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New York TImes Best-selling Author

Free Times Columbia’s News & Arts Weekly

Issue #23.35 :: 08/31/2010 - 09/06/2010
Dickey Promotes Ripped-From-The-Headlines Fiction

If the name Eric Jerome Dickey doesn’t ring a bell, you probably haven’t looked at the bestseller list in the last 15 years. And unless you’re a fan of fast-paced genre fiction — the kind with shootouts, chase scenes and pole-dancing strippers — you probably also won’t be among the fans at the Sandhills Books-A-Million Thursday evening at 7 p.m. when Dickey reads from his latest romantic thriller, Tempted by Trouble.

And that’s OK. The ultra-prolific Dickey has built up an enormous fan-base without you.

The author of 18 novels (including 12 New York Times bestsellers), Dickey has moved more than 3 million volumes to date and shows no sign of letting up. He has been called "one of the few kings of popular African-American fiction for women" by the Times and is sometimes referred to as "the male Terry McMillan," though he is resistant to being so easily pigeonholed and, in fact, switches genres more frequently than critics give him credit.

The McMillan comparisons, for example, arise from Dickey’s string of urban relationship novels, including titles like Cheaters (2000) and Milk in my Coffee (2006). However, Dickey’s popular Gideon series features an international hit man whose adventures take him to such faraway locales as Trinidad and Argentina, and in 2007 the author even collaborated on a six-issue graphic novel series for Marvel Entertainment featuring the black superheroes Storm (from the X-Men comics) and the Black Panther.

"I don’t pay attention to labels," Dickey told Free Times in anticipation of his upcoming Books-A-Million appearance. "I simply write."

"Someone else says something and it just kind of sticks, and that’s unfortunate," he adds. "But that’s more marketing than anything else. Overall, I just try to be a writer, but they keep adding adjectives, and every adjective puts you in a smaller box."

Still, quite a few adjectives could be used to describe Tempted by Trouble, which Dickey calls "a tale of desperation and capitalism." The novel follows the unraveling fortunes of Dmytryk Knight, an out-of-work auto executive who gets mixed up with a gang of bank robbers on a cross-country holdup spree after his wife Cora — who works as a stripper (stage name: ‘Trouble’) — hooks him up with a high-rolling gangster named Eddie Coyle.

It’s a violent book told from the perspective of a morally conflicted narrator who loves his wife (even after she dumps him), who puts himself at risk in order to protect strangers and who stubbornly refuses to use profanity — but who isn’t afraid to blow off a few heads when the situation dictates.

The Knights call recession-era Detroit home — and that’s where the action starts, with the quite literal bang of a gangland execution — but the blood spills from Atlanta to L.A., and at breakneck speed. In between, one character swills vodka, another pops Vicodin like it’s candy and, sooner or later, everyone winds up in the sack.

Dickey says he reads "a lot" and rattles off a long list of books he’s been lugging around on his current book tour — a list that includes such marquee genre authors as Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Sidney Sheldon and crime writer Robert B. Parker, who died earlier this year.

"I’m reading the books that I wish I had written," Dickey says with a laugh. "Robert B. Parker was just amazing, you know. Just studying his dialogue, it’s like, wow — it’s just amazing."

Dickey’s appetite for mass-market genre fiction has certainly influenced his own novels, but stylistically, Tempted by Trouble may owe a larger debt to the comic books the author read as a kid —"growing up, I loved comics," he says — and to the crime films with which he’s still obsessed. Indeed, if the name Eddie Coyle sounds familiar, that’s because it’s lifted from a 1973 gangster movie, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, starring Robert Mitchum. Dickey likewise saves his readers a lot of time and trouble by simply nicknaming a wannabe Pam Grier character Jackie Brown.

Ultimately, though, Dickey’s subject matter and thematic concerns are "ripped from the headlines," as he bangs out nightmarish scene after nightmarish scene in a quick-sketch effort to depict the contemporary American predicament that makes his characters do the bloody things they do.

"Every one of my novels, going back to 1996, is a snapshot of what was going on at that moment in time, in our history or whatever country the novel’s set in," Dickey says. "Right now, we’re in a depression. Writing a contemporary novel that pretends we aren’t would be the biggest lie. I mean, look at the front page of the paper today."

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