Author Interview: Eric Jerome Dickey

I am uber excited to present author Eric Jerome Dickey. His new book, Decadence, released in April and is getting excellent reviews.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to interview this gifted, prolific and successful novelist.

Eric Jerome Dickey is kind, generous, interesting, intelligent and funny. It was a privilege getting to know him more in this interview. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it and I hope you will too.

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1) Have you always known you wanted to be a writer? If not, when did you discover you were meant to be one?

I guess you could call me an accidental writer. I had thought I’d be an engineer until I retired or became a victim of the Peter Principle, or a karate guy, maybe eventually write or perform comedy full-time, maybe become a character actor… the list was long, but being a writer wasn’t included.

I would never say that I was meant to be one. I am enjoying it while I am here. Until I move on… I give it my best.

2) Initially, you were a software developer in the aerospace industry. You also pursued acting, stand-up comedy and screen writing for movies. Was there a pivotal moment that changed the course of your life?

I dropped out of grad school at CSUF after the first exam, followed my heart, what I needed at that moment, and decided to take a chance, had nothing written, no real plan, ran on desire, and thanks to a partial SEED scholarship from International Black Writers Los Angeles, I was able to attend UCLA and become part of the creative writing program through the extension section of the university.

Go Bruins! Yeah, a University of Memphis Tiger said Go Bruins! LOL.

From day one, once inside of those classes, I felt like I was at home. I walked away from the undergraduate degree in Computer Systems Tech, but I carried the knowledge with me. Every class I had taken at the University of Memphis to complete those requirements, from English, to Physics, to Sociology, to Latin, to Electronics, to kicking it in a karate classes with Bill Wallace, it all went with me.

From cradle to the grave, we are all of our ages, and we never leave neither experiences nor knowledge behind. A lot that I learned on the technical side is employed in what I do now. A lot of South Memphis. A lot of the culture of L.A. Antigua. Barbados. Argentina. London. Places I’ve lived for at least a season.

Stories have to be logical, have to have a logical progression. Writing is about communication, and clarity. So all of those wonderful classes came in handy. Left brain meets right brain all day long and they dance in the land of creativity.

The acting classes taught me about character creation, motivation, movement, story, many things. Being in theater helped me see many things. Being in an Improv group did a lot for me as well. Don’t get me started on reading and writing comics. It’s all storytelling.

3) What shaped you as a writer?

I think I answered that during my ramble above. LOL.

Many hours of studying, reading, writing, trying, failing, falling, and getting back up. Every writer’s objective should be to find their own voice, not to emulate or duplicate the works of others. Admire, learn, then do your own thing. Find what works for you.

4) What is your creative process? Where do your ideas and inspiration come from? What is your writing routine?

I have no routine. I just work. From Monday to Monday, bank holidays and birthdays. I get up and work. Morning. Noon. Night. Each day is different, and that lack of redundancy keeps it exciting.

What I do is better described as being a creative engineer. Write. Flowchart. Think. Rethink. Restructure. Rewrite. Search for better verbs. Find another word for thesaurus and something that rhymes with orange. Look for better nouns. Close out book and move on to the next project the next day.

The word or term writer is too generic for my liking. Write checks. Write term paper. It’s not specific. I prefer imagination engineer. But, I will call it writing. Keeps me from confusing the IRS.

Being a writer is operating a small, medium, or large business. You are the CEO, the laborer, and everyone in between. You do it because there is a creative fire inside of you. What you have, it can’t be taught, can’t be bought at the crossroads.

You can learn the rules, can teach the rules, spit theory, but no one can teach you creativity. I love the challenge. The personal challenge.

It’s not about fame, or glory, or what the other guy or gal is doing, or (if you of that type) feeding the narcissism that runs through your veins.

Maybe more than a few might want to do a book so they can have an event and they can be the center of attention, the bride or groom of literature, and hoped to be liked by all in the kingdom.

I’ve seen them, have seen many come and go since back in ’96, sitting at a table, screaming this really happened to me, book poorly written, no one caring, skipping that table to get to the flavor of the month, maybe flavor of the year.

