What: He grew up in South Central Los Angeles. Ide earned a graduate degree and had several careers before writing his debut novel, IQ, inspired by his early experiences and his love of Sherlock Holmes. The second IQ book, RIGHTEOUS, will be released this October.
Where: Santa Monica
Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.
Congrats on the success of your debut novel, IQ. Can you tell us about the genesis and evolution of this story?
I grew up in South Central LA. My friends were primarily black and like most kids, my main aspiration was to belong, so I co-opted their speech, style and attitudes. I was envious of them too. We all came from struggling families and wore the same sad, hand-me-downs but somehow they managed to look cool while I looked like I’d jumped off a freighter from North Korea. I also learned to love the street vernacular which always struck me as a kind of poetry. The cadence, syntax, word choices and inflections. The endlessly creative slang. I listened to it like music. Although I was never quite convincing as a black kid who happened to be Japanese, I’ll always be grateful for that version of myself. The façade gave me a way to be in the world and not be afraid.
My favorite books were the original Sherlock Holmes stories. By the time I was twelve, I’d read all fifty-six stories and four novels multiple times. Like me, Sherlock was an introvert, a misfit and not a tough guy. But unlike me he was able to defeat his enemies and control his world with only the power of his intelligence. I grew up in an area where walking home from school could be life threatening so that was a very powerful idea. When it came time to write the book, all those elements came together virtually by themselves and Sherlock in the hood was born.
You grew up in South Central and live in Santa Monica. Why is Long Beach the right setting for IQ?
I originally intended to set the story in my old neighborhood in South Central LA, but it’s almost exclusively Latino now. I wanted a setting that was more diverse and East Long Beach fit the bill. Income levels run the gamut, from very rich to very poor. About 40% of the residents are black, 40% are Latino, the rest made up of variety of ethnicities, including white.
Your protagonist, Isaiah Quintabe, is an unassuming high school drop out. Were you consciously going against crime/mystery tropes?
I wanted to create a character who didn’t routinely resort to violence and wasn’t courageous by virtue of wielding a gun. I wanted to show someone who was powerful and incisive who could face down bad guys without becoming a bad guy himself. I wanted a hero who was ethical, thoughtful and just.
How much does genre matter to you as a writer? How about as a reader?
As I mentioned, I imprinted on Sherlock Holmes. He was (and is) my alter ego. He’s so acute and fearless and competent in the world, things I am definitely not. There are so many great characters in the genre. From Easy Rawlins and Sean Duffy to Harry Bosch and Jack Reacher. These are guys I want to read about, but I also want to be them. Wouldn’t it be great to size somebody up at a glance and read his eyes for deception or break his neck with your big toe or take his girlfriend because you’re just too cool? Suburban dads, eccentric professors, ruthless executives, techno wizards, burned out writers and adolescent loners just don’t push the same buttons.
Walter Moseley, Elmore Leonard, John LeCarre, Chester Himes, Michael Connelly, Tana French, Don Winslow, William Gibson, Adrian McGinty, Carl Hiaasen and the list goes on and on and on.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading DESPERATE ROAD by Michael Farris Smith. Wow. Dark and intense. Characters we know or know their hearts. Bad guys who are terrifying because we know them too. I’m also re-reading Affinity Konar’s brilliant MISCHLING. A tough read, but her writing is sublime. If you’re not moved by the first two pages you should see a doctor because you might be dead.
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S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series including BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION and GRIZZLY SEASON (Rare Bird Books). His Tommy & Shayna Crime Caper novellas include CROSSWISE and CROSSED BONES (Down & Out Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast. Steve lives in Los Angeles.