Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Iris Yamashita

Born in Missouri, raised in Hawaii and having lived in Guam, California, and Japan, Iris Yamashita was able to experience a diversity of culture while growing up. She studied engineering at U.C. San Diego and U.C. Berkeley and also spent a year at the University of Tokyo studying virtual reality. Her first love, however, has always been fiction writing, which she pursued as a hobby on the side.

Yamashita submitted her first screenplay to a competition where she was discovered by an agent at the Creative Artists Agency (CAA) who offered to represent her. Her big break came when she was recruited to write the script Letters From Iwo Jima for Clint Eastwood. Letters was named “Best Picture” by both the National Board of Review and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. It received a Golden Globe award for “Best Foreign Language Film” of 2006 and was nominated for 4 Oscars including “Best Picture” and “Best Original Screenplay.”

City Under One Roof is her debut mystery novel set in a tiny Alaskan town where everyone lives in a single high-rise building.

My Q&A with Yamashita:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Titles are always difficult, whether they are for film or books. City Under One Roof references the most unique feature about the setting, which is that all the residents live in a single high-rise building. The setting is inspired by a real city in Alaska that was originally constructed as a secret military base and it was given the nickname “the city under one roof” back then. The publishers had thought City of Ice and Lies would be a good title because it references cold and hints of intrigue, but there are actually a number of books titled City of Ice out there and I thought my book would get lost in the mix, so we ultimately went with City Under One Roof.

What's in a name?

I don’t think I gave too much thought to the characters’ names other than that they reflected their heritage. There is, however, a reference to Lewis Carrol’s real name if you look for it. The book is chock full of Alice in Wonderland references.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

I think my teenaged self was optimistic about one day getting a book published, but the mystery genre would have definitely been a surprise. I haven’t been an avid mystery book fan, but now I find mysteries are a fun genre to write in.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Both are tough but I would say endings are harder and change more because they have to be satisfying on many levels whereas you can have an intriguing beginning without having everything figured out yet.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I’m a pretty boring, sedentary, old Asian woman, so I would say I am worlds apart from my characters. Absolutely no one would want to read me as a character. However, for each character, I try to put myself in their shoes, understand their motivations and make them identifiable.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I was a big fan of Twin Peaks when I was younger and I think there are definite Lynchian influences. Top of the Lake was another series that I really enjoyed and made me think the mystery genre could be for me.
Visit Iris Yamashita's website.

--Marshal Zeringue