Intimate Conversation with Phyllis Dixon
Phyllis Dixon is the author of two novels Down Home Blues, and Forty Acres, and Let the Brother Go If… which she co-wrote with Ms. Dupree, formerly of the syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show. She is a contributing writer to Chicken Soup for the African American Woman’s Soul, and has written for American Legacy magazine and the Memphis Commercial Appeal. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and a National Bank Examiner. She is a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and resides in Memphis, Tennessee. Visit www.phyllisdixon.com for additional information.
BPM: How did you get to be where you are in your life today? Who or what motivated you?
While many have influenced me, my mother has always been my number one cheerleader. She stressed self-reliance, education and faith. My motivation has always been not to disappoint her.
BPM: Who does your body of literary work speak to? Do you consider authors as role models?
My themes are universal, but my primary audience is mature black females, because that’s what I know. There are several authors whose work I admire, but I can’t say they are role models. Being a writer is a very solitary endeavor and each person’s style and motivation is very personal.
BPM: What inspired you to sit down and actually start writing this book? Why now?
I have been writing for years, but didn’t consider writing as a career while I was in school. I didn’t know any writers and rarely saw books by African Americans. Since I did enjoy reading, I opened a bookstore in the 1990’s. I met many authors and learned they were regular people. So I decided if they could do it, I could too.
BPM: What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
The characters. They are like family members and I enjoyed their journey.
BPM: Where do your book ideas come from? Are your books plot-driven or character-driven? Why?
The situations and issues come from real life; although maybe not my real life. Someone asked Smokey Robinson (my favorite) how he came up with song lyrics, he said some are from his experience, some are from others’ experiences and some he makes up. I think that’s a good description of my writing process. My novels are character driven. Some of their experiences aren’t things I initially planned. But because of their personalities, the plot evolves.
BPM: Could you tell us something about your most recent work?
Down Home Blues is a family drama that asks – am I my brother (or sister’s keeper)? Is it always best to mind your own business? Divorce, foreclosure, domestic violence, and an all-expense paid trip (also called prison) disrupt the Washington siblings’ perfectly planned lives, and they end up back down home in Arkansas. Instead of serenity, sibling rivalries, divided loyalties and money squabbles resurface. Even the good news, that there may be natural gas on their father’s land, causes conflict. Down Home Blues has themes of family ties and secrets, and the dilemma of whether to speak up or keep secrets. In the African American family in particular, there is a tradition of “what goes on in the house stays in the house”. Some say this practice contributes to closely knit families, others say this perpetuates dysfunction. Down Home Blues continues this conversation. It is available on Nook and Kindle.
BPM: Give us some insight into your main characters or speakers. What makes each one so special?
The characters are special because they are people you know, or you may identify with one of the characters yourself. The stories are about relationships between men and women, the usual things, boys meets girl, boy and girl break up. But boy and girl may or may not get back together, and maybe they get back together, but they shouldn’t. In addition to the male/female relationships, the characters also deal with family relationships. What makes the characters special, is that you see their situation from multiple points of view. Sometimes things look different when you see it from another perspective.
BPM: Are there under-represented groups or ideas featured in your book? If so, discuss them.
Positive black men are featured in Down Home Blues. Sometimes it seems that African American men are only portrayed as thugs or preachers. Somewhere in between are everyday brothers that go to work every day, take care of their families and love their women. Those are the Washington men. Another underrepresented idea in fiction is the impact of incarceration on communities of color, and one of the main characters is dealing with those issues. Also, I explore domestic violence. How does it start? Why do they stay? What, if anything should friends and family members do? Again, something not often written about in fiction.
BPM: How does your book relate to your present situation, education, spiritual practice or journey?
With Down Home Blues, I am practicing what I preach by pursuing my goals and getting out of my comfort zone. Given the changes in the publishing industry, I did not really even search for a mainstream publisher. There is a long gestation period in the book industry and I did not want to wait. I have a banking background and have owned a bookstore, so I have the knowledge and skills to produce a quality product. Therefore, I put the book out myself. Now I know there is a negative connotation with self-publishing. That’s why I prefer the term independent publisher. An independent filmmaker is admired and musicians are cutting out the middleman. Given our history in this country, it seems foolish to rely on a handful of large conglomerates to tell our stories. Also, I lost my husband a few years ago and he was very involved in marketing my books. Now I have to toot my own horn. I’m not comfortable with that, but as the old folks say, “a closed mouth don’t get fed.” That is a long answer to say, at this point in my journey, I have the knowledge, confidence, and faith to be the master of my own destiny.
BPM: Did you learn anything personal from writing your book? Can you share some stories about people you met while researching this book?
I would refer to the previous answer for the first question. Something I learned while researching the book is the extent of challenges that ex-offenders face when trying to reintegrate in their communities. The majority of those incarcerated will eventually get out. But many do not have even a high school diploma or a marketable skill. How are they supposed to support themselves? Also I didn’t realize the laws varied so much from state to state. In Maine and Vermont, inmates can vote while in prison. On the flip side, there are four states where ex-offenders lose their voting rights permanently, unless pardoned by the governor.
BPM: What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
My goal was to continue the story of the Washington family. But I didn’t want this to be a “sequel” in the normal sense. Each book stands alone and you won’t be lost if you haven’t read Forty Acres. I feel I met those goals, but the reader is the ultimate judge.
BPM: What projects are you working on at the present?
I am working on another novel and also a nonfiction business book.
BPM: How can readers discover more about you and your work?
My website is: www.phyllisdixon.com and other social media links are Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/phyllis.dixon.376 and Twitter - @phyllisrdixon.
Order Down Home Blues by Phyllis Dixon
Genre – Contemporary Fiction
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