Today I am pleased to welcome paranormal romance auhor, James DiBenedetto to the blog. Hi, James. Please introduce yourself. Tell us a little about the person behind the pen.
I’m a full-blooded Italian (3 of my 4 grandparents were born there and came over in their youth) from a pretty big extended family (although I’m actually an only child). I was born in the Bronx, New York, and I ended up in the Washington, DC area 18 years ago, got a job and I’ve been there ever since.
By day I do mail fundraising for nonprofit groups (please don’t call it junk mail!), and at night I’m a writer. I’ve been writing since college, but it was never serious. I have a hard drive full of “page 1s” that never made it to page 2. A year ago, a friend of mine sold her first novel, and it got me thinking, “why can’t I do that, too?” So I went back and dusted off the one thing I had managed to finish a draft of – the first draft of the book that became “Dream Student”.
Besides writing, I love the opera and go whenever I can; I’m a big sports fan, a science fiction geek, and me and my wife are also the property of a tortoiseshell cat that runs our household.
Why did you decide to write Paranormal Romance? What is the appeal?
I didn’t really “decide” to write in this genre. When I originally wrote the first draft, I didn’t know there was such a genre! I just followed the story – the first idea was simply the thought of seeing into other people’s dreams. Right away, that led me to wonder what a person would do if they saw something horrible, if someone was dreaming or fantasizing about committing murder. The person who saw it would be the only witness – but there’d be no proof. What do you do then?
The story grew from there, and the romance quickly came into it – at first it was just to give Sara’s character some moral support, but the relationship quickly became as important as the dreaming aspect of the story. And then the subsequent books grew out of that.
How much research goes into your books, and how do you tackle that?
Quite a bit of research. The first book didn’t require as much, because it’s set when and more-or-less where I went to college, so a lot of it was just from memory. I mainly had to look up some specific details for individual scenes, but it wasn’t too much.
The second book, when Sara goes to medical school, was a different story. I knew nothing about med school. I was lucky, though – I came across a memoir about a woman’s experience in medical school in the late 1980s, and that was a perfect fit. I got a lot of the “feel” of the book from that memoir. For Sara’s actual lessons, I used the “look inside the book” feature on Amazon to go through the standard textbook used for the first-year anatomy (dissection) class. And I visited med student internet forums and the websites of several medical schools to get a sense of what her day-to-day class schedule would be like.
The fourth book, when Sara is mistakenly arrested and is booked into jail, I had to do some research there as well. That’s never happened to me, and I wanted what happens to her to ring true, and I found quite a bit of material to help with that.
There are also lots of small details – what movies and TV shows were popular at the time each book is set, and so on. Google, Wikipedia and IMDB have been my friends!
What is the best comment you ever received from a reader? The worst or weirdest?
The best comment was from one beta reader who actually asked if I was a doctor or had been to med school after reading “Dream Doctor”. I was thrilled that (at least for one reader) I did a good job of making it feel true.
The worst comment was a review that said “the story lacks conflict, interesting characters and a suspenseful plot.” It was just one review (the overwhelming majority have been very positive), but that did hurt a bit to read.
Tell us a little about your writing style? Do you plan and plot your stories, or do you just plow through them?
I plow through, more than plot in a detailed way. I know in general where the story is going, and sometimes I have a very clear idea of exactly how the climax will play out long before I get there, but I don’t outline or plot out every scene.
Can you tell us a little about your current work, “Waking Dream”? Is there a story behind the story?
“Waking Dream” is the fifth book in the series. We’re almost 12 years on from the first book, and Sara encounters something that she never expected – someone else (not in her own family) who can do what she do: go into other people’s dreams. And unfortunately, this other woman isn’t interested at all in helping people; she’s using her gift for selfish and harmful ends. And she might be coming after Sara’s husband…
This was going to be the plot of the fourth book, “Dream Family”, but that book changed dramatically as I was writing it, and it became about Sara being completely traumatized after her arrest and brief time in jail, and then her recovery from that. But the idea was too good to put aside, and so it became the next book.
What sets Sara apart from all the other women in Brian’s life (and vice-versa)? Why are they perfect for each other?
She’s really the only woman who’s ever been in his life; in the first book when they meet, he’s only a freshman in college. And Brian is more kind and selfless than any of Sara’s previous boyfriends.
But the real reason they’re perfect for each other is the qualities they bring out in each other. When they first meet, Sara’s trying to figure out what her strange dreams mean, and she’s slowly losing her mind. Brian’s pretty shy and nervous and hasn’t found his confidence yet.
Helping Sara cope with the dreams, and eventually hunt down the killer who she’s seeing every night, forces Brian to find that confidence and grow into the man he was meant to be; and taking the lead in a relationship and guiding Brian into becoming that man is just what Sara needs to help her focus on something besides her dreams – and also come out of her own shell.
Have you ever had writer’s block? How do you deal with it?
