I'm fairly white passing. It's something that we don't even have to consider as we travel, as we step into an elevator and things like that, and it's just those kind of things. They just want to know. How has it? Has It healed or has it uh, maybe extended some of the struggle of of of being an author on Tour Um? Honestly, it's done a little bit of both, like it has in many ways it has healed a lot of the oddness and uniqueness of being a black author or any kind of minority author on tour like one of the drawbacks of being a minority author, in whatever form that minoritiness kind of exists, is that you're always kind of defined by that role. Like I was always the black author, like anytime there was a panel and they needed like a black author, like they just wrong my bill and there I was, because I wasn't just an author who wrote books about, you know, kind of magical realism stories. I was a black author first and then the author second. And so traveling around Um on my first tour, there was a lot of learning to navigate. That one of the funniest moments that I had, and this is kind of like the the fellowship of Authors, which I found to be hilarious sometimes. I was in Kentucky, you know good southern state, and my first novel, the return, when you look at the cover of the book, has a young white boy standing on the front of the cover. I can go into a lot of explanations about where that comes from. It comes from the story and but the point is here I was a black author, male author, who had written this book and the cover has his young white boy. So I'm at a book festival in Kentucky and sitting literally at the table next to me. You know, they had US pair it up. Two authors at the table. Y'All, you were there kind of hawking your wares for the half the day. So the gentleman next to me was a white male author who had written a book about Michelle Obama. So his book had Michelle Obama prominently on the front cover. And so as we're sitting there side by side, this woman comes up to our table and she looks at the books and she looks at us and she looks at the books again and she looks at us again and you can see the puzzle kind of going off in her head where it's like it was very clear that her mind we were sitting at the wrong tables. And so she comes up and she looks in my book and she goes, why is there a white boy on the cover of your book? And I said well, it's the central character, one of the stal characters in my story, and she looks at the other gentleman and she goes, are you sure you guys aren't at the wrong seats? So it was, you know, we he and I, both me and the author. We both kind of it. Well, we made it, you know, we laughed about it and we made jokes throughout the day that we should just switch seats and see how long before people notice and just see what happens. Um but you kind of learned to take the punches for that. But at the same time, it is indicative of that component where, if you are a black author or any kind of minority author, you are almost contractually bound in this unspoken way to write about your your your quote unquote, unique view of America and that kind of roll of it. Um. I often say that artists in general are the conscience of a society, and so when you're an artist and you're also a minority, you are tasked with being the conscience of that specific minority and I think that's a fairly dangerous thing to kind of shackle people with. Um. So I struggle with that a lot. But now you know, it's amazing how when you you win the National Book Award, People Suddenly Listen To you in a lot of different ways. You suddenly get validated by people. have any ideas sure that that's like it was when? I want that too? Exactly exactly, but it just it just creates a very different dynamic where suddenly you are heard in a different way, and I found that to be part of part of the quote unquote, the healing process, strangely enough. Um. So, yeah, it is both of those things. Touring about this book. It is both of those things. Thank you. Thank you great question and a great answer. What a yeah, I'm want to listen back on that like three times, like I know, and also I also feel like maybe you guys should just talk and we'll just go like after Jamie was talking about writing poetry and then I'm like, Jason Nights poetry too, and why are we even here? Why are we here? Exactly a poetry slam. Yeah, exactly. I was backstage listening to Jamie's story and so much of his story I could totally relate to, like the whole thing about like trying to write something new, living in shadow your first book, like all of that.

