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March 19, 2021

Dione Martin (center) with daughters Ava and Sofia. / DIONE MARTIN

by David Mullen•

While building a successful career in communications, Dione Martin has been writing stories about others for years. Now she has decided to write a story of her own.

Released on in early March, Martin's first book – The Wool Over Their Eyes – is a story about a bi-racial woman, Natalia Foster, who has been the family secret that was meant to go to her father’s grave. Her life changes when she learns of her biological father.

As often happens, life imitates art. While not a biographical piece, Martin does pull from personal life experiences in her first novel.

A native of New Orleans, where most of her family remains, her mother and stepfather were shielding. "My parents were very conservative. Still are," Martin said. "They were very religious, and we were in church a lot, like three days a week. Wednesday night service. Friday night bible study. Sunday service. It was intense. My stepdad was at one point preaching. Very conservative, very religious and very overly protective. At least my mother was."

She has an older sister from a different father and three younger siblings. "There is her dad, then there is my dad and then there is my stepdad who I grew up with," Morris said. "This is where it gets complicated."

Her undergraduate degree came from the most unlikely of schools: The University of Minnesota - Morris, located in a town of 5,200, two-and one-half hours west of Minneapolis. "It was very much a culture shock. The snow. The weather. Different culture. Different people. But I made a lot of lifelong friends that I still have today," Martin said.

"Everyone asked me 'Why I would go away all the way up there?' But I had to get away for school. I wanted to get away," said Martin, who currently lives in Richardson, about her departure from the bayous of catfish to the lakes of the walleye pike. "You know how when you are younger, you want your freedom?"

She was recruited to UM-Morris as the school looked to increase their minority enrollment and received an academic scholarship. "I grew up in a predominantly black area in New Orleans," Martin said. "All black schools. [At UM-Morris] there were white people that had never met black people. But I never felt any undue pressure. I thought I could be a nurse. Jobs are plentiful, they pay well, and I like helping other people. Then I looked at the curriculum and said 'No, I can't be a nurse.'" English became Martin's calling.

She earned a Masters in journalism from UT Austin and has been in Texas ever since. "I thought I was going to write for a newspaper," Martin said. In her final year, she interned at Dell in corporate communications which started her career path that included GSD&M in Austin and USAA in San Antonio. Today, she is the senior director, communications and PR at Brinker International in Dallas.

Because of her upbringing, Martin became an avid reader. "Because I couldn't do anything else," she said. "I couldn't go to a lot of places. I was home a lot, so I read a lot. It was an escape, finding myself in these other stories. Reading got me through a lot growing up."

She got married, divorced and has two daughters, 14-year-old Ava and 20-year-old Sofia, a junior at Parsons School of Design in New York City. Despite being a mother and holding a full-time position in the corporate world, Martin, a dedicated "morning person," found time to pen a rough outline, write, place characters in the right scenes and do research. "It took years, but it was a labor of love. I work full time and have two daughters. But I would write on weekends or sometimes early in the morning before I started work. I always knew I wanted to write a novel. That was my dream."

The Wool Over Their Eyes from Inspired Forever Books "is very loosely based on my life. My real dad was Italian. I did not grow up with him and his family did not know and does not know about me. He was never married to my mother," Martin said, which provided plenty of plotlines for her semi-fictitious work.

"I let my imagination run wild on what might have happened," Martin said. "Religion also surfaces in the novel. I think people try to redeem themselves through religion. Seeking God and asking for forgiveness and trying to turn their lives around. As my mother would put it 'No longer living in sin.' But it started taking different courses as I was writing it."

As Martin crafted her first novel, she hoped readers would glean onto lessons from her own upbringing through the "eyes" of her fictional characters. "Thinking about healing and forgiveness and how important that is in our lives, which for me personally has been difficult. To forgive and forget certain transgressions, I guess. But it is so damaging to your spirit if you hold grudges and allow seeds of bitterness to grow inside of you.

"I've heard it in service. I've heard it from my mother, that forgiveness isn't truly for the other person. It is for yourself. It is also about pursuing your dreams. Sometimes you get to a point in life where you say 'Maybe I am too old to do this. I didn't do this in my 20s or didn't do this in my 30s, like, oh well.' Yes, this took years, but you have to stay the course, don't look back and don't have any regrets."

In looking back on her past, Martin saw a future as a novelist. And it is a decision she doesn't regret.

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