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An interview with the author on his mentor, the late E. Lynn Harris
Author RM Johnson talks about his friend, the late E. Lynn Harris, coauthor of the new novel No One in the World.
Had you and E. Lynn written together before? No, we hadn’t. But since 2006 or so, we had always discussed a joint project about twin brothers.
How did the process work? Did you write alternate chapters? Or did you collaborate throughout? We collaborated throughout. We got together daily to take notes on the plot and characters, creating an outline. After we completed the outline, we chose the characters each of us would write. We then integrated the chapters, and edited for consistency.
Tell me about your friendship. How did you meet? E. Lynn was not only a great friend, but an inspiration to me. He was the success I wanted to be. He taught me important things about the industry and about the craft, but I could also call him and discuss things unrelated to writing. He was older than me, and had already succeeded at what I was attempting, so I trusted, without question, whatever he told me. I met E. Lynn in 1999, at a book event for a fellow author. It was just before my first book, The Harris Men, was published. I introduced myself, preparing myself to be shooed away like a bothersome gnat. Instead, E. Lynn was very gracious. We spoke about the industry, and he even offered his help to promote my book. I credit much of my success in this industry to him. I later found out he helped many new authors that way.
Was the writing process difficult? Not at all—maybe because we had known each other for so long. I had read many of his books, and he had read some of mine, so we already had an idea of what the other could do. On the days we brainstormed, we had a blast. It was a pleasure writing the book with him.
Is it easier to write a book by yourself or with a friend? I guess it depends on the friend! Jokes aside, for me, there are stages that are easier with a friend, and stages that are harder. Brainstorming, coming up with ideas, is a lot easier with a partner. You have someone to bounce stuff off of, someone to encourage you, or tell you you’re moving in the wrong direction. During the actual writing, it can be more difficult. The other writer may write faster or slower than you. Your styles might not gel, or the other writer may object to the way you see things. For this particular project, the process was pretty easy.
How difficult was it to finish the project after his passing? Not very difficult at all. We had already completed the bulk of the work. I was really editing for consistency in the characters’ voices and narrative. Because we had spent so much time writing it together, I knew what he wanted for his characters, and the story overall. Besides, we had finished the outline, knew every twist and turn through to the end of the book.
What do you miss most about E. Lynn? I miss his sense of humor, hearing his stories from the road when he was touring. He would always have great ones. He loved his fans, and couldn’t wait to get out and meet them, talk to them every year. But in so many ways, I saw him as a big brother. If things got rough with my writing, if I didn’t know which direction to take it, or if I had questions about my career, I could go to him, and he would always give me the right advice. But it wasn’t just about the business. He was a great friend of mine. Someone I could just shoot the . . . you know—just call up. It was nice knowing he was there, and it’s still pretty devastating knowing he’s not.
What’s the best advice he ever gave you about writing? He gave me so much advice, but here are the two pieces that stick out. When I received the hardcover copy of my first book, I showed it to him. He advised me to sleep with it. “What?” I said. He told me when he received the copies of his new books, he would take them to sleep with him that first night to ensure they sold well. Who was I to argue? By that time, he had sold hundreds of thousands of his titles. Needless to say, I went to bed with my book that night. Another very valuable piece of advice he gave me was simply to stay published, meaning do whatever it takes to keep your work out there. Your fans will only wait so long for your work before moving onto another talented writer.
>> REVIEW: Learn more about RM Johnson’s latest book
*AN EXTRA INTERVIEW THAT DID NOT APPEAR IN OUR JULY 2011
Photograph courtesy of RM Johnson