Failed screenwriter-turned-critically acclaimed novelist Joe Ide

While author Joe Ide may have taken a roundabout route to discover his professional calling, once he did, his hard work and talent — along with a boost from some unlikely sources, which included an NBA Hall of Famer and a political science expert — his career path now appears to be heading steadily toward literary success.

The self-described “failed screenwriter”-turned-critically acclaimed novelist just released “Wrecked,” the third installment of his detective series, which he spoke about Oct. 24 at BookShop West Portal in San Francisco.

The Sansei writer spoke to the Nichi Bei Weekly Oct. 10 following a signing at Eso Won Books in Los Angeles — a mere stone’s throw from where he grew up, and not far from the East Long Beach neighborhood where Isaiah “IQ” Quintabe, the protagonist of his thrilling detective series, operates.

“I am close to home in a lot of ways,” Ide said.

The series, which began with the 2017 Edgar Award nominee “IQ,” followed last year with the second episode “Righteous” and continues now with “Wrecked.” The action-packed stories revolve around the hip, highly intelligent, but emotionally baggage-laden African American private investigator Quintabe, a modern-day equivalent to Sherlock Holmes — a character from books that Ide devoured when he was younger.

Joe Ide. photo by Craig Takahashi

Growing up in South Central Los Angeles — a place where his parents and grandparents resettled after losing both of the family hardware stores in Little Tokyo at the outset of World War II before being shipped off to the Granada (Amache) in Colorado and Rohwer, Ark. concentration camps — Nisei Week parades and Japanese American culture blended in with the ethnic diversity of his surroundings.

“My grandfather (Keikichi Fukuyama) really pushed us towards maintaining our Japanese heritage, but both of my parents (Joseph and Fumiko Ide) had to work all of the time, so my three brothers and I were on our own growing up in a feral environment,” Ide said. “We were kind of wild kids, always fighting with each other or getting into some kind of trouble.”

One of those times included an episode where Ide, doing his best Miyamoto Musashi imitation, sliced a lamp in half with an antique samurai sword — a weapon that now sits on exhibit at the Tokyo National Museum. Another time occurred when he and his brothers gave their cousin Frances a world of grief.

“He was an educated kid from the East Coast who wore suspenders and shorts, and we were these rough and tumble kids from South Central, so we didn’t have a lot in common,” Ide said. “We were pretty merciless with him.”

Frances Fukuyama later became the aforementioned renowned political scientist who penned the bestselling book “The End of History and the Last Man.” While maturation amid subsequent family visits over the years improved his relationship with his cousin, his career aspirations didn’t match that trajectory. A myriad of jobs, including a brief post graduate school teaching stint and a screenwriting career that was well paid but unsuccessful, didn’t pan out.

“I had 12 screenplays that were never developed and the 13th was green lighted by (then Walt Disney Studios head) Jeffrey Katzenberg, then killed by him because he got really angry when the director rewrote a really bad script,” Ide said. “I was so depressed I quit, but nobody noticed. So I started writing this novel. I loved doing the work, even though I wasn’t getting paid.”

The three-year process of writing the book was only the beginning of the journey.

“When I finished, I really had no idea how to sell it, so I sent it to (Fukuyama). He liked it and showed it to his agent, who I thought was someone who represented just academic titles. But then I did a Google search of her career …”

Esther Newberg, the aforementioned agent at International Creative Management, was a former aide to Robert Kennedy who represented those with wide intellectual appeal like Thomas Friedman and Caroline Kennedy, but she also represented commercially successful authors like Carl Hiaasen. She signed Ide and later got him a series contract deal with Mulholland Books, a division of Little Brown and Company.

The book received rave reviews calling Quintabe the “Sherlock Holmes of the hood” and “Sherlock Holmes directed by Tarantino.” The New York Times’ critic Janet Maslin wrote that “Ide became the best thing to happen to mystery writing in a very long time.”

Another glowing review came from an unconventional source — a fellow mystery writer who made his name elsewhere, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — who along with Hiassen wrote a book jacket blurb for him. When Ide met the former UCLA/Milwaukee Bucks/Los Angeles Lakers great, a player he rooted for as a Lakers season ticket holder in the Showtime Era of the 1980s, he was in awe.

Fast forward to today and Ide is finally adjusting to the success and growth of the series.

“I knew that the only marketable skill I had was writing. But then the screenplay thing didn’t work out and I didn’t know where it would take me from there. Fortunately this has worked out so far.”

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