Thanks to a series in Seattle called “Bedtime Stories,” sponsored by the nonprofit Humanities Washington, author Jamie Ford wrote a short story that changed his writing direction. Although working on what he thought would be his second novel, he decided to write something original for the event. “I was doing a bunch of research and stumbled across mention of an orphanage in Seattle during the Depression. About two-thirds of the kids there had living parents—people would basically consign their children over to the orphanage hoping they’d be able to come back and retrieve their child at some point.” He discovered that writer and environmentalist Wallace Stegner and his brother spent nine months there, and he was intrigued by his findings. “I just knocked out 12 pages and read it at this event. The reaction was so positive that I just threw myself into this new story and here we are now.”

Songs of Willow Frost (Ballantine, Sept. ) takes place in Depression-era Seattle, focusing on a young Chinese-American orphan and his search for the Chinese actress he believes is his long-lost mother. Ford’s bestselling first novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, took place in the 1940s. Asked what it was about earlier periods in history that appealed to him, Ford replied, “I like old movies, I like the decorum of the past. There was a different social veneer and something else below the surface that created a really interesting dynamic. I could write books so much faster if I wrote them in a contemporary setting, but I like turning over the rocks and looking at the squishy things underneath when it comes to history.”

Ford told Show Daily what he hopes readers will take away from his latest book. “I hope they find there’s about 50% entertainment, 40% education, and maybe 10% enlightenment. I would also like readers to have an appreciation for what previous generations went through—especially those in a minority or a woman. There’s a famous Seattle restaurateur named Ruby Chow who was born on the docks in downtown Seattle because at the time Chinese women were not allowed in Caucasian hospitals. And that’s just a generation and a half behind us. It’s very easy for us to take certain things for granted.”

This is Ford’s first time at Book Expo. “I think I’ll be a small fish in a big pond. It will be interesting to commune with other writers, people in the industry, and readers.” He will be signing galleys today at the Random House booth (2739), 10–11 a.m.