Thursday, April 25, 2013

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Suspense Author J. J. DiBenedetto

J.J. DiBenedetto, Author

Suspense author J.J. DiBenedetto brings us a series of novels whose protagonist, Sara Barnes, sees other people’s dreams, including some gruesome murders. As Sara struggles to understand and even act on these dreams, "The tension built over the length of the story and I found myself unable to put it down," said one reviewer. In the four-book series, we see her grow, become a doctor, get married, and have a family - all while dealing with other people's dreams.

When the author is not writing about dreams, he enjoys operas. As with so many of us, he and his wife do whatever his cat says. And, he is a New York Giants fan.

Don't miss the short excerpt at the end of the interview.

Q:  What inspired you to create a character who dreams other people’s dreams --and then build a series with that character?  

J. J. DiBenedetto: The idea just “came to me” – that someone could see into dreams, and then use what they saw there in their waking life to solve a problem.  Then I asked myself, “what problem could someone see in another person’s dream that they’d have to solve?”  That’s where the idea of a killer who committed his crimes without witnesses came from—so the dreamer would be the only witness, and they’d feel compelled to act.

Q: Many of your reviewers appreciate the suspense in your series -- “a lot of suspense that will keep you guessing.” How do you create this suspense for your readers? 

J. J. DiBenedetto:  Mainly by trying to keep everything else in the book more realistic.  Each of the books has a lot of focus on everyday life, whether it’s college or medical school or the everyday ups and downs of a marriage.  I think that heightens the suspense of the dreams and the difficult situations my characters get involved in due to them.

Q: What do you do to help readers care about your characters?

J. J. DiBenedetto: I just try to create real people, with quirks and foibles, and show them in everyday situations that the reader can relate to.  Who knows what any of us would do if we were confronted with a serial killer—but  we all know what it’s like to be up against a school or work deadline, or how to balance family and work, or whether to keep a secret that would hurt a loved one if they knew it.

Q: What makes a hero/heroine?

J. J. DiBenedetto: Unselfishness, most of all.  Putting what’s right, and the good of others, ahead of yourself. 

Q: What makes a villain?

J. J. DiBenedetto: The quality of treating other people as less than you, less than human.  Once you start down that road, there’s eventually nothing you won’t do, if you don’t see the people you’re doing it to as human beings.

Q: One of your reviewers said of your first book DREAM STUDENT, “A bit of paranormal for fans of realism.” How do you create that realism or sense of credibility in books about someone who can see other people’s dreams? 

J. J. DiBenedetto: Basically by making the dreams the only paranormal element—and also by not giving Sara much, if any, control over them.  It’s a lot easier to accept the story when it’s basically the real world, with one small exception.  Also, I think it helps that Sara still has to work out what the dreams mean during her waking hours, and she ends up doing a lot of old-fashioned detective work.  The dreams aren’t a cure-all for the situations she finds herself in.

Q: Is setting relevant to your story? Could Sara dream other’s dreams anywhere, at any time? 

J. J. DiBenedetto: The setting is mainly relevant because putting it in the time and place I did made it a lot easier to create a believable, detailed world for Sara to live in (her college in Dream Student is more-or-less my college with the names changed, for one thing).  The setting of 1989-90 for the first book is also so I didn’t have to worry about Sara and her friends having cell phones or using Google to solve their problems.  But we do see in the later books that Sara’s dreams follow her to medical school, residency and private practice.

Q: Do you write from an outline, or do your characters push you around? (I might be a little nervous that Sara might use your dreams to make you do what she wants!)

J. J. DiBenedetto: I don’t have a formal outline, but I do have a general idea of where the story is going.  But Sara (and some of the other characters!) have surprised me now and then as the books have gone on. 

Q: How important is delivering a message or educating readers in your stories? Or do you write purely for entertainment?

J. J. DiBenedetto: Entertainment is the main purpose, but I also definitely wanted to write about a heroine who was unselfish and courageous and compassionate, and who didn’t make self-destructive choices.  If there’s any message, it’s that those qualities (courage, compassion, hard work) are important and ought to be valued.  I don’t think that’s a message that we see often enough in popular culture these days.

Q: Tell us something about yourself. What do you do when you’re not writing? Do you have a muse? Do you have any hobbies? Music? Books?

