Oscar-nominated screenwriter Iris Yamashita finds new wonder in a different medium

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In the 16 years since she was nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award in 2007 for director Clint Eastwood’s “Letters From Iwo Jima,” Iris Yamashita continued to write while constantly facing the frustrating reality of her profession, getting her screenplays made into films. But instead of falling down the rabbit hole into the abyss of never made movies, Yamashita forged her own path into a wondrous new literary territory via her debut novel, the suspense thriller “City Under One Roof” (Berkley Books).

“City Under One Roof,” which the New York Times praised while warning readers that they’re “…in for a chilly and treacherous experience,” has received rave reviews from numerous national publications in the week since the book’s Jan. 10 release. It was also a great personal experience for the writer.

“Writing a book is very liberating because you can write how you want it to play out,” Yamashita said in a video interview with this reporter. “You’re the director, the cinematographer, the costume designer, the casting director, all of it.”

Iris Yamashita, author of ‘City Under One Roof.’
photo by Anthony Mongiello

Originally planned as a television series, once Yamashita changed the story into a book format the project started taking off. Two years and halfway through its completion, Yamashita’s agent at Creative Artists Agency further progressed the story with a unique plan.

“It was a crazy time because we were right in the middle of COVID, but somehow my agent got Berkley to miraculously sign me for a two-book deal without having even finished the first one,” she said while shaking her head in wonder.

With the pressure on, Yamashita finished “City Under One Roof” in time for its release. When asked to summarize her book, the author had a little bit of fun.

“Well, my favorite tags by people are #moose, #berets and #AliceInWonderland,” she said with a chuckle.

Set in a small remote fictional town in Alaska, the story opens when a local teenager discovers several severed body parts in a nearby frozen cove.

Hearing of this, a female detective from Anchorage feels inspired to drive to Point Mettier, a place where all the residents live in single high-rise building and is accessible in the winter solely via a narrow tunnel where cars can only travel in one direction at a time.

“The setting is actually inspired by a real place called Whittier,” she said. “The construct is similar, complete with underground tunnels to reach the local school. I changed it because in the book there are so many quirky characters, I didn’t want to risk angering the people there.”

In addition to Cara the detective, the other main protagonists are Amy, the adolescent who finds the body parts and whose mother runs a Chinese restaurant and Lonnie, a mentally challenged woman.

When Cara becomes stranded in the town by an avalanche that blocks access through the tunnel, she and a helpful local deputy set out to find who the murderer is, a challenge that turns out to be far more difficult than it originally seemed.

“Along the way, Cara finds that everyone has a reason that they are in town and that any one of them is a suspect,” Yamashita said. Highlighted by Lonnie, a woman who wears a different colored beret for every day of the week, leads a pet moose around town and speaks tangentially, the residents are reminiscent of characters in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” a work that inspired Yamashita when writing her book.

“When I first read Alice, it didn’t make any sense,” she said “There were just so many interesting characters. The jumping off point for me was to make the characters as odd as they were in Alice. Then I wanted readers to feel like they were falling through a rabbit hole and ending up in a really strange place just like Alice did.”

With “City” completed, Yamashita is already hard at work on her second book, which may or may not incorporate a character or two from the first one.

Wherever the result of the next book takes her, Yamashita is happily out of her literary rabbit hole.

“I definitely want to keep writing books,” Yamashita said. “This whole experience has been very positive. I still have my foot in the door with film. I have a few projects out there, but now I’m relieved that I don’t have to completely rely on Hollywood. I am really enjoying being part of the book world.”

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