Author’s Bio: Dionne Peart was born in England to Jamaican parents and grew up in Canada. Her debut novel, Somerset Grove, was inspired by the many stories of Caribbean families she grew up with while living in Winnipeg. The Jamaica Gleaner recognized Dionne's work as "part of an emerging genre of writing by Jamaicans in this society" and BET.com featured her debut novel Somerset Grove on their "You Gotta Have It" list for January 2015. When she isn't writing, Dionne loves to read stories that explore another time, place and culture. She now live in Washington, D.C. where she practices law and serves as a literacy ambassador for the Read Across Jamaica Foundation. She is currently working on her next novel.
What inspired you to write your book?
I had not planned to write Butterfly when I did; I had actually been working on another novel, but long story short, I lost that manuscript. It wasn’t coming out the way I wanted it to when I tried to rewrite it, so I decided to leave it alone for awhile. The idea for Butterfly came to me as I was sitting in a meeting with a woman who was very poised and polished and I thought, wouldn’t it be something if she really had imposter syndrome? That brought to mind all the attorneys I’ve known who have second guessed their career choice and from there the main character, Sydney, was born. In the story, Sydney has pursued a legal career to please her parents and finds herself going through personal and professional transition. As her work life seems to be falling into place, her friendship with her best friend seems to be falling apart. Sydney is really tested when she learns something about Loren that could derail her career and their friendship.
Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
It’s hard to pick just one, but I’d say The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, which was the first book I read by a Black author. Growing up, Black authors were never on my class reading lists so it was a powerful experience to begin my discovery of them with this novel.
Is this your first book? How long did it take to start and finish your book?
No, Somerset Grove was my first novel. That one is a multi-generational story set in Jamaica and Canada that follows the lives of three women, who, as the authors of their own fate, run into obstacles that keep them from living the lives they want. It took me almost three years to write it. Butterfly took me a little over a year to write and it was released in April of this year.
Do you write with an outline, or just let it flow organically?
A little of both, actually. I wrote Somerset Grove organically. I’d started writing Butterfly the same way, but someone encouraged me to go back and outline it to see how that process worked for me. I made it very skeletal so that I still felt I had the freedom to take the story where the characters wanted to go, but still kept to the outline, because even characters need discipline!
Do you listen to music when you write? If yes, is there a theme song for this book?
I do listen to music. My brother is a deejay, so growing up with him I just got used to have something playing in the background (after I got tired of fighting with him to turn it down!). I don’t have a particular theme song, but my books are either set in the Caribbean or feature Caribbean characters, so I usually listen to reggae when I’m writing. It reminds me of the sights, scents, and the feel of being in the Caribbean and that helps me with writing scenes and creating characters.
What are the keys to success in getting your book out to the public?
Quite honestly, that’s an area that I’m still learning about. I think defining your audience and then finding out how to get in front of them is key. I’m an introvert, but I’ve had to learn to how to get comfortable talking about myself and my books.
What advice would you give to new authors?
Read, read, read! Study your favorite authors, but read others as well. I also think you should try to write every day, and jealously guard that time.
How about sharing an excerpt from Butterfly?
I remember being awed by her beauty. Not in a romantic way, but I was taken by her. She was not just physically beautiful. True, she had that flawless, dark caramel-colored skin that required hardly any makeup and a thick curtain of jet black hair that fell way past her shoulder blades when she wore it straight (which was often). And yes, she was that right kind of tall that made ordinary girls like me jealous and made the boys take notice—not in that “you should be playing basketball or long jumping” kind of way, but in that “you should be a model” way. She was more than that though. She had that radiant kind of inner beauty that made it hard to dislike her despite all that God had blessed her with instead of you. It was the way she treated you like her best friend, looping her arm through yours as she laughed while you walked down the street together, even if she’d only met you five minutes earlier. The way her eyes danced at the sight of something as simple as a red velvet cupcake let you know that she wasn’t really pretentious, even though she could be. The stylish way she dressed, in colors and fabrics described as “camel” and “subdued yellow” and the way she always seemed to be effortlessly polished, yet down-to-earth, let you know that she was not just that ordinary pretty.
