What's New?
Search This Site

Follow me on Twitter @jamieford and on Instagram jamiefordofficial

Entries in Heroes (1)

Saturday
Nov262011

Who are your heroes?

I stumbled upon a truism today that I can’t get out of my mind. It’s that you can learn a lot about someone by knowing who their heroes are.

The more I thought about it, the more these names kept popping up. Sure, I’m a fan of Shakespeare, and Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, or Amy Winehouse and Erykah Badu, or just my older brother, Kirk, or my grandfather.

There are everyday heroes, in life, sports, or pop culture. But as a writer, for me, there’s these three. I guess they’re my literary heroes:

Harlan Ellison

To avoid the stress of my job and the struggles of my unhappy first marriage, I’d escape to a local bookstore that stayed open until midnight. While some guys drown their sorrows at the corner pub, I’d hit the bookstore and drank hot chocolate with mint, reading Harlan Ellison until they kicked me out. I’d discovered his seminal short fiction years earlier, but in my late 20s, I stumbled upon what I would argue is his best work, his non-fiction, his collections of essays (rantings, ramblings, spleen self-extractions—choose your own descriptor) that ran in the LA Free Press.

His voice, his rage, his humor, his…utter vulnerability, was unlike anything I’d ever read. These stories were unprocessed. Unvarnished. And as a young man I had struggled with my own inability to keep quiet—to fit in. Because of this, I found fellowship in Harlan’s writing.

Sure, when I finally spent time with Harlan, I told him it was his writing that made me want to become a writer, but truth-be-told, it was his honesty that made me take the blinders off my own life.

Sherman Alexie

The one comment that follows a lot of my book gigs is, “You were so funny!” 

I guess this is a surprise to many people because my writing (admittedly) is rather melancholic and also because most authors are expected to be as dry as a stale slice of unbuttered wheat toast—like an uninflected NPR announcer, droning on and on and on and on and on. Sadly, many are like that.

And I had the same reaction the first time I heard Sherman Alexie give a talk. He was so irreverent, and charming, and hysterically funny, it gave a whole new layer of authenticity to his writing—because I’m a firm believer that humor comes from emotional pain. Suddenly I saw the non-fiction roots of his made-up tales.

I’m funny. But Sherman is hilarious.

Pat Conroy

Conroy once said, “The greatest gift a writer can ever be given is an unhappy childhood.” If you’ve ever read The Great Santini, or My Losing Season, or The Prince of Tides, you’ll know that Pat was indeed a gifted child.

In my own case, I lost both of my parents in my early 30s—that alone was painful. But long before they passed, whether by sins of commission, or omission, they managed to leave cracks in my foundation that I still struggle with to this day. That Pat turned so many perceived weaknesses into strengths is a wonder to behold.

Okay, that’s me. Who are your heroes?