Saturday April 29, 2017.
Popular African American fiction writer Eric Jerome Dickey talks about writing his new novel, Finding Gideon, the duality of being Black in America, and why he cut off his signature dreadlocks with Community Voice writer Glenn Bryan Frizell.
You cut your signature dreadlocks off!
Yeah. It was time to let them go. Kind of grew them by accident. You know the story of the black barber who’s never there. I would go each week to this guy and he’s always out. So my hair was growing. There was this hair place next door and a lady saw me one day and was like come in and let me twist your hair, So, I went and let her.
So once I got the locks, people would tell me they came to my book signings and identified with me because I had dreadlocks. There was this lady with locks in the shop who cried out when I went to go get them cut and for this sister it sounded like she was losing a cat. “No!!”
Welcome to Kansas. What are your impressions?
I love it! I was here a few years ago for a book event. Just had a great time. The people, the barbecue, everything was good.
Tell us about the book tour life. Do you really live on the road and in various hotels?
Yeah you really do. Writing is this thing you do in isolation. Going on the road you get to meet the people who actually read the book. Everyone has different reactions, responses, parts they like.
What are fans of the Gideon series in store for this time around?
For four novels we’ve seen Gideon work as an assassin while he’s been on the run. This is the first time where we see Gideon angry and surrender to the darkness inside of him. To defeat darkness you have to become darker than the darkness. We get to see Gideon by himself, fighting an army. We get to see how far will he go to survive and protect those he loves.
The last Gideon book ended in the year 2008. Where is Gideon now?
This one picks up exactly where the last novel leaves off. It’s still 2008 in the book.
Do you write elements of yourself into character development or the plot?
I’m usually the writer who tries to exclude himself from his work. I try to give characters their own POV and not mine. If one character has a POV, I try to balance it with a character who has an opposing POV. If I had two African Americans in a novel now, someone would have not voted for Trump and someone would think Trump is better than sliced bread. Just to have an opposing view. Once I’ve created a character his/her rhythm dictates it all.
Although the majority of your audience is female, I assume that you do get the occasional male fan?
Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I get a lot of guys that come up, write, email…It’s so funny, I’ve got guys on Twitter who are huge Gideon fans. They are like, “Dickey, I read your other stuff but I want Gideon.”
How has the millennial crowd responded?
The millennial crowd has sort of aged into Gideon. So, they’ve gone back and read the beginning, up until now.
If they are 21 now, when Gideon first came out they were 13. Very positive-so far as what they’ve read and what they’ve liked. Everyone cheers for different characters in the series.
What would one of your new social media fans be surprised to learn about you?
They’d be surprised how chill and boring I am. I am at home doing laundry. I am at home washing dishes. It’s just regular stuff and I happen to write.
367 pages. I’m about 1/3 of the way through. How long did it take you to write Finding Gideon?
I had two false starts.. I had done a time jump. In one version I started in the Bahamas and the other version started in Barbados. Neither one of those versions worked for me. But I reread Resurrecting Midnight and when I read that last page I said, “it needs to start right here. Don’t jump.” Once I took that approach, it probably took 6-7 months.
The author in Stephen King’s Misery has a process that he goes through every time he puts out a new novel. Is there a special process for you?
I just show up and put my butt in the chair. The good thing about it is you are self-employed, you’re the company and you’re never off work. You always have something that needs to be edited or needs to be written. Fortunately, just being a writer I can write anywhere. Sometimes I go to the public library in Culver City and write, sometimes I sit in Starbucks.
You have written 26 something-odd books. Do you ever get tired?
Writing a book is like doing a marathon. You can’t do marathon, marathon, marathon without getting burned out. There are times where I’m so burned out when I’m writing that I can’t tell if it’s working or not.
What do you do to regenerate?
You just take a break, man. What I’ll do is take a break, come back and I won’t write- I’ll go into editing mode. Wherever I am up to that point, I take it with a red pen, I sit to the side and I’ll read it.
