Iris and Roy Johansen, New York Times bestselling authors of The Naked Eye, shares their thoughts on writing together and their top five suspense novels.
Iris: It’s much different to collaborate than it is to write one of my solo books, but it helps to have a writing partner that I respect. Roy isn’t just my son; he’s an Edgar Award-winning mystery writer in his own right. We spend a lot of time talking about the story and characters before a single word is put down on paper. Then we take turns writing chunks of the book, perhaps 70 or 80 pages at a time. While we know the general direction we’re heading, there’s still a lot of room for improvisation along the way. We’re constantly trying to surprise each other, which I think translates to the books being fun and surprising to the reader.
Roy: It’s an invigorating process. We each spent over twenty years as professional writers before trying our hand at collaborating, so it’s been a creative jolt to suddenly explore this new way of working. I’m always excited to get a stack of pages and invariably find myself engrossed in what my mother has written for our characters… until I get to the end, when I desperately want to read what’s next. Of course, I then realize I have to write what’s next…
Iris: We’ve been thrilled to see how our Kendra Michaels character has caught on. Kendra was born blind, so when we she got her sight at the age of twenty, her other senses were already highly developed to compensate. Couple that with her desire to absorb every new detail she sees in her exciting new world, Kendra is an amazing investigator. She walks into a room and observes things no one else does.
Roy: We thought we were onto something special halfway through Kendra’s first mystery, Close Your Eyes, and before we even finished it, a major U.S. television network began to develop a series based on the character. Kendra’s popularity built with her appearances in two of my mother’s Eve Duncan thrillers, Sleep No More and Hunting Eve. That led to Sight Unseen, and in July she’ll be back in The Naked Eye. And we recently signed a new contract for three more Kendra Michaels books, so she’ll be around at least through 2018.
Iris: In many ways, collaborating is harder work than writing solo. There’s a lot of coordination involved, making sure we’re literally on the same page. But we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t enjoy it. As long as it stays fun for us, I think it will stay fun for the reader.
IRIS AND ROY JOHANSEN’S FAVORITE MYSTERY-THRILLERS
Since the subject of the day is collaboration, we’ve put our heads together and selected five mystery/suspense books that are special favorites of both of ours:
The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Short Stories Edited by Leslie S. Klinger. Klinger has done an amazing job with this collection of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. It’s packed with illustrations and insights that make even longtime Holmes buffs (like us) look at these timeless stories in a new way.
Swag by Elmore Leonard. We had the great honor of serving on an author panel discussion with the great Elmore Leonard in the last year of his life, and we’ve always been awed by his gallery of unforgettable characters. This tale of two armed robbers is both funny and suspenseful.
Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs. We’re big fans of Reichs’ blend of forensic expertise and crackerjack storytelling. The Temperance Brennan saga begins here with a chilling murder investigation in the seedy Quebec underbelly.
Stranded by Alex Kava. If you haven’t met FBI profiler Maggie O’Dell yet, do yourself a favor and start reading this riveting series. In this entry, O’Dell in on the trail of a truck stop serial killer. This spine-tingler will make you think twice about taking a long car trip.
Lightning by Dean Koontz. Koontz’s how-to book Writing Popular Fiction had a profound influence on each of us when we started writing novels, and with each book Koontz continues to prove himself a master storyteller. Lightning is a special favorite of ours. It’s science fiction, yes, but this story of a young woman and her shadowy protector unfolds with a fascinating mystery at its core.