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Friday, August 27,2010

The case of the big cover-up

Eric Jerome Dickey is excited about his latest book — but not about how it's being promoted

by Bill Castanier

Author Eric Jerome Dickey begs you not to judge his new book, “Tempted By Trouble,” by its cover.


The dust jacket of his newest book shows an attractive young woman in a seductive pose — typical cover art for a vast majority of his books.


“It has nothing to do with what’s inside,” Dickey said in an interview from his Atlanta home, where he is preparing to go on a tour to promote his 18th novel. He has had 12 New York Times Bestsellers.


His most recent book is a traditional thriller that starts with a bang when an out-of-work and desperate Detroiter joins a gang of bank robbers that follows the mantra “leave no witnesses.” When a bank robbery goes awry, leaving death in its wake, a cross-country chase ensues.


Dickey said two or three key scenes take place in Detroit, with the protagonist Dmytryk Knight being pulled into a bank robbing scheme by his wife, Cora.


“It just kind of fit. I needed to create a special character to do what he does,” he said, referring to Knight’s desperation.


To capture the mood of the city, Dickey walked the Bailey Street neighborhood he wrote about and spent a couple of hours last year chatting with a laid-off auto executive.


Dickey is an obsessive note-taker. Not only does he visit the places in his books, he makes detailed sketches and often videotapes the area.


“I want to get it right,” he said. An elevator ride in the Renaissance Center seems prophetic when it appears in the book. For the botched bank robbery, Dickey stood in the Wells Fargo lot and drove the getaway route.


Since his plot involves cities like Phoenix, Arizona, and Fort Worth, Texas, he also drove every mile of the robbers’ route.


On his way through customs in Detroit, he said he hesitated when asked by immigration officials about why he was going to Canada. “‘I’m going over to take notes’ sounded really strange,” he said.


Dickey also writes detailed biographies of every character in his books, even if the material doesn’t later show up in the manuscript.


“I need to understand where they come from," he said, "and it makes easier if I lay it all out. I’m kind of old-school.”


The author, who is still noted for his often erotic African-American novels, finds himself stuck in that groove, which is perpetuated by the publicity. Schuler Books & Music, where he will appear for a Girl’s Night Out at 7 p.m. Thursday, has been using the publisher’s blurb — “flaming-hot” — to describe his book.


It’s not that type of book,” Dickey said, as he described his jacket art as “street lit.”


“It’s supposed to be a thriller. It’s like being trapped in a box.”


As for revising the cover to more accurately reflect the book’s content, Dickey said, “The publisher won’t do it.”


“I can’t get over that stereotype. It’s almost like an actor, who early in his career makes a certain type of movie and then gets relegated to that role. I write a book in 1996 (“Sister, Sister”), and since, I am limited by not only the color of my skin, but by the genre.”


Dickey likes to compare himself to modern thriller writers like Elmore Leonard, the late Robert B. Parker and fellow African- American writer Walter Mosley: “These guys are my genre.”


Dickey is also enamored with the writing of Stephen King, who he says can pull lots of characters into a single plot and make it work.


He said even the “flaming-hot” tag on Amazon stereotypes the book.


He offered up this example: “If I write an Asian character into my book, she becomes ‘black and Asian.’ You can see my frustration.”


He pointed to “Tempted By Trouble” and asked, “Which characters are black?” He answered his own question emphatically: “Read the book — you will see.”


“Trouble” is a fast-paced action thriller. Sure, there’s some sex wrapped around it (the protagonist’s wife becomes a pole dancer to make ends meet), but mostly it is a straightforward, kick-butt thriller.


Dickey, who is taking a break from working on any projects, said it “feels good to be normal.”


“I can now have conversations with friends and not find myself drifting off,” he said, adding that this is the first time since 1996 he’s stayed home for any length of time. “It got so I didn’t even know if I had any razors,” he said.


His next goal: to break free of the stereotypes that have made him successful. Even if that means — to coin an old phrase — biting the hand that feeds him.


Eric Jerome Dickey


7 p.m. Thursday. Aug. 19 Schuler Books & Music 2820 Towne Centre Blvd., Lansing www.schulerbooks.com

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