Author Shares Painful Past

In a new book by E. Lynn Harris, a man fights alcohol and depression, struggles with his sexuality and looks — mostly unsuccessfully — for the kind of love you see in the movies.

The best-selling novelist's new book may sound like another of his fictional tales, but he says "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted," is his memoir.

On The Early Show, Harris talks about the book that begins with his 1990 suicide attempt in Washington, D.C.

He says, "Every time that I went back and wrote parts of my life, I had to relive it. When I go out to bookstores in the next couple of days, when I read from the book, and I will be reading from it, I have to relive it."

Harris notes many of his readers asked him to write a memoir. He worked on the book for seven years. But, Harris believes, he only recently felt comfortable enough to finish and release it.

He says, "There was a scene when I was 8 years-old that was a pivotal point in my life. But I had to get it out. Had to write it so that I could move forward. My life right now is so wonderful that I wanted to get this part of my life. I think that it will help somebody. Already I have gotten e-mails from people who have read it and said, 'Thank you for writing this book.'"

Many of the author's fans may have assumed the character Raymond Tyler Jr., the successful, happy lawyer who appears in six of Harris' eight novels, was based on the writer's life. But Harris' has his own true-life tale to tell.

Harris says his stepfather, Ben, abused him and questioned his masculinity. The author says the mistreatment psychologically scarred him. When Ben divorced Harris' mother, the author blamed himself and vowed to become the independent man of the family.

He says, "I overcame all of that and became a tremendous success. My mom, who was this wonderful woman, the most noble woman that I know, divorced when I was like 12 years old and I basically became a man at 12 because I think she had given up so much for me that I had to make sure that I made her proud."

"What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" is a chronology of events, people and thoughts that led the intelligent and popular man to want to take his life. And, it examines why he chose to live. He credits God for keeping him from committing suicide.

"He had all this planned for me," Harris says. "I never knew the last 12 years of my life, after the suicide attempt and after writing this book. The last six years of my life have been absolutely wonderful and amazing."

"What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" also follows Harris' young life of poverty that he hid from friends to achieve acceptance and popularity; the friends he lost to AIDS in the 1980s.

He says writing helped him to deal with the past and enjoy his present. He says, "To be able to put down what I was feeling, to be able to put down some of the things that happened to me that I thought were unfair, to put them on paper and to actually see how strong I was, how much I had survived. I mean, just think if I had been successful that night. It would have been a horrible thing. I never would have experienced the things that I have experienced in terms of my career, my family and friends and loved ones and the new people that I have managed to meet, my fans."

Throughout the book, Harris cites his mother and Aunt Gee as strong sources of support. Harris gave his memoir to his Aunt Gee, who, he says, thought the book was wonderful.

With the book, he says he hopes readers realize that anyone can overcome a broken heart. He says, "At some point in life, we've all been broken hearted. Could be a family member, could be a friend, a loved one. But we can overcome that. I'm living proof that anything that you face in life, you can overcome if you have faith, family and a strong network of friends. I simply forgot it for a few hours. Thank God that I wasn't successful in completing that mission."

In the fall, Harris will teach at the English Department at the University of Arkansas.

Featured