J. J. DiBenedetto: I’m a huge opera fan and I try to go as often as I can.  I read a lot, mostly science fiction/fantasy, and I’m a big sports fan as well.  And when I’m home I do whatever my cat wants me to, since she runs our household!

About J.J. DiBenedetto

J.J. (James) DiBenedetto was born in Yonkers, New York. He attended Case Western Reserve university, where as his classmates can attest, he was a complete nerd. Very little has changed since then.

He currently lives in Arlington, Virginia with his beautiful wife and their cat (who has thoroughly trained them both). When he's not writing, James works in the direct marketing field, enjoys the opera, photography and the New York Giants, among other interests.

The "Dreams" series is James' first published work.

About DREAM STUDENT (Book #1)

What would you do if you could see other people's dreams? If you could watch their hidden fantasies and uncover their deepest, darkest secrets...without them ever knowing?  

Sara Barnes is about to find out. She thought that all she had to worry about was final exams, Christmas shopping and deciding whether she likes the cute freshman in the next dorm who's got a crush on her.

 But when she starts seeing dreams that aren't hers, she learns more than she ever wanted to know about her friends, her classmates...and a strange, terrifying man whose dreams could get Sara killed.

“I didn’t expect to be woken up by someone I don’t know dreaming about killing somebody.  I thought I was done with that once and for all..."
But Sara's not done with it. As if adjusting to life as a newlywed and starting medical school weren't difficult enough, she's started seeing the dreamas of everyone around her, again. Before everything is said and done, those dreams might destroy Sara's hopes of becoming a doctor, wreck her marriage and even end her life...

"I would give anything to take this away from her.  I would gladly go back to having the nightmares myself - the very worst ones, the ones that had me waking up screaming in a pool of my own vomit - rather than see Lizzie go through this..."
As a resident at Children's Hospital, Sara can handle ninety hour workweeks, fighting to save her young patients from deadly childhood diseases. But she's about to be faced with a challenge that all her training and experience haven't prepared her for: her four-year-old daughter has inherited her ability to see other people's dreams...

"Why is this so hard for me?  Why am I having so much trouble?  Why do I feel so helpless, so hopeless?  What the hell is wrong with me?"
After tangling with murders and mobsters, not to mention medical school and three years of residency, Sara thought she could handle anything.  And then the police show up without warning at her new office and arrest her for a crime she can't possibly have committed. Sara's confidence, and her grip on reality, is shattered during one terrifying night in jail. 
Now, the very dreams that have endangered her life and driven her to the edge of madness may be the only thing that can help Sara find herself again...


          “You said he opened the trunk.  Were you watching from behind him?”  I try to picture it.  I feel pounding, as though my brain is beating itself against the inside of my skull.  I was in the back seat, but then – I guess – yes.  I was outside. 

          “Yeah.  I see what he’s doing.  I can see the trunk.”

          “Can you see the license plate?”  God!  It’s really hard to focus.  It hurts.  I just want it to stop hurting.  I can see – it’s an Ohio plate.  I can read - I think I can read it.

          “LXG.  L like in large, X like in x-ray, G like in good.  And then three numbers.  One, four, seven.”  I feel a tear fall from my eye.  I want to stop.  I can’t – can’t keep doing this.

          “Are you sure?  L, X, G, one, four, seven?”  Beth’s voice is so calm, so peaceful.  How can it be so calm?  I hate her for that.  What right does she have to be so calm?

          Am I sure?  I don’t – I have to focus.  Focus.  Focus.  “Yes.  Definitely.  I’m sure.”

          There’s a hand on my head, pushing my hair off my forehead.  Something cold – a washcloth?  That’s nice.  That feels a little better.  “You were amazing,” Beth whispers into my ear.  “Really amazing.  I’m proud of you.”

          I can’t make any words come out; none of my muscles want to work.  I think I might have managed a very weak smile, but I’m not even sure about that.  

          I feel a hand on my back, and another on my forehead, I’m being pushed up.  Someone grabs my left hand and puts a cup into it, and some – pills?  aspirin, maybe? – into my right hand.  “There you go.  Swallow those, have a little water,” Beth says.  I follow her orders, and I’m lowered back down.

          “Good.  Now go to sleep.”  I feel lips pressing against mine.  I assume they’re Brian’s.  I hope so…

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  1. Stopped in to show some WLC <3