Jeffrey Ford’s stunning new collection of short fiction, Crackpot Palace, was published in August 2012, to great critical acclaim. It features twenty excursions into the weird and fantastic, including one never-before published story, The Wish Head. Ford is an American Fantasy, Science Fiction and Mystery writer. His work is characterized by a sweeping imaginative power, humor, literary allusion, and a fascination with tales told within tales. He is a graduate of Binghamton University, where he studied with the novelist John Gardner. He lives in southern New Jersey and teaches writing and literature at Brookdale Community College in Monmouth County. He has also taught at the summer Clarion Workshop for science fiction and fantasy writers in Michigan. He has contributed stories, essays and interviews to various magazines and e-magazines including MSS, Puerto Del Sol, Northwest Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Argosy, Event Horizon, Infinity Plus, Black Gate and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.
As a long-time Jeffrey Ford reader (and probably the only one to make a t-shirt based on one of his short stories, the eponymous entry in the The Drowned Life) Alvaro Zinos-Amaro had nine questions for Jeff upon finishing Crackpot Palace. Admittedly, these are slightly offbeat questions, in some cases only tangentially related to the stories; crackpot questions, one might say. SF Signal is happy to present these questions, as well as Jeffrey Ford’s answers, for our readers today.
Alvaro Zinos-Amaro: What inspired “The Wish Head” (other than the publication of Crackpot Palace and the opportunity to add a brand new story to it)?
Jeffrey Ford: I read this book a while ago titled A Brief History of the Smile by Angus Trumble, and in that book Trumble tells the story of L’Inconnue de la Seine (the unknown woman of the Seine). In addition to that historical tale, I added my vision of upstate New York in the autumn, and a time when the old factories built along the Susquehanna were caught in the grip of the great Depression.
JF: Laughton as Mr. White in The Shadow Year.
AZA: If steam’s the dream, what’s the nightmare?
AZA: If irony’s the engine of the world, what drives the underworld?
AZA: If you could ask Philip K. Dick nine questions (and he were to provide truthful answers), what would the fourth question be?
JF: I’d ask him what he thought about the fact that some people had built a life-like Philip K. Dick android. In gauging his reaction to the news and listening to his response it would answer the next 5 questions I’d have.
AZA: “A steep price for some pretty thin shit” is a line of dialog from “86 Deathdick Road” that cracked me up (and could double nicely as a book anti-blurb). What sentence in your own writing most recently made you laugh, and do you ever get feedback that your stories are funny?
JF: I think some people catch the humor. I can’t think of any particular sentence that made me laugh while writing recently, although I laugh pretty frequently. I don’t laugh so much at individual lines, more at those moments when you see clearly what the character is up to and you know you have the words to describe it. In those moments you more laugh with joy at the startling manner in which it’s all revealed.
AZA: What’s your favorite book or story by Jack Vance, and why? What, do you think, might he make of “The Coral Heart”?
JF: I’m not that familiar with Jack Vance’s fiction. I couldn’t say what he might make of it.
AZA: Please comment on your relationship with the works of José Saramago.
JF: I tried to read Saramago’s fiction many times before I finally fell in love with it. Each time I’d try to get through a book, I’d only make it a little ways in and then the lack of punctuation and even the very rhythms of the sentences seemed off-putting to me. I finally finished All the Names (which was good but a struggle for me to read) and then I didn’t try to read him again for a while, a few years. After that time I picked up Death With Interruptions and for some reason all the problems I’d had with the other books of his I’d tried didn’t seem to be an issue anymore. I enjoyed that novel and then went on to read The Elephant’s Journey, which I also enjoyed.
AZA: Derek Ford produced the beautifully twisted cover art for this collection. Have you written any stories to accompany his art, and, if not, is that something you might consider doing in the future?
JF: We haven’t done anything like that yet, but we talk about it sometimes. Maybe it’ll happen.
Alvaro Zinos-Amaro is the co-author, with Robert Silverberg, of When the Blue Shift Comes, a new novel in the Stellar Guild series of author team-ups, edited by Mike Resnick and published by Phoenix Pick (forthcoming Nov 2012). Alvaro grew up in Europe and has a BS in Theoretical Physics from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM). Alvaro is a Finalist of the Writers of the Future contest and his short fiction has appeared in various online venues. Alvaro has also published numerous reviews and critical essays in The New York Review of Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, The Internet Review of Science Fiction, Foundation, and elsewhere.