Jeffrey Ford's stories and novels have been nominated multiple times for awards such as, the World Fantasy Award, the Hugo Award, the Edgar Allan Poe Award and the Bram Stoker Award. Ford's latest novel, Twilight Pariah, was published in early September and he recently agreed to be interviewed by Daryl Maxwell for the Los Angeles Public Library.
What was your inspiration for The Twilight Pariah?
My friend, Bob Kline, is a carpenter in New York City. One afternoon we were sitting in his backyard on the West Side, and he told me about “the bottle boys,” the guys who dug out all the privies when private residences switched from outhouses to indoor plumbing around the 1930’s and later. He told me about all of the stuff they unearthed – loads of bottles, guns, false teeth, pipes, eye glasses, etc., and occasionally the remains of a child or adult. From there I did more research on the excavation of privies and discovered that it is practiced across the country and sometimes those who do it bring forth marvelous items from the America’s past.
How did the novella evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?
My fiction always changes and evolves in the act of writing. I don’t take notes and I don’t do detailed outlines. There’s nothing that I can think of that I loved so much I wished it was in there. Usually if that’s the case, I find a way to work it in.
Are Maggie, Russell, Luther and/or Henry inspired or based on specific individuals? What about Professor Medley or the Prewitts (especially Marlby)?
No, these characters come completely from my imagination. Perhaps there are connections to people I know, but not that I’m conscious of. Not to say that doesn’t happen in some of my other fictions. It always amazes me that characters are born full blown out of nothing but a thought. It’s one of the aspects of fiction writing that I find thrilling. Who are these people? They seem so fully formed, with histories and aspirations, that I’m always wondering where they’ve been staying in my mind all the while I didn’t “know” them.
What was your inspiration for the ghost/creature that is encountered?
I had a sense I wanted a ghost that was both frightening and sympathetic. The fact that the Pariah can instantly become manifest in a physical form in an instant and kill, I thought was scary. But its other side is that it is born from someone’s cruelty toward an innocent creature and that its motivations were noble in that it was searching for its child made it sympathetic to an extent. This novella has a number of dichotomies like that. It’s a horror story but it uses a lot of humor. And there are others. I want the reader to stay off kilter with the dual nature of characters and events. The ghost like entity with the swirling tentacles of smoke was lifted to an extent from an old movie, Haunted, where there is a scene where a spirit is moving down a path and is both defined and hard to delineate in that it’s edges are evaporating in fog and swirling around.
This story seems rich with multiple areas you could have explored to a greater degree. Why did you choose to execute The Twilight Pariah as a novella rather than a novel?
The publisher wanted a novella, and, honestly, the story wouldn’t have benefitted from a further inspection of those other areas. I wanted to concentrate in the piece on the friendship between the main group of characters. Among other things, the most important thing the story is about is that friendship bond.
What’s currently on your nightstand?
What was your favorite book when you were a child?
I was very partial to the Curious George books, the errant nature of his adventures, the sense of never knowing where he would go or what he would do next. One minute he’s huffing ether at the hospital, the next he’s tightrope walking across telephone lines. I still love fiction with an errant structure.
Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?
This changes every week but here’s a list for this week –
What is a book you've faked reading?
My eighth grade Social Studies text.
Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?
Maqroll by Alvaro Mutis (and it turned out to be a truly great one).
Is there a book that changed your life?
There are so many books that changed my life. The most important books were those that my father read to me when I was a child. He’d come in from his job at the machine shop, sit at the end of the bed, and read 19th century adventure novels to me. That experience was so vivid it made me want to be a writer. It wasn’t that those books were so great, but it was the time with him and the vivid images they sparked in my imagination.
Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?
The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf – funny, crazy, ultra-weird, ultra-creepy.
Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?
100 Years of Solitude – a revelation when I read it back in the late 70’s.
What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?
Traveling with my wife, Lynn, just driving off and exploring down remote roads, no rush to get anywhere, seeing what we see.
What are you working on now?
I’ll soon be editing a novel I have coming out from Morrow/Harper Collins next year – Ahab’s Return, Or The Last Voyage. Also currently writing a new novella for a press I’ve not yet ever published with. Can’t say on that one, though. It’s under wraps.