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Author Interview: Iris Johansen

Valerie DeBenedette / February 10, 2015

Iris Johansen is a best-selling author who has published in genres ranging from romances to mysteries to thrillers. She has had numerous books on the New York Times bestseller lists. Her continuing characters include Eve Duncan (in the books Silencing Eve, Hunting Eve, and Taking Eve), Catherine Ling (in What Doesn’t Kill You and Live to See Tomorrow), as well as many stand-alone novels.

Along with a steady pace of mysteries and thrillers on her own, Iris is now writing books with her son, Roy Johansen. Roy is an Edgar-award winning mystery writer and screenwriter. Their latest book together is Sight Unseen, which features Kendra Michaels, a woman who was blind for the first 20 years of her life and developed extraordinary sensory awareness that she now uses to help solve crimes.

Iris also has another Catherine Ling novel coming out in April, Your Next Breath.

What inspires you to write your books?

I am just an instinctive writer. I am a storyteller. I once had an editor who said I was like one of those old Indian storytellers who sat around the fire and told stories. It is a skill and my vocation.

I started writing as a teen and then I was a single parent and had to make a living. I worked for an airline for many years. When the kids were in high school, I realized that they were going to be gone soon and I needed something to replace it. I already had it and needed to go in and grab it.

It was a private kind of thing. Then I submitted something to the Loveswept line of books. Pure Romance. They have happy endings.

Did you have problems switching between genres?

No problems. One reason I didn’t is that, as I was writing romances, I incorporated all sorts of elements in them. I had people from outer space, gangsters, mysteries.

I started writing longer romances, then historical romances. I loved writing those historicals. Not a lot of happy endings in history, but if you do a lot of research you can turn an unhappy ending into a happy ending.

Then I started writing suspenses, romantic suspense to start off. But still very much romance.

It was a gradual progression. I am sure my publisher worked very hard for that progression. But I was still that old Indian storyteller!

How difficult is it to write books with another writer? How difficult is it when it is your son?

Actually, it’s great fun. Yes, it is. We are both professionals.

We wanted to write something together. My son has won an Edgar [The Edgar is the Oscar of mystery writing]. He is a screenwriter, a true professional. The only problem was what we were going to write? Our styles were similar. Our voices would meld, but his voice was younger, hipper.

We were looking for something to write. Roy had been to some museum in Chicago. He said, “I think I found it. We are going to write about a submarine.”

I said, “I am no Tom Clancy.”

He said we could do it. It became Silent Thunder. It was great fun and not a Tom Clancy.

We try to write one book a year together. We are both busy and on our own stuff. We found a character we both love, Kendra Michaels.

Do you have problems switching back to writing alone?

It is definitely a change of gears, a completely different process. I dive in and let the characters take over. With Roy, we come up with kernel of an idea and I will take the first three chapters and start development and then turn it over to him and he will send me back five chapters.

Where can we buy your books?

Barnes & Noble or anywhere else. I am mostly everywhere.

You can find Iris Johansen at the following sessions at the Tucson Festival of Books:

  • "Sight Unseen" on Saturday at 11:30 AM
  • "Writing with Iris & Roy Johansen" on Saturday at 2:30 PM
  • "Breaking Out of the Mold" on Sunday at 10 AM

Valerie DeBenedette is a freelance writer living in New York State. She specializes in writing about health and medicine, but writes about everything else as well.

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