Lynn-Steven is an award-winning playwright and novelist. His Joe Erickson Mystery novels, Rose’s Thorn, Havana Brown, Corrupted Souls, and One of Ours, have been critically acclaimed by both reviewers and readers. The fifth installment in the series, Sins Revealed, was released on March 12, 2024. Johanson holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is retired from Western Illinois University. He and his wife live in downstate Illinois and have three adult children.

Sins Revealed – Chicago detective Joe Erickson is called to investigate a burned-out pickup truck containing the charred bodies of two individuals. Who would kill and then burn the two victims beyond recognition? And could the skeletal remains found buried in the victims’ backyard have anything to do with it?

What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The most challenging part for me is coming up with the story for each book. I tend to agonize over that because the initial story idea does not come easily for me. I wish it would. Formulating a complete story takes me a couple of months since it usually comes to me in fragments—a little bit today, a little bit next week sort of thing. But once I have it, the writing goes pretty fast. When I start the first chapter, I can have the first draft completed in about five months.

How do you come up with character names? Thoughtfully. I base character names on what characters look like, their behavior, and their age. I picture them in my mind and choose a name that I feel is appropriate. I named my main character Joe Erickson after my maternal grandfather, who died before I was born. I was looking for a name for an ordinary man who grew up in small-town Iowa, and my grandfather’s name seemed to fit the bill. I think he’s probably smiling about my using his name. For ethnic names, I do an internet search for common first names or common surnames and choose from there. Once in a while, I’ll use the first or last name of a former student or friend of mine just for fun—not for a disreputable character or one who winds up a victim, mind you. Mostly, it’s for a character like a uniformed officer, a doctor, or other minor character who appears in just one chapter. But the name still has to fit the character. Sometimes, they find out, other times, they don’t. It’s up to them to read my books to see if I’ve used their names.

Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? That’s a rather British thing to do, isn’t it? At least, it’s common in their television series. That’s where I got the idea to murder Joe’s former lieutenant in my fourth novel, One of Ours. Lieutenant Vincenzo, who had been promoted to Captain, was working on his own time to solve a cold case before he retired. His shooting death created a powerful emotional connection for Joe, who caught the case. The character of Sal Vincenzo had appeared in each of my three previous books. Killing him was not only a big deal since he was a venerable, although occasionally irascible, boss, but I also liked him a lot. That’s the only instance where I’ve killed a popular character, but I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again if I thought it would create a powerful story.

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Oh, I’m definitely a plotter. Having written two screenplays in the past, I taught myself to write them using Sid Field’s screenwriting paradigm, and I use the same paradigm to develop all my novel plots. It works equally as well for a novel as it does for a screenplay. The paradigm creates a three-act structure with plot points and all the events in between that make up the story. So, when I’m done, I have a flexible, detailed outline to work from before typing “Chapter One.” I highly recommend Syd Fields’ The Screenwriter’s Workbook for novelists who outline their work.

Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? Two of my books, Havana Brown and the newest one, Sins Revealed, both employ subplots. In fact, Havana Brown has two subplots. I didn’t start out thinking I was going to write a book with a subplot. The story simply demanded that a subplot would be necessary. A subplot may seem like a separate storyline early on. Still, as the plot unfolds, I slowly link certain elements of the subplot into the main plot, subtle things, so that somewhere in the third act, the two plots merge via some kind of reveal where the reader will discover the connection. If I’ve done it right, their reaction should be, “Ah, that’s it!”

What kind of research do you do? I’m a nut for authenticity, so I’ve done a lot of research for my books. My first book, Rose’s Thorn, took place in a county in northwest Iowa, where my Chicago detective has traveled to settle his father’s estate. While there, he’s pulled into a suspected serial killer case since he had experience capturing a serial killer in Chicago. Rose’s Thorn first began as a screenplay, and when I was writing it, I had to go to Iowa to interview the Buena Vista County Sheriff so I could accurately describe police procedures. He was gracious in answering my questions and explaining how things worked. The remainder of my books take place in Chicago, and I had to do considerable research on the Chicago Police Department. After absorbing all of the online information, I still needed more. I tracked down a retired Chicago PD officer living close by whom I interviewed. Later, while writing Corrupted Souls, I saw a Chicago detective on LinkedIn who used to work homicide. He agreed to advise me. So now, when I have a question, I can email him, and within a day or two, he’ll respond with a detailed answer. He’s been a great resource.

Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’m presently writing the sixth installment in the Joe Erickson Mystery series. I’ve told people I’m shooting for ten installments, but that remains to be seen. As long as I’m still enjoying the Joe Erickson character, and I feel I’m creating good plots, I’ll continue writing the series. I’m also a playwright, and I haven’t given up on writing plays, even though my focus now is on writing mystery novels. I think one of my plays would adapt well into a stand-alone novel, so I may get a wild hair and try adapting that one at some point. I also have a second screenplay that would make a good mystery novel. In any case, I have several options, so I will undoubtedly be writing something!

Lynn with a Duece Coupe

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