Maybe some writers skipped the part about treating the occupation as a craft, and not as a vehicle for their vanity, not as a tool of revenge, and their efforts died on the vine.

Sitting in a class, getting peer review, attending seminars, sharing work to get critiqued, that was too much work for them.

Better to get feedback on the front end than rejected on the back end. The rejection on the back end is very harsh.

Many kill their own brand out the box.

It’s all about putting your butt in the chair and attacking the project.

I have no idea what inspiration means, honestly. It’s a very reactive word, to me. For me work is proactive.

5) What are some of your favorite books, authors and why?

The Cay. Lord of the Flies. Devil in a Blue Dress. The American. Girl with a Dragon Tattoo.

Why? The writing. The creativity. The writing. The writing. The writing.

6) What are you currently reading?

Just finished reading Grave Descend. Cool noir. Today, was reading Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason (Icelandic), then Three Seconds by Roslund & Hellstrom (Swedish).

7) Did you ever imagine you would become as successful as you are? How does it feel?

It feels regular, actually. I’m an introvert. Well, I’ve become one. Used to be a time when I had to keep moving like a shark.

When I think of the truly successful writers I think of those who have been accepted beyond the walls of the USA and have been translated into more languages than people know exist. They can write five books and be ghost, set for life. That is an uber financial success, which is needed to survive in a country where nothing is free.

I love what I have done. Hope it stands the test of time.

But completing a novel, that’s success, even if you never sell one. The first time I held a copy of Sister, Sister in my hand was a WOW moment. From my cheap word processor to the bookstore… Wow.

8) You have a keen awareness of a woman’s psyche and emotional make-up. Were you born with this gift? Or was it learned and developed over time?

It’s writing and studying and being observant. Comics have the same skill. Used to be one. No special powers. Everything is right there in the open, if not, then it has been revealed on damn near every talk show every aired. Much about women is put in those little things called books as well.

There are no secrets, only what people chose to ignore. The big thing for me at one point was studying psychology, trying to understand the way we are seemingly wired, figuring out the way people act the way they do, and what role culture plays. (Every culture has the same interpersonal issues, IMHO, and the same desires run though all men and women around the world. We are human first.)

I have to understand the men that I create, many types of men as well. I have to study other cultures to create some of the diverse characters. The characters, be it noir, a thriller, or erotica, or something close to being literary, or an amalgamation of genres, I try not to do stock characters.

The characters that I have chosen to employ or design range from religious, to agnostic, to atheist. Not all have the same value system. From young to old, from French to Southern Black to Southern White to Russian to Spanish to Mexican to Trinidadian to East Indian to Bajan to being a native of Los Angeles, don’t ignore the male characters.

Men have emotions too. Men are complicated. Men are human. Men have pressures placed on them by culture and society as well, not all to their liking. I think the male characters are overlooked, and at times (overly) romanticized. (Hollywood and movies and their style of storytelling has impacted the way people read novels, sadly.)

I have to create a character and see that character from many levels, from many angles, and understand his or her motivation(s).

I am the designer of the matrix. LOL. Red pill, or blue pill? Pick one.

9) Out of all the books you have written, which story was the hardest for you to write and why? And which one was the most fun to write?

ROFL. None have been fun. Each project takes many months. You work until you are burned out. Then you work until it is done.

Writing has never been a barrel of monkeys. It’s work.

Thieves’ Paradise was the hardest way back when, hard characters, the noir plot, the decision to erase a character I had put much energy into creating.

The cons. It’s never the book that’s the hard thing. I had done about 6 books in a row, had toured all over the world, and I was tired. No rest for the weary, nor for those who are on the road to some level of success.

We all have difficult seasons. Your mind isn’t as well oiled, or things in your real life create a distraction or give you a challenge.

You move, change houses. You change jobs. You get sick. Winter comes and the lack of sun slows your productivity. Your mother moves in and brings two dogs, a cat, and sings like a donkey day and night. You have relationships, good and bad, both distracting and at times irritating in their own way.

