EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Jeffrey Ford Talks About ‘Ganesha’
[Interviewer's Note: This is a series of interviews featuring the contributors of The Beastly Bride: Tales of the Animal People edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.]
Jeffrey Ford is the author of the novels The Physiognomy, Memoranda, and The Beyond, The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, The Girl in the Glass, and The Shadow Year. His short fiction has been published in three collections: The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant, The Empire of Ice Cream, and The Drowned Life. His fiction has won The World Fantasy Award, The Nebula Award, The Edgar Allan Poe Award, and Gran Prix de l’Imaginaire. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons and teaches Literature and Writing at Brookdale Community College.
Charles Tan: Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, the style of your story “Ganesha” style feels very different from your other stories. How did you finally
settle on this technique?
Jeffrey Ford: The only thing I remember is that since the center of the story is this teenage girl, living in New Jersey, who fixates on the figure of Ganesha, perhaps having read about him in a book or on-line, I thought that, because of growing up where she did and when (now), she would envision the God, for better or worse, somewhat in the style of Disney. Other than that I can’t remember what I was thinking.
CT: What’s the appeal of the “Destroyer of Obstacles” for you?
JF: Ganesha’s personality contains everything from the human to the cosmic. He has a sense of humor. He’s a god of creativity and great power. When you grow up, as I did, in the Catholic religion, God’s a lot about judgment. Where a Western God judges, Ganesha assists.
CT: In your afterword, you mentioned how you had some trepidation tackling Ganesha. How did you finally overcome the challenges in writing this story?
JF: I’d been researching the figure for a while, thinking about writing a story about him but never really feeling like I’d gotten to the bottom of things. While I was looking into this stuff, I had a student in my writing class, an older guy. He was a retired doctor who’d been born and raised in India. He was a good guy, had a great sense of humor. We used to talk after class a lot. One day I asked him about Ganesha. He knew a lot about the God and pointed out certain authentic texts on the internet about him. He also had some cool ideas about Ganesha’s significance in the modern world. At the end of the semester, after the last class, I asked him what he thought about my writing the story. He didn’t say anything for a while, but eventually he said, “If you write it with an open heart, Ganesha will accept it.” In the moment, I thought, “Solid,” but on the drive home that day a question slowly dawned on me, namely, “What the hell did he mean by ‘an open heart’?” I never saw the doctor again, but I thought about his statement for a long time before I could write the story.
CT: What made you decide to include a poem in the story? Was it difficult writing it?
JF: The girl in the story writes poetry and one of her poems plays a part in the story. I found I couldn’t avoid reproducing that poem. It didn’t have to be on a par with Wallace Stevens, it just had to be ok for a bright teenager. Given my poetry skills as I understand them, I could inadvertently be dissing bright teenagers everywhere.
CT: What’s the appeal of the Beastly Bride concept for you?
JF: I recently listened to the audio book of Ovid’s Metamorphosis on my drive to work. An epic intersection of gods and humans and animals. The impulse to create these kinds of stories is an ancient one. Beyond that, the reasons are obvious — an anthology edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling with art by Charles Vess. I’m sorry to say, I believe this is the last volume in this YA series. The Green Man, The Faerie Reel, Coyote Road, I had the greatest time writing for these books and a better time reading them.
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