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June 2008
Locus Magazine
Jeffrey Ford: Shadow Years
Jeffrey Ford was born in West Islip, New York, and attended New York State University, Binghamton, where he studied with John Gardner, who published Ford's first story, "The Casket", in 1981. Ford published first novel Vanitas in 1988, then stopped writing novels to take care of his family for several years until publishing alternate-world fantasy The Physiognomy (1997), first in the Well-Built City trilogy and winner of the World Fantasy Award. Sequels Memoranda (1999) and The Beyond (2001) followed. Standalone The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque appeared in 2002, and The Girl in the Glass (2005) was a Nebula finalist and winner of an Edgar Award for best mystery. His most recent novel, The Shadow Year, is partly an expansion of World Fantasy Award-winning novella "Botch Town" (2006).

Ford continues to produce quality short fiction, and has won or been nominated for many of the major SF/F awards. Creation" (2002) won the World Fantasy Award; novelette "The Empire of Ice Cream" (2003) won the Nebula Award; "The Annals of Eelin-Ok" (2004) won the Fountain Award;
Photo by Amelia Beamer

Jeffrey Ford's Homepage
and "Boatman's Holiday" (2005) won an International Horror Guild Award. His stories have been collected in World Fantasy Award-winning collection The Fantasy Writer's Assistant and Other Stories (2002), World Fantasy nominee The Empire of Ice Cream (2006), and The Drowned Life, coming in November 2008.
Excerpts from the interview:

“When I'm writing, it almost comes like a dream. I just get into it and see the different incidents. One moment gives way to another, and I get this sense of excitement. It's almost like discovering my own past again as I go through it, like an archaeological dig where one thing leads you to the next: 'Oh my god! I'd forgotten about this stuff!'

“Being able to see the story in my head goes right back to when my father used to read books to us when we were kids. The stories was so vivid to me, I had to learn how to do it, had to learn how to make that kind of magic. When I read something good or hear somebody read a story that's really effective, I can see it so clearly in front of me. And when I write, time just passes. When I was a little younger, I could sit down at ten o'clock at night and then it would be three in the morning, and it felt like only ten or fifteen minutes had gone by. Very energizing!”


“I saw John Cage one time talking about this. He said, 'Find something that doesn't interest you at all and study it for 15 minutes. At the end of 15 minutes, if it doesn't move you or anything, study it for a half hour. If after the end of that it doesn't move you, study it for an hour, two hours. At some point, that thing becomes the most interesting thing.' I often think about that, and I always talk to my students about it, because so often they have these knee-jerk reactions that have been ingrained in them so they won't give something a chance -- 'A teacher showed me this, it's got to be bullshit.'”


“I never take notes, never write outlines, none of that. I like it to mix in my head. I'm working when I'm at the grocery store picking out melons. It's all up there, and I figure if I forget about it, it probably wasn't worth remembering anyway. That's the way I work. I don't think things like journals are bad; I just don't use 'em. Some people have special little notebooks and pens -- whatever works for you.”


The Girl in the Glass was actually written because I couldn't finish The Shadow Year. A lot of The Shadow Year is based on my life -- it's very personal. I started writing it and then I got stuck. It wasn't anything too traumatic, but I wanted to really get down what had happened. I said 'I can't write this now,' so I switched and wrote Girl in the Glass.

“The first time I finished The Shadow Year, it was too subtle. Nobody could figure out what the hell was going on. Then, with a lot of encouragement from my editor Jennifer Brehl, I went back to it. She said, 'Here's the secret: it's fiction. Make it a story.' So when I went back I kept that in mind, and that allowed me to finish it. Before that it was really kind of a memoir (god forbid). It's based on the novella 'Botch Town'. Many of my stories are ideas I couldn't sell for novels, but this thing was kind of a fluke. In the book, the original novella is changed quite a bit, but the basics are the same.”


“The older I get, the more fantastic the world seems. I thought by this time everything would be realism and drab logic and I would have figured out all the mysteries, but the older I get, the stranger it seems. I see things as greater mysteries than I ever did before. The fantastic part of a story is like a manifestation of those instances, feelings, phenomena that there isn't a ready vocabulary to describe. There are a lot of them -- synchronicities, prophetic dreams, natural wonders. People don't talk about them because they can't find the words. That's what I like about the genre the most, the ability to express things metaphorically through the fantastic.”

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