By Naomi Hirahara
Joe Ide, the mystery novelist, is best known for his creation of Isaiah Quintabe, or IQ, a young black man from Long Beach whose intelligence rivals Sherlock Holmes. But this winter, the South-Central-raised Japanese-American author is taking an IQ break to bring his readers a modern take on Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe in the novel.”The farewell coast.”
While Ide’s publisher, Mulholland, had to obtain a license the character of Philip Marlowe from the deceased author’s estateIde didn’t have to submit pages for approval as he wrote and recast the tough Los Angeles private eye in the 21st century instead of the 1940s. Also, instead of mimicking Chandler’s stylized first-person point of view, Ide used his propulsive third-person narrative, getting inside the heads of several characters, including Chandler’s father. Marlowe, Emmet, an aging LAPD officer, and Cody, a client’s missing teenage daughter. . The prose is pure Ide, infused with clever dialogue and fast-paced scenes at iconic Southern California hangouts.
Read more: Naomi Hirahara from Pasadena explores the treatment of Japanese Americans in “Clark and Division”
Ide himself is Marlowesque – content to be alone in his Santa Monica home to write without the help of writing groups or creative partners. Here, he shares with me how Hollywood nearly shattered his passion for writing and how a cousin across the coast helped Joe find his place in the country’s literary landscape. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Hirahara: How has it been for you during the pandemic? Did that stop you from capturing Hollywood’s iconic locations in “The Goodbye Coast”?
Ide: Things haven’t changed much. I stay home and write. I don’t go out to dinner and that kind of stuff. I’m well. I know what Marlowe, East Hollywood looks like. I lived there. East Hollywood hasn’t changed much. It’s different around Grauman’s [now TCL Chinese Theatre] and all, but East Hollywood has been a beleaguered neighborhood for a long time. The money just left him behind.
Hirahara: You dedicated this book to your cousin Francis Fukuyama. You are a mystery writer and he has published books on politics and predicting the future. Why did you dedicate this book to him?
Ide: When I finished my first book, “IQ“I had been out of film for five years. I didn’t know anyone in publishing. I was a little hesitant to contact Francis. He’s a busy guy. He agreed to read my book. I was not very optimistic. I didn’t know how much he could relate to the book. He grew up on the East Coast and went to some great schools. But he called me back and he really liked the book. He turned me over to his agent, and I had the easiest ride a writer has had in terms of getting published.
Hirahara: You mentioned that you haven’t been in movies for five years. You worked as a screenwriter. Can you tell us about your experience with Hollywood?
Ide: I worked a bit for most of the majors. I sold specs and did some rewriting and polishing. But nothing I wrote was done. And that’s how you score points in Hollywood. I started getting fewer and fewer calls. It has become so discouraging. I was opening the screenwriting program and I was physically repelled. I just couldn’t. And so I stopped. I was depressed for a long time: If I wasn’t a screenwriter, who was I? But writing is the only thing I knew how to do. I started writing a novel. I thought I had the writing part down. But it turns out writing a long narrative is a whole different creature. I had to learn to write decent prose. It took me a year just to do it.
Hirahara: You seem to be a fan of classic novelists. Did reading their books help you?
Ide: Some books have. Like Thomas Perry’s books. During this time, I studied what I wanted to write. I tried to understand how these writers did what they did. Like Jo Nesbo and suspense. This guy can kill you. I was trying to understand the mechanics of it in a very granular way. Does this sentence work? Is it a transition between the one that precedes it and the one that follows it? Rewrite, rewrite and rewrite. The prologue of “IQ” was two and a half pages. I rewrote it 27 times.
Hirahara: You modeled IQ after Sherlock Holmes and now this book is based on the writings of Raymond Chandler. Can you tell us more about your relationship with these two writers?
Ide: Regarding Conan Doyle, I read his stories – many times – in middle school. I wore Sherlock Holmes as my alter ego growing up. I didn’t read Chandler until I was twenty, and it was recreational reading at the time. But it marked me. I like cool guys like Marlowe. Iconic solitaire, surviving in the big city.
Hirahara: If you were in trouble, who would you call first? Would it be Sherlock or would it be Marlowe?
Ide: Sherlock is much more attentive to detail. Its factual base of actual knowledge is much larger. But Marlowe has a much better understanding of people, relationships and issues. Sherlock was quite distant from people. He was more about clues. Marlowe has to accommodate much more capricious and demanding customers. The danger he faces is far more deadly. It is more suited to contemporary society. Then I’ll call Marlowe. He’s also someone I could talk to, whereas Sherlock is much more difficult.
Hirahara: In “The Goodbye Coast”, the father, Emmet, plays a very important role. Did it evolve as you wrote it? Were you surprised by this?
Ide: I wanted someone close to Marlowe who he could talk to, someone who had something to say about his work and someone great. Someone who knew him growing up and had a say in it. OK, it’s family, but I needed a conflict between Marlowe and whoever his sidekick was. I thought a grumpy old dad and his slick son – there would be a lot to make the scenes interesting. Emmet grew as I wrote to him. Its underlying conflict was written on the fly. One of the parent-child issues bubbles to the surface and is still there. I also wanted Emmet to represent old Hollywood.
Hirahara: Is there a grumpy old father in your life?
Ide: Not in the same way. My father was a Japanese dad, very distant. Everything related to family and children was my mother’s responsibility. I really wanted it. I resented it at the time and never resolved it with him or myself. It’s something I subconsciously come back to – this child/parent relationship. This comes through in all of my writing, one way or another.
Hirahara: Your favorite Chandler book?
Idea: “The long goodbye.” It was the first Chandler book I read and the character has always stuck with me. And then I saw the movie Bogart [“The Big Sleep”]. It marked me. I thought, “It’s Marlowe.”
Hirahara: You have Musso & Frank Grill in your novel. Your favorite restaurant in Southern California?
Hirahara: What’s next?
Ide: I’m working on IQ No. 6. I’d like to write another Marlowe but it’s up to the publisher and the domain to decide what to do.
Naomi Hirahara is the Edgar Award-winning author of several crime series and black short stories, including the Mas Arai series. Her acclaimed 2021 novel “Clark & Division” was nominated one of the first notable recipients of the Southern California News Groupand his next novel, “An Eternal Lei”, will be published this year.