A Tattoo Reminded Me to Write

People get tattoos for all kinds of  reasons.  Some use body art to memorialize important people and events in their lives.  Some want to share aspects of themselves with others without having to say a word.  Others view their bodies as blank canvases to paint and decorate with designs, pictures, and words that appeal to them.  This is the story of why I got my tattoo.

Back in the nineties, I belonged to a writer’s club along with my good friend, TQ.  Although we named the club the Heineken Writer’s Club after our favorite adult beverage, we were serious about our craft and held each other accountable, giving brutally honest critiques on our pieces.  We attended writer’s workshops and classes throughout Manhattan, and challenged each other to sit down to write every day.  With that kind of drive and commitment, we knew it would be just a matter of time  before we left the corporate world to write full time. We often dreamt about how freeing and exhilarating that day would be.  It was always about when and never if that day would come. 

One day, I commented on the striking tattoos on a coworker’s sleeve and she told me that they were all her designs brought to life by Andrea E., a talented tattoo artist in Alphabet City.  Coincidentally, the subject of tattoos came up in the writer’s club several months later. We decided right then that we would get author-themed tattoos to serve as both inspiration and reminder. I recall saying at the time that I didn’t want to be an old man who when his grandkids ask about the tattoo, would have to tell them that he used to dream about becoming an author.  He would have to try to explain to them how he let that dream slip away so easily, while still encouraging them to always hold on to their own dreams.  No, I wanted it to be crystal clear why I would have a writer’s tattoo.

I decided that it would be a combination of a scorpion, my sign, and a fountain pen representing my dedication to writing.  I imagined the scorpion’s tail morphing into a fountain pen, with one drop of red ink to signify sacrifice.  TQ chose the ancient Egyptian ankh symbol with the tip forming into a fountain pen, and we met with Andrea to discuss the designs and schedule appointments to have them done.  She was extremely popular and booked out six months in advance, so you know we really wanted those tattoos to wait like that.

When tattoo day finally came, Andrea showed me a drawing she’d mocked up. I made a couple small tweaks and she did her thing.  Two hours later, I left fired up and motivated by my new ink.   I felt like a writing superhero, churning out pages and pages of the good stuff.  I was not going to be that old man.  Still, I never took that next step to totally commit to writing as a career, and instead continued to treat it like a hobby.  Over the years, my role and responsibilities at work grew, and so did the amount of time I spent working.   Twelve-hour days weren’t unusual. I also had a young family that moved 3000 miles away from their family and friends for my job.  So when I wasn’t working, there was no shortage of family activities and obligations.  Something had to give and that something was the time I spent writing.

At first, I often heard a nagging voice reminding me that I hadn’t written in a long time, and urging me to get back to work.  As time passed, I heard from that voice less and less, until it stopped altogether.  I earned a great salary leading a team of awesome people, many of whom I considered friends.  We set challenging goals that we worked hard to achieve, and it checked a lot of boxes for me professionally.  Sure, I wasn’t writing creatively, but I was churning out some amazing and riveting emails and memos to staff.   At some point, I started to believe that  striving for that next promotion and growing my 401k until I was able to retire would be enough for me.  I allowed myself to forget how vital writing was for my soul.  Perhaps it was a way of giving myself grace.

Time flew by.  Five years became ten, and then twenty, and thirty.  My title, salary, and 401K  grew.  I was executing Plan B perfectly.  I told myself that I could see the light at the end of the tunnel and to hold on for a few more years.  If my younger self heard me talking and thinking that way, trying to hold on until retirement, he would have grabbed me and shook me until I came to my senses.  And in a way that is exactly what happened.

One morning, in the early stages of the COVID pandemic, with nonessential businesses shut down and everyone under some kind of  lockdown, I remember stepping out of the shower and walking by the large bathroom mirror.  During lockdown, while working from home near a fridge filled with my favorite things, I put on more than a few pounds and developed the habit of not looking too closely at the mirror until I had a shirt on.  But it was different that day.

