The last time author Jamie Ford came to the Savannah Book Festival, he had just released his debut novel, "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet."

His historical nonfiction book is centered around Seattle's Japantown and the Japanese internment camps in the Pacific Northwest. It went on to win the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature and is now being made into a movie -"Star Trek" actor George Takei has signed on to executive produce the project.

But Ford admits that coming back to this year's festival with his latest novel, "Love and Other Consolation Prizes" is somewhat bittersweet.

"For me, my memories of coming to the Savannah Book Festival are bittersweet because the last time I was there, I saw Pat Conroy in person," Ford says. "He is one of my literary idols. At the time I met him, I was an up-and-coming writer ⦠and despite being surrounded by lots of big-name authors ⦠he came across the room and gave me a big hug. That's probably my favorite memory of Savannah."

And it's another bittersweet tale that has Ford returning to the festival, his latest novel, "Love and Other Consolation Prizes." The book is inspired by a true story of an orphan boy who was raffled off at the Alaska-Yukon Exposition (World's Fair) of 1909 in Ford's former hometown of Seattle.

"It's really a coming of age love story," Ford explains. "It's about a boy who was raffled off as a prize⦠The story is based on an actual event where a child was raffled off ⦠But in my version, he ends up working in the very vibrant red-light district of Seattle."

While Ford says he never could find out what actually happened to the real-life boy who was raffled at the fair, he created a story based on what was going on in Seattle at the time, when there was a convergence of post-Victorian vice, suffrage and prostitution.

The story centers around a young boy named Ernest, a half-Chinese orphan, who finds his way to America through a last desperate act of his mother. He is then auctioned off at the fair to the madam of a notorious brothel based on real-life madam Florence Nettleton (aka Madam Flora). A close relationship develops between Ernest and two other girls he meets at the brothel, and the story ends 50 years later in the shadow of Seattle's second World's Fair.

Ford says he set out to write "an innocent love story that is all consuming," showing the difference between heart-felt love and physical love, the effects of family secrets, sacrifice and redemption.

"For a book set in the red-light district, it's still a fairly innocent coming of age story⦠but it also deals with cultural identity and the roles of women and how they have or haven't changed much since 1909 through '60s."

When asked what he hopes readers will take away from this story, Ford admits that when the book first came out, he didn't really have an answer to the question.

"But now I really hope people read the book and have an appreciation that love is really complex and the human heart is dynamic. ⦠It evolves as people grow up and grow older⦠When I first started writing this book, it was a real simple story and I ended up writing this complex love story where people cherish, appreciate and respect each other.

"⦠It's about accepting people for all their flaws and their twists in their personal journey. ⦠I really think people aspire to love unconditionally⦠but in practical reality, it can be really hard. I try to put myself in some of the same scenarios as my characters ⦠and it's been an interesting bit of self-discovery⦠We all bring our own emotional baggage to a story and act accordingly."

As for his visit to Savannah, Ford says he has plans to stock up on Carey Hilliard's barbecue sauce and pralines to bring back to his home in Montana as well as meet up with other writer friends who are also on the festival's list.

"I'm excited to meet readers and talk about books. Writing is such an isolating business, so it's always wonderful to interact with readers and fellow authors."


Book: "Love and Other Consolation Prizes"

When: 1:40 p.m. Feb. 17

Where: Lutheran Church Sanctuary, 120 Bull St., Wright Square