Joe Ide is the author of the phenomenal debut novel IQ. The novel has recently been nominated for an Edgar Allen Poe award for best first novel. Joe has kindly agreed to a Q&A on my blog.
Synopsis of IQ:
East Long Beach. The LAPD is barely keeping up with the high crime rate. Murders unsolved, OAPs are getting hoodwinked, children are missing. But word has spread: if you’ve got a case the police can’t or won’t touch, Isaiah Quintabe will help you out.
They call him IQ. He’s a loner and a high school dropout, his unassuming nature disguising a relentless determination and a fierce intelligence. He charges his clients whatever they can afford, which might be a set of tyres or some homemade muffins. But now he needs a client who can pay. And the only way to that client is through a jive-talking, low-life drug dealer he thought he’d left behind. Then there’s the case itself. A drug-addled rap star surrounded by a crew of flunkies who believes his life is in danger; a hit man who even other hit men say is a lunatic; and a monster killer dog. If he solves this case, IQ can put right a mistake he made long ago. If he doesn’t, it won’t just be the hit man coming after him…
Q) Joe, please feel to tell the readers a bit about yourself?
A) My grandparents lived in South Central because of its proximity to Little Tokyo and my family lived with them because my folks were just scraping by. My grandparents were very old world and isolated. They spoke almost no English and although they’d lived in the same house for decades, they knew none of their neighbours. My grandmother wore kimonos around the house and kept a Japanese garden. My grandfather was an authority on samurai swords.
My parents were fluent in both English and Japanese. My Mom was a secretary and my Dad worked at a community center. They aspired to be middle class mainstream and live in the suburbs and that’s the life they wanted for their kids. But me and my three brothers had adapted to the neighborhood. Most of our friends were black so naturally we co-opted their speech, style, attitudes and musical tastes. As you can imagine, there was a fair bit of culture clash in the Ide household. The situation was made even more confusing by my grandparents and parents because they insisted we maintain a connection to our cultural heritage which never really worked out the way they’d hoped. I was kicked out of Japanese school. I was kicked out of judo, both times for sleeping. (I’ve been asked how it’s possible to get kicked out of judo for sleeping. The answer is quite simple. Don’t come out of the locker room, find a cosy corner and there you are). My older brother was booted out of a Japanese Boy Scout Troop for buying his merit badges. (The whole Boy Scout ethos seems to have eluded him.) That unsettling mishmash of influences left me with something of an identity problem. I wasn’t black, I wasn’t white, I was pretty far from being Japanese. I felt like a misfit, a label I carry contentedly to this day. .
Q) I absolutely loved this novel, it is everything I have been calling for in terms of new talent and a unique concept with lots of diversity. As stated above you debut novel has been nominated for an Edgar. Talk us through the process from idea to publication to nomination?
A) When I first thought about writing a book, the question was, a book about what? I didn’t have enough expertise or interest in any one subject to write non-fiction, my life was hardly worth a memoir so a novel seemed like the best choice. Since it was my first book, I thought it best to stay within my wheelhouse. As a kid, my favourite books were the original Sherlock Holmes stories. I read all fifty six stories and four novels multiple times. I was fascinated with the character. Like me, he was an introvert that didn’t fit in, but unlike me, he defeated his enemies and controlled his world, with just his brains. I was a small kid in a big neighbourhood and that idea affected me deeply. Since IQ was my first novel, I thought it best to follow the old adage, write what you know. A Sherlockian character was the only thing that occurred to me. I was also comfortable writing about the inner city and wah lah, Sherlock in the hood was born.
I wrote the book in complete and total obscurity. I didn’t know any agents or anybody in publishing. I was only hoping I wouldn’t have to self-publish and flog copies in the doggie park. When I finished the manuscript, I sent it out to readers, one of whom is my cousin, Francis Fukuyama. He’s a world renowned political scientist. He was the one that predicted the fall of the Soviet Union, his books and publications are required reading in his field, and he’s on the board at Rand. (One of those guys you can’t believe you share DNA with.) To my surprise, he liked the book and offered to give it to his agent, Esther Newberg – who is arguably the top literary agent in New York, and miraculously, she liked the book too. Powerhouse that Esther is, she sold it to Little Brown in a couple of weeks and a few weeks later, it was optioned for TV. (Talk about a run of luck). When the reviews came in, I was incredibly flattered, but mostly I was incredulous. Because of the circumstances under which I wrote it, it was a little cooking dinner for your family and winning a James Beard Award. The Edgar nomination came out of the blue. I had no idea the publisher had even put me up for it.
Q) I am a huge fan of Walter Mosley, who won last year’s Grand Master Edgar. Some in the industry have speculated long overdue. Do you think attitudes are changing? Are books with a diverse narrative becoming more popular in their respective genres?
A) I think social awareness has helped the cause but it’s also about the quality the book. Walter Moseley and Toni Morrison’s books would be read no matter what the ethnicity of the characters. Conversely, a lousy book is a lousy book no matter who writes it.
Q) The novel has themes of rap music and rap moguls. Are you yourself a fan of rap music? and if so what are your favourite rappers/songs?
A) I am not a rap fan. It wasn’t the music I grew up with so I have no emotional connection to it, any more than I do with classical music. I have a few older albums in my collection. Notorious B.I.G, All Eyez On Me, The Chronic. Anything after that I had to research.
Q) Who are your favourite authors? What are your most loved and recommended novels?
A) Walter Moseley, Chester Himes, Elmore Leonard, John LeCarre, William Gibson, Toni Morrison, Don Winslow and the list goes on. Books? Too many to list.
Q) This is the question I am dying to know the answer to! Is IQ a series? And can we have any glimpses into what is to come in book 2?
A) Book 2, titled “Righteous” will be out this October. Isaiah, Dodson and Deronda will be back, Isaiah will develop a love interest, and of course, there’s a new, big case, and new bad guys (one of them is seven feet tall).
*Thank you Joe Ide so much for being part of this Q&A on my blog. It is hugely appreciated. I wish you the very best of luck with your novel and your Edgar nomination.
Learn more about Joe Ide: www.joeide.com