Ford, Jeffrey 1955–

views updated

Ford, Jeffrey 1955–


Born November 8, 1955; married Lynn Gallagher, 1979; children: Jackson, Derek. Education: Attended community college; State University of New York, Binghamton, B.A., M.A.; doctoral studies at Temple University, Philadelphia, PA.


Home—Medford Lakes, NJ.


Writer and educator. Brookdale Community College, Monmouth County, NJ, writing and literature teacher. Previously worked at various jobs, including clammer, machine shop worker, truck loader, security guard, and bar worker.


World Fantasy Award, 1998, for The Physiognomy; Hugo Award nomination for best short story, World Science Fiction Society, 2003, for "Creation"; World Fantasy Award for best short story for "Creation," and for best collection for The Fantasy Writer's Assistant and Other Stories, both 2003; Nebula Award for best novelette and Hugo Award nomination for best novelette, both 2004, both for The Empire of Ice Cream; World Fantasy Award for best novella, for "Botch Town."


Vanitas, Space and Time (New York, NY), 1988.

The Fantasy Writer's Assistant and Other Stories, Golden Gryphon Press (Urbana, IL), 2002.

The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, Morrow (New York, NY), 2002.

The Girl in the Glass, Dark Alley/HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.

The Cosmology of the Wider World, PS Publishing (East Yorkshire, England), 2005.

The Empire of Ice Cream (short stories), with an introduction by Jonathan Carroll, Golden Gryphon Press (Urbana, IL), 2006.

The Shadow Year, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2008.

The Drowned Life, Harper Perennial (New York, NY), 2008.


The Physiognomy, Avon Eos (New York, NY), 1997.

Memoranda, Avon Eos (New York, NY), 1999.

The Beyond, Avon Eos (New York, NY), 2001.

Author of numerous short stories, including "Creation" "At Reparata," which was included in The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror Volume 13, and "The Green Word," which appeared in the anthology The Green Man and Other Tales of the Mythic Wood, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, Penguin. Contributor to periodicals, including Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Puerto del Sol. Several of the author's novels have been published in French.


Jeffrey Ford is a fantasy writer whose first novel, Vanitas, is the story of the brilliant inventor Scarfinati, who is killed by young Caroline. Scarfinati's dormant inventions are called upon to bring him back from the dead. A Science Fiction Chronicle reviewer called Vanitas a "very strange first novel, full of bizarre images and situations."

The Physiognomy is the first book of the "Well-Built City" trilogy. The protagonist, Physiognomist First Class Cley, is trained in the science that reveals everything about a person, including his or her thoughts, through body and facial shapes. Cley's job is to alter aspects of a person by cutting and reshaping their face in accordance with physiognomic principles. Cley himself is addicted to a drug called "sheer beauty," which produces dreams that cannot be distinguished from reality. Cley works under orders from Drachton Below, Master of the borderless "Well-Built City." Below sends him to Anamasobia, a remote mining town where the miners turn into blue statues as they mine the mineral blue spire. The miners have discovered the mummy of the Traveler, who had held a white fruit that is supposed to bring immortality to its owner and is now missing. In interrogating the miners, Cley meets Arla, who changes the life of the drugged servant of Below. Below sends in troops to kill the people and capture Arla, the Traveler, the fruit, and Cley, whom he condemns to work in the sulfur mines, guarded by the diabolical Corporal Matters. Cley is later pardoned, is reintroduced to drugs, and returns to the "Well-Built City," where Below has found and eaten the fruit. Cley has confronted the truth about his profession and now seeks to overthrow Below and save Arla and the Traveler.

A Publishers Weekly contributor noted "Ford's evident, childlike delight in his alter-world." Booklist contributor Ray Olson called The Physiognomy "colorful and fast-paced quest fantasy." Gerald Jonas noted in the New York Times Book Review that Ford "writes equally well about the scientific cult of precision and the acceptance of ambiguity." Some reviewers were of the opinion that although The Physiognomy can be read as either science fiction or fantasy, it does not fit into either genre. A Kirkus Reviews writer called the novel "seriously, logically, stunningly surreal: a compact, richly textured, enthralling fantasy debut."

In Memoranda, Cley lives in an agrarian society in the primitive village of Wenau where he dedicates his life to herbal healing. When a sleeping sickness released by Below spreads through the village via an exploding mechanical bird, Cley returns to the fallen Well-Built City to seek the cure, fights off werewolves and birds, and finds Below has succumbed to his own plague. Misrix, a demon sired by Below, suggests that Cley enter Below's mind where a symbol for the cure can be found. In Below's "memory palace," memories and thoughts are seen as living things. The question is whether or not Cley can survive the dangers of Below's memory and the dying man's disintegrating mind.