Are you cool with Omar Tyree, Walter Mosley, James McBride and/or Colson Whitehead?
Writers usually meet at different events. Everyone lives in different states. Nobody hangs out. It’s not like we are the Avengers and we have a clubhouse-
The NBCC in coming up in Atlanta. That’s usually where a lot of the African American writers will be. We meet each other and we kick it for two or three days.
I think I saw Walter Mosley a couple of years ago. I walk into the hotel, he’s sitting at the bar and I walk over and I said, ‘Mr. Mosley” and he said, “that hack writer has showed up!” LOL.
What social commentaries have you explored and what themes do you plan on exploring in the future?
That’s a good one. It’s like, you know I create characters and I give them a life and they deal with the politics of the States- of being here. I was just having a conversation a moment ago about being African American and the duality you have to have.
Yeah, because being black in America you have to deal with mainstream America. You have to negotiate with mainstream America, you have to work with mainstream America. If you are white it is quite possible that you can go through your entire life and never buy an African American product and you can exist and be fine. I buy paper and it’s not from an African American company. You have to interact. I give that duality to the characters. That’s the reality of being in the United States, in my opinion.
What do you remember about your childhood, growing up in Memphis?
Kansas Street, Memphis, Tennessee. I remember it being a community. If I did something a block away that was bad they would give me a whopping, take me home, I’d get a whopping again. It was a community raising the children. It was accountability. Everybody knew everybody. You walked down the street, you spoke to everybody.
Is that not true today?
Oh gosh! People live in communities today, they don’t even know their neighbors. Neighbors come out, they don’t even speak to each other.
What do you remember most about college?
University of Memphis, I remember- I majored in computer system’s technology. I just remember studying and working. There was a point in college where I had three jobs and a full load. It was about survival because I come in, I’m trying to achieve a goal-earn a living and just being afraid to fail.
Did you know that computers were going to be as big as they are now back then?
No, I didn’t. Jeez man. When I started, there were no computers at my high school. They were these huge IBM units. You couldn’t conceive a reason why anyone would have a computer in their house at the time. You couldn’t conceive that everyone would have their own cell phone. This was the 80’s. You couldn’t envision all of the stuff that you could do with a computer now.
What would you say to an aspiring writer who wants to get published by a mainstream book company?
You have to stay the course. I think some people are used to instant gratification. I’ve met people who wanted to talk to me because they want to be a celebrity. I tell them, I can’t help you. You step into any major bookstore or library most of the people in there are unknown. Even a lot of successful writers had to maintain a day job to make ends meet. They look at J.K Rowling, who I love, and they think that- that’s what I want. I say, “well it doesn’t come that easy.” JK Rowling was down and out and on welfare and she didn’t see it coming. And then this wonderful thing happened. You do it because you love it.
Last year the KCK Library brought Sister Souljah, author of the Midnight series. Today, we have you. Who should we explore bringing next?
Kimberly Lawson Roby, Victoria Christopher Murray, Reshonda Tate Billingsley, Walter Mosley-if you haven’t had him. Lolita Files…
That’s a whole lot. LOL.
It’s just so many people. And a lot of people I recommend it goes beyond the writing- They are good people. The list goes on and on…
What is the weirdest relationship or romance question anyone has asked you?
I’m not sure if it would be a question more than it would be an action-I’ve had people show up a book signings convinced that the characters in the books were real and they came to meet them.
And I had to tell them that, “no, this is fiction”-
and they gave me that misery look and I’m like, “security!” (LOL). When I was doing Friends and Lovers, I’ll never forget this lady came, sat on the front row and she was dressed! Because she knew that this character in Friends and Lovers- Tyrel. She came to meet him, and get his information because this is the guy she wanted.
Borrowing from the Golden Girls theme song: if you had a party and could invite any 3 people that you knew (past, present or future) who would they be?
I would invite my mother, my father, and my grandmother.
Thank you for your time, Mr. Dickey.