I was just backstage just like yes, retweet, retweet that. To agree with all that. We knew what we were doing when we got it. And thank you for letting me ask that question. I mean it's it's a very personal and it's it's a it's a heavy question and I get like the very fractional light version of that where occasionally I'll do a book event and someone will come up and say what gives you the right to write about Asian people, and I'm like, because you know, I ate chicken feet as a child and this my my grandparents. Uh, you know, we're Chinese and my dad's spoke Cantonese and and so people, people pre judge you, Um, as a person of color, Um, and I live in this twilight zone between the two, this demilitarized zone, Um, and so I see the extremities. So thank you for thank you a great question. Thank you know what's a great question? You know, Jason, before you wrote Hell of a book, you penned the crossing, the wonder of all things, the returned Um. They were all decidedly more toward a fantasy genre, right, I mean they were, they were different, but you knew you needed to make a change and you very bravely did. I mean we talked with Jamie a little bit about this too. As Christie said, it was kind of a good segue because I think, Um, the roads you've both traveled have a little bit of that in common too. So in an interview you've said to suddenly walk away from a contract that was existing, to go off into the wilderness to make art, that's a very terrifying thing and I think all of us are getting a little itchy just thinking about that. It's in a good way, I mean I kind of it. I mean I think it's a good thing. I think. I think there's something to the idea of needing to reinvent yourself at least a little bit with every book to keep moving forward. But, Um, I guess I'm just wondering what was it like to walk away from what you had known and what you were doing very successfully? Did you have moments of doubt along the way that it might not work out for you? And and I guess also, what advice do you have for people who made me feel a bit stuck and want to do something different with their lives? Um, yeah, it was very it was probably one of the most terrifying things I've done since becoming a full time author and kind of writing, because, you know, I I kind of felt like the safe choice, the safe smart choice, was to kind of keep keep churning out, for lack of a better word, the thing that people knew and expected, kind of keep doing the things you're known for and you know you're at the very least you'll kind of maintain where you are. But I also knew that creatively, I was kind of stifling a bit, and I wasn't. I've always prided myself on exploring creative bounds and exploring personal boundaries and just kind of seeing where the art takes me. And I also began to recognize that I was kind of laying that to the side in favor of doing this thing because I was so terrified of losing it. Like I had been a full time author for about seven or eight years at that point and I was so terrified of losing that, like I wanted to be able to keep doing that, that I had to kind of make this choice, and so I did, like I kind of like golf and I'm just write the story that, you know, my agent has shot it down a couple of times, my previous editor and shot it down a couple of times. Like the idea of an author one book tour story was not something that anyone seemed particularly interested in, and yet I knew that it was something that I wanted to write. And so, yeah, I went off and was completely, just terrified the entire time. I cannot say that enough. I was have a good friend who I've yeah, I've got a good friend I've known for like years now, almost fifteen years, and I was texting her at one point as I was, you know, hip deep in Hell of a book and I told her, I said this is gonna be my magnum opus a failure. This would be the greatest failure I've ever written because I'm enjoying writing it. It's really weird is doing all this different creative stuff, but I can guarantee no one's gonna want to read it. And said it's too weird. I said I'm loving it. It'll be the book that I write and I put into a closet somewhere and no one ever reads it but me, but I'll enjoy it. It would be this thing that I have fun writing. So I had already written the project off before anyone else my age or anyone had actually seen any pages of it. So it was very much this thing that I had to do and I guess if I had to lay any advice on anyone else about that, I would say you will inevitably reach this point where the business of writing and the art of writing will kind of butt heads and you have to make a decision one with the other, and there is no wrong decision. Like some people will choose the business side of things for for the reasons they need to, and that's fine. Others will choose the art and that's equally fine. But just recognize that that moment will come at some point in your writing kind of journey and you need to be prepared for it and you need to just be okay with the decision you make, like any decision is fine, but you have to be okay with that. And so I felt really fortunate that, you know, the decision I made turned out as well as it did, because, yeah, it was a very just nerve racking experience right in the novel. Quite frankly, I bet it was. But I mean, my goodness, think you think goodness she took that chance. What do you think would have happened to you as a writer and as a person that you hadn't taken that chance? If you had,...