I’ve never had it for long enough to be a huge problem (yet, anyway – knock on wood!). What I usually do when I am stuck is to skip ahead in the story and write a scene to look forward to. Even if I end up junking it later, it gets me writing again.
Can you give us a little background on your Sara that’s only in your author notes, and not found in your story? What inspired you to create this character?
I’ve got tons of background on Sara. I know every class she took in college, and who her grade-school friends were. I’ve got a huge spreadsheet with all kinds of details about her.
One thing that’s not found in the first five books (although it will show up in the next book, which I’m writing now), is that Sara is not the most astute businesswoman, and she’s much too generous with her time and money, sometimes to her own detriment. The details don’t make it into the book, but I figured out exactly how much money she’s making in her medical practice, for example, and how much she’s costing herself due to poor (or overly charitable) decisions.
I honestly can’t name a specific inspiration for Sara – she kind of came out fully formed, for the most part. She still surprises me now and then, but she’s always been Sara.
Describe a favorite scene in your current novel?
In “Waking Dream”, which comes out this month, Sara’s adopted daughter Grace, who’s eleven years old going on thirty, has her first kiss, and Sara witnesses it, and then a little later has to give Grace “the talk”. We also get a flashback to Sara’s (very embarrassing) first kiss herself.
What else do you have in store for your readers?
I’m working on the sixth book in the Dream Series, and I’m also working on another book, tentatively called “Queen of the Idiots”. It’s more of an adventure in the tradition of “Romancing the Stone” than a straight-out romance. The story follows Jane, an American graduate student who’s studying at Oxford. Her professor asks her to drive his brand new car from England over to his research site in Spain. Unknown to Jane, there’s a sealed box containing priceless archaeological relics in the trunk, which various people are willing to kill over, and the simple drive becomes a dangerous chase across three countries…
Here’s my bio:
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.
Amazon Author Page
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.
“Dream Student” is the thrilling first installment of the Dreams series.
“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 dreams 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…
“Dream Doctor” is the thrilling second novel in the Dreams series.
"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...
"Dream Child" is the suspenseful third novel in the "Dreams" series.
"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...
"Dream Family" is the powerful fourth novel in the "Dreams" series.
“Oh, God! We can hurt each other. Whatever we do to each other in the dream, we’ll do it to ourselves for real…”
When her own dreams are visited by a mysterious woman in a red dress, Sara realizes she has something she never expected: a counterpart, someone outside her family who shares her talent to see other people’s dreams.
When the woman in red keeps showing up in other dreams as well, leaving ruined lives in her wake, Sara knows she has something she never imagined: a nemesis.
Now, Sara must track the woman in red down in the waking world, before she’s forced to fight for her life in her dreams…
“Waking Dream” is the exciting fifth novel in the “Dreams” series.
Excerpt, from book 5 (Waking Dream) – this is part of the scene mentioned in the interview:
I decide that I need some water before I can properly fall asleep. I get up, open the door and tiptoe out, down the hall, to the stairs. But there’s already someone downstairs, and – I don’t know why – I stand perfectly still and silent on the top step.
It’s Grace, pacing back and forth near the front door, looking quite impatient. I don’t know why I don’t call out to her, but some instinct is telling me not to. A moment later, there’s a hand on my shoulder, and I look up into Maggie’s tired and windblown face. They must only have gotten back from nighttime skiing a few minutes ago.
“I was looking for David,” she whispers into my ear. “He’s been in the bathroom downstairs for a while now.” And now I think I know why Grace is pacing, and why in that particular spot. I put a finger to Maggie’s lips. We both hear a door open, and then David comes into view. He’s heading straight for Grace. Of course he is.
He stops about six inches away from her, right under the mistletoe. They stare at each other for a minute or two; it’s too far away to judge the expressions on their faces. Finally, in response to some unspoken signal, they come closer – closer – then their lips meet. The kiss lasts for just a second, and they spring apart like a pair of repelling magnets. But then, after another minute or so, they come closer again. This time, Grace puts her arms around him, pulls him tightly to her. Then she grabs his hand and places it – oh, God, I can’t believe she’s doing this! – on the back of her neck. She holds it there, exactly in the spot that Brian always touches me. The spot that makes me swoon when it’s touched just the right way. And now she’s running her hand through his hair; again, just the way I do with Brian. They do say that children copy their parents.
She tilts her head slightly to the side and goes in for another kiss. This time it’s much more serious, and it lasts a lot longer.
They break apart again, more slowly this time, and it’s hard to be sure with the distance and the dim light, but I think they look more confused than anything else. I turn away to look up at Maggie, and her face is unreadable too. “Go back to your room,” I whisper fiercely. “Don’t let them see us!” I follow my own advice and scamper back to my bedroom, closing the door softly behind me.
Brian’s looking confused. “Where’s your water?”
“I got distracted,” I say