Abide With Me: A Novel

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9780385486583: Abide With Me: A Novel

In this hotly anticipated conclusion to his popular Invisible Life trilogy, E. Lynn Harris delivers a masterful tale that traces the evolving lives of his beloved characters Nicole Springer and Raymond Tyler, Jr., and reintroduces readers to their respective lovers, best friends, and potential enemies.  Abide with Me moves between the worlds of New York City, where Nicole has recently settled in order to pursue her dream of returning to the Broadway stage, and Seattle, where a late-night phone call from a U.S. Senator is about to change Raymond's life dramatically.  Relationships and ambitions are tested as Harris deftly guides us toward this entertaining novel's conclusion.

Sexy and heartwarming in equal measure, Abide with Me will thrill new readers as well as fans already familiar with Harris's unique take on the universal themes of love, friendship, and family.  E. Lynn Harris has truly done it again.

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Review:

The third volume of the Invisible Life trilogy picks up the characters' lives a few years after the conclusion of Just As I Am. Raymond Tyler and his partner, Trent, are living together comfortably in Seattle, until Raymond's nomination for a position as a federal judge brings to light some troubling incidents from their past. Meanwhile, Raymond's former lover, Nicole (now happily married to his best friend, Jared) is starring in a touring company of Dreamgirls, although a sinister understudy is willing to stop at nothing to take the role for herself. And former pro football player Basil Henderson, who's proved himself over the years to be perhaps Harris's most compelling fictional creation, is regularly attending therapy (although it doesn't seem to be helping him deal with either his denial of his bisexuality or his emotionally abusive behavior towards others). While readers unfamiliar with Harris's previous stories will be able to follow the latest plot developments without much trouble, having the first two volumes of the trilogy under your belt is a definite advantage towards knowing where the characters are coming from.

From the Author:

Dear Reader:

You've played an important part in making one of my dreams come true, and I want to start by thanking you from the bottom of my heart. Your purchase of this special edition of Invisible Life will also assist in helping to realize the dreams of emerging writers through the E. Lynn Harris Charitable Foundation. (I'll tell you more about that later.) Right now, I want to tell you how Invisible Life came to be, and what some of the characters might be doing today.

I started writing Invisible Life in February of 1991 during a difficult time in my life, both personally and professionally. I was renting a room from a friend in Lithonia, Georgia, and was spending over eight hours a day writing my novel while listening to Barbra Streisand's Yentl soundtrack and Aretha Franklin. I had always dreamed of being a writer, ever since I had first learned the power of words at the Little Rock Public Library, where I spent almost every Saturday reading books that transported me to other lands, far from the small clapboard house on East Twenty-first. But as a colored boy growing up in Little Rock, dreams didn't always come true.

The only creative writing I did during my youth were letters to my mother on birthdays and holidays when I couldn't afford gifts. Even today my mama says those letters are among her favorite gifts from me. I never wrote short stories or poems as a child, but I did read almost everything I could get my hands on. One of my favorite books is Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It is important to me for several reasons. First, Ms. Angelou was also from Arkansas, and she was the first real writer I would meet and have the opportunity to talk with. Second, I shared with her my secret desire to be an author, and she encouraged me to write every day even if it was only one word. Great advice that I didn't follow for years.

The idea for Invisible Life developed during the AIDS crisis. AIDS was finally hitting home in the African American community. I had lost several friends to the disease and discovered several more were in the final stages. I also found out that African American women were the fastest-growing group of AIDS sufferers, and I started to worry about the women in my life: my close female friends, my sisters, my aunt and mother. I felt helpless and wanted to do something. So I turned to writing letters.

I wrote letters to several of my friends inflicted with the disease. These letters recounted our friendships, the good times and the bad. I didn't want these people I loved so dearly to leave this planet without knowing how I felt. Putting pen to paper seemed like the perfect way to convey my feelings.

A week before he died, my dear friend, Richard, told me how much my letters and friendship meant to him. He told me I had a talent for writing and that I should pursue it. "People have no idea who we are. So you need to tell our story. Let them know we're their brothers, fathers, uncles, cousins, and friends." I promised him I would write, but not for one moment did I truly believe I could keep such a promise. A couple of years after making this promise to Richard, I finally had the courage to at least attempt writing.

