Interview with 60’s Celeb Dee Dee Phelps, Part 2

by Jerry Waxler

This is part two of an interview with Dee Dee Phelps, singer in the sixties duo, Dick and Dee Dee and author of the memoir Vinyl Highway, Singing with Dick and Dee Dee. To see my earlier post, click here. I also posted a two part book review that starts here. For more information about Dee Dee’s history, book, and appearances, visit her website.

Jerry: You had a variety of picturesque experiences on stage and with other 60’s celebrities. How did you decide what to keep in the book and what to leave out?

Dee Dee: From the memoir classes and my own reading of literally hundreds of memoirs, I discovered that, for me, the most interesting ones were written like fiction, in other words, narrative non-fiction. I learned the principals of how to do this in the memoir classes. So I had to pull memories that would move the story along. I had no idea what length was required and before the book was complete, I’d written 130,000 words. I was told by an editor that I had to cut the word count down to 100,000, or the book would be too thick and the paper to print it so expensive, the book would be priced at $45.00 for a paperback!

In shock, I appeared incapable to choose what 30,000 words to cut. Fortunately, a script editor for Warner Brothers took the project on and eliminated a number of entire chapters, as well as references to anything that went on in those chapters. It worked. I refined it and found we were just under 100,000 words. When I started a recent blog, I was able to stick in a few of the eliminated stories, like the brief story of Roy Orbison.

Jerry: Was it obvious to you when you first thought about writing the book where you would start the story and where you would stop it, or did you have to go through soul searching to find the book’s structure?

Dee Dee: It was obvious to me to start the story at the beginning of the Sixties when Dick and I recorded our first record and to continue until the act broke up, at the decades end. What was interesting to me was to discover that what I thought was a linear process (start at the beginning and write on through to the end) turned out to be a collage. I often thought of incidents and scenes I wanted to include and just inserted them into the middle of things. The story had a rough structure, but I kept adding to it at random.

Jerry: When delving back into your memories, what sort of emotional stuff did you churn up?

Dee Dee: Since singing with Dick occurred when I was a teenager and continued into my early twenties, and I’m now middle aged, I can look at that time with a certain emotional detachment. Although some of it was difficult, none of it was traumatic. Now I look back and see how funny much of it was. I tried to write the book to relay the humor of it all, to make people happy and to bring some fond memories back. We have enough bad news in the press and world at large. In the Sixties we knew how to have a good time (as the Beach Boys said, “Fun, Fun, Fun.”). I tried to remember what those times were really like and to offer a portrait for the reader.

Jerry: Were there things too hot to handle that you felt in the end weren’t appropriate for the book?

Dee Dee: I remembered that “perception equals reality.” In other words, what is true for one person may not be true for the person standing next to them. We had a great discussion in one of the memoir classes about how much trouble we could get into (lawsuits, or anger) by using the real names of people. Basically, we were encouraged to tell what happened from our hearts, and not worry about the response from some people who might not like the way they are portrayed. I worried about this, as I was not always portraying my singing partner, Dick, in a positive light. But I was truthful with what really happened. Knowing Dick’s nature, I feared what the consequences might be for me in writing this book. But strangely enough, Dick passed away in the middle of the process, so he never had a chance to read it.

I have a sense of honor about the reputations of others and left out a number of negative incidents about certain entertainers that they wouldn’t want revealed. Since I had no agenda, I just wanted to tell the amazing story of what it was like to travel the country on rock and roll tours in the Sixties, a time of racial segregation, before computers and cell phones. Nowhere does it say that you have to drag every negative thing you witnessed about another person onto the written page. I feel a book is a reflection of the writer’s consciousness and each person will chose what to include and what to leave out according to their own dictates and conscience.

Jerry: One of my favorite things about memoirs is that writers often report that writing about the past helps them understand it better than when they lived through it. What was your experience? Were there insights that helped you understand more about who you are as a person?

Dee Dee: Through writing out all the various incidents and noting which ones I chose to write about and which to leave out, I saw a pattern emerging. My “ah-ha” moment came when I realized how powerless I felt at the time, how I allowed Dick St. John to convince me that he had all the talent and I was lucky to be along for the ride. I realized, with great joy, that all the happy and sad experiences in life are just a learning curve. Now I’m a powerful woman who speaks up when I feel that something isn’t right. But I had to learn that over time.

