Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Q&A with Iris Yamashita


Photo by Anthony Mongiello


Iris Yamashita is the author of the new novel Village in the Dark. She also has written the novel City Under One Roof. Also a screenwriter, she has taught at UCLA and the American Film Institute.


Q: Why did you decide to return to many of your characters from City Under One Roof in your new novel?

A: I assumed that if someone had read City Under One Roof, they would want to revisit Point Mettier, [Alaska,] and its residents in some fashion. I also felt that there were stories to uncover with the characters who had remained mysterious for most of the first book.


Q: Do you think your character Detective Cara Kennedy has changed at all from one book to the next?


A: Yes, I think that confronting her fears head on in the first book has lessened her claustrophobia and also allowed her to break down some walls in her relationship with J.B. You always hope that your character changes in some way through the journey.


Q: What role do you think female solidarity plays in the book?

A: I learned from research in the first book that Alaska is the state with the highest incidences of violence against women, so female solidarity is definitely an important theme in the book.


I wanted to bring some of the dire statistics to light, but I also wanted to show strong, capable women as characters who were taking initiative to control their own lives.

I was fortunate to speak with someone from the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center (AKNWRC). Her organization advocates for the safety of women and children in Tribal communities.


Q: Did you need to do any research to write the novel, and if so, did you learn anything especially surprising?


A: Yes, I did some research on Alaska Native and Japanese Ainu communities, although not in depth because my fictionalized community is a hodgepodge of many different tribes that doesn’t exist in reality, so I had more freedom to make up rules, language and customs. I wouldn’t dare to write about a real indigenous community.


I was surprised to see the similarities between Ainu and Native peoples of the Pacific Northwest. While I don’t talk much about this in the book, their artwork is similar, their spirituality has similarities and the way their respective governments have treated them is similar, so I just felt that there is a bit of a kindred connection.


I also researched plasma donations and many things about that surprised me. I have included many of those details in the book.


Q: What are you working on now? Will you return to these characters again?


A: Right now, I’ve been diverted from book writing to write a historical radio drama series for BBC World Service.


I will never say “never” to returning to Cara or characters in Point Mettier, but the idea I have for my next book is in a completely different setting. It is also a mystery with a female lead character in an unusual place, but not in Alaska.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I had often mentioned that there are references inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland throughout City Under One Roof. The tradition continues with Village in the Dark as I have peppered references to Alice Through the Looking Glass. It’s fun to do, although not important to comprehend the story.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Iris Yamashita.

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