Great Falls author Jamie Ford says it took him years to emerge from the shadow of his first book, the New York Times bestseller “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.”
Now he’s traded that shadow for an even bigger one.
On August 15, Ford appeared on the Today Show after being cast by co-host Jenna Bush Hager for the Read with Jenna Book Club.
If that wasn’t enough, Bush Hager has announced that his production company has tapped Ford’s new book, “Afong Moy’s Many Daughters,” for a TV series.
The book isn’t Ford’s first that has been opted for the screen, but production on “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” has stalled for years. Ford said Bush Hager’s option seems much more possible.
“I feel like Cinderella and the clock will never strike midnight,” Ford told Bush Hager on the show.
Ford was more excited than nervous to be on Today, he said, but it still wasn’t his usual auteur adventure. He had a driver who took him from the hotel to the studio – a total distance of about five blocks. He was taken to a secret, unmarked entrance to the studio. His dressing room was next to Sheryl Crow, although he couldn’t meet her.
“Everyone, they just take great care of you,” Ford said. “(Bush Hager and Hoda Kotb) are very disarming, and then I realized that if someone wants to be a Today Show personality, they have to be outgoing. You have to be very approachable and genuine.”
Ford followed up the appearance with a longer interview that aired on Xfinity and an evening bookstore event.
Compared to his first book, which was a dormant success, Ford said the immediate momentum of this book was a relief because you never know how a work will fare until it’s released. He said he still had some remaining insecurities after his last book, which was not as well received.
“It wasn’t until I was walking around Times Square looking at the billboard that I turned to my agent and said, ‘I think this book might be OK. I’m starting to believe it now,'” he said.
Ford found he was going to be on Today in an unconventional way. He said he was on Zoom with a library, talking to the librarian and about 40 patrons — a regular gig, in other words.
Afterwards, he received a message from his publicist saying that his book was being considered for the show and that there had been a group of producers listening to the Zoom call.
“And that’s how I found out,” he laughs.
Ford calls his latest book his “epigenetic love story.” He said it’s a book about hereditary trauma that features Afong Moy, the first known Chinese woman in the United States. Ford created ancestors and descendants for Afong Moy to shape an intergenerational story that is both historical and speculative.
“The Many Daughters of Afong Moy,” which features six point-of-view characters in six different time periods, is set around the world and is not written chronologically. It meant a ton of research and juggling on Ford’s part to make it work.
“This one, I really wanted to throw the training wheels on and write a much more complicated book,” Ford said. “If my first book was my freshman book, this is my senior book.”
Ford said he had known Afong Moy since the 1990s and wanted to write about her. However, her story has a tragic ending and not much is known about her life.
Afong Moy has given performances across America giving audiences elements of Chinese culture, including foot binding, the use of chopsticks, and traditional Chinese songs and clothing. She was featured in hundreds of newspapers, Ford said, but never in her own voice. Instead, the people who monetized her spoke for her.
Ford said that Afong Moy was celebrated and had fame, “and yet she had no autonomy, so she really lived in a gilded cage”.
Through his novel, Ford had the chance to extend his story and give his descendants a more redemptive ending. Ford said he is often asked what he does to create authentic female characters.
“The specific thing I did was live my whole life as a very sensitive, overly emotional person,” he said. “Being that proto-emo kid in high school who cries over sad movies isn’t a beneficial high school trait, more about how far you can throw a soccer ball and how hard you can do bench press. But this sensitivity, I thought was my weakness, but it became my super power as an adult.
Ford said he also had an outstanding editor, and he couldn’t imagine a man editing his books.
Continuing today did not make Ford nervous. Instead, it was a four-minute video about him and his life that gave him a sleepless night before his release. He said he hadn’t been able to see it before it went public, so it was a nerve-wracking experience. The end result, however, blew him away. He said he absolutely loved her.
Ford still lives in Great Falls, and he talked a bit about the level of world fame he received. When he went on Today, he signed a copy for Bush Hager’s mother, former First Lady Laura Bush. He calls this feeling “surreal”.
“It’s weird,” he said. “I just like to write books. I like the writing process. It feels good. The fact that someone else wants to read them and they have nice things to say is like the icing on the cake. But the cake itself is quite filling.
Ford has gotten pretty used to his fame in the United States, but he said he was blown away to receive emails from readers in other countries where his books have been translated. He also enjoys getting feedback from people from the same culture as his characters, as they have a deeper level of understanding of his writing.
Some highlights of Ford’s nationwide book tour so far include its launch in Seattle. It was in the same bookstore that his first book was launched, completing this part of Ford’s history.
At a recent engagement in Denver, Ford said he was shown a group of books with misprinted covers because the cyan ink was fading.
“It was like a Life Savers pack,” Ford said. “It was so cool. It’s a silly little thing but I was just thrilled to see it.
Ford has been traveling extensively on this book tour, so he’s excited to be heading home for his August 25 author event at Cassiopeia Books downtown.
“It’s cool to be here, but it’s also cool to do an event in Cassiopeia, see a lot of people in the crowd that I know and then sleep in my own bed,” he said. .