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Author Eric Jerome Dickey accepts an award at the 5th Anniversary of the African American Literary Award Show at the Harlem Gatehouse on September 24, 2009 in New York City. Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images

Eric Jerome Dickey, bestselling novelist, dead at 59

NEW YORK (AP) — Eric Jerome Dickey, the bestselling novelist who blended crime, romance and eroticism in "Sister, Sister," "Waking With Enemies" and dozens of other stories about contemporary Black life, has died at age 59.

Dickey's publicist at Penguin Random House, Emily Canders, told The Associated Press that the author died Sunday in Los Angeles after a long illness. She did not immediately provide details beyond listing four daughters among his survivors.

Dickey was an aspiring actor and stand-up comic who began writing fiction in his mid-30s and shaped a witty, conversational and sometimes graphic prose style. It brought him a wide readership through such novels as "Sister, Sister" and "Naughty or Nice" and through his "Gideon" crime fiction series, which included "Sleeping With Strangers" and "Resurrecting Midnight."

He also worked on the screenplay for the 1998 movie "Cappuccino," wrote a comic book miniseries for Marvel, and contributed to such anthologies as "Mothers and Sons" and "Black Silk: A Collection of African American Erotica."

"In comedy you learn to write with flow — segue, setup, and punch line — but in a way that people won't see or notice. And in theater you learn about character," he told BookPage in 2000. "You've got to bring something to it, and what you bring is the understanding of the character you get from doing your homework, from understanding the little stuff like speech patterns and the way the character walks, and from understanding the big stuff — your character's motivation."

He wrote 29 novels in all, according to his publisher, and has more than 7 million copies in print worldwide. His final book, "The Son of Mr. Suleman," comes out in April.

"I am truly saddened to hear about the passing of Eric Jerome Dickey," author Roxane Gay tweeted Tuesday. "His were some of the first novels I ever read about black people that weren't about slavery or civil rights. He was a great storyteller."

Dickey was a native of Memphis, Tennessee, and a computer technology major at the University of Memphis. He moved to Los Angeles after college and eventually set much of his work there. He worked as a software engineer in the aerospace industry, but found himself becoming more interested in the arts. He developed his narrative skills through creative writing classes at UCLA and through reading; favorite authors included Judy Blume.

"I'm always trying to write a good story," he told NPR in 2007. "When I'm writing I'm always trying to write these twists and turns that, as you're reading the book, you get to — it's called these oh-no-he-didn't or no-she-didn't or no-that-didn't-happen moment where, you know, you want to call your friend and say, are you on page 40? Get to page 40."

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