I’m a full-blooded Italian (3 of my 4 grandparents were born in Italy), born and raised in New York, and I’ve been living in the Washington, DC area for the last 18 years. I share my home with my amazing wife Cathey, and our cat Daisy, who basically runs everything.
You’re the author of the Dream series. Can you tell us something about the books?
What if you could see everyone else’s dreams? That’s what the books are all about. They revolve around Sara, who’s in college when we first meet her, and she doesn’t think there’s anything out of the ordinary about herself. And then the dreams start.
In each book, she’s faced with a challenge that comes to her from the dreams she’s visiting (in one book, it’s the fact that everyone’s dreaming about the death of one of her med school teachers, and then the man begins to show signs of being poisoned, for example); and also a problem that arises from her everyday life (adjusting to life as a newlywed, or later in the series coping with the difficulties of being a parent).
I notice that you have a co-author on some of the earlier novels in the series, but you are the sole author of the latest one. Can you tell us a bit about why you started working with a co-author, and why you stopped?
Ami Low wasn’t a co-author, but an artist, who hand-painted the original covers for the first few books. She did an amazing job, capturing for each cover a scene from the book at my direction (and she deserves a medal for deciphering the embarrassingly bad sketches I gave her to work from!), but, unfortunately, those covers were not what readers expected, and I had to change them.
How did you come up with the premise for the series, that your main character can inhabit the dreams of others?
It came from wondering why characters in mystery books and movies never seem to go to the police, when that’s what most of us would do if we had evidence about a murder or other serious crime.
I came up with the answer: what if the only evidence you had was in your own head, because you’d seen it in the thoughts and dreams of the criminal? You’d have nothing to give the police, and nothing they would believe, so if you wanted to do something about it, you’d have to investigate for yourself.
The character of Sara and the college setting came straight out of that initial idea.
How did you get started writing?
I’ve been writing since at least junior high school, but I mostly never finished anything. After college, I completed the first draft of what later became DREAM STUDENT, but I wasn’t pleased with how it came out, and it sat on my computer for more than a decade. A couple of years ago, a friend published her first novel, and I thought, “why can’t I do it, too?” So I dusted off that old draft, rewrote it from the beginning, and now I’ve got eight books in the series.
I notice you’re originally from Yonkers and now live in Virginia. Do you miss New York, or do you prefer where you’re living now?
I definitely miss New York. But I don’t think I’d want to live now where I grew up. It’s not terrible, but the neighborhood has gone downhill somewhat in the last 20 years.
Do you ever use people you know in your novels?
Yes. Only minor characters, though. They’re really more “background extras” for the most part. All the major characters who actually drive the story are completely fictional.
Do you have a writing routine? If so, what is it?
Not really. It’s just “whenever I can carve out 15 or 20 minutes (or more) at a stretch”.
Are you a plotter, a pantser, or somewhere in the middle?
Totally a pantser. I do usually have a general sense of the ending in mind, but that’s it. I just start writing and see where things go.
What is the best writing advice you ever got? The worst?
Best? “Write another book.”
Worst? “It’s just a hobby. If it’s not working out, find something else.”
Who are your favorite fantasy/paranormal authors?
Fran Veal (author of “Finding My Escape”).
Katherine Kurtz (although I haven’t liked the later Deryni books nearly as much as the early ones)
Stephen R. Donaldson
What do you hope readers will take away from your books?
I hope they’ll come away having enjoyed the story, and wanting to keep in touch with Sara and the rest of the cast of characters.
As far as any message or moral, it’s basically: responsibility. Be responsible for yourself, and the problems you see that you can solve. Take responsibility for the power you have and don’t abuse it.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished the next book in the series (book #8, DREAM VACATION). I’ve started on the ninth book, as well as another unrelated novel.
Any last words?
Thanks so much for hosting me!
Where can readers find you on the web?
J.J. (James) Dibenedetto’s fans would swear he’s got a sixth sense when it comes to seeing into the minds of others and often wonder if his stories could possibly be fiction. He enjoys suspending disbelief with suspenseful paranormal tales that are a perfect blend of reality meets fantasy.
His popular Dream Series continues to delight readers with each and every exciting installment.
Born in Yonkers, New York, he currently resides in Arlington Virginia with his beautiful wife and a cat he is sure has taken full advantage of its nine lives. When it comes to the cat, he often wonders, but then again it might just be his imagination.
Blurb for Dream Student (book one, free on Kindle)
College junior Sara Barnes thought her life was totally under control. All she had to worry about was her final exams, Christmas shopping, applying to medical school – and what to do about the cute freshman in the next dorm with a crush on her. Everything was going according to plan, until the night she started seeing other people’s dreams.
It’s bad enough that Sara is learning more than she ever needed to know about her friends and classmates, watching their most secret fantasies whether she wants to or not. Much worse are the other dreams, the ones she sees nearly every night, featuring a strange, terrifying man who commits unspeakable crimes. Now Sara wonders if she’s the only witness to a serial killer – and the only one who knows when and where he’s going to strike next.
Dream Student is the first book of the Dream Series.
I have to admit, it feels very strange to be drinking wine, like an actual adult, with my parents. When I’m at school, obviously, I don’t have these thoughts. I’m twenty one years old. I’m in charge of my life, making real, important choices. I’m working hard, making serious progress on as adult a goal as I can think of. I’m in a real, serious relationship with a man I love. Then of course there are the damned nightmares, and the fact that I’m still even close to being in one piece after several weeks of them qualifies me as a functioning grown-up for sure.
Still, something happens to me when I come home from school, even now, even though rationally I should know better. It’s not that Mom and Dad do anything, really, to make me feel that way – it’s pretty much all in my head.
I realize that partly it’s just the fact of sleeping in the same bed I’ve slept in since I was in kindergarten, and looking at the picture of Kermit the Frog that’s been on my wall since 1977 or so as I fall asleep. Everywhere I look in my bedroom there’s a reminder of my childhood. Especially the poor ratty, dog-chewed stuffed rabbit that’s sitting on my bed right now. Good old Mister Pennington.
But right now, my father is looking at me very differently. He’s been ever since lunch and I just now realized that’s why. I guess he was right, when he said I’m slow on the uptake. What it is, is he’s seeing me as really and truly an adult for the first time. Well, if he thinks I am, I certainly ought to be able to believe it myself.
I get more proof when we get home. Mom and Dad don’t know it, but I learned years ago, when the conditions are just right and the heating vents in their room and my room are both open but the heat isn’t actually blowing in either room, I can hear them quite clearly.
What I hear tonight, as they’re getting ready for bed, is Dad telling Mom about his day with me. Then he tells her that he’s thinking about putting off the big kitchen renovation they’ve been planning for the last year. He wants to save the money for something much more important that he thinks might be coming a lot sooner than he expected.
I don’t know what to say to that.
I’m willing to bet that Mom and I have exactly the same expression on our faces right now, and that we both just went precisely the same shade of white. I don’t know how I keep from fainting at the shock of hearing those words.
There’s only one reasonable thing to do then. I jump out of bed and over to the thermostat, crank the heat as high as it will go and with the blast of hot air out of the vent, the voices of my parents are gone. I lay back down on my bed, grab Mister Pennington to me in a death grip, and try to put my father’s crazy words out of my mind and fall asleep.
Two hours later I’m still clutching Mister