Jerry: When the book went public, were there any surprises about people’s reactions, or surprising feelings about raising those old images?

Dee Dee: When the book went public, I got several phone calls from singers I’d performed with as Dick and Dee Dee. They were glad I set the record straight. Releasing the book has brought wonderful experiences into my life. I’ve learned and grown as both a writer and book promoter (you have to be both) and have traveled to promote the book to Washington, DC and New York City. I’m now doing book readings and getting out to meet the public. It brings me the greatest joy to try to help others who are struggling with writing their own books.

So many new people have helped me, both in providing vintage videos and photos of the act, to helping promote the book. I am so grateful and aware of how much the internet has played a part in this wonderful experience, creating a huge network of new friends and renewing old acquaintances. We are, indeed, a world community.

Jerry: What advice would you offer anyone who wants to write about their life story?

Dee Dee: If anyone wants to write their life story I’d only say, “Go for It.” It’s such a tremendous experience to be “in the flow,” creating something from nothing. I remember advice from Aram Saroyan, one of my memoir teachers. He said, “Mind is shapely.” In other words, if you just show up (90% of writing is showing up and 10% is hard work and talent) your mind will create story from all the various images it holds. Trust the process.

The other thing he used to say was, “First thought, best thought.” We tend to edit what we write immediately after writing it, which is the left brain critic trying to decide if we can do better, or write the story in another way. Forget analyzing. Write, just write. The time for true editing will come later.

Plan the same time every day and make a firm commitment to write for whatever time you decide, anywhere from half an hour to four hours. Then keep that commitment. You will find that during the rest of the day, when many duties take your attention, the subconscious mind is working on the writing process and the next day you know exactly what to write next. If you stay in the flow with consistent effort, it’s very difficult to get “writers block.”

Jerry: What’s next?

Dee Dee: I have a second memoir in mind, the story of the Seventies which I spent going back to the land in Big Sur. Some amazing experiences took place there. I’d also like to write a book about the process of writing a memoir and also about prosperity groups. Please visit my blog: to continue a relationship with me. Also, the website ( is great fun. We keep posting new videos as they come up and tell what is going on with book promotion.

I think memoirs are becoming more and more popular because they are about real people and real events, just as reality TV is taking over from scripted shows. Thank you for your wonderful website and the chance to chat with other potential memoir writers.

Memoir Interview with 60’s Celebrity Dee Dee Phelps

by Jerry Waxler

When I look back on the decades I’ve lived through, the 60’s stand out as being filled with energy and conflict. And one of the things that made the 60’s so powerful was the music of that decade. So I was intrigued to discover a memoir Vinyl Highway from a singer from the 60’s, Dee Dee Phelps.

Since the memoir was written recently, it can offer some insight to anyone who is trying to reach back through the decades to write about the 60’s. And since Dee Dee wrote the book recently, she can share tips about her experience writing it. Here is the first part of the two part interview.

Jerry: When did you first start thinking about writing a memoir? How long did it take, from the first draft to the completed book?

Dee Dee: I first started thinking about writing my memoir, “Vinyl Highway, Singing as Dick and Dee Dee” in early 2001. It took me three or four months of mental struggle to finally commit to making this happen. The total process, from page one to the final manuscript took four and a half years.
Jerry: What were your writing habits like?

Dee Dee: At first, I could only commit to writing one half hour a day. I was working part time in an attorney’s office, and managing four apartment buildings in Santa Monica full time. I set the alarm clock to rise a half hour earlier than usual and wrote before getting ready for work. I meditate first thing in the morning, so right after my meditation, I went to the computer. I soon made an interesting discovery. If I made writing a regular habit, even though I was unable to think about it throughout the day, when I sat at the computer the next morning, much had been worked out subconsciously and after simply reading back a few pages, I knew exactly how to proceed.

Jerry: What did you do about slumps?

