Ariel Delgado Dixon is a Philadelphia-based writer whose work has appeared in numerous publications including Kenyon Review, O: The Oprah Magazine, The Mississippi Review, and The Greensboro Review. Her debut book, Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You, is about sisters who go through hell and fight to get their lives back. It’s a sharp, beautiful novel readers won’t be able to put down.
Debutiful corresponded with the author via email about familial bonds, teenage hormones, atmosphere, and more!
Part of Debutiful is letting authors introduce themselves to readers. What is your history with writing? Did your passion start young?
I’ve played around with various iterations of writing my whole life. Drafting murder mysteries in the fourth grade to be performed at recess, a foray into songwriting, my years as a freelancer churning out newsletter copy. I’ve always wanted to be a writer—even if I was not the most responsible student. When I finally got to my MFA at Boise State, I made a pact with myself to work my ass off and do everything I could to be better, to finish a project, to take the dream seriously. Now the book is real, and it’s here. It’s still a trip.
This book is so gripping and I was curious what the genesis for this novel was?
From the outset, I knew I wanted to write about the Troubled Teen Industry. One of my best friends has spent time entrenched in this world, and it’s full of complex people at a really complex stage of life. Being a teenager wracked by hormones, expectation, inexperience, and mounting self-awareness is already fraught. Add in brutal wilderness treks and behavioral compounds and a flawed confessional culture—it really revolts into its own twisted ecosystem. That’s where the book began.
Are sister bonds something you have always been interested in exploring familial bonds in your past writing?
Sister bonds are part of it, but it’s really familial bonds in general that interest me. I’m drawn to questions of nature vs. nurture, predisposition vs. choice, destiny vs. free will. Those battles are really taut within the setting of a family. In most cases, siblings are born of the same genetic pool, are shaped by the same approach to child-rearing, more or less. They converge in many ways, but diverge in just as many, and often more dramatically.
Were there any authors who were influences for Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You?
I don’t know that there were authors I had in mind for this book in particular, but certainly authors who loom large in my personal canon and have influenced me. Joy Williams, Jennifer Egan, Rachel Kushner, Esmeralda Santiago, Edwidge Danticat…
These are contemporary writers whose work I often turn to for a nudge of bravery or incisivness when I need it.
One thing that I loved about your book is the atmosphere. Was creating it a conscious effort or was it a byproduct of your natural process?
I think about atmosphere and aesthetic a lot. For me, that’s a major draw of novel writing—the absolute power to cultivate mood and style. Specificity and detail are my pillars. Sensory experience, knickknacks of place, interpersonal ticks—these make a world. Finding the precise words to flesh those out, that’s everything. For instance, I think about the heavy-lifting of verbs. The difference between ‘running’ and ‘dashing’ and ‘sprinting’ tells you something implicitly, even if only to affect rhythm or tone.
Your prose also has a very, to use the word again, gripping rhythm. What is your approach to how a sentence sounds?
I like to read everything aloud. This is hard to do with a novel, but it’s easier to catch clumsy rhythms, repetition, ambivalence, errors. You can uncover possibilities, too. Listening to the music of writing can reveal intention, or make apparent where a revelation is lurking but not yet drawn close enough to the surface. One of my first loves was poetry. Not every line in a novel can be as delicate or headlining as a line of poetry can be. But I still aim toward that spirit, to make each sentence count for something.
Are there any books that you can suggest to readers that might be similar to yours?
Hm. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite; Sisters by Daisy Johnson; maybe ins some ways The Girls by Emma Cline. I’m trying to think of stories of girls with grit, unleashing their darker selves, for better or for worse.