As I walked past the mirror, I caught a glimpse of my tattoo.  It struck me that I hadn’t really looked at it in years.  I stopped and walked towards the mirror to get a closer look.  As I stared at my left arm, I thought about that kid who got the tattoo that day.  I remembered why I chose  the fountain pen, and although the one drop of red ink had faded over the years, the memory of what it represented was as vivid as ever.  I stared at that tattoo in the mirror for more than a few minutes.  In a way, I was having a conversation with my younger self, who couldn’t understand how I convinced myself that I could ever be truly happy and fulfilled without writing in my life.  My younger self couldn’t believe that my new career goal was toiling until I was old enough to retire.

Life has a way of helping us to forget our dreams.  It allows us to be okay with being less great or less special than we set out to be.  Maybe it’s out of kindness, so we don’t bound ourselves to regret.  My tattoo reminded me of a time when I still dreamt, and it inspired me to dream again.  I am thankful for that because it is never too late to dream. If you come across this post and ever find yourself in the same boat, try your hardest to remember the version of you that still dreamt, and what you dreamt about… and dream again.


Back to Dixie is a Social Thriller

I classify Back to Dixie’s genre as a social thriller.  It’s a relatively new term that’s mostly used in the film industry to describe movies like Get Out by Jordan Peele.  If you search for  ‘social thriller genre’ in Wikipedia, it defines social thriller as a film genre using elements of suspense and horror to augment instances of oppression in society.  Peele told the Chicago Tribune the he defines social thrillers as thriller/horror movies where the ultimate villain is society.  Peele is also quoted as saying about Get Out, “I was trying to figure out what genre this movie was, and horror didn’t quite do it. Psychological thriller didn’t do it, and so I thought, Social thriller. I think I coined the term social thriller, but I definitely didn’t invent it.”  

In Get Out, the monster is a society that bred such an overweight sense of superiority in the white elite that they justify stealing young Black men’s lives to extend or improve theirs.  Seeing how easily the privileged discarded minds and souls to harvest bodies conjured up strong and raw emotions that were more terrifying because of the movie’s realness.  Get Out’s ‘monsters’ seem familiar to us because we recognize an old boss, politician, television personality, or college professor in the characters.  The fact that the villain wasn’t an alien or supernatural force, but regular everyday people instead, added a realistic texture to the experience that totally engulfed us.  While watching, I found myself imagining that a doctor somewhere may actually be able to perform such an operation.  And then you consider that if the science is out there, surely members of society’s  elite would want to take advantage of it. That small slither of a possibility makes the movie that much more horrifying.  That is the main characteristic of a well-made social thriller.

Before learning about the social thriller genre, I had the challenging task of specifically classifying Back to Dixie.  I mean it clearly fits under the thriller umbrella, which Wikipedia defines as ‘a genre of fiction, having numerous, often overlapping subgenres. Thrillers are characterized and defined by the moods they elicit, giving viewers heightened feelings of suspense, excitement, surprise, anticipation or anxiety.’  However, the thriller genre is very broad and diverse – including political thrillers, psychological thrillers, action thrillers, crime thrillers, legal thrillers and more.  You can’t just call a book a thriller and expect its readers to know what to expect when reading it, as you could with some other genres like horror and  science fiction. Of the classic thriller subgenres, I thought political thriller sort of fit.  However, I felt that readers would expect politics to be the central theme of the book, instead of being used as a vehicle to transition the country’s laws to greatly widen the racial divide.  It was the how, but not the what.  After watching Get Out and later coming across Peele’s explanation of the social thriller genre, I finally had the term for Back to Dixie.

As in the case in Get Out, the villains in Back to Dixie are powerful people who lose their moral compass somewhere along the way.  In Peele’s movie, the elite are motivated to commit these acts by greed for better health – curing blindness, combating illness, or delaying death.  In Back to Dixie, the motivation is greed for wealth, power, and to exercise racial superiority.  The villains  don’t use a lobotomy operation to steal the bodies of Black people.  Instead, the elite use their influence to pass laws that accomplish the same goal – first by removing voting rights and other civil rights from the nation’s Black citizens, and then by forcing them to work for no pay and be exploited for financial rewards.   

