First generation: Iris Johansen has dozens of books to her credit, including 18 crime novels featuring forensic sculptor Eve Duncan.
Second generation: Roy Johansen has written three thrillers, beginning with 1999’s The Answer Man (Bantam).
Collaboration Iris and Roy have cowritten standalone thrillers, most recently Shadow Zone (St. Martin’s, 2010), as well as a trio of mysteries starring FBI Consultant Kendra Michaels, most recently The Naked Eye (St. Martin’s, 2015), with three more slated for 2016–2018.
Iris Johansen began writing romance novels in the early 1980s, then turned to historical romantic suspense with 1991’s The Wind Dancer (Bantam), before finding an almost permanent spot on the bestseller lists with crime fiction.
Her son, Roy, got his start as a screenwriter. While attending Georgia State University in 1987, Roy received a FOCUS Award (Films of College and University Students), sponsored by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Martin Scorsese, for his screenplay Murder 101. It was produced for cable TV, and in 1992, Roy and cowriter Bill Condon won an Edgar Award from the MWA for Best TV Feature or Miniseries.
Iris attributes the spareness of Roy’s prose to his screenwriting background and says she and her son share similar styles—“lean,” with “fast pacing.”
Roy points out another similarity. “Neither of us believe in writer’s block,” he says. “Even if we think the pages are coming out terribly, we realize that we’re often the worst judge of our own work as it’s being produced. So we forge ahead and stick to the writing schedule. Bad work can always be revised, which is much easier and more efficient than dealing with blank pages.”
And though their collaboration has been a fruitful one, Roy admits to some difficulty—or what he calls differences of opinion—but feels that finding solutions to those differences results in a better book.
By way of example, Roy says, “In our first Kendra Michaels book, Close Your Eyes [St. Martin’s, 2012], we introduced a character, Olivia, who was a childhood friend of Kendra’s. My mother, who can be quite bloodthirsty as far as her characters are concerned, felt strongly that Olivia should die. I was just as convinced that she should live, and we spent weeks discussing it and making our cases. In the end, Olivia lived, and we later agreed that the book was better for it. We already had one emotionally wrenching death, and another would have darkened the tone too much. In the course of our collaborations, we have each deferred to the other many times. It’s all part of the process.”
His mother has influenced his writing in other ways, too. “In screenwriting,” he says, “it’s usually the concept and the story that carry the day.” But when he started touring with Iris for their collaborative efforts, beginning with 2008’s Silent Thunder (St. Martin’s), he realized that her fans were wild about her characters and wanted “nothing more than to spend time with them.”
So for his own novels, he says, “I now try to start with an interesting character and build the story afterward.”