...if you had just stuck to the safe side, I think I would. I would have just been much more unhappy than I am now. Um, and not even because, you know, not even because of like the success the book has had, but when I finished the book, kind of as I was saying, like I was telling my friend, like when I finished it, I was certain that it was going to be a failure as far as you know, sales and finding a home for it and all this kind of thing, like a from the business side. I was certain it's gonna be a failure. But I was so very proud of what the book was. It was doing things creatively I wanted to do for years. It was doing things personally I wanted to talk about for years. It was just it was what I knew I needed to write, and so I was really proud of myself for finishing it. Regardless of what happened next I said, at least I finally got it all out. I finally said it in the way that I wanted to say it. Not I didn't try to do it the way Tony Morrison would have done it. I didn't try to do it the way James Baldwin would have done it. I try to do it the way I want to do it and I think it's the hardest things to do something the way that you your your creativeness tells you to do it. And so if I had gone the other direction and just kind of turned out something more familiar, I would have been miserable. Um and as a as a writer, you're miserable most of the time anyway. So I stay with the misery. Why not try the thing that might lead to something fun and that worked out really well. Obviously that's awesome. I read somewhere somebody said if you're not terrified, you're doing it wrong. I completely agree, but it's still good to hear you were terrified because you know, you hear the story. Jamie did it too. I'm going to take a chance, I'm gonna write what my heart or gut or imagination or news saying to right and you just put and were terrified and to know that we're all in the same boats. Yes, yes, but not the sinking boat that caught on fire and sang. Not. We don't want to be on the polality. Okay, they said. One of the most powerful storylines in hell of a book is the tragic police shooting of a young black boy, and it becomes a recurring Motif in the book, as it appears in conversations and news reports. And you know, obviously, Um real life rears its ugly head. I read that you set up Google alerts to keep track of the shootings and it became impossibly overwhelming and there are moments of that that overwhelming this novel, of the pain and the sorrow and the tragedy. But you know this nolve is also funny and it's it can be lighthearted, and I think that's part of the genius. You managed to create this complex commentary on race in America while also taking readers through all the range of emotions, and the judge's citation from the National Book Award said, and I quote, and estructially and conceptually daring examination of art, fame, family and being black in America somehow manages the impossible trick of being playful, insightful and deeply moving all at the same time. So, you know, we just have one little easy question. How did you do that? Just tell me, from you to me, just tell me. Is Listening? Don't worry. Um, well, I found this book, you know, writing, writing for dummy said it just just had everything there. Just I got to get that book. Yeah, well, so, yeah, it was. That part was very difficult, obviously. Was it intentional? Was it intentional? It was a thousand percent intentional because Um, kind of some of some of the backstory and how things happened was Um, I had written years ago. I had written like a hundry in fifty page kind of half a book about an author, one book tour, and it was pure comedy, just jokes, and there was no serious discussion going on. It was just kind of anecdotal adventures and it was very much lacking something. So I put it away and then, around eighteen, I think it was, when the Freddy Gray Incident occurred in Baltimore and the Baltimore riots and all of those kind of things happened, a friend and I who lives in Baltimore, we were on the phone every day about seven am. Well, get on the phone for about an hour and we would just talk because he lived in Baltimore, so I want to check on him to make sure that he was okay and see what he was going through and kind of decompressed like talk about these things that were happening and what they were doing to us. And that was when I had Google larts going about other instances and other shootings and things like that. So it became so much Um and I was like, and my friends suggested it's like, why don't you write something about this? Like you're obviously overwhelmed. Why don't you write about it? So I did. I wrote all these vignettes and all these just mixture of memories and stories I heard and this this hodge podge of stuff. Had about a hundred and fifty, two hundred pages of that and I knew that I wanted...

...to combine the two together because I didn't have the the emotional endurance to do purely the heavy, dramatic, everything is terrible each page of the book kind of story. and to me there was such a Gravitas in those moments and the discussions of race in America. It was so important to me and it was so heavy and fill with such tragedy and fill with so many charged emotions that I just didn't have the stamina to write three pages of that. And so the comedy section is the author and book. To a moment that gave me as a as a writer, a chance to breathe. It gave me a chance to kind of come up for air and remember that, yes, the world is tragic in the world is terrible at times, but the world is also wacky and beautiful and absurdist at times, and you have to combine those two things. You have to you can never ignore one. You have to claim them both. And so when I was doing the process of writing and combining these things, Um, yeah, I would spend a week or two working on a really heavy, dramatic, harsh, emotionally charged, painful section and I would be fatigued. I would just be tired and worn out and, you know, kind of hating the world and depressed, and I was like I need to laugh. So why don't have just spend the next two or three weeks writing this comedic scenes and be goofy and silly and trying to be as farcical as possible to make me feel better so I can go back to the big section and write them, the harder sections, right those again. So I think, for readers at least, my hope was that readers would have that same kind of balancing act where they would get, you know, kind of put underwater by the heavy sections and forced to face these hard topics, but then, after an adequate amount of time, come up, come up for air, get the sunshine of your face, breathe a little bit, laugh a little bit, have fun and then go back to those heavy moments, go back underwater and live in that world and come back up again. And so that was what I was trying to do with readers. Yeah, that's a good way to put it. Yeah, either or to the end. And and I'm like yeah, yes, whenever we try to do either or I think it's a disservice to to the human experience. We getting damned. You know, there's something terrible going on and something I'm get all choked up. Okay, in your acceptance speech for the National Book Award, you said I love this so much. I want to dedicate this award to all the other mad kids, to the