The book introduces a set of events that alters the climate in the country in such a realistic manner that it makes readers question whether such a devastating thing could happen in real life.  This, I believe, is the most important attribute of a social thriller – delivering the rationale and logical steps that build a bridge to realistically transition the reader from the real world to the one needed to tell the story.  When readers say that they found it so horrifying because they could see the events that led to the passing of the National Workfare Act actually happening, I know that I am correct in classifying Back to Dixie as a social thriller.


Q&A with Back to Dixie author, Len Hyde

What is your book, Back to Dixie, about?

Back to Dixie explores how a government’s race policies can either uplift or oppress, as experienced through the lives of everyday Black people over 10 tumultuous years when the political pendulum swung far left to extreme right. In the early chapters of the book, the administration is unapologetically progressive, with some labeling them as liberal and even socialists.  They were remembered for passing the SCALE Act for Social Justice in 2023, making good on a campaign promise to address systemic racism as a top priority. 

SCALE was widely considered to be the most positively impactful laws for Black Americans since the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Because of this, though, it had many passionate opponents who quickly repealed it when they came into power later on in the story.  The new administration also passed laws removing key voting and civil rights from many Black and poor people, and in 2029, they signed the National Workfare Act into law.

Under the guise of job training, the government rounded up millions of the country’s citizens, stripping them of their freedom and forcing them to work long and hard only to survive – their lives demonstrated to mean little.  Michael Dobson and his friends Devin Thomas and Odessa Bradford risk everything in an attempt to save their family and loved ones from the clutches of Workfare, and find a way to be free once more.

That is both frightening and intriguing.  Where did you get the idea?

The idea of Back to Dixie came in the nineties when an urban legend ran rampant in Black communities.  It said that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 only temporarily gave Black people the right to vote, and would need to be extended by Congress in 2008.  If not extended, Black people would no longer enjoy the privilege of voting.

Though I found out that it was just a rumor, the story idea was so compelling that I knew I would have to write the book one day.  I just didn’t know that it would be almost 25 years later! 

Were you influenced by recent events in writing Back to Dixie?

Back to Dixie’s dedication reads, ‘For those with no voice, but truths to tell.’  That’s there because I didn’t have room on the page to list the names of all those whose voices are forever silenced by racism.  The deaths, the marches, the arrests, the acquittals, and the reactions certainly influenced me to finally write a book I’ve only dreamt about for so long. 

I hope the story serves as a reminder of the kind of damage that the disease of racism can cause if left to fester and grow.  I would be thrilled if it becomes a part of a wakeup call for society, providing another reminder of the importance of valuing each other, especially those who are different—that is the way we all win. 

Who is the book for?

The book is for everybody…  Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, any race.  Liberal, conservative, progressive, any political party.  It’s for people who believe systemic racism is one of the country’s biggest problems, just as much as it is for those who don’t think it’s a real thing.

Ultimately, I want Back to Dixie to be part of a conversation on American race relations that needs to happen more and more throughout the country. 


Fictional Presidents of Back to Dixie

Back to Dixie explores the dramatic impact that politicians and corporations have on America’s race relations through the eyes of everyday people. The novel covers a period of 10 years and the administrations of two very different presidents.

In the early chapters, President Jim Weldon passes the SCALE Act for Social Justice in an attempt to address the systemic racism issue. Later in the book, President Willie Earl revokes the voting rights of many Black and poor citizens and passes the National Workfare Act in 2029. Workfare, originally described as a job training and betterent program, would later be compared to modern-day slavery.


How a Back to Dixie law sparked political outrage online

I recently decided to share the graphic that highlights some of the provisions from the SCALE Act from Back to Dixie with an online audience. Naturally, I expected a spirited discussion, but even I was surprised by the reaction. Watch my new Youtube video to find out why.


