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Talking with Iris Johansen

In the early 1980s, with her children leaving home for college, Georgia homemaker Iris Johansen began filling her empty nest with the array of fictional characters who populate the romance novels she wrote for the Bantam Loveswept series. Today, more than 60 books later, Johansen is well known as the author of contemporary romance, historical romance, and forensic thrillers. This spring marked the publication of her twelfth thriller featuring forensic sculptor Eve Duncan. Hot off the presses this summer will be SILENT THUNDER, a stand-alone thriller and her first collaboration with her son, Roy.

Johansen speaks with a cheerful energy that’s bursting with the sweetness and zing of a Georgia peach. “Audio is going great guns! I remember when I first started writing--many years ago--whenever the audio would come out, they’d just sell a few copies. Not anymore. It’s just growing by leaps and bounds, isn’t it?”

When Johansen is on one of her many book tours, she always takes along an audiobook to listen to. “Most of the time when I’m on the road, I like to listen to suspense.” She likes Dean Koontz, as well as the novels of friends and fellow suspense writers Linda Howard and Catherine Coulter.
Does she listen to her own books? “No,” she says with a shudder.

“I don’t do that. Just a little peek to see how the actor is doing. I have an assistant who listens to everything. Early on I had very little input on choosing the narrator. These days, they’re very kind to me. They let me approve or disapprove.”

Johansen says she’s not good at reading her own work aloud in public.
“I get sweaty palms. I listen to all those wonderful, funny, terribly interesting people who speak before me, and then I get up and--no, no, no, no! I admire audiobook narrators because I’m not a good speaker. For me, all of the storytelling comes out when I sit down in front of the computer.”

Johansen’s books present interesting challenges to audiobook narrators and producers. In addition to the emotional weight of her writing, her characters are from all over the globe, from Liverpool to Colombia, from Atlanta to Detroit. “I move all my stories by dialogue. If the narrator doesn’t understand and the director doesn’t tell them what’s happening, then it’s not going to work.” Fortunately, Johansen puts her books in qualified hands.

This summer, BBC Audiobooks is bringing out Johansen’s 1984 romance, GOLDEN VALKYRIE, and Brilliance Audio is publishing SILENT THUNDER, a new novel and Johansen’s first collaboration with her son, Edgar Award winner Roy Johansen. “It’s the best of me and the best of Roy. We had a ball writing it.” In the fall we can look forward to DARK SUMMER, a stand-alone suspense. “It’s not a dog book. But my dogs feature prominently in it.”
Johansen says that storytelling is born in a person. “You have to be an enthusiastic, lifelong reader in order for it to actually sink in and take hold. But I think the actual storytelling is born in you. I had an editor at Bantam who said I’m like an old Indian sitting around the fire telling stories for the love of it.” As with that ancient storytelling tradition, Johansen’s love of stories burns warm and bright.--Steven E. Steinbock

© AudioFile 2008, Portland, Maine

Photo © AP Images/ Andy Sharp, Atlanta Journal Constitution


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