Eric Jerome Dickey was born in Memphis, Tennessee and attended the University of Memphis (the former Memphis State), where he pledged Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and 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. However, it turned out that writing was what Eric Jerome Dickey liked, even if it might not have been something he had ever considered seriously when first starting out. Yet Eric quickly found out that writing was something he could do and do well. He had stumbled upon his talent back in a college English class since, as he points out, “The first assignment, I was the only one who did it right.” 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 comedy 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.
Q: You are an eleven-time New York Times bestseller, and this is your fifteenth novel! Tell us about your road to success.
Hard work. Sacrifice. Perseverance. Criticism. Racism. Sexism. And that was the first day. Since then, lots or writing classes, lots of studying the craft, lots of reading, lots of rewriting, lots of business trips to promote books, lots of planes, lots of middle seats on planes, lots of trains, lots of automobiles, more classes, more studying, more writing, more rewriting.
Q: What made you decide to write? Was there a specific moment when you knew that this was how you would make a living?
I was between my 3rd and 4th novels (which means I had been at it close to eight years) when I was able to stop working full time and begin writing full time. And I do mean writing full time. Woke up at the crack of dawn like I did with my regular job and put my butt in the chair and did what I could do to make it happen. I’m still trying to make a living at it! I’m a long way from having chips stacked so I can retire to the West Indies and kick back watching the sun rise and set over lush mountainsides!
Q: Do you re-read your past books? Was there any particular book that was more difficult than others to write?
Never re-read any of my books. Like some actors don’t look at themselves on the big screen, I don’t sit down and re-read my own books. (Wouldn’t that be kinda….vain?) Besides, I already know how they end. LOL. Every book has its own challenges. Which was more difficult? I’d have to flip a fifteen-sided coin on that one.
Q: Your protagonist in Pleasure, Nia Bijou, is driven by desire and lust—how did you come up with/develop the character? Pleasure is your first erotic novel—what made you decide to try this genre?
All of my characters are fictional characters. I love creating fictional characters and tapping into different types of stories. Reading, doing research, traveling, all of that comes into play when developing a character. I sit in a place and think, what if…walked through here…what kind of scene could pop off here? (in Antigua at the moment, upstairs at the restaurant connected to the Antigua Yacht Club, looking out at a dozen or so super yachts… hills covered with palm trees… thinking…what if?)
Character development takes a minute; each character probably goes through a dozen “personality” changes before I get what I need to make the story work.
Q: Book publishing is a hard industry to break into for African American writers, and it’s even harder to stay on top-what do you attribute your success to? Any advice for aspiring writers?
Well, this is a job. Writing is work. All I can say is I get up and go to work every day. I put my butt in the chair and turn on the laptop, try to make a little progress before the brain goes numb. Not all has to do with creating a story. There is a lot of other biz stuff that has to be taken care of as well. Flowcharting, researching, walking around and people think you’re just looking at trees and being lazy, but your mind is working at warp speed. But when it comes to the writing, it’s about quality more than quantity. I’d rather have a solid couple of pages than ten pages of crap, just to say I typed in a lot of words on that day. In between doing my laundry and doing the regular things that regular people do, I try to read as much as I can. Most of the time, it’s books and magazines relating to whatever I’m working on. Most of the time. Not always. Watch movies, studying scenes and movement and dialogue. Study books on storytelling. Still take classes and seminars when I can. Each book is like starting over. That keeps me on my toes. Some days the writing flows; some days the ideas are coming; but most days it feels like I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing. People think it’s about writing, but it’s more about rewriting. It’s about playing What If? And sticking with it, no matter how tough it gets.
Q: What books are you currently reading?
At the moment I’m reading books by Lawrence Block. Loving the Hitman series. About to check out his other works.
[Photo Credit: Curtis Wilson Photography]