Toni Morrison helped me find my authentic voice

I posted a video where I pay tribute to the most influential writer in my life, Toni Morrison. She helped me find my authentic voice after it was misplaced for a bit. The video would be four hours long if I expressed all the ways her teachings have impacted me.


How systemic racism was addressed in the book

The climate described in the early chapters of Back to Dixie is strikingly similar to today’s America.  In fact, the book mirrored our reality up until early 2021 when the first draft was completed.   Consequently, the characters in Back to Dixie also experienced the rash of civil rights offenses and the meaningless deaths of so many innocent Black people—many by the hands of someone in a position of authority.  They witnessed or participated in the marches and protests, as we did.  They also waited for verdicts and sentencings, hoping that justice would prevail, but expecting the worse. 

In the book, many were as fed up with the degree by which Black lives were devalued, as they were by the hesitance of the country’s leaders to acknowledge that systemic racism existed.  So, it wasn’t a surprise that when democratic Pennsylvania Governor, Jim Weldon, announced his candidacy for president, vowing to purposefully address systemic racism, the Black community rallied behind him.  In fact, if not for their overwhelming support, Weldon would have lost the 2020 elections to the incumbent Republican president. When the Democratic majority in the House grew in the 2022 elections, Weldon had the necessary support to pass the SCALE Act, signing it into law in February 2023.  It became the single most impactful law for Black people since the Voting Rights in 1965.  

Here is a summary of the key provisions of the SCALE Act of 2023:

Employment and Income

  • Employers must adhere to strict compliance ranges for hiring, promotion, and compensation data across racial and gender lines.
  • Employers reporting ‘out-of-range’ data for two consecutive quarters were subject to substantial tax penalties.
  • A one-time interest-free loan of $50,000 was available to each Black or impoverished citizen.  Repayment may be deferred orforgiven based on income.

Educational Opportunities

  • Universities and professional schools could no longer require the use of standardized test scores for admission or placement purposes.
  • Schools must report diversity data for admission, student retention, and graduation rates and ensure additional resources be made available to higher risk students.  Schools reporting ‘out-of-range’ for extended periods no longer qualified for federal financial aid.
  • New education grants covered all expenses for qualified full-time students from underrepresented groups, including those in graduate and professional schools. 


  • Zero-interest mortgages were available to applicants from underrepresented groups.  In the case of hardship, loan payments may be paused indefinitely without penalty.
  • Housing subsidies representing up to $2,000 per month were paid to those citizens that decided to rent instead of owning a home.  Amounts depended on family size and cost of living.

Criminal Justice

  • The cases of nonviolent offenders were reviewed for transfer to newly funded and built rehabilitation and job training centers.
  • Independent peer reviews were completed for all sentencing decisions involving prison.
  • Funding for mentorship, job placement, and counseling programs for newly released inmates was earmarked.

Health Care

  • Medical students from underrepresented groups became eligible for a $50,000 annual stipend in exchange for committing to work five years in the community after graduating.
  • Doctors working in underrepresented communities also received a $50,000 annual stipend.  Registered nurses and other medical professionals in these areas received a $25,000 payment.
  • Hospitals and clinics in these communities were eligible for subsidized purchase of medical equipment and supplies.
  • Universal affordable health care

In Back to Dixie, SCALE was received well by many people, as the nation was called into action against systemic racism, and most people and businesses committed to supporting the substantial change that SCALE promised.  Of course, there were also many detractors, mostly across party lines.  Most of the opposition to the laws felt that the cost was too high, while some never believed that there was ever an issue with systemic racism in the first place.  Nevertheless, the changes had the desired impact.  In the five years after the law went into effect, gaps between whites and Blacks in employment, income, education, home ownership, and arrests were closed more substantively than during any similar period in the country’s history. 

A surprising and unexpected development was that the law had a net positive impact on the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), with the economy fueled by the increased spending of the newly gainfully employed.  More Black students were attending college and pursuing professional degrees than ever before, which directly increased the nation’s talent pool and intellectual property.  More trained minds were working on the world’s problems like climate change and clean energy.  By all objective assessments, the SCALE Act was a resounding success.

