E. Lynn Harris’ struggles show that his life imitates his art (interview)

Drunken binges! An abusive stepfather! A suicide attempt! It sounds like the stuff of E. Lynn Harris‘ fast-moving, drama-filled novels such as “Invisible Life,” “And This Too Shall Pass” and “A Love of My Own.” But it’s really the stuff of his life.

The author, who has found much success — and logged many weeks on The New York Times Bestseller list — with his steamy novels of black gay and bisexual life, has now penned his own story, “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted: A Memoir.”

In it, he chronicles a troubled childhood, a herculean battle with low self-esteem, and the many years he struggled to accept being gay. We caught up with the Atlanta-based author at his smartly decorated new Buckhead home to talk about his life and loves.AJC

Q: In the book, you talk about your struggles with self-esteem. Did you feel unworthy when your writing career first took off?

A: Oh, yeah. I was waking up every day waiting for it to be over. But I remember my aunt told me, “Baby, you took the bad. Now you have to take the good.”

Q: You have so many female fans. Do you think they fantasize about you even though they know you’re gay?

A: I’m sure of it, because I see how they react at my signings. They want hugs. They want to feel my butt. They act like I’m a bona fide star to them. I just came from a weeklong paperback tour where I was in a different city every day. And the women just go crazy. I love women. I am not attracted to them sexually. But I admire a beautiful woman.

Q: What’s the naughtiest thing you’ve ever gotten from a fan?

A: Pictures. Seductive pictures. There are a couple of people now who send me pictures that are really crossing the line. But I don’t want to say, “Stop doing this.” I know very well what it feels like to be rejected.

Q: How do male fans differ from female fans?

A: For women, the fantasy ends when I leave [the book signing]. With men, they do the sneaky stuff. They call the hotel. I spoke at a really big school that’s near here. And an athlete called my hotel at 12 in the morning to get a book signed. I said, “Were you at the signing?” And he said, “Nah, I couldn’t let my peeps see me there.”

Q: Do you have many straight male fans?

A: Yeah. And I’m getting a lot more now. The funny thing about straight men is that they always tell me they’re straight. That’s the first thing out of their mouths: “I like your books — I’m straight. But I like your books.”

Q: Would you ever date a fan?

A: No. Because they’re all looking for Raymond [the lead character in several of his books].

Q: What are you like in a relationship?

A: I’m very much “the man.” It’s always been that way, and that’s not going to change about me. I have a take-control type of personality. A lover who I don’t talk about a lot [in the book] used to tell me, “You need a wife; you don’t need a lover.”

Q: It seems like you were raised that way.

A: I was raised to be in charge, to be the man, if you will. When I dated guys I had a difficult time, because I treated them the way I would have treated a girl. It’s not that I’m into role-playing or any of that stuff. It’s just who I am.

Q: In the book, you write about being physically abused as a child. Have you ever had any abusive relationships as an adult?

A: I’ve had abusive emotional relationships, but never physical. I’ve never had a physical altercation in my life. I think people who have been abused either become abusers or they become like me. There was one incident with the first lover. I said to him, “Now that I’m gone don’t be around here [expletive] everything that moves.” And he said something like, “I can [expletive] whoever I want.” I slapped him and he slapped me back. But that was it, end of story.

Q: You also talk in the book about having a hard time finding the kind of love you wanted. Why do you think it’s been so difficult?

A: I think [lack of] self-esteem. But I also think it’s difficult for men to really open up. Then, it’s the right-place wrong-time type of thing. How I live my life now is, I’m responsible for who I fall in love with. If I fall in love with you, I hope that you love me back. But you don’t necessarily have to do that. I realize that’s a risk I take. And I’m not destroyed when you don’t react the way I expect you to. I’m taking control of my love, so to speak.

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