What happens when a high school senior takes a university writing class and falls in love with a fellow student who just happens to be a vampire? Find out as Brushstrokes hosts Atlanta author K. Murry Johnson reading his debut novel, “Image of Emeralds and Chocolate,” at Mixx on Thursday night.
Johnson spent years writing the gay vampire love story while also pursuing his technology career. He chatted with GA Voice about the writing process, what makes vampires so compelling, and how two greats of black gay literature helped inspire him.
Your novel, “Image of Emeralds and Chocolate,” was years in the making. What is it like to finally have the book in the hands of readers?
It feels surreal! Sometimes I have to pinch myself to believe this entire experience is really happening. I feel blessed to be able to share “Image of Emeralds and Chocolate” with the world. Without God and my very supportive partner none of this would be possible. I love you, Khadish!
What was the most difficult part of writing “Image of Emeralds and Chocolate”? What part came easiest?
I must say creating villains was the hardest part. My natural instinct is to always think like the hero. I had to step outside of myself to conjure up the mindset of an evil character. Writing the love stories was the easiest task for me. I had a lot of fun creating the romantic situations and building the relationships between my characters.
Do you still live in Atlanta? What drew you to the city? Do you think of Atlanta as a literary town?
I moved back to Atlanta in December 2011 after moving away in the summer of 2009. I have two masters’ degrees focusing in business and technology. I was laid off from my computer consulting job due to the economic downturn. I first visited Atlanta during new years 1999. I was still in undergraduate school at the time.
I absolutely loved how economically and socially progressive the city was for gay African Americans. Atlanta seems like a city that is becoming more and more literary everyday. It is no New York, but it has a lot of potential, which is slowly coming to fruition.
From “Twilight” to “The Walking Dead,” vampires, zombies and the like are extremely visible in popular culture these days. What do you think fuels this fascination?
Vampires are beautiful, live forever, and have extraordinary abilities. I think a lot of people fear growing old, dying, and being ordinary. Vampires allow people to escape from their everyday reality and to indulge in a life of immortality and amazing possibilities.
As a young man, you drew inspiration from E. Lynn Harris, and James Earl Hardy critiqued your novel. What have you learned from these two giants of black gay literature?
Growing up in rural Louisiana I only knew of one black gay male and although he was extremely nice, I was not able to relate to him. He was the same age as my parents and effeminate.
My pastor, family, and community always looked down upon homosexuality. I was told it was an abomination and would lead to fire and brimstone. It wasn’t until I read “Invisible Life” by E. Lynn Harris and “B-boy Blues” by James Earl Hardy that I saw a ray of sunshine at the end of a dark tunnel. They wrote about successful, masculine black gay men and loving relationships. I was able to relate to their characters and plots. Their stories made me feel it was possible to live a happy and fruitful life as a black gay male.
James critiqued my story after I approached him on Facebook. He called my story groundbreaking. Receiving that type of praise from one of your favorite authors is an unbelievable feeling and a great honor.
What information or advice would you in turn give to young writers who might read your novel?
Stay steadfast, unmovable, and to surround themselves with a network of positive people. And don’t forget to keep God in your plan.