Could SCALE work just as well for real?


New Youtube Video

In this video, I share my inspiration for writing this book almost thirty years after originally coming up with the idea. I also share what I hope folks will leave with after reading.

Watch it here:


Can we talk RACE

Race, politics, and religion.  As a young corporate worker in the 90’s, I learned early on to steer clear from those subjects at work—very little could be gained, while risks were high.  Because many people have strong opinions on these topics, it was easy for casual discussions to escalate into full blown arguments.  Many avoided conversations involving anyone of the protected classes altogether.  It took a great deal of commitment and determination to view everyone as ageless, raceless, genderless, agnostics with no political leanings, but people became good at it.  

That was the case in the workplace of the 90’s and most of the 2000’s—right up until when Barack Obama decided to run for president.  As his candidacy gained momentum and the possibility that the country could elect its first Black president became a more likely scenario, it became extremely difficult to avoid the topic of race anywhere in America.  Everyone had an opinion and many felt compelled to share it.

Most Black people were supporters of Obama, and many proudly admitted that the foundation of their support was the fact that he was Black—and how historic his victory would be for the country.  And though many white people supported Obama, his most vocal detractors used terms like socialist, communist, or foreigner when attacking him.  Although, in private, some would admit to just not being entirely comfortable with the idea of a Black person calling the White House home.  It was unavoidable that these discussions began to trickle into the workplace.

Less than a decade later, the climate has changed. Today, companies are expected to invest resources on diversity programs and employee forums to encourage dialogue around racism and equity issues, among other best practices.  You might ask how did the thinking shift so dramatically and so quickly?  My answer—politics and the power of social media.  During this time, more Americans identified social media as their main source of news and information, and politicians and their support networks began to utilize it as a tool.

Fake and rented accounts, unsubstantiated ‘news’ reports, and Big Tech algorithms all contributed to a viral spread of misinformation.  There have been many studies that show how negative articles and postings are much more widely forwarded and reposted than positive pieces.  This results in volumes of negative articles and postings, most unfounded or inaccurate, flooding America’s feeds and inboxes.  There are often so many instances of unsubstantiated reports being published by independent sources that they seem to corroborate with each other. 

Previously marginalized extremists suddenly had a platform and a reach that never existed before.  Their messages were fueled by social media misinformation intended to politically mobilize people with historically low voting rates.  Though politicians have historically used America’s views on race to their benefit, the evolution of politics on social media brought it to a whole other level.  The wheels were turned by the political machines, but things went further than most intended.

The steady stream of scenes and images of hate filling the television screen, newspapers, and social media feeds demonstrated just how racially charged the country had become.  The solution, in my opinion, is for us to openly discuss our differences, so we can better understand each other.  Because only then can we achieve the degree of empathy that this nation needs to get through these unprecedented times and come away better than ever.

When I first came up with the idea of Back to Dixie, I planned to publish it under the pen name, Nigel Light.  I don’t recall exactly how I came up with that name, but with me just embarking in the corporate world, in the culture that existed at the time, I didn’t feel that I could write freely under my real name.  I felt at the time that I would have subconsciously self-censored my writing to make it HR-safe in the event it was discovered by workfolk.  Writing the book through that filter would have been very limiting.  Instead, I decided that I would write under a pen name so I could maintain my artistic freedom. 

I can’t say for sure why it took me so long to finally write the book.  Work responsibilities and family commitments certainly played a role, but deep down there was also concern that readers would find the events creating the Back to Dixie world unrealistic and not feasible.  Unfortunately, with everything we have witnessed in recent years, that is no longer a concern. 

Someone recently read the book’s synopsis and reached out to tell me that he was tired of stories that emphasize our differences, and wants instead to read more stories where no one sees race, gender, sexual orientation, disability—where everyone is treated equally.  I explained to him that I shared that dream, but it will only be a dream until we all can see, discuss, and respect our differences.  I believe Back to Dixie is my contribution to that discussion.


Nigel Light

Len Hyde