by Linda Pate
In the novel Uptown (Touchstone Books $14.99), order you will meet Dwight Dixon, advice the big dreamer who will do what ever it takes to take over a Harlem real estate empire that belongs to his father. His cousin Avery loses her mother suddenly and is feeling betrayed by her estranged cousin Dwight. Each chapter will unveil the lies and secrets of Dwight Dixon. I had an opportunity to interview the authors DeBerry and Donna Grant.
How did the story of Uptown come about?
The real estate boom was the gold rush of the 2000’s. Newer, grander homes and luxury towers went up in places where they had never been built before—including Harlem, but not without debt to get in the game. In Uptown we wanted to take a look at that phenomenon, at how we measure success—just by the bottom line or do we expect more, as well as the lasting affects of betrayal and the healing potential of forgiveness. We realized we had the perfect two characters to take us into that world. Dwight Dixon and his irascible father, King Dixon were characters from Better Than I Know Myself that readers loved to hate, and their family business was Harlem real estate. So in Uptown we explore both the family dynamics that weigh on Dwight and his cousin, Avery Lyons who grew up like a sister to him, as well as the pressure to be successful at any cost and the personal toll it takes.
Dwight and Avery are not able to forgive each other for past events. What message are you sending to our readers?
Many of us carry around emotional baggage—anger and hurt feelings about past events. What we don’t realize is that those feelings can block us from finding happiness and fulfillment in our future. Avery learns that forgiveness doesn’t mean what the person did was acceptable and while Dwight doesn’t learn that lesson in quite the same way, we hope he’s on the path that will lead him there eventually. It is about freeing ourselves to allow more positive feelings in our lives.
What is it about Harlem that keeps your focus when setting many of your novels?
We have used a variety of locations, from Buffalo and Brooklyn in New York, to a variety of places in Central New Jersey, locations that are familiar to us. But, we have also visited Harlem often. Harlem has been an iconic African American community since the early part of the twentieth century. It is also an area that is familiar to both of us. Donna’s mother was raised in Harlem and Donna has vivid memories of the neighbor from when she was younger, as well as from her years at Barnard College. When Virginia first moved to Manhattan, she lived in one of the buildings on 110th Street that we have The Dixon Group own in Uptown. It is also where Jewell, Regina and Carmen shared apartment 5D in Better Than I Know Myself.
What is the difference of the story behind Uptown from your other novels What Doesn’t Kill You and Gotta Keep On Tryin?
Starting with What Doesn’t Kill You, which tells the story of a woman who loses her long time job, and has to face some hard economic and personal realities before reinventing herself, we have been interested in investigating situations that are in the news and affect us all, by telling a story that puts those events in a personal setting. Uptown continues that kind of story telling. It is also the first book that has a male character as such a central focus. We are always looking for ways to keep our storytelling both relevant and compelling. We want to keep readers needing to turn the pages and find out what happens next.
How did you become partners?
We met back in the early ‘80’s in a profession where we should have been rivals. We were both plus-size models—the only two blacks in our NYC agency and therefore in direct competition. But we realized quickly that we had a lot in common, and we cracked each other up. We cooked up a number of projects together – a fashion newsletter and a short-lived magazine- before we got around to writing our very first novel, Exposures, which was written under the pseudonym Marie Joyce.
Through the newsletter and magazine, we discovered that we work together seamlessly, almost like we shared halves of the same brain. When the magazine folded without warning, we knew that we had to find a way to keep working together. Although we tried several “sensible” ideas, we kept being drawn to something we each fell in love with as children—fiction. Exposures was published first in 1990 and we thought we had it made. But it took five years to sell our next book—Tryin’ to Sleep in the Bed You Made.
What encouraging words will you share with readers who might want to write a novel?
Don’t keep talking about the great idea you have for a story—write it. It’s not a story until you get it out of your head. Then you can begin to give it shape and substance. People talk about how scary it is to think of writing a whole book, but don’t be afraid of the empty page. One page a day for a year is 365 pages. You can get there.