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Jeffrey Ford
Alexander C. Irvine

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Jeffrey Ford : Transcending Perceptions July 2004

Jeffrey Ford worked as a clammer for several years before completing college with degrees in English, studying with John Gardner, who published Ford’s first story "The Casket" in 1981. Ford worked toward a Ph.D. but in 1988 took a teaching position at Brookdale Community College in Monmouth County, New Jersey, and has been there ever since. His first novel, Vanitas, was published in 1988, followed by stories in small literary and genre publications. Ford's next novel, The Physiognomy (1997), won the World Fantasy Award. Sequels Memoranda followed in 1999 and The Beyond in 2001. Standalone novel The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque appeared in 2002. Numerous recent stories have been award nominees, with “Creation” winning the World Fantasy Award in 2003 and “The Empire of Ice Cream” winning the Nebula Award in 2004. Collections include The Fantasy Writer's Assistant and Other Stories (2002), also a World Fantasy Award winner, and forthcoming The Empire of Ice Cream due in 2006.    
Photo by Beth Gwinn

Jeffrey Ford's Homepage

Excerpts from the interview:

“I don't really distinguish literary from genre writing. Works laboring under either of these artificial labels can be great or lousy. Basically, I don't have time for these arguments and I just have to pay attention to the work — I want to do what I want to do and basically that's all I want to do. I've tried to write strictly to make money, but I can't do it. Not that I have anything against making money (lord knows) or people who do that specifically — actually, I'm kind of in awe of them. It's just not the thing I do. I also have a hard time delineating the difference between SF and fantasy. Both attempt to transcend everyday perceptions. I do recognize that classic difference between a scientific method where you're going out and collecting empirical data and Plato's concept where you contain all the information of the universe and you look inward for answers. It's not that one mode of inquiry is better; they both genuinely work. But the best is when they meld together. I like to get an idea that has some kind of metaphorical resonance to the characters' lives or their situations. If you make the connection between these two, it makes for a good story.”


“A lot of my novels are really about perception, seeing the world. Eyes, and masks, and hiding in Mrs. Charbuque. The Physiognomy is about the same thing: surface and how you see the world. In the stories I'm trying to describe things I can't really come right out and say, these ineffable moments that you can't really describe. (That's what I'm shooting for in the stories — sometimes. Sometimes I just get an idea I think will be funny!) There are situations in life where you cannot quite name the experience — you don't have the emotional maturity, or intelligence, or there is no way to name it. (Not ghosts, but you could call them supernatural events or phenomena, in interactions between people.) You don't know how to describe the situation, so you tell a story around it to bring out that thing you couldn't name before.”


“In The Physiognomy, I was dealing with the idea that in this culture what's important is the surface, not what's inside. In Memoranda, you have to read the world by the surface and understand what its secret is. There are situations like that, where you're called on to read the landscape and make a move and you don't have time to delve into the depth of things. The last one, The Beyond, is really about being out in the world, and you have to use both those techniques to read your way through that adventure. When I started, I knew writing a trilogy was going to be an unpopular, decidedly unhip thing to do, especially if you were not interested in writing a traditional trilogy. But screw it, that's what I wanted to do! The Physiognomy was published as literature, reviewed as science fiction and fantasy, and basically fell through the cracks. If it hadn't won a World Fantasy Award, I'm sure I would never have gotten a chance to write the second one.”


“Science fiction is transcendentalism, showing the universe in a different way. The fantastic has a way of putting you off guard, breaking the chains of the way you normally see things. There are different techniques writers use: sometimes they lure you into it, sometimes they put you off with a thing that's disturbing. But it allows you to see the world in a way that's not the everyday, and once you're in that place you might catch the fact that there are things going on around you that you wouldn't normally notice. Art is an outward manifestation of someone's inner emotions, a material manifestation of what they have inside in an attempt to share it with other people. (That's the way I think about it today, but maybe next week it will be different.)”


“Currently, I'm finishing a novel, The Girl in the Glass. It takes place in 1932, the Depression, along the Gold Coast of Long Island, and is about con men who put on séances for the grieving rich. The head of the confidence operation is quite cynical, but during one of the séances he believes he sees a real ghost of a girl whom he later discovers has been murdered. The ensuing mystery involves the Ku Klux Klan (huge on Long Island throughout the '20s) and a eugenics lab in Cold Spring Harbor, funded by Henry Ford (a major anti-Semite) and prominent US banks. The writing is a departure for me — much more pared down, more dialogue, less florid. I was very influenced in writing this by Dashiell Hammett, especially The Thin Man.”

The full interview, with biographical profile, is published in the July 2004 issue of Locus Magazine.

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