Thursday, April 17, 2014

Eric Jerome Dickey: Time To Chill

Posted By on Thu, Apr 17, 2014 at 12:58 PM

“It’s cool,” Eric Jerome Dickey said by phone, and he wasn’t referring to the fact that that morning on Barbados, where Dickey lives, he had the windows open and fan going. The native Memphian and best-selling author was referring to life on the island generally. But life on Barbados is different. As Dickey reported: “For one thing, in the States, you get so used to stuff. You have access to it … Walmart, Target … an overabundance of everything. Here, I walk into a store, and there may be only four pairs of pants my size! No Nike stores, no outlet malls, no Adidas stores.”

So, no. No “spend cycle” — as Dickey described it — on Barbados like the one you find in the U.S. But here’s Dickey on a few more matters, put to him before his Memphis signing at The Booksellers at Laurelwood on Friday, April 18th, at 6 p.m. He’ll be autographing his latest novel, A Wanted Woman (Dutton).

MX-401 aka Reaper aka Goldie, the wanted woman of your title: She can be a cold-blooded killer but she can also have a heart. How’d you come up with such a character?
Eric Jerome Dickey: I knew I wanted to write about a female assassin, but I didn’t know the direction to take. So I just sat down and started, and the more I added, the more I thought: This is the right combination for this character. Even going back to her upbringing in Memphis: Bit by bit, the plot just came together.

You’re a male author — and popular one — often writing from a woman’s perspective. When did you learn you had that talent?
I was in a creative writing class at UCLA, and we had to write from the point of view of the opposite gender. I was nervous about it, but people liked what I did. It worked out okay. So I started introducing the woman’s perspective, to break up the writing, and I do get compliments on it. But I do try not to write the same character over and over again.

This is your 22nd novel. What’s the key to being so prolific?
I just show up for work. I’m not on a regular schedule. It’s not 9 to 5 for me. Some days I’ll write for 13, 14 hours. Some days I’m not able to work at all. But I’ve learned even if you have a small block of time, use it effectively.

Doesn’t sound like you suffer much from writer’s block.
We all have difficulties. Writer’s block: Sometimes it’s because you’re just tired. Time to chill out, take yourself away, leave it alone, come back, look at it with fresh eyes.

Any pointers on keeping up the fast pace you show in your novels? And knowing when to switch gears, settle down?
Orchestration. That’s something I learned at UCLA too. It’s a matter of craft. Writing A Wanted Woman, I’d think: I need to slow it down, break it up, this is too much. And you can feel it, when things take off. You’re there. But then I slow it down a bit, give Reaper a breather. But I’ll admit: Part of the fun, early on, writing about Reaper when the scenes are set in Trinidad, I was thinking: What else can go on?

At this stage in your career, do you still work closely with an editor?
Every book is a starting over. And I don’t wanna get too big for my britches … I still need an editor’s comments. I need to see those comments, because if an editor has questions, that editor is showing me questions the reader is going to have too. Sometimes it’s something I need to explain further, or I need to cut a line, rearrange a scene. You need someone who’s not afraid to edit your stuff, someone who’s almost like a parent.

Sounds from reading “A Wanted Woman” that you had fun with the Caribbean vocabulary, the speech patterns, the idioms.
I did, and that is just me having fun — like Einstein having fun with his equations. But I had to watch it. I may love a certain word, the sound of it, but the reader could say, “I can’t even pronounce this!” So, again, I had to watch it. Don’t want the reader to have to pause too much.

Looking forward to being back in Memphis? You still have family in Memphis?
I always look forward to coming back every year or two. In addition to my daughter, I have an ever-growing family — aunts, uncles, first and second cousins. Man, between the Dickey and Mitchell sides of the family, we could fill an auditorium! •


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