His Tennessee drawl is audible with a simple, yet hearty, ‘hello’. And immediately the conversation is reminiscent of one with an old friend – who just happens to be a bestselling author.
Eric Jerome Dickey has enthralled avid African-American literature readers for over a decade with numerous page-turning tales that leave many wondering what intriguing narrative he will concoct next.
Born in ‘Elvis-ville’ Memphis, Tennessee on 7 July, 1961, he attended the University of Memphis, where he earned a degree in Computer Systems Technology. In 1983, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in engineering where he landed a job in the aerospace industry working as a software developer.
His creative nature then drove him to become an actor and a stand-up comedian. Shortly thereafter the writing bug hit and he began creating comedy scripts, poetry, short stories and then novels.
‘I did a lot of things and it just sort of evolved into storytelling and me writing in the form I do,’ said Mr. Dickey via telephone. ‘It’s not that I always wanted to write novels, but the truth is I always wanted to be creative.’
Noting the major differences between a software developer and a writer, Mr. Dickey said: ‘People tend to look at others as being one thing but we are many things. Just because you do one particular thing does not mean you can’t do something else. There is no contradiction in that.’
Mr. Dickey has been featured in many publications, including Essence magazine, USA Today and The Los Angeles Times, and his novels have appeared on the bestseller lists of The Blackboard, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Still, he is quick to admit that his success came as a surprise to even him.
‘I just thought it would be something I would do because I liked it, and for the most part would still be working in a somewhat regular job,’ he said.
Giving his previous statement a little more thought he humbly added: ‘I came out in a time when Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale was really hot so what that meant was that there was money to be made in the black community. So many books sold. The industry is not about the culture and other things, at the end of the day it is about ‘can it be sold?’, and that’s probably why I was able to break in.’
He is, however, quick to stress that getting his first book published was no easy task, but the hardship he faced only made him want it that much more. ‘I was writing tonnes, writing is a journey that one should keep working at and try to get better, so I did that.’
With a laugh he continued: ‘It took about three to four years to get published. I got loads of rejection letters. But I looked at it like an audition, and with auditions you don’t always get the part on the first try.’
Recognising other African-American literary greats that he idolises, such as Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, Richard Wright, Maya Angelou and others, he said: ‘There were so few popular books written by people of colour back then, and now, look at it.’
With a quick pause his tone changes to one of concern. ‘I worry sometimes that with the popularity on African-American literature that it has been dumbed down. A lot of people complain that there aren’t a lot of quality books and quality writers in the genre. And what is unfortunate is that a lot of really good writers get put in the same group. If I was just starting I am not sure how I would fit into this group.’
When asked what advice he would give to upcoming writers, Mr. Dickey said with a laugh: ‘I am not big on telling people what to do and how they are supposed to do it…I just know what works for me.’
So what would that be? ‘I continuously take classes and try to get better and that’s what it’s always been for me. Even the stuff you think you know you need to be reminded of.’
He is also quick to advise that the monkey see, monkey do theory has no place in writing. ‘It’s not about being a follower; it’s about creating your own path. That’s what you want to be as a writer; you want to be the one to find your own voice and stories. If somebody comes along and writes like Terry McMillan no matter how good the book is they still write like Terry McMillan. Don’t follow what’s popular, because what’s popular becomes cliché,’ he said.
Having written numerous books the conversation turns to how much time he dedicates to writing, but it quickly becomes apparent that Mr. Dickey doesn’t follow rules and just does what feels right to him.
‘Each book has its own personality so I don’t have a set time for any of my books; I just get into the process. For me it’s not about sitting around the computer everyday saying, ‘I have to write this book’.
‘There is just a lot of stuff that goes on in creation for me and to follow a set time just would not work. I add stuff, delete stuff, and find what works, and that’s what keeps it interesting for me.’
Just days away from his scheduled appearance at Books & Books on Wednesday 26, August for his new book, Resurrecting Midnight, Mr. Dickey said: ‘It will be my first time in Cayman so I am excited.
‘Resurrecting Midnight is the third book of the Gideon series and picks up right where Dying for Revenge left off. I am sure the people of Cayman will love it.’