We’re still (temperamental) people who have to get up and cook and do laundry and run errands and pay speeding tickets and water the lawn as read James Patterson books and wonder how he produces 15 books a year. Flashbacks.

Cheaters was a challenge due to the novel having three voices and at least twenty supporting characters.

Between Lovers was hard because I only used on POV.

Each novel is like a child and each child has his or her own personality.

10) What is the single thing you want your readers to take away from your books?

Overall, I want the story to make sense, just want the ride to be worth the ticket.

11) Was there a time you didn’t take risks as a writer? If so, when did you begin taking risks?

When I first started, I was lost, more or less, tried to understand what writing was, and tried to write like other mainstream writers, writers who had written stories like The Things They Carried. That was a fiasco.

Soon I found my voice, my style, ignored what others did and focused on nurturing my skills, wrote what interested me at that moment, wrote not only what I knew, but more importantly did the research on what interested me.

I write characters that I have nothing in common with and try to make them sing their own songs.

At the same time I continued studying the craft and learning the rules. You have to understand the rules (this is a form of communication) to know how to bend or break the rules, how to modify the rules and make them work for your style.

I started writing in my own way, my language, my metaphors, my similes, and it gradually became better. Some of the things I did, I kept, some techniques were jettisoned.

Again, getting to a place where I felt comfortable wasn’t overnight. We’re talking years of writing each day, reading each day, being in a class at least twice a week, attending workshops, the whole nine. Reading book after book after book on the craft.

I read, and still read, everything I can get my hands on regarding this occupation. Coming from college and the University of Memphis, I approached the field the same way I did in engineering, from the bottom, all the intro classes, and earned my way up to being a rebellious senior.

12) Have you ever dealt with rejection? If so, how did you deal with it? What did you do to not give up?

A black man in America experiencing rejection, surely you jest? LOL.

Rejection is just rejection. Actors, writers, comics, boys asking girls to dance. Especially in Hollywood, the most openly “biased” place in America.

Many parts are written, but not for people of color. (As of this season, we’re back into the slave, butler, maid genres in the business. We’re typecast in literature as well, so far as what they are willing to try to sell, so far as what certain audiences will accept from a writer of a certain hue and heritage.)

But you have to go for it, or settle for living a dream inside of your head. Only you can make your dream a reality, so you won’t be on your death bed singing that song of regret with the refrain could of,  would have, and should have (coulda, woulda, shoulda).

Stephen King, Terry McMillan, John Grisham, J.K. Rowling, all were rejected at the start.

Some take it hard and give up.

Some flip the middle finger and press on.

I was seeking a champion for my work, and direction for a new career, one that I had no idea would last beyond two novels.

The life of a writer at times seems to last as long as the life of dragonfly.

Over a period of four years, I had stacks of rejection letters, stacks that were tall and leaned like that famous tower abroad, and I am proud to say that I was rejected by both the best of the best and the worst, was sent “No Thank You” notes from companies large and small, black and white. Life goes on.

My journey wasn’t abandoned. I stayed at UCLA, kept attending workshops, kept getting writing tips, kept editing, kept entering contest, kept losing, kept learning, rewriting, and then eventually I was ready.

What I was working on became palatable and held promise. Eventually I had a short story or two places in magazines. I was on the way. And being on the way is akin to being a the starting line for the LA Marathon, at the back of the pack, knowing that after seasons of training you still had a long way to go, and there was no guarantee you would finish the race.

13) What are the key elements that made you a prolific, successful, award winning, New York Times bestselling author you are today?

Keeping my butt in the chair. Prolific just means you never really get off work. LOL.

Recognizing that it’s a job. Work ethic. Working, while others are playing.

Recognizing that each book is starting over, same issues, same concerns, so you need to hold on to the basics of the craft once again.

14) Lastly, what advice would you give aspiring writers?

When the call comes, be ready.

