The seed of Great Falls author Jamie Ford’s latest novel, Love and Other Consolation Prizes, was a story of a baby raffled off at the Alaska–Yukon–Pacific Exposition, the world’s fair in Seattle in 1909.
“Somebody Will Draw Baby As Prize,” proclaimed the Seattle Times.
The fair itself, on the grounds of what is now the University of Washington, also held some fascination for Ford, who grew up in part in Seattle. He wanted to reclaim some of this history that appeared forgotten on the campus.
“We pave over our history and forget,” Ford said.
While Ford could have taken those histories and crafted a light love story, that is not his style. His goal in writing is to “give people’s empathy muscles a workout.”
“I think that makes the world a better place,” he said.
Ford’s characters are often destitute and overlooked by the upper-crust of society. They are immigrants and sex workers and often women.
“I grew up really poor and I think, unfortunately, poor people have more stories,” Ford said. “I like characters that have had to fight and scrap to survive, or just be accepted and understood.”
The boy is a half-Chinese immigrant, sent by his mother on a ship bound for America.
“I write to explore what my own family went through,” explained Ford, who is also half-Chinese.
In his first novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Ford said he told a Japanese story through a Chinese lens. He was terrified of telling a story based in Chinese lore, or at least scared of the wrath of his “aunties” should he get it wrong.
In Love and Other Consolation Prizes, the boy is given the name Ernest Young and after years of boarding school is raffled at the fair. The winning ticket is held by the madam of a brothel in the growing city. There, Ernest falls in love with two women in a twist Ford said was in part inspired by a teenage crush on a set of twins.
“It didn’t work out,” he said with a laugh.
The story alternates between Ernest’s story at the time of the Alaska–Yukon–Pacific Exposition, and his recollection of his youth as Seattle is set to host another world’s fair, the Century 21 Exhibition in 1962. It draws from a series of real people in Seattle’s history to craft a story that humanizes their experience.
“I guess I like the stories that haven’t been told,” Ford said.