outsiders, the Weirdos, the bully, the one so strange that they had no choice but to be misunderstood by the world and by those around them, the ones who were, in spite of this, refused to outgrow their imagination, refused to outgrow their imagination, refused to abandon their dreams and refused to deny diminish their identity or their truth or their loves, unlike so many others. I mean, wow, I am sure you said it better. I almost want to make you read that Um in your voice and in your inflection, but it's so moving, Um, and in this book you write about those people, the bully, the outsiders, the mad kids. I have that coroat, yes, I can't say his name either, on my poster on my bullet board right across from me right now. I have that quote by him. Um in a letter press poster says the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, not to talk. Burn, Burn Burn. So did you draw on any of your own life experience? Because when you say that, when you're speaking to those kids and you have that that cadence in that language, that sentence is almost a poem. Did you draw from your life experience or from your characters? How did you create that feeling? Yeah, that was wholeheartedly taken from my life and my experiences. I was very much the kid who grew up getting bullied by the bigger kids and the older kids on school bus. Um, you know, I was the kid who I read too much, I didn't you know, I wasn't cool enough. There were all these things that I was not, that people felt I should be, and it took me decades to kind of grow into loving myself, which is what the book tries to talk about. So much Um. But yeah, like I feel that speak. I wanted to speak to those kids because I've been there, like, I know how difficult that is, but I also now see that there is another side that you can come out of and be okay. Is that speech saved anywhere that we can hear it or watch you say? I just said it. Yes, because I watched it over and over again. It's on the Nash Okay, yes, yes, out there. We'll post it, because that is and I read that like six times. Yeah, yeah, I was a little teeri eyed as I read it because I was very overwhelmed. So maybe shaking a bit as I read that. Well, and sorry, ahead, uh, this is not on what we're supposed to ask, but it strikes me. I wonder what separates you, I know, the rule breaker here. What separates a kid like you from the kid Um who go who takes an a...

R fifteen, buys one on his eighteenth birthday and goes in and shoots up a school because that kid is alone, or that kid is misunderstood, is misunderstood. What? What do you think made the difference between you and that kid? It's a big question. Um, art. Art is definitely a part of it. I mean, for me, art and literature and Philosophy. weirdly enough, I got I got into philosophy at a very young age as a gateway drug to thinking about things. Um. But I think one of the biggest differences is that you have to find, you have to find your tribe and you have to make sure that your tribe is not a violent one. You have to make sure that the people you the people you gravitate towards, the people that are part of your life, are people who are compassionate and empathetic and trying to improve the world, not through means of violence, but through means of art and action and things of that ilk. And so for me, you know, I spent media years alone, but weirdly enough, like I've related to the philosophy books that I read and I related to now like literature and all that became my tribe for us so long. And so I made the college and I met like the actual physical people who just were as weird as I was, and they became my group. But you have to choose your group carefully. Um, can we please be your group? And I really can be your group. You're all part of my group for sure. Wow. Well, Jason and Jamie, I know, Um, we have had a show tonight that we are all going to be talking about for a really long time and our viewers are too. So, Um, we're not gonna let you go quite yet. Though, we would absolutely love if you could maybe share a writing tip with our viewers and really us. It's it's really for us, but we say it's for that. Um. So, Jamie, since you have been so patiently waiting, would you mind sharing a writing tip with us first? Sure, I often tell people who are trying to figure this out to stop reading their favorite authors while they're trying to learn how to write. I described that as trying to lose weight and only reading Vogue magazine. You, you, you will die at death of comparison, and it's it's very unfair. You can read other things that inspire you, but Um, that's that's my little bit of advice. I think a lot of us get frozen in that comparison. Oh yeah, that's great advice. We have not asked. Yeah, Jasone about you? Any tips for our listeners out there? Slash us? Yeah, sure, Jamie's advice was a wonderful lot of way. I think my advice is be be compassionate with yourself. Um, be as kind to yourself as you would be to someone that you love who gave you their writing to read. Um, writers and artists in general tend to be very self flagellating. We kind of our tyrants to ourselves. We don't give ourselves time to grow into our art and you have to give you have to be be patient and compassionate towards yourself as unmuch as you are to those others that you love. You have to love yourself that much to give yourself time to grow. Yeah, yeah, okay, we have one more question for you, guys, but we have just a couple quick announcements to make, if you would give us just like two more minutes. Yeah, just a quick reminder of our writer's block podcast. Will always drop post links under announcements each time a new one drops. A new episode drops each Friday. On the last episode, Ron and Patty talked to Laura McCowan, the author of we are the luckiest. Laura has her own podcast called tell me something true, and she sure did that in that conversation. This Week Ron will talk to Dolan Perkins Valdez about her novel. Take my hand. This is your friendly weekly reminder to join the friends and fiction of Official Book Club if you have not yet. They are having a blast. Of course it's separate from us. It's run by Lisa Harrison and Brena Gardner, and there are thirteen thousand members in that book club right now, which we just we could not be happier for them or prouder of them. So they choose the books Brenda and Lisa, they host the author's Um, they have happy hours with our writer's block podcast host, Ron Block, and they keep everyone in the loop about suggested reads and upcoming releases. So the next author they have coming up, the book they're reading now, is one of our favorites here, Sally Hepworth. I know you guys all loved her when we had her on Um a few months ago, but she's going to be on in August fifteen discussing the younger wife. So make sure to join the book club. And don't forget that this is the last episode of our Spring and summer season and you two. I cannot even think of a better way to end. And absolutely already is sounding season. I feel very climped. But Anyway, after tonight show we will be taking a two week summer break to prepare for an outrageous fall season. Wait till y'all see who's going to be there. Wait till you see what we have in store for you and speaking of what we have in store for you, have...

