Eric Jerome Dickey
EXCLUSIVE TO THE L.A. SENTINEL
By Janet Alston Jackson
Sentinel Contributing writer
If you have reached the top of your game, why would you want to study hard, voraciously dissecting your craft like a novice? Ask Eric Jerome Dickey, author of 18 novels, including 12 New York Times Bestsellers. He is constantly driven to learn everything he can about writing to perfect his work.
Listening to Dickey talk passionately about the written word, you know why he at the top of his game, and wonder why he’s not also teaching. He prefers to keep learning as much as possible by devouring books, studying films, television shows, and of course, sitting in classes with a Zen like beginner’s mind. “People ask me a lot about teaching,” says Dickey, “I don’t, maybe because I feel more like a student than a teacher. I ‘m always looking for a writing class to take, even if it is about something I already know, because maybe it’s something I totally forgot about.”
Dickey’s latest book, “Tempted by Trouble,” is an unforgettable, exhilarating gritty thriller, with rich imagery and the experience of watching a fast-paced blockbuster movie through the written word. “Tempted,” set in a backdrop of recession and unemployment, is about love, betrayal and the lengths we will go to survive in a ruthless world. It’s the bank robbery book Dickey says he has always wanted to write which unfolds in the middle of the Crenshaw District.
Fans and critics alike appreciate Dickey’s painstaking attentiveness to details in his books. He travels across the country and parts of the world, following the footsteps of his characters to make sure his descriptions of settings in his stories are accurate. His thorough research for “Tempted by Trouble” was no different. “I sat in the Wells Fargo parking lot in the Crenshaw District where the bank is robbed in the story, and I walked in the bank and just stood there to see how it was populated”, says Dickey, “Later, I drove up Hillcrest Drive where the dip in the street is so severe. I thought if you are speeding and trying to get away from the bank robbery, this is where you mess up”.
Dickey didn’t always want to be a novelist. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee and attended the University of Memphis, where he earned his degree in Computer System Technology. In 1983, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in engineering, where he lives today. After landing a job in the aerospace industry as a software developer, Dickey’s artistic talents surfaced, inspiring him to become an actor and a stand-up comedian. He discovered that writing was something he could do and do well.
When Dickey joined the IBWA (International Black Writers and Artists), he participated in their development workshops, and became a recipient of the IBWA SEED Scholarship to attend UCLA’s Creative Writing classes. In 1994 he published his first short story, “Thirteen,” and hasn’t looked back since.
After penning eighteen novels, and a six-issue miniseries of comic books for marvel Enterprises featuring Storm (X-Men) and the Black Panther, Dickey has received praises from critics and fans alike. The New York Times raves, “Dickey has perfected an addictive fictional formula. ” The author was nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the category of Outstanding Literary Work in 2001, 2002, 2004, and 2005. In 2006, Dickey 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 an exclusive interview with the Sentinel, kicking off his 15-city book tour, Dickey talks about his craft, his extensive travel for research, and why he is the ultimate student. His enthusiasm for the written word is contagious.
Sentinel: You are a prolific writer, turning out a book a year. How do you do it?
Dickey:(laughs) I call it the lab, that’s where I sit down to write. First of all, people ask me my secret. Well, you sit down and write. Everyday is not an easy day. Most days it’s not, but you sit there and you make baby steps. Most of writing is rewriting. Even when you get first draft, you are not done. You are only at the beginning. I think, now I have something that I can work with. I start rearranging scenes, and cutting stuff.
I am my own worse critic, I think, it’s not good enough, it’s just not enough. I don’t want to write just for the sake of people. I probably cut 40 thousand words of “Tempted by Trouble”.
A lot of people who write, say, “Oh, I can’t delete this”. Well it’s not about you; it’s about the story. My editor did some cuts, and I told her to cut some more, and than I went back and cut twice as much as she did, and she said, “Oh my God!” but I said, “We’re getting it down.” One thing flows from one thing to next.
I picked up the book the other day and was looking at a chapter. I thought, I should have ended that chapter four sentences earlier. When I look at my work, I’m never the casual reader. I am always thinking I should have used a different word.
