Friday, April 1, 2011
Author Dianne Dixon: Writing From The Heart
by Cyrus Webb for Conversations Magazine (March/April 2011 issue)
When you have a conversation with author Dianne Dixon you can't help but feel as though you are just catching up with an old friend. She is a woman who is not comfortable in her own skin, but ready and willing to share what she has learned over the years with others.
I first learned of her in 2010 when she was on Conversations LIVE discussing her book THE LANGUAGE OF SECRETS. It's an intricate tale that reminds us that life is never all that we imagine and sometimes you have to go through a loss in order to find who you really are.
In this conversation with Dianne she talks about the impact the book has had on readers around the world and also why it is so important for other writers and those who aspire to write to make sure that they are doing so honestly and from the heart.
Dianne, it's been almost a year since you and I last spoke. Before we get into your novel THE LANGUAGE OF SECRETS why don't you tell our readers when you knew you had a story you wanted to tell.
The roots of the story told in The Language of Secrets were ideas I'd been carrying in my heart and mind for a long time, but it wasn't until I came across research done at Cornell Medical School on Disassociative Identity Disorder that the final piece of the puzzle fell into place. Without knowing it, I'd been looking for one, last, crucial detail in Justin's mental and emotional landscape. The minute I came across the Cornell research I realized I'd found it, and I began the novel. It was very exciting.
Your professional life seems to have been filled with opportunities to share your creativity with others. Was it that way for you growing up as well?
Not as much. In my growing-up years I was a pretty solitary kid. I spent an inordinate amount of time lost in books, and in daydreams, and in the company of imaginary friends. But looking back on my childhood now, I can see that the reading and the daydreaming (and the imaginary friends) were forming the foundation for a life-long love affair with the art of storytelling.
In my case I was 20 years old when I realized that my life had a purpose, not just for myself but for those around me as well. When did you know that your gifts were going to go further than just what you could see around you?
My first clear understanding that my talent was a gift with implications larger than I'd ever imagined came when I was part of the creative team on an animated series called "Bobby's World." I had written an episode in which Bobby (a four year-old) experiences the death of someone he loves (a man who works at his pre-school, a character named Abe). After the episode aired, I received a letter from a woman telling me that on the morning of her father's funeral she was terribly upset to see her children watching a "Bobby's World" cartoon. It seemed too a solemn day for cartoons. As she went to switch the TV off, the character on-screen was Abe. It was the closing scene of the episode and Abe was now an angel floating at the edge of a cloud. Abe was looking down, watching Bobby lead a group of kids in a song that Abe had taught to him; and Abe was whispering, "They're playing my song." The woman said that suddenly, in the midst of her sadness, she experienced a profound sense of joy. Her father's name had been Abe. And she felt he was telling her that he was OK and that he would be watching over her, and that the memories they'd made together would always be part of the music of her life. Her letter gave me chills. I've never forgotten it. And I've never forgotten the lesson it taught me about the stories I tell about the unexpected ways in which those stories might impact other people's lives.
Dianne, when you were on Conversations LIVE last year we talked about the way your book THE LANGUAGE OF SECRETS seemed to unfold like a movie for the reader. What was it like to live with the characters you had created, especially since the idea for the story was birth from an actual event?
Living with the characters who appeared in The Language of Secrets was a fascinating experience. Very early on they seemed to develop lives of their own and my role almost became that of a reporter transcribing the conversations and events in which these characters were participating. They were absolutely real to me. And my relationship with each of them was different: some of them, I loved,some, I loathed, and there were others about whom I had (and continue to have) very mixed feelings. And, even though it's been several years since I completed work on The Language of Secrets I still think about the characters and miss them a little.
Now that it has been a year since the book's release, what has surprised you the most about the response to it?
For me the most surprising thing has been how broad the spectrum of responses has been. Both men and women young and old in locations as disparate as the US, India, mainland China, and many places in between have found a connection to the story and its characters. For example, a man in England who'd been married for over fifty years said that The Language of Secrets rocked his basic perception of his marriage. It made him realize that the marriage his wife had experienced was probably very different from the one he had experienced. An Australian woman in her twenties told me that reading The Language of Secrets completely changed her relationship with her mother. The rector of a large Episcopal church in California said that he was fascinated by the way The Language of Secrets deals with life's moral ambiguities. And a woman in New York told me that Justin's story in The Language of Secrets prompted her to take a closer look at some of the details in her own family history and to eventually uncover information that turned out to be life-changing. Getting such variety, and such depth, in the responses to the book was something I was totally unprepared for. I had no idea that what I had written would affect so many people in so many different ways. It's something I'm deeply grateful for, and completely humbled by.
Can you tell us if you are working on your sophomore novel at this time?
Yes, I'm at work on a new book and am hoping to have a finished first draft by the end of this year.
As someone who has found success as an author, there will be aspiring writers who look up to you for guidance and direction. Do you have any advice for them?
I guess my advice would be to write what's in your heart,not what's hot. Don't do a vampire story, or a memoir, or a mystery, simply because vampire stories or memoirs or mysteries seem to be what's selling. While I was writing The Language of Secrets I can't count the number of people who insisted that what I needed to be working on was a memoir because memoirs were "hot" at the moment and literary fiction was pretty much a dead area in publishing. Good writing comes from a place of honesty and passion and skill. Write the things that flow from the truest places within you; and write them with craft, and care, and intelligence.
Thanks again for your time, Dianne. How can our readers find out more information online about you and the book?
All the information is on my website: www.diannedixon.com. And thank you, Cyrus, for this chance to chat. You are truly a gift to the world of writing and writers.