...you heard that our new friends in fiction first edition box is now available, Um, from booktown in Manasquan and features signed hardback first editions from all three of us, in from all three, all four of us, get out, Christy, which one book is US get booted from the box without being told? Maybe it was me, I'm not really sure. Darling, friends and fiction teach Alibi Honkin, these edits done, okay, and making at three next year we will do at least for friends and fiction live, I said live events, one during each of our book tour. So stay tuned for news about those four events so you can mark your Canard. Just make your travel plans to join us as we take our show on the road in April, May and June and, I think, September. September, yeah, yeahsolutely. Okay, Jason and Jamie, back to you, Um, we have a question that we just love to ask that we always get the most exciting answers for. So what were the values around reading and writing when you were growing up? Um, Jamie, can you start us? Alf I'm sorry, I don't quite could you repeat the question for me? What were the values around reading and writing when you were growing up, like in your household or Oh, Oh dear Lord. Um, my my parents sent me to poetry camp in the fourth grade. So I had no escape. It was like they just said, we want you to be picked on more than any other child in that school. How can we make that happen? Let's send him the poetry camp and said a little memoir, Jamie. Yeah, so that's my my dad wanted me to be a fine artist and my mom wanted me to be at her and Um, I just had a very supportive parents that I believed. Um, you know, art saves people. How incredible, what a great background. That's awesome. What about you, Jason? Um? Yeah, it was pretty pretty much pushed very early on that like reading was a big deal. Um, one of the coolest things about growing up was we lived near this Um library that the children's section was an actual rail car, like they had like a full, full sized rail car attached to the library and the Children's section was in there. So with my mom and be in the small town, everyone knows everyone. So my mom needs to go shopping, which is a pretty far drive, she would drop me and my sister off at the library and after a while, the librarian. We walked in the door and the librarian would have literally a stack of books for each of us and that she had picked out personally for for us to read, and she would give us these stacks of books and we would go sit in this beautiful rail car and just read for the entire afternoon. That's how we spent our summers, was getting like a personalized reading list from this librarian and sitting in this very beautiful rail car reading all day. So that was how important reading was in my household. Jason, what small town? It was? A little town called Bolton in North Carolina, southeastern North Carolina, down near Wilmington. Actually. Okay, Jason, have you have you connected in adulthood with that librarian? I mean, does she know what it influenced me? No, she passed away some time ago. I have not hats, but she was a very, very large part of our community and part of my life and childhood. What a blessing to have someone like that. That's awesome. Well, Jamie, Jason, thank you so much for being our guest tonight. You guys have been just so inspiring and so incredible and, Um, we really could not have asked for better guests, for a better way Um to end this season of the show. So thank you so much and please come back. Yes, thanks for having me. Thank you so much. Good night. All right, everybody. Well, don't forget. You can find all of our back episodes on Youtube. We're live there every week, just like we are on facebook, and if you subscribe you won't miss a thing. Be Sure to come back. You'll probably want to rewatch this episode. I will sure to come back right here in two weeks on August, the start of our exciting fall season. But I think there's a couple of surprises on the to Wednesday night. Yeah, you can still stop by on Wednesdays at seven. We'll have it. They're still going to be some surprises. It just won't be the show. We've got cool stuff for you you can let you. Thank you for tuning in. You can join us every week on facebook or Youtube, where our live show airs on Wednesday nights at seven PM eastern time. Also, subscribe to our podcast and follow us on instagram. We're so glad you're here.

In-Stream Audio Search

NEW

Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (218)