FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
Eric Jerome Dickey has written a string of bestselling novels about contemporary African-American life. We've seen popular authors, including Walter Mosley, write books in genres that are new for them, including erotica. Now Dickey has followed suit. His latest work, "Pleasure," is an erotic story about love, jealousy and obsession but with a twist. I asked him to describe the book's heroine.
Mr. ERIC JEROME DICKEY (Author of "Pleasure"): Nia Simone, she was born in Trinidad. There was a lot of poverty in Trinidad and a lot of, I guess, what we'd call gang activity. And her dad was up that lifestyle and, unfortunately, died before she was born. She speaks on it just a little bit in the book. It's not a major part of the book, but it's a part of who she is.
And her mother met someone who was from the States and married him, moved back to the States. So Nia has grown up around a lot of successful - you know, I guess as far as for Hollywood - a lot of successful people. But her personality is that she'd rather be a writer, some person who's in the background than to be in front of the camera.
CHIDEYA: So she's a ghostwriter and...
Mr. DICKEY: Right.
CHIDEYA: As you are a writer and you create characters, she creates characters as well. But she's not just...
Mr. DICKEY: Right.
CHIDEYA: She's not just about creating a character. She is a character. What sorts of pleasure does she go about seeking?
Mr. DICKEY: She's at a place now where she's very interested, I guess, in sexual pleasure. And the difficulty, I guess, for her is engaging someone physically, sexually, without it becoming overwhelming as a lot of relationships for a lot of people tend to do. I think she wants to be able to keep it at a particular level. As we're getting into the book, she's breaking up with someone who is very obsessed with her. But she is very done with this individual.
CHIDEYA: So without getting too deep into it, there is a menage a trois. A menage a trois which runs throughout the book. And I will leave it at that. But...
Mr. DICKEY: Well, she's involved with several people.
Mr. DICKEY: It's better like that. So it's not just a menage a trois. It's that trying to obtain pleasure beyond what you're used to. You know, a lot of stuff that people fantasize about, she's in a position where she can actually see what it's like.
CHIDEYA: Now what about the literary aspects of this? There are - people use the words literature, romance, erotica, and pornography. Where's your book in that?
Mr. DICKEY: It probably depends on what chapter you're reading at the time. It's probably all of those things! I don't know who decides what goes into what box or what bin or what shelf, you know. For me, it's just about finding a character, finding a story, following, I guess, my heart at what I'm working on at the moment. And it just kind of falls, you know, wherever it may out there after that, you know.
CHIDEYA: There's been a lot of attention to the whole idea of street lit. And Zane, who's an erotica writer, extremely popular, sells a ton of books. A lot of people are like, well, she just can't write, but there's a lot of sex in it. And there's also a question that some people have raised about whether or not it is good for the race to have books that are explicit about black sexuality out there. So...
Mr. DICKEY: What race? The human race?
CHIDEYA: The black race. The black race. And so I bring this up because so often when people, you know, just as you mentioned, the distinctions between the way some people will look at female sexuality and male sexuality and what it's like to have a track record and whether that makes you a bad person. You know, people also look at these distinctions by race and say, oh well, black people are oversexed. That's some people stereotyping. Are you ever afraid that by doing work like this that you're, you know, I don't know, playing into a stereotype?
Mr. DICKEY: I'm writing what I like. I'm writing what I love. I'm writing the type of story I want to write at the moment. You know, I guess it goes back to this nation's fear of black people and sexuality and black people and sex. I mean, you don't see it on the bid screen. There's no...
CHIDEYA: So in a way, you seem to be saying that black sexuality is constrained by the way that people, you know, perceive what should be on the movie screen or what should be in the pages of a book.
Mr. DICKEY: Well, yeah. All of that is. I mean, for the most part, everybody in this country, on this planet, got here through some erotic moment. And yet, that's what we are the hardest on. You know, talking about erotica, talking about sex. I mean, then you can say throw it back into the - and then you whittle it down to somehow being African-American and writing books that have erotica or sex in it, it's somehow a negative thing. And I just don't get that.
CHIDEYA: So when you think about your readers and the people who are going to pick up this book, who do you imagine your readers will be, and what do you want them to take away from it?
Mr. DICKEY: I hope it's little, old white women in Minnesota!
CHIDEYA: Probably at least a few.
Mr. DICKEY: It's this or waking with enemies or sleeping with strangers or friends and lovers. For me, it's always the same thing. Hopefully it's a good story with good characters that once you pick it up, then it pulls you into the book. There is story. There is plot. There is complicated characters, complicated situations, complicated relationships. And at the end of the day, at the end of the novel, it's much more complex than just Nia and her pursuit of desire. It's that, for her, and just for her, it's this thing where you want pleasure but you want to be able to control this pleasure. And at some point it gets out of control.
CHIDEYA: Eric, thanks so much.
Mr. DICKEY: Thank you.
CHIDEYA: Eric Jerome Dickey's latest novel is called "Pleasure." You can read an excerpt at our website, nprnewsandnotes.org. That's our show for today. To listen to the show or subscribe to our podcast, visit our website, nprnewsandnotes.org. News & Notes was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. We'll have the latest on Zimbabwe's election crisis on tomorrow's Africa update.
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CHIDEYA: I'm Farai Chideya. This is News & Notes.
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