Sentinel: You travel a lot to research your character’s journeys.
Dickey: It’s workman. What has been very difficult for me comes with traveling. You are separated from your real life, your friends, and you come back home and you don’t remember where anything is because you have been gone for so long. In “Tempted” I wrote, about the characters driving across country.” I was thinking, now I have to drive across the country because that’s what the character does. I have to do it too. So I drove from LA, stopped in Phoenix, stopped in Fort Worth, drove to Alabama. I went up through Nashville just like the characters did in the book.
In my book, “Between Lovers” I wrote the characters went jogging up a hill. I thought, damn, now I got to go jogging up a hill. So I had pencil and paper, writing notes. Then I would go back and write the scene, print it out. I then drove the same trail again to make sure I got it right, if only from the character’s point of view. As I am writing I try to see the world from their point of view, what they want, and what brought them together, and then tie that to conflict.
Sentinel: Do you travel by yourself are you married? Dickey: No I’m not. I always go by myself because if someone goes with you, you are working and they are on vacation. That does not work out. Some stuff I do is boring. When I was working on “Dying for Revenge”, with scenes in Argentina, I went there and worked on a chase scene using the train. So, I get up at the crack of dawn, because its an early morning chase scene, go down to the station to see what the traffic is like in the morning so I can write about it so it will be authentic.
If you are with me, this is so boring, because one end of the train line to the other is probably about an hour. I rode down one way, get off and got another ticket, and then I came back. This is what I do all day just so I can write four pages.
Sentinel: How do you come up with topics for your novels?
Dickey: I’m a novel fan, a film fan. It’s a lot of different types of stuff that I have enjoyed over the years and I think, I wouldn’t mind writing something like that.
Going back to “Friends and Lovers”, at that time there were a lot of ensemble movies that were out like the Breakfast Club, and I really wanted to write an ensemble piece. As for “Tempted by Trouble,” I always wanted to write a story about robbing a bank, and basically I think, why would they do that? For lack of money? Everyone can understand a lack of money.
Sentinel: “Tempted by Trouble” has relationship issues, which you write so well.
Dickey: Everybody likes everybody when they are having fun. The problem with many relationships, and this may sound childish is people think, “Oh I’m not having fun anymore, I need to leave here and go someplace where I can have fun. ” The problem is on some levels, people never really grow up.
Sentinel: What makes a good writer? Dickey: You have to see what other people don’t see. When people criticize your work, and they don’t get your story, just listen. If they didn’t get it, you didn’t communicate effectively.
Reading is important, but understanding what you are reading is what is really important. A lot of people think writing is an idiot’s occupation.
They think anybody can do it. Yeah anyone can do a book, but not everyone can write a good book. You can be in car accident, and everybody dies, and you write about it, but if you don’t write it effectively, the reader is just going to flip the page.
You want to write in a way that people go through this with you, and stay with you, and want to hold your hand. There are no boring stories, only boring writers.
Sentinel: What was your journey like as a beginner writer?
Dickey: There was stuff I submitted, and it was rejected and rejected. Then I took classes for everything, including dialogue, short stories, and scenes. So it became so tight, people would read it and say it was excellent
I thought, this is the same thing I wrote two years ago when it was rejected, but now I wrote it with patience.
I am still trying to understand what I’m doing 18 books later. I’m always trying to do a little bit better.
Sentinel: Is there an overall message in the books you write?
Dickey; Always a consequence for my character’s actions. Stuff always catches up with you one way or another. Nothing is done without consequences. None of my characters have gotten away with anything, whether it is loving the wrong person, greed, adultery, robbing banks, or being a hit man.
My favorite phrase is “The rocks come with the farm.”
Book signing with Eric Jerome Dickey
Eso Won Bookstore
Mon, Aug 23 @07:00PM – 08:30PM
4331 Degnan Blvd. LA. 90008
You can hear the complete podcast with Eric Jerome Dickey
www.sportingtherightattitude.com/SportingtheRightAttitude.com/Eric_Dickey.html Janet Alston Jackson