Monday, February 13, 2023

Q&A with Iris Yamashita


Photo by Anthony Mongiello



Iris Yamashita is the author of the new mystery novel City Under One Roof. Also a screenwriter, she has taught at UCLA and the American Film Institute.


Q: You’ve mentioned the town of Whittier, Alaska, as an inspiration for City Under One Roof. How did you first learn about Whittier, and at what point did you decide to write this novel?


A: I first learned about Whittier over 20 years ago after watching a documentary back when the town was only accessible by boat or train and where most of the residents lived in a single high-rise building. The tunnel that the train traveled through opened up to car traffic in the year 2000.


I hadn’t come up with a story for it back then, but the setting always stood out for me. When I decided to write a sample pilot for streaming media, I thought a mystery would make a good limited or long running series. That’s when I recalled this documentary and thought it would make a great backdrop.


As I laid out ideas for a series, I eventually thought that I had enough material to write a book. I had always wanted to write a novel, even before I started writing films, so it was great to be able to come back to this format.


Q: The novel includes a variety of characters--how did you choose your point-of-view characters, Cara, Amy, and Lonnie?


A: The voice of Cara, the investigator, was an obvious starting point, but I had enjoyed reading or listening to books with multiple voices in the past, so I decided to try writing the story that way. I knew I wanted to have unique voices that were distinguishable from each other.


The character of Lonnie, who has a mental disability and keeps a pet moose, emerged as I started thinking of this town as a Wonderland that Cara drops into and that it must be filled with quirky characters. I also thought speaking in riddles would be something cool to try.


Amy Lin is the third voice and as a restless teenager, I thought she would feel the most impact from living in a sequestered town. Her voice would also sound different from Cara’s and Lonnie’s.


Q: The Kirkus review of the novel says, in part, “Subliminal misogyny is so deeply baked into the town’s culture that all three women at times question their perceptions of reality.” What do you think of that description?


A: It’s always interesting to hear different interpretations from readers and what they take away, which I think is fine. There is definitely a theme of questioning reality sparked again by Alice in Wonderland where we never really know if everything is just a dream or not.


In the book, I mention the sad fact that Alaska is the deadliest state for women and that 59 percent of women there have experienced violence by men, so that colors some of the characters’ backgrounds.


Q: Without giving anything away, did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I knew the overall picture of how things would end, but details did change along the way. Putting the pieces together so that the first book would have a satisfying resolution, but keeping the door open for a second book was sometimes a head scratcher.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have just turned in a draft for the second book. Some of the characters from the first book will return, but there will be some new ones introduced as well.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I mentioned Alice in Wonderland a couple of times here and there are actually many Wonderland references throughout the book for readers who like to find Easter eggs.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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