Invisible Life was originally called No Life for Sissies, and was told from a third-person point of view. The thought of writing such material, using the pronoun I, seriously frightened me. The main character was Courtney Tyler, a young man from New York who's in Arkansas for a family reunion and notices a beautiful young lady who's being crowned Miss Arkansas. Several months later he meets his dream girl, Nicole Springer. On my third day of writing, I made my first major decision and changed Courtney's name to Raymond. The name Raymond narrowly beat Tyrone and Dwight. I wanted a name that sounded proud, powerful, and masculine.

After writing a couple of chapters I mustered up enough courage to show them to a friend whose judgment I trusted. She thought I was definitely onto something, and gave me some valuable advice. She said, "You have to become Raymond to tell his story." So despite my fear, I tore up the three chapters and started over. This time I told the story from a first-person point of view, as if I, E. Lynn Harris were Raymond Winston Tyler, Jr.

I can't tell you the fear I felt the first time someone asked me if I was Raymond. Of course I answered "no." But then I started receiving letters from young men and women telling me how much this novel had helped them and I realized how important it was that I be forthcoming about the similarities between Raymond and myself. Every time I answered this question I became stronger and my courage grew.

I decided to rewrite the novel with a different premise. What would happen if two men, close friends from college who had shared an intimate sexual past, bump into each other by chance on the eve of one of the men's marriage? This revised first chapter became Chapter Three in the final book, the chapter where Raymond bumps into Kelvin and his bride-to-be Candance in a New York department store.

Another friend loved this chapter but wanted to know how Raymond and Kelvin met. I quickly learned that as a novelist, I needed to be able to answer any question the reader might ask. So I drew from my own experience; something I learned was not uncommon for first-time novelists.

Several years earlier, I had a dream about a man I'd seen at a fraternity party. I did not know his name, or if he was a student at the university. A week later, I literally bumped into this handsome stranger. Our meeting led to my first serious relationship with a man. I was a senior in college.

Even though I respected my friend Dellanor's advice about the importance of "becoming Raymond" I wanted Raymond to be the man I sometimes wanted to be. I wanted him to be attractive and athletic; the kind of man both men and women would be strongly attracted to. I wanted Raymond to come from a strong two-parent household. I did not. I wanted him to be middle class. I'm not from a middle-class background and at the time I was writing I was on the last of my unemployment checks. I thought Raymond should be a lawyer. I was briefly interested in a career as a lawyer, not because I had a burning desire to practice law, but because I thought it was a respected career and I would make a lot of money. It would also give me an entree into the middle class. And since I knew the novel would be controversial, I wanted to separate myself from Raymond as much as possible. If people rejected the novel, they would be rejecting Raymond, not me. Once I knew who Raymond was, I started writing again, this time without fear.

When it came to creating my heroine, I didn't look any further than one of my best friends, Lencola Sullivan, a beautiful former Miss Arkansas and Miss America runner-up. Lencola and I were never involved with each other but we still share a wonderful friendship that I treasure more and more each day. Nicole can't hold a candle to Lencola, although Lencola loves the fact that I used some of her wonderful innocent and caring qualities to create the shell of one of my most lovable creations.

Kyle, the character readers seem to love the most, is a composite of five people I had the honor of being friends with while I lived in New York-in the 1980s. I actually met a couple of them in the Nickel Bar during our regular Friday evening get-togethers. In the eighties, New York was filled with festive bars and engaging characters who could dance, drink and spout witty one-liners all at the same time. These people became my mentors and tour guides and helped me navigate my way through a world that was as foreign as Spain to me, a man from Little Rock, Arkansas. But there was one major difference between my new friends and that character that would become Kyle: none of them were ever addicted to drugs or worked as call boys. They were all college-educated and held professional positions. I just wanted to add a little spice to the novel.

John Basil Henderson, my most asked-about character, is the man people love to hate. Although I'm convinced more people feel sorry for him than actually hate him. I based his character on a man I met while I was living in Chicago. This man moved through my life like a speeding bullet, remaining like Basil a total mystery. Since the success of my novels, I have met several Basil clones.

I finished the first draft of Invisible Life a little after the Fourth of July 1991. I was both excited and nervous. Although my family and friends were supportive, very few knew what the novel was about. At that point, I had never had a conversation with my mother about my sexuality. But a reaction from one of the most important people in my life led me to believe that I had something powerful and healing with Invisible Life.

My Aunt Gee, my mother's sister, was the only person in my family with whom I discussed my personal life. I often shared the joy and pain of being gay. I called Aunt Gee when I was dumped by my first love. And she was the first person in my family to receive a copy of my manuscript. Why did I choose my aunt, rather than a supportive sibling or cousin? I valued Aunt Gee's opinion and I knew I would need her to prepare my mom for what to expect when I came back to Arkansas for my first book signing.