A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "reading Ford's descriptions of Below's bizarre subconscious is like stepping into a Dali painting. Ford's symbolic view of memory and desire is as intriguing as it is haunting." The reviewer called Memoranda "a worthy sequel" to The Physiognomy.

The Beyond is the final novel in the trilogy. This time, Cley, along with his dog Wood, ventures beyond the Well-Built City to find a mysterious world with ghosts, unseen monsters, and trees that eat anything. Cley's quest is narrated by the demon Misrix, who also tells his own story as he is in pursuit of Cley. Davidson Taylor, writing in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, commented that the novel is "strong from beginning to end." Library Journal contributor Jackie Cassada noted Ford's "elegant style and Kafkaesque prose." Writing in Publishers Weekly, a reviewer commented: "Ford's graphic imagination is as powerful as ever."

Following the completion of his trilogy, Ford next presented The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, a historical thriller set in New York City in 1893. The story revolves around a portraitist named Piero Piambo, who is offered the mysterious job of painting a Mrs. Charbuque and then must paint the lady sight unseen as she sits behind a screen. Piambo's only way to devise what she looks like is to ask her questions. Mrs. Charbuque claims to be psychic, and Piambo begins to suspect there may be a relationship between his mysterious subject and macabre deaths caused by a parasite that causes its victims to shed blood instead of tears. The plot is "chillingly surreal with occasional lapses into downright silliness, but by and large Ford keeps the pages turning," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Emily Lloyd, writing in the School Library Journal, noted: "This book is smart, spellbinding, and sure to knock any teen's favorite suspense/horror tale from top place to second."

The author presents sixteen of his short stories in The Fantasy Writer's Assistant and Other Stories, including "Creation," a fantasy story about growing up Catholic. Roland Green wrote in Booklist that the stories are "far too good to be left languishing in moldering obscurity in magazines and chapbooks." A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the book is "sure to be one of the keynote collections of the year."

Ford presents another thriller in The Girl in the Glass. The story revolves around a group of con artists who, through a phony mystic who calls himself Ondoo, steal money from rich Long Islanders in 1932. When the head of the group, Thomas Schell, sees an apparition in a glass that may be a missing girl, he thinks that perhaps he has received a sign that mysticism is real. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that the author "romps engagingly here—his Schell an intriguing scoundrel, as if Sherlock Homes had a Moriarity taint in his gene pool." Whitney Scott, writing in Booklist, noted the novel's "whacked-out humor and compelling suspense."

The Cosmology of the Wider World is a longtime project that Ford worked on periodically over the years. "The impetus for the book was me looking around at the different kinds of subject matter that was prevalent in Fantasy literature at the time and saying, ‘What's the one kind of story you would least like to write? What's the corniest, most groan inducing crapola on the market?,’" the author noted in an interview for the Fantasybookspot. com Web site. "And whether this was true for anyone else but me at the time, I don't know, but I came up with ‘the talking animal story.’ So I decided to write a beast epic and see if I could make it work."

The story features a minotaur named Belius who is born to a human couple. Belius eventually enters the "Wider World," which is occupied by talking animals. A writer, Belius begins working on a book telling all about the new world he has entered. Writing for the Emerald City Web site, a contributor noted that "this is a really lovely story and it works very well, talking animals and all."

In his 2006 short-story collection titled The Empire of Ice Cream, the author presents a wide gamut of stories, many of which feature everyday life that suddenly mixes with the metaphysical. For example, the collection includes the novella "The Botch Town," which won the World Fantasy Award for best novella. The coming-of-age tale features a young boy who lives on Long Island in the 1960s and who experiences, along with his family and friends, a number of threats, some of them real and some not. Other stories include a tale about musician who, while daydreaming over a cup of coffee, encounters another world, and a story featuring a fairy who tells about living in a sand castle as the tide changes. Like his first short-story collection, The Fantasy Writer's Assistant and Other Stories, each story is followed by an afterword in which the author writes about how the story came about.

"The Empire of Ice Cream is an intriguing and diverse collection that only further solidifies Ford's overall mastery of the short story," wrote a contributor to the Web site. Rose Fox, writing for the Strange Horizons Web site, noted: "In direct opposition to the escapist majority, Ford makes sure you never forget that you are a reader entering into a peculiar transaction with an author, and he insists on obtaining your explicit consent to having your world turned inside out and upside down."

For his novel The Shadow Year, the author returns to the characters first written about in his novella "The Botch Town." Botch Town is actually a cardboard replica of the community that a young boy lives in on Long Island. Botch Town has all of the community's buildings and numerous clay and wire figures that represent the boy's neighbors and friends. As the story progresses, various odd things begin to happen, including reports of a prowler stalking their neighborhood and the school librarian suddenly becoming psychotic. When the young boy and his older brother, Jim, find out that their sister, Mary, has been rearranging the figures in Botch Town, they soon connect the strange occurrences to Mary's adjustments.

