RM Johnson

This week  On The Same Page has the honor of interviewing R.M. Johnson, author of The Harris Men, Father Found, and new novel, The Harris Family.

M.E.T.: Tell us about yourself, R.M. How does your background inform your writing?

R.M.J.: My past experiences greatly inform my writing. The basis for The Harris Family is my life, for that reason I often times refer to it as semi-autobiographical. The emotional scenes, the passionate behavior of the characters come directly from how I would've felt if I found myself in similar situations, how I had felt in similar circumstances.


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M.E.T.: When you started out writing about The Harris Men, did you initially conceive of this family saga as being told in three books?

R.M.J.: Actually, the story regarding the Harris family is written in only two installments. Father Found is unrelated. But I really had no intention of writing a sequel to The Harris Men at its completion. Like I told many people, when I wrote that last sentence, I truly felt that would be the last time I would think that story, but during signings, and appearances at book clubs, readers would ask about a sequel. After poling a number of fans, and them responding favorably to the idea, I decided that I would write one. Before The Harris Men, I've only written short stories.


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M.E.T.: My mistake. I thought all three books were part of a trilogy. As your last book, what is the dramatic question that The Harris Family raises?

R.M.J.: I never thought to ask myself this. When thinking about, or plotting a novel, the question that I ask myself is, 'hat problem does the subject matter address?' If I had to answer this question, I would say that question is...'When is it time to consider forgiveness? What good does it do to harbor resentment and bitterness toward someone? What is truly more important than family?'


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M.E.T.: Would you say that the behavior of the three sons, Austin, Marcus and Caleb mirror that of the father, Julius Harris's abandonment twenty-five years earlier?

R.M.J.: Without question. When Austin left his wife in the first novel, it was almost as if he was following the same steps taken by his father so many years before. I would often tell people that I wanted it to seem as though it was inherent, almost genetic, that the behavior we are taught, or witness as children, we are very likely to repeat.


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M.E.T.: I really like how flawed, yet real your characters are. For instance, what motivated Austin to admit to his wife that he had an affair-during their son's seventh birthday party?

R.M.J.: People are flawed. We all know that no one is truly perfect. I like for my characters to support this truth, and I'll have them do things based on how they feel emotionally in a minute. Often times they don't give their actions a lot of thought, but then again, most people don't. Actions generated by the heart, are always so much more entertaining then those that have been methodically figured out. Regarding the admission during Austin's son's birthday party. Well, Austin remembered how his wife behaved the first time he brought her news she didn't like. He didn't want the dish throwing, or the screaming, and so he figured she wouldn't lash out like that during this event for her son. Also it was just that moment that triggered something in him. How Trace was standing there, and as he put it, 'Thinking everything was just perfect in their world.' Things weren't, and he felt that was her fault, so he wanted to set things straight for her.


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M.E.T.: What was the significance of the last scene when Marcus arrives 15 minutes after his father's death?

R.M.J.: The significance of the last scene. It says so much, or at least I wanted it to. And I will not totally deconstruct this thing, because I want people to formulate their own ideas. It ends differently, depending on who has read it, what they believe, about life, death, about the power of love. What I will say is that Marcus really did love his father, if for no other reason than that he was his father. Him arriving fifteen minutes late let that emotion really come out. Not just the love, but the anger and the hate. Even though I tried to be impartial while writing that ending, I do believe I may have tried to influence the reader some. Fact is, and Marcus said something to this effect, Julius was able to stay alive five years for his youngest son, couldn't he at least hang on fifteen minutes for him. I also think it wraps everything up nicely. Regardless of all the distractions, diversions and drama we go through in our lives, what is really important ultimately makes itself known, and everything in comparison pales greatly.


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M.E.T.: As a writer, do you write by long hand, outline on computer, or both? What is your writing schedule like?

R.M.J.: I don't write long hand. I believe most people do that because, it allows them a step before actually, formally putting their words down. Like drawing in sand, before carving in stone. I skip that step because after coming up with an idea, I'll plot and note-take for a month or so. I determine every plot twist, every character trait and idiosyncrasy, all the story lines, major and minor. Like I say, I know how the novel will end before I write my first word. Something else that I do, even though I'm awful at it, (I tend to drag on, and it makes the novel sound terribly boring) is, I'll tell those people who want to know what my next novel is about. Repeating the story, the plot over and over again like that, you’d be surprised how that can really cement the idea in your mind, and also allow you to see problems in the structure, and open the door to possible useful criticism from the person you're telling the story to. My writing schedule is pretty straightforward. It has to be because I'm lazy. Some people like to write at 2am, after everyone is all to sleep, and the house is quiet. Couldn't do it. 2am, I'm knocked out as well. I write first thing after waking. 8am - 12pm. Those are my hours, Monday through Friday. In my opinion, you have to write at least five days straight, and continue to turn those thoughts over in your head during the weekend, or you'll lose something.


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M.E.T.: I understand you were in Atlanta in the early part of this month. What is your tour schedule like? (BTW, will you be in LA anytime soon?)

R.M.J.: My tour is over now. It was a short, but effective one, so I will not be in LA promoting, unless something else comes up.


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M.E.T.: What do you hope to accomplish with your novels regarding The Harris Men?

R.M.J.: I really didn't set out to accomplish anything with The Harris Men, but to write a good novel. Father Found, that was my radical look at the situation. That was me standing on a soap box, ranting and raving, and I really believe that comes across in the pages. I think there are so many good discussion points in that novel. Like I tell everyone, I feel that is the best book I've ever written, probably the best I'll ever write. I love it. The Harris Family is an entertaining sequel. That's how I refer to it. I haven't studied the effects of "fatherlessness" on kids, at least not in an academic sense. I'm glad if readers get something from these books, if they helped people in some way to cope or understands issues that they've been troubled with. I know they've worked for me in that manner. But really, I just wrote a handful of novels about a subject matter that I was familiar with, in essence following the first rule of writing. "Write what you know." Helping others is just icing on the cake.


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M.E.T.: What are some of your future projects and plans as a writer?

R.M.J.: Well, in October 2002 I have a novel entitled "Love Frustration" hitting the shelves. If you happen to make it to my website you will find a chapter. No fathers in this one. Kinda' finished with that subject matter. Don't want to be branded the "Fatherless writer" or anything. It's softer, funnier. It's what's popular. It's a relationship novel with a RM slant. Imagine that. Thought I'd take a stab at it, and to tell the truth, I think I've done a pretty good job with it. The novel for 2003 I'm in the process of starting right now. It's entitled "Love Don't Live Here." A relationship is the basis for this novel, but it's a harder, darker look, which I also think people will enjoy.

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M.E.T.: What is your website URL and your email address for readers and writers to contact you?

R.M.J.: I've been working on my website for what seems years now. Hopefully, by the time this is read it'll be up and running. Wanna' find out, go to Rmnovels.com. If that doesn't work, which I wouldn't be surprised in the least, reach me at rmwirter.


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M.E.T.: Thank you, Mr. Johnson, for this insightful interview.