A few days after I gave my aunt the novel, she surprised me by calling around midnight. This was strange because Aunt Gee is usually in bed by nine. She said, "Oh, baby, I'm so sorry. I didn't know what you have gone through. This book is wonderful! It's going to help a lot of people understand."

Through my tears of absolute joy I thanked my aunt, a strong Christian lady, who had always supported me, but also held out hope that prayer would change my orientation. Her feelings, I think, are similar to what a lot of mothers and fathers feel about their gay sons and daughters. They worry much more about how the world will treat their children than they do about a family's possible feelings of shame.

After a couple more drafts, I eagerly sent out my manuscript (with wonderful cover letters) to publishers and agents via Federal Express. Weeks later my novel would be returned, the pages so in place I knew it had not been read. Lying neatly on top would be a nice "thanks, but no thanks" rejection letter. At the same: time friends were reading the novel and enjoying it, but I wasn't sure if I could really trust their opinions. I got helpful editing suggestions from close female friends, Tracey Huntley and Janis Lunon, even though I had yet to discuss my sexuality with them. Not only did they help make the novel stronger, they gave me clues about who the readers of my book would be.

I started to seek out what I called blind readers, people who didn't know me, or what the book was about. While the rejection letters continued to depress me, the response from my blind readers (mostly African American women) encouraged me tremendously.

These everyday readers gave me the courage to self-publish the novel, when it looked like the commercial publishing world wasn't ready for my story. I was warned that self-publishing a novel would be a turnoff to major publishers, and if I wanted a long-term writing career I should wait until the right editor discovered my novel. But I couldn't wait. I had discovered my calling; my mission for living.

I have often said writing saved my life. In many ways it did. Self-publishing a novel is one of the most difficult experiences in the world, but to me it was also a great joy. During the first month of the publication of Invisible Life it was not uncommon for me to deliver a novel right to the front doorsteps of a reader who had heard about the novel from someone else. A young man, K'Lavell Grayson, started telling his clients about a book that they had to read but couldn't purchase in a bookstore. Before I knew it, K'Lavell was selling more than twenty copies of Invisible Life a week. And the rest, as they say, is history. Well, not really. I spent the next two years peddling my book everywhere I went, hitting every African American beauty shop I could find. I did the Black Expo circuit and found out that people weren't always so certain they wanted to read a novel like Invisible Life. I even went to house parties from Atlanta to Philadelphia! When I traveled to cities outside of Atlanta, I had only one goal in mind--to sell enough books to get home! Sometimes I did and other times I would simply seek out the nearest beauty salon and sell the balance of my books to complete my mission. For the first time in my life I was starting to believe that with hard work, friends, family, and an abiding faith in prayer anything was possible.

Now, some five years later, I can honestly say I have the best job in the world. In what other profession do you get to meet people from all different backgrounds, white, black, Asian, Hispanic, male and female, gay and straight, who feel they know you from reading your work? How many jobs allow you to change the way people feel about themselves and other people? Looking back on my youth in Little Rock, I realize I had no idea of the healing power of words. But as an adult I've discovered writing is the one medium that's so personal, so one on one, that it's impossible not to understand the power of words. All the reader has to do is open his or her heart and mind. I have often said it is not my intention to change the world with my writing, but I would be lying if I said it isn't my hope to change people's hearts and the way we feel about each other.

Enough of my New Age thinking. What about the characters in Invisible Life who didn't find their way into my second novel, Just As I Am or my new novel, Abide with Me? Kelvin, Raymond's first love, is now married and living and teaching in Minnesota. He's having a difficult time since he just revealed to his wife of five years that he's HIV-positive. With the new drugs currently available, Kelvin remains in good health, and his wife, Mandy, has decided to stick with him. Quinn, Raymond's married lover, is still married and still keeping his wife in the dark. Quinn knows a couple of men who are married as well, and sometimes they take long weekend fishing trips.

JJ, or Janelle, is still married to Bernard and has two children, a little boy and girl. She recently got her master's degree from the University of North Carolina and has just opened up a day-care center in Charlotte. Bernard has recently started college and has dreams of becoming an accountant.

So there you have it. I'd like to end this letter by once again thanking you for all your wonderful support. Keep those cards and letters coming, and I will keep writing novels you'll enjoy reading.


E. Lynn Harris


For information regarding the E. Lynn Harris Better Days Foundation, forward your request to:

P.O. Box 78832
Atlanta, Georgia 30309

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

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