Long before “50 Shades of Grey” and Zane, there was Eric Jerome Dickey. The Southern California-based writer has been churning out steamy novels featuring African American characters for about 20 years. His books have appeared on the New York Times, USA Today and Essence bestsellers lists.
Dickey, a graduate of the University of Memphis, originally started off as an engineer. But after moving to California, he got into the entertainment business, trying his hand at stand-up comedy, acting and screenwriting. One day he tagged along with a friend to a writing class at Cal Poly Pomona and found he had a talent for telling stories.
While writing novels might seem like a radical departure from engineering, Dickey says he uses the same skill set. He often draws flow charts to plot out his books and says writing has it’s own structure, much like engineering.
“Every story has a logical progression,” Dickey said.
Dickey has his own band of rabid fans, who are mainly women. Dickey says he does have some male fans, but attendance at his book signings is dominated by women.
“Most of my fans are African American females,” Dickey said. “They come to my events. To a lot of the women, it’s a social thing. Guys read the books, but they don’t come to the book signings.”
Dickey’s fans are very passionate about his work. He said the most touching experience he ever witnessed was a man who proposed to his girlfriend at a book signing.
Although most of his characters are women, Dickey said he doesn’t plan things that way. Readers also develop strong feelings for his characters.
“People compare them to their friends,” he said.
Although Dickey is known for erotic fiction, he has written in other genres such as action, mysteries and even comic books. Dickey often does in-depth research for his books, which are sometimes set in exotic locales. He often travels to foreign countries to soak up the atmosphere. Dickey has been to Argentina, Holland and Great Britain to conduct research.
“I have to go there,” he said. “I like to go see what people are going through, that way it makes it authentic.”
As an almost 20-year veteran of the publishing world, Dickey has seen a lot of changes. He has witnessed the rise and fall of independent bookstores, the growth of big chains, like Barnes & Noble and Borders, and the birth of Amazon and online book selling.
Dickey said even the big chains have evolved to cope with the changing market by also selling toys, music and movies.
“Barnes & Noble is selling other merchandise (nowadays,)” he said. “It doesn’t look like bookstores (of) 20 years ago.”
Dickey also pointed out that back in the day, a reader holding a book was a great advertisement for an author. Now, booksellers are encouraging readers to buy e-readers, not books. If you go to a Barnes & Noble, the Nook e-reader is prominently displayed.
The growth of online book selling and ebooks has also changed things for writers, making it easy for independent authors to get into the game. However, this comes with it’s drawbacks, says Dickey. Now anyone with a computer can crank out a book, slap it on Amazon and call themselves an author.
Dickey says there used to be a process authors went through before the book was approved. The book had to go through an agent, editor and a publisher before it was released.
“There was some vetting,” he said.
According to Dickey, writing is a craft that needs to be learned. He took several classes before he became a writer. In the classes, he had to turn in stories every week and the writing had to be critiqued by other class members.
“Part of the process is learning what works and what doesn’t work,” Dickey said.
He said new authors need to understand that writing is a laborious process and also a team effort. Dickey said it takes him about nine months to finish a book, and he works closely with an editor, who makes him go through several rewrites.
“A good writer needs a good editor,” he said.
Dickey’s latest book is “A Wanted Woman,” featuring a female assassin on the run in Barbados. The book received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in the fiction category. His newest book, “One Night,” was released last week.