E. Lynn Harris and RM Johnson took years to bring their collaborative novel, No One in the World, to fruition.
The book was 90 percent complete when Harris died suddenly in 2009.
In No One In the World, closeted gay District Attorney Cobi Winslow reconnects with his criminal twin brother, and ponders if he should marry a woman, a requirement for him to collect his insurance.
Now on tour, Essence best-selling author RM Johnson appeared at the Matteson, Il., Azizi Bookstore on June 9. Johnson tells rolling out about his friend, E. Lynn Harris, and what it takes to be a successful novelist.
How did this collaboration come about?
No One in the World was first thought of back in 2004 or 2005, E. Lynn suggested that we write a book together to take advantage of each other’s audiences, but I feel more [like] he was doing it to help me get my name out there. He was huge, he was known. He was that good of a friend.
We didn’t really start working until 2008. We were both living in Atlanta at the time, so we started getting together about two times a week. We started collaborating and talking about characters and plots, writing, and it continued until we [were] practically finished. We were 90 percent done when he died.
Tell us about the day you discovered that E. Lynn had died.
I was on my way to Dunkin’ Donuts to do some writing, and I got a phone call from publisher Karen Hunter, she was publishing his book at the time. She asked me if I had heard from E. Lynn that morning and I could hear there was some concern in her voice.
I told her that I hadn’t and I asked what was wrong. She wouldn’t tell me what was going on. Later, I tried calling his phone and he didn’t answer. Later that day it was confirmed online.
This was a pretty bold project to do, with an openly gay writer. Did you receive any push back at all?
Absolutely not, to tell you the truth, it was a no-brainer. He was huge, he is huge, and I was latching onto his coattails, there was no question about whether or not I would do it.
What is your typical day like?
When I’m writing a book, I’ll write from about 8 [a.m. to noon] and then I’ll go to the gym some time after that. And me time, I don’t have any kids, I’m not married, so I just hang out.
How realistic is it to live like RM Johnson, to have the title of “novelist” as your only job?
Yeah, this is all that I do. But the industry is changing so much, so you always have to be cognizant of what your audience wants. [Gone] are the days where you [could] just write for yourself and not be worried about whether people will buy it or not. So you have to concern yourself with what’s marketable, what will sell. So you have to stay busy, but yes, you can just be a novelist if you’re busy enough.
What did E. Lynn teach you about the business?
One thing that E. Lynn always told me was, stay published. When you stop publishing for any length of real time, your readers will move on to other writers. You also want to look at publishing in several different genres if you can. I wrote a non-fiction book, about marriage two years ago, I wrote a young adult book, and there’s another writer and myself who are doing something else.
What’s on your iPod?
What I’m listening to right now is the latest Radiohead. I listen to a genre called chill or down tempo, on satellite radio or Pandora, it’s kind of jazz fusion.
Tell us something about RM Johnson that no one else knows.
I would say that I am a serious romantic. I’m a conversationalist and I am probably more emotional than I let on.
RM Johnson does not believe in Twitter, (“it’s too chaotic,”) he says. Fans can reach him online, www.rmjohnson.net and on Facebook.
Photos: Zondra Hughes
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