Know what you’re doing and be prepared to have a conversation with an editor or an agent using the language of the business. You will be chatting with a professional, more than likely someone who has a degree in literature and has championed many authors. They live in the book world, a part many writes never see, they are behind the curtain in Oz, and they are wise, from the first sentence or two can tell if you are truly a writer, or a simpleton trying to cash in on what you think is easy money in an idiot’s occupation.

When you’re ready, make sure you have a great agent and make sure you have an attorney on standby.

Doing a book is no easy task. It’s a never-ending job. Writing is not a fool’s occupation. It takes the better part of a year, maybe more than a year, to create what many will read in less than two days.You can write it, love it, and still boxes of your labor of love will not move from the stores.

But stay at it. Find your own voice and create your own lane. Susan Collins did it. J.K. Rowling did. John Grisham did. Stephen King did. Terry McMillan did it. It can be done.

Do your best, despite the international color lines.

Honestly, I hope they work in your favor and 100 countries want your work translated into their native tongue.

Don’t follow, be you, move forward and never check the rear view mirror as you zoom toward your destination.

If you’re in it for the money, fame, and glory, good luck, but walk into a bookstore (if you can still find one) and look at all the books on the wall, ask yourself how many of those writers are known, how many could afford to quit their day jobs.

What the Internet, Walmart, Amazon, and Google+ has done to erode sales, well, that’s a book that is still being written. I can hear the trees laughing, this being their revenge.

In the meantime, read a bit here:

http://www.salon.com/2012/03/13/scott_turow_on_why_we_should_fear_amazon/

Most of all, write. Forget the pomp and circumstance and the idiotic things and silly creature comforts and special this and special that fussy people claim they need to be able to be productive.

It’s not like in the movie Romancing the Stone. Who in the hell can write in the Caribbean heat? That was ludicrous. It’s not glamorous. Not for me. You don’t have to be on a beach snorting coke and doing shots, but if that’s your thing, hey, let the Ernest Hemingway, Charles Baudelaire, Phillip K. Dick, Jack Kerouac, Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King, and Hunter S. Thompson in you take control.

All I need is to be well-rested. And a slice of solitude.

Enough talk. I’m done rambling.

Now. Put your butt in the chair. Write. Study. Read. Rewrite. Repeat. Earn that nap.

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Eric Jerome Dickey was born in Memphis, Tennessee and attended the University of Memphis (the former Memphis State), where he earned his degree in Computer System Technology. In 1983, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in engineering.

After landing a job in the aerospace industry as a software developer, Eric Jerome Dickey’s artistic talents surfaced, inspiring him to become an actor and a stand-up comedian. Yet Eric quickly found out that writing was something he could do and do well. From creative writing classes to avidly consuming the works of his favorite authors, Eric Jerome Dickey began to shape a writing career of his own. Having written several scripts for his personal comedy act, he started writing poetry and short stories. “The film work gave me insight into character development, the acting classes helped me understand motivation…All of it goes hand in hand,” Eric explains. He joined the IBWA (International Black Writers and Artists), participated in their development workshops, and became a recipient of the IBWA SEED Scholarship to attend UCLA’s Creative Writing classes. In 1994 his first published short story, “Thirteen,” appeared in the IBWA’s River Crossing: Voices of the Diaspora-An Anthology of the International Black Experience. A second short story, “Days Gone By,” was published in the magazine A Place to Enter.

With those successes behind him, Eric Jerome Dickey decided to fine-tune some of his earlier work and developed a screenplay called “Cappuccino.” “Cappuccino” was directed and produced by Craig Ross, Jr. and appeared in coffee houses around the Los Angeles area. In February 1998, “Cappuccino” made its local debut during the Pan African Film Festival at the Magic Johnson Theater in Los Angeles.

Short stories, though, didn’t seem to fulfill Eric Jerome Dickey’s creative yearnings. Eric says, “I’d set out to do a ten-page story and it would go on for three hundred pages.” So Eric kept writing and reading and sending out query letters for his novels for almost three years until he finally got an agent. “Then a door opened,” Eric says. “And I put my foot in before they could close it.” And that door has remained opened, as Eric Jerome Dickey’s novels have placed him on the map as one of the best writers of contemporary urban fiction.