If she’d lived in New York City you could easily see her strolling through Central Park in one of her fabulous wool coats and shiny, pointy-toed boots walking a small terrier dog—who always wore Burberry—on her way to meet a friend for a macchiato or something, not just regular old coffee. And she could do this because she wasn’t chained to some cold-looking desk at a tiresome job with a boss from hell like I was. No, she had an exciting career and worked in a converted row house with a brick interior wall, sleek modern furniture, and equally fabulous colleagues who always left the office before sunset, even in the winter.
Even her name was beautiful. Loren sounded like the name of an Essence-type girl who “vacationed” in London or Tuscany. My name was plain and didn’t evoke worldly images. I didn’t vacation; I took leave and went home to visit my family in Minneapolis for Christmas and Thanksgiving. My parents named me Sydney partly because they were certain that I was going to be a boy—all of Dad’s brothers had boys—and partly because my dad wanted to name me after a famous Jamaican. By the time he figured out Sidney Poitier was actually Bahamian, it was too late; the birth certificate had arrived and the name had already stuck.
I wasn’t jealous of Loren in that loathing or hate you kind of way. I wanted to be like her, and I spent as much time around her as I could in the hope that some of that fabulousness would trickle down into my life, but of course it didn’t. Not really. I was on the outside of it. Our lives were so intertwined and yet so different. What I admired most about Loren since the moment I met her was her ability to transform herself. It was amazing to me how she was able to pull off the image that she’d always been well off. I knew better. Her mother and father had, at times, worked two and three jobs each and crazy hours so they could afford to move from their tiny apartment on the north side of Minneapolis to the south suburbs where my family lived. And when Loren was old enough, she too worked nights and weekends in department store stockrooms so she could afford all the designer clothes she wore to high school.
Loren worked on her English until it had become perfectly clipped. Sometimes she sounded almost British. When we were in high school, she could tell you everything you ever wanted to know about places like London or Madrid even though she never visited either city until after college. She worked hard on her image and no one ever questioned her authenticity.
For some reason though, she shared everything with me. It might have been because I accidentally learned about her family’s financial situation after stopping by her house one day. I overheard her father talking about the rent being overdue on the house Loren had told everyone they owned. I never revealed her secret. Perhaps we were so close because she didn’t want me to expose her. But I’d like to think it was because she just trusted me implicitly.
When Loren informed everyone she was moving to Washington, D.C. to start a design firm, I declared it too and followed her out here. I didn’t really consider myself creative though, so I settled for being a junior attorney in a small firm doing civil litigation work while Loren built a bustling business decorating homes for the flood of people who came in each year to work on Capitol Hill. It was a good move for me; a good time to move after what my family had gone through that summer with the loss of my cousin Lennox, who had been the son my parents never had and the brother I’d always wanted.
Loren quickly became part of the who’s who crowd in D.C. She was kind and took me to happy hours at all the new and happening spots along places like the U Street corridor. Her new friends tolerated me well enough, even though none of them would call me on their own to hang out, but Loren always paid attention to me and made sure I was included. She was a social butterfly and I was her shadow.
I remember all of this. I also remember the day that everything changed and I was no longer who I was and Loren was no longer who she was and our worlds would never be the same.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on another novel that is set in Jamaica and based on some local folklore. In my spare time (I know, what is that?) I’m serving as a literacy ambassador for an organization with a mission of helping children develop a lifelong love of reading in Jamaica and the Diaspora.
Where can readers find out more about you and your book(s)?
· Website: www.DionnePeart.com
· Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/1So2IJw
· Facebook: www.facebook.com\deedeepeart
· Twitter: @deepeart
· Blog: www.dionnepeart.blogspot.com
· Book buy Links:
o Somerset Grove:
§ http://amzn.to/1CqA7Zy (Amazon)
§ http://bit.ly/XfZf5s (Barnes & Noble)
§ http://bit.ly/15EYkfC (Kobo)
o Butterfly: http://amzn.to/1IjdQWa (Amazon)
It’s been a pleasure having you here with us today. I know my readers will enjoy getting to know you and your work.
Thanks, Dee. I enjoyed this.