"As the novel switches between actual incidents involving these people and changes in the configuration of their effigies in Botch Town, an eerie tension takes hold," noted a contributor to the Washington Post Book World. "The prose deepens one's sense of foreboding." Calling The Shadow Year "an intriguing story," BookLoons Web site contributor Hilary Williamson also commented: "Read it for sixties nostalgia … but also to appreciate how the children's overactive imaginations turn out to hold a great deal of truth, as they keep … secrets from the busy adults around them."



Booklist, September 1, 1997, Ray Olson, review of The Physiognomy, p. 67; June 1, 2002, Roland Green, review of The Fantasy Writer's Assistant and Other Stories, p. 1696; July, 2005, Whitney Scott, review of The Girl in the Glass, p. 1898; March 15, 2006, Regina Schroeder, review of The Empire of Ice Cream, p. 35; March 1, 2008, David Pitt, review of The Shadow Year, p. 49.

Boston Globe, April 6, 2008, Amanda Heller, "Short Takes," review of The Shadow Year.

California Bookwatch, June, 2006, review of The Empire of Ice Cream.

Internet Bookwatch, May, 2006, review of The Empire of Ice Cream.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1997, review of The Physiognomy, p. 1073; April 1, 2002, review of The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, p. 440; June 15, 2005, review of The Girl in the Glass, p. 655; March 1, 2008, review of The Shadow Year.

Library Journal, January 1, 2001, Jackie Cassada, review of The Beyond, p. 163; February 1, 2008, Kellie Gillespie, review of The Shadow Year, p. 62.

M2 Best Books, April 19, 2004, "2003 Nebula Award Winners Announced."

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1, 2006, James Sallis, "The Line Between," includes review of The Empire of Ice Cream, p. 48; May 1, 2008, Elizabeth Hand, review of The Shadow Year, p. 31.

New York Times Book Review, November 2, 1997, Gerald Jonas, review of The Physiognomy, p. 36; August 28, 2005, "Huckster Finn," review of The Girl in the Glass, p. 17.

Publishers Weekly, July 28, 1997, review of The Physiognomy, p. 53; September 13, 1999, review of Memoranda, p. 65; December 18, 2000, review of The Beyond, p. 60; April 15, 2002, review of The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, p. 40, and review of The Fantasy Writer's Assistant and Other Stories, p. 46; May 30, 2005, review of The Girl in the Glass, p. 33; February 20, 2006, review of The Empire of Ice Cream, p. 140.

Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO), March 21, 2008, Mark Graham, Jane Dickinson and Jennifer Miller, "Specialty Bookshelf: Reviews of Mystery, Fantasy and Children's Titles," review of The Shadow Year.

School Library Journal, January, 2003, Emily Lloyd, review of The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, p. 174.

Science Fiction Chronicle, June, 1988, review of Vanitas, p. 49.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel, June 1, 2001, Davidson Taylor, review of The Beyond.

Washington Post Book World, March 30, 2008, review of The Shadow Year, p. BW6.


ActuSF, (July 26, 2008), "Interview de Jeffrey Ford VO."

Agony, (February 21, 2006), Rick Kleffel, reviews of The Beyond and The Physiognomy.

Blog Critics, (June 1, 2008), review of The Shadow Year.

BookLoons, (July 27, 2008), Hilary Williamson, review of The Shadow Year.

BookPage, (February 21, 2006), Gavin J. Grant, "Picture Perfect Suspense: Jeffrey Ford Captures the Gritty Landscape of 1890s New York," interview with author.

Emerald City, (July 27, 2008), review The Cosmology of the Wider World., (July 27, 2008), review of The Empire of Ice Cream; "On the Spot at Fantasybookspot: Jeffrey Ford," interview with author.

Infinity Plus, (February 21, 2006), John Grant, review of The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque; Jeff VanderMeer, "An Interview with Jeffrey Ford."

Jeffrey Ford Home Page, (February 21, 2006)., (June 20, 2002), Suzy Hansen, review of The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque.

Science Fiction Crowsnest, (January 3, 2008), Charles Tan, "The Physiognomy of Jeff Ford.", (February 21, 2006), Nick Gevers, interview with author.

SFRevu, (July 7, 2008), Colleen Cahil, "Interview: Jeffrey Ford."

SF Site, (February 21, 2006), Nick Gevers, "In a Vision of the Drama: An Interview with Jeffrey Ford."

Strange Horizons, (April 12, 2006), Rose Fox, review of The Empire of Ice Cream.