Eric Jerome Dickey’s book signing tours for Sister, Sister; Friends and Lovers; Milk in My Coffee; Cheaters; and Liar’s Game took him from coast to coast and helped propel each of these novels to #1 on the “Blackboard Bestsellers List.” Cheaters was named “Blackboard Book of the Year” in 2000. In June 2000, Eric Jerome Dickey celebrated the French publication of Milk in My Coffee (Cafe Noisette) by embarking on a book tour to Paris. Soon after, Milk in My Coffee became a bestseller in France. Eric Jerome Dickey’s novels, Chasing Destiny, Liar’s Game, Between Lovers, Thieves’ Paradise, The Other Woman, Drive Me Crazy, Genevieve, Naughty or Nice, Sleeping with Strangers, Waking with Enemies, and Pleasure have all earned him the success of a spot on The New York Times bestseller list. Liar’s Game, Thieves’ Paradise, The Other Woman, and Genevieve have also given Dickey the added distinction of being nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the category of Outstanding Literary Work in 2001, 2002, 2004, and 2005. In 2006, he was honored with the awards for Best Contemporary Fiction and Author of the Year (Male) at the 2006 African American Literary Award Show. In 2008, Eric was nominated for Storyteller of the Year at the 1st annual ESSENCE Literary Awards. In January 2001, Eric Jerome Dickey was a contributor to New American Library’s anthology Got To Be Real: Four Original Love Stories, also a Blackboard Bestseller. He also had a story entitled “Fish Sanwich” appear in the anthology Mothers and Sons. In June 2002, Dickey contributed to Black Silk: A Collection of African American Erotica (Warner Books) as well as to Riots Beneath the Baobab (published by International Black Writers and Artists of Los Angeles in April 2002). His books have held steady positions on regional bestseller lists and have been featured in many publications, including ESSENCE, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times. Dickey’s last novel, Pleasure, held true to form and landed on bestseller lists for The New York Times, USA Today, and ESSENCE.

Eric Jerome Dickey is also the author of a six issue miniseries of comic books for Marvel Enterprises featuring Storm (X-Men) and the Black Panther. His novel Naughty or Nice has been optioned by Lionsgate Films.

 

  • Great interview Pilar. Learned a lot from this.

  • Awesome interview! Very good questions and outstanding, honest answers. Thank you, Pilar and Eric.

    • Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I’m glad you enjoyed it as much I did. 🙂

  • Nancy Bouwens

    Fascinating interview Pilar. A joy to read and I can only imagine a joy to be a part of.

  • Awe inspiring, what an interesting man and writer. So more good advice for writers packed in that interview, and I like how he closes with “sit your butt in that chair.”

    • Yeah, I liked that too, he doesn’t sugar coat anything. He’s the real deal. Very gifted too. 🙂

  • Delia Winn

    Great interview. Would like to know more about his personal life, I understand he very much likes his privacy, so we will live you alone but, know that we love your books. Looking forward to your next one. Thank you Eric.

    • My focus wasn’t so much on his personal life, but on his writing life. I’m a novice writer and this is what appeals to me. Thanks for dropping by and reading.

  • Rebecca Lynne Andrews

    Great interview! I have been fortunate to witness his growth and am so proud of the writer he has become! The funny part is at every stage I have thought he was great!!! I’m fortunate to be able to call him friend!!!

    • Hi Rebecca, nice to meet you. Thanks for reading and commenting. I learned so much from your friend. 🙂 He is an amazing person.

      • Rebecca Lynne Andrews

        Pilar,

        I would have to agree with you he is pretty amazing!

  • Margo Kaisara

    Thank you for this wonderfully in-depth interview. I loved getting a real sense of his personality. Also, thank you for the link to the Amazon article. I’ve heard mention of these issues before but now I truly understand. Long live the writers that persist through such antics! We appreciate you.

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