Speakeasy with Eric Jerome Dickey
New York Times best-selling author makes three stops in Atlanta
New York Times best-selling author Eric Jerome Dickey doesn’t just write novels based on the drama of loves lost and found. Most recently, he’s been turning out cliffhangers with his Sleeping with Strangers series. His new addition, Resurrecting Midnight, follows international vigilante hit man Gideon as he travels to Argentina to help a former lover and uncover secrets of his past. Dickey discusses his new thriller at the Borders Lithonia on Thurs., Sept. 3, 7 p.m.; the Decatur Book Festival on Sat., Sept. 5, 4:15 p.m.; and Medu Bookstore on Sat., Sept., 12, 2 p.m.
What was your inspiration when creating the story line for the first novel in the series, Sleeping with Strangers?
My deadline. Laughs I was trying to create another character — just trying to evolve Gideon’s character. I love getting into a different world and he helped me create different characters as the story unfolds. I add and take away from his character; it’s fresh. With Gideon, I didn’t want him to be a familiar character with a different name. It could be challenging, for example, you want to do a-b-c but then you think I did that seven books ago.
Did you ever imagine this would become a four-book series?
I wasn’t really interested in doing a sequel because I didn’t have a proper character. Other characters didn’t have what it took to make a sequel. It just turned into this. It was a perfect character, in a gritty world, that lends itself to really anything you want it to be or do. There are just so many directions I could go with this series. Resurrecting Midnight has some meat to it. In some of my other novels, I would use the same characters but they would end up in a different genre. The characters would evolve and evolve more meat and drama. With Gideon, he changes but he’s essentially the same person and remains in the same genre.
What do you find most interesting about Gideon? And why do you feel your audience relates to him so well?
To me, Gideon is complex. He is complex and that gives me a lot of room to grow. Some of my earlier characters don’t have the skill set or capacity to do what he does. They wouldn’t survive 30 minutes in his world. His world is real, however. For most of us, we’re not a part of it. He’s not a good or bad guy, he’s an anti-hero. He’s a guy that should be in jail for the rest of his life — I mean you can’t be a hired vigilante. He has a lot of dents in his armor. Maybe part of the attraction is that he’s human. I had an idea of where I wanted to take his character, after being about 80 percent done, I went and re-evaluated his character and changed it. He makes mistakes, he falls in love, and we see him travel around the world and back again. He’s real.
Resurrecting Midnight is much different from some of your earlier novels. Sister to Sister, Milk in My Coffee and Liar's Game show your ability to understand both the female and male perspectives of relationship dynamics. Was it hard to create a series that’s essentially a cliffhanger and carry readership across genres?
It feels really good. I’ve always felt like customers go from book to book. You have no idea. You just don’t know. People who like Friends and Lovers might not like Cheaters. For all I know, when Cheaters hit the shelves, readers could have hated the book because it’s not based on monogamous relationships. And readers who like relationship novels might not like the cliffhangers.
And my stuff I did before was what I do now. What people see is what I get published. I developed a screenplay called “Cappuccino.” I’ve always been into gritty stuff — Ed McBain-type work. When I started out, I did he-said-she-said stuff. There was death, drama, sirens in the background. I don’t know what the readers saw when I did Friends and Lovers. The characters were stories. As a writer you have to sit back and think it through. You don’t know how people will respond to what you write. I’m a really versatile writer, it wasn’t really hard — it was just a matter of traveling around to get my backdrops for the story.
Thanks for leading me up to my next question. This series runs the gamut when it comes to exotic locations. What motivated you to use such colorful backdrops for your characters?
Initially, I wanted all of the series to take place out of the States. I didn’t have time to travel to all the places I wanted. I could travel to London and Russia but wouldn’t have time to make it to Paris. Gideon is an international. He’s always been in my mind. He’s not attached to any country. I wanted him to have that feeling. I didn’t want him to be a hit man from Iowa. You never know where James Bond is from. We’ve never been inside his home; you see his character try to be normal. Ninety-five percent of the places the characters go, I’ve actually traveled there. Every route that he took in the previous book, as well as this one, I’ve gone. I took that train or walked that road. I take notes and piece together stories. Bam — here’s a piece of an idea I got while riding the train or walking in a neighborhood. I put stories together — you know, she goes this way, he goes that way. It’s a lot of filling in the blanks and rewriting.
What’s your creative environment like?
I’m just in a hotel room. When I was in Argentina I rented an apartment. Then I went home, and then back again. Living in a hotel becomes a subset of your life. Traveling like Gideon does — he has no home. I became stir crazy. So I would venture outside my hotel room and I’d absorb cultures around me. I’d try to find some stories, no matter how brief, so that I give a specific authentic vibe when translating it into the novel. So that someone from Argentina feels that it’s authentic and not fabricated or comes from online. There are no black people in Argentina. I was at this huge international airport, the driver found me in five minutes. They told him he’d pick up a black man, and voila, he found me in this large international airport. I draw from all those experiences, use my feelings and others and transplant them into the character.
African-American literature has evolved a great deal since you first came on the scene in 1996. How do you feel your ability to cross racial barriers within literary genres has influenced African-American literature?
I was just at the African American Book Club Summit. People like to think I’ve crossed over. I don’t have the cross-over income yet. WeAfrican-American authors are at Barnes & Noble and Borders, away from the mom-and-pop African-American book stores like we used to be. I always say we’ve lost our African-American bookstores because of a latté and a sofa. As an author, do people come to me or do we have to find them? It’s the latter. I have to find my readers. I do a chain store on a Monday and there are 200 people there. Then I go to an African-American bookstore and there are only 20 people there in a densely populated African-American city. I think, "Wow, I know I passed a lot of black people on the subway."
When you come into the literary arena, you get the extra adjective. You have African-American author on the front, and then they put my picture on the back. Isn’t that a little redundant? Ed McBain writes gritty crime stories. He’s not put into some section that dumbs downs his achievements or describes his skill set. It’s a tribe mentality — it’s almost like the publishers sell to the tribe. You get the same publicity. Ebony and Essence cater to a certain demographic. I don’t know what people feel about black authors, I don’t know what people want. What I do know is that it used to be you could read one or two new African-American novels each month of the year and that would be the complete list of novels written by black authors that year. Now, there’s a whole section in libraries, bookstores, and even grocery stores. That much has changed.
Is there a fifth book in the making?
Eventually. It’s difficult with Gideon because he’s so international and I need to get around to all the different locations. I remember winter in London, seeing women wearing dresses and tights. I try to capture little things about the people and style in the story. Small details speak culture and add authenticity. I’d really like to get to Paris, so that I capture France. There’s been a healthy dose of U.S. travel within the book. A lot of times I get out and try to be receptive to what I see and try to work it into the story. It really makes the series pop.