By James L. Dickerson

Living on Deadline

The Amazing Adventures of a Southern Journalist

At a time when print journalism is rapidly fading away as the primary defender of American democracy, there is a need for a book about the day-to-day life of a working journalist. In addition to providing exciting stories about investigative reporting and the author’s innovative take on investigative editorial writing, Living on Deadline pulls back the newsroom curtain on the many intrigues and dramas that often accompany news reporting, along with the scandals and unprintable news that sometimes happens behind the scenes at a daily newspaper or monthly magazine.

Award-winning writer James L. Dickerson, who has 50 years of experience as a published writer, is one of the most successful journalists in the South. He has been a staff writer for three Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers while writing for magazines and authoring more than 30 books on investigative history and investigative biography (one of his investigative biographies Colonel Tom Parker: The Curious Life of Elvis Presley’s Eccentric Manager was purchased by Warner Bros. for director Baz Luhrmann for his upcoming Elvis movie starring Tom Hanks). Of course, having a movie based on something you have written is every journalist’s dream.

In a fascinating transition from college rock musician to civil rights activist to Vietnam War resister, Dickerson enters the world of investigative journalism. His style of reporting is unique in that he assumes different personas for different interviews, becoming Bogart’s Sam Spade (hence the book cover), Johnny Cash, or “mild-mannered” Clark Kent—and he is one of the very few reporters to carry a gun on difficult assignments. For that reason, reading this factual memoir is like reading a hard-boiled Dashiell Hammett mystery novel. It has more twists and turns than a down-on-her-luck stripper on Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

Dickerson worked as a staff writer for the Pulitzer Prize-winning Delta-Democrat-Times (Greenville, MS); the Greenwood Commonwealth (MS); the Pulitzer Prize-winning Clarion-Ledger/Jackson Daily News (Jackson Mississippi); the Tallahassee Democrat (Tallahassee, FL); and the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN). He was the publisher of a music magazine, Nine-O-One, that became the third-largest circulation music mag behind Rolling Stone and Spin and the first magazine published in the South to ever be sold on newsstands in all 50 states.


Living on Deadline is a thoroughly entertaining and poignant read. But then, we should expect nothing less from James L. Dickerson, one of the finest writers in a long line of great Southern writers. Dickerson takes readers on a personal journey from the Mississippi Delta to Canada and back to the Magnolia state, with plenty of other memorable stops and adventurous stories thrown in for good measure. A credible argument can be made that this is his best work.

Otis Sanford, Hardin Chair of Excellence in Journalism and Strategic Media at the University of Memphis, and former reporter, managing editor, editorial page editor, and columnist at The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal.


To write is to expose—facts or other people or oneself. One writer for half a century and going—and a Mississippi writer at that—succeeds at all three and demonstrates an enthralling, intoxicating life lived with the utmost enthusiasm in the new book Living On Deadline. James L. Dickerson’s latest is nothing short of an exposé of the best kind: one that speaks the truth. This memoir of a journalist, author, columnist, oh, hell!—just plain reporter, who breathes for the love of reporting—should be read by anyone who cherishes words and music and adventure and hates scalawags, the Klan and their ilk.

David Wayne Brown, former Executive Editor of The Commercial Appeal, journalist, writer, documentary filmmaker, and adman


James L. Dickerson is one of those amazing and wonderful iconoclasts who come out of Mississippi with a passion for the truth. He is also part of a long line of exceptionally fine Mississippi writers. In Living on Deadline he has written a sometimes funny, sometimes raw but always honest book about his unique and intense life. He was right on things from Vietnam to civil rights and courageous enough to take stands. A fascinating read.

Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy 2009-2017, Governor of Mississippi 1988-1992, Ambassador to Saudi Arabia 1994-1996


Most journalists I know have the stories they write and the stories they tell – for the latter it’s typically to friends over drinks. James L. Dickerson’s Living on Deadline treats the reader like an old pal and takes them along for a ride through his career as a Southern writer chronicling civil rights and country music, as well as some smaller tales about life and family that helped shape him into the author he is today.

Debora Wenger, Ph.D., Interim Dean/Professor, University of Mississippi School of Journalism

Awards and Honors

First Place, Editorial Writing

Associated Press

First Place Award

for Mojo Triangle

Independent Publishers Association

Finalist, Gleason Award

Finalist for the now defunct Gleason Award, sponsored by Rolling Stone, BMI, and New York University: Goin’ Back to Memphis (republished as Memphis Going Down) and That’s Alright, Elvis (co-written with Elvis’ first guitarist, Scotty Moore). Dickerson was Scotty Moore’s official biographer.

Other Books by This Author

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James L. Dickerson

After a career as a journalist for three Pulitzer Prize-winning dailies, The Commercial Appeal of Memphis, the Clarion Ledger-Jackson Daily News, and the Delta Democrat-Times of Greenville (MS), James L. Dickerson began a career as a full-time author. His book Mojo Triangle: Birthplace of Country, Blues, Jazz and Rock ‘n’ Roll earned a first-place award from the Independent Publishers Association, and two music-related books, Goin’ Back to Memphis (since republished as Memphis Going Down) and That’s Alright, Elvis, co-written with Elvis Presley’s first guitarist, Scotty Moore, were finalists for the prestigious Gleason award. He co-wrote a second book with Moore titled Scotty & Elvis. This is his first movie rights sale. Two of his books have been translated into Chinese by publishers in China. The Italian language rights to Colonel Tom Parker were sold to a major publisher in Italy.

Dickerson was the editor and publisher of Nine-O-One Network, at one time the third-largest circulation music magazine in the United States, behind Rolling Stone and Spin. The magazine was the first magazine published in the South to obtain newsstand distribution in all 50 states. The magazine also had distribution in most European countries. In Russia, it was read by underground radio announcers who worked to overthrow Communist Party domination.

Dickerson is the editor and publisher of Sartoris Literary Group, one of the most successful non-academic trade book publishers in the South. Sartoris has been licensed to publish the works of William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, Richard Wright, Shelby Foote, and others.

As a freelance writer and book critic he has worked for the Toronto Star, Baltimore Sun, BookPage, Good Housekeeping, Playboy, Penthouse, Omni, the Tennessean, and others. A longtime resident of Memphis and Nashville, Dickerson now lives in the Metro Jackson, Mississippi, area.