Dee Dee: I only had two “slumps” in the entire process. When I had to go out of town, I took a week breather from writing. And although it was difficult getting back in the “flow,” once I did it was easy to stream forward with greater speed and efficiency. The second slump was when I took a left turn and wrote about my family for three months, thinking I would start the memoir with a story that took place before I was born. At the Maui Writer’s Retreat of 2003 I was told by the group of 12 writers that that whole section had to go. A memoir is about a specific period of time, in my case the Sixties. I was turning it into an autobiography and a family history and it didn’t work. After my initial shock, I dropped about 120 pages (three months of work) and focused on finishing the memoir the way I originally conceived it to be.

Jerry: I read that you went to school for creative writing. What was it like going back to school as an adult? What was your favorite part about it?

Dee Dee: I did go back to school during the process of writing Vinyl Highway. After I read the first seventy five pages I’d written, I realized that this was simply the worst thing I’d ever read. I saw nothing redeeming about it. It was then that I realized I needed to sharpen my skills so I enrolled in a memoir writing class at the University of California in Los Angeles. It was the first of three classes I took, in addition to the Maui Writer’s Retreat. My favorite part about memoir classes was hearing all the amazing stories coming from the most ordinary people. I realized that everyone has something special and unique that happened in their lives. And the classes kept me focused on the goal and kept me writing. It was a process of discovery, uncovering the layers of the proverbial “onion.”

Jerry: As I read your memoir, I find my emotional reaction often seems to be stronger than yours, like when I was getting upset with the behavior of your singing partner Dick St. John, but you simply told the story. How did you stick to just showing the events rather than trying to convey your own emotional tangle?

Dee Dee: I learned that technique from my memoir classes. If there was one theme that was repeated over and over it was “Show, don’t tell.” I imagined the scenes visually, as if watching a movie. I distanced myself from the memory for a moment and imagined I was writing a novel. When I imagined I was writing about someone else. That made it easier to describe thoughts and feelings effectively and still keep the story going. I love reading fiction writer T.C. Boyle. Although his stories are so over the top, he really conveys the characters emotions, not by saying that they were angry, sad, etc. but by showing how they reacted. He’s particularly able to show over the top rage, a very difficult thing to write about.

When I wrote about Dick pulling me away from the microphone by the back of my dress, remember that we were on a stage. I had to pretend nothing was going on, smile and keep singing. In writing that, I just tried to run the scene as it happened. Yes, in remembering the past we re-experience the good and bad feelings that went along with our experiences. But it’s a fine balance to write about what we feel and to continue the narrative.

There really is no right or wrong way to do this. It’s up to each person writing a memory. I can only say that after reading literally hundreds of memoirs, I discovered early on that the ones that told too many facts, such as “Then I did this, and that made me happy or sad” are the ones that I usually put down unread. People want “story.” If it isn’t a story, it isn’t interesting to people. It’s as simple as that. So…if you are going to work with describing feelings, you have to show how you felt, not tell it.

Jerry: What sort of research did you do for the book?

Dee Dee: Sadly, during a move in the late Sixties, my photo album with personal photos I’d taken of Sixties performers vanished. I also lost my book in which I had recorded our itineraries. Trying to pull together the various dates and places was difficult. I researched the internet, old newspapers, read all the memoirs from that period I could get my hands on, anything to discover facts I needed for the book.

Jerry: What was the remembering process like?

Dee Dee: I’m blessed with a good memory. My mother used to tell me I remembered incidents from when I was three years old (I also have a clear memory of dialogue that took place between people). The facts, such as the dates and times things took place, are harder for me to pinpoint.

Jerry: Was there any concern about needing to fill in things you didn’t remember precisely in order to turn it into a real scene?

Dee Dee: Everyone who writes a memoir has to fill in the blanks to keep the narrative going. Obviously, we don’t run around with a tape recorder, recording conversations our entire life. When we write a memoir, we are re-creating scenes as they happened to the best of our ability.

Jerry: In addition to writing the book, did you reach out to share your story in other venues (public speaking, 60’s nostalgia groups, or article or story writing)? If so how did that go?

Dee Dee: Eventually, after Vinyl Highway was released, I started doing book readings at book stores. I’ve also read at book festivals. I’ve talked on numerous radio shows and still do so, both am and fm and internet radio. It’s all a great experience.

To see part two of this interview, click here.