TOKYO - Jamie Ford admits he was taken aback by the runaway success of his debut novel "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" and was sidetracked for a while on his next work by the self-consciousness this produced.
But an invitation to write a story for a literary event led to the tale of an orphan boy who thinks he sees his mother in a movie, which grew into "Songs of Willow Frost", out last week.
Ford revisits historical Seattle in his story of William Eng, who travels through the Depression-era city in search of his mother Willow, whom he has not seen since she was carried half-dead out of their apartment when he was a child.
Ford spoke with Reuters about living up to a debut book that spent more than two years on the New York Times best seller list.
Q: How did you come up with the character of Willow?
A: She definitely took some time. I looked at that time period. I began with the orphanage and began with the character of William. This was coming 19 years after a flu epidemic and it seemed like a really volatile time. To place a Chinese woman here ... I guess I always sympathise with characters who are caught between worlds. I'm half-Chinese. I either never feel Chinese enough or never feel Caucasian enough.
It just seemed as if there was a bunch of really interesting history and Willow was a great character to walk the reader through all that. Plus, the more I read about (actress) Anna May Wong, the more I felt for her being a Chinese woman who had dalliances with white men - producers, directors - but because of miscegenation laws she could never marry a Caucasian man and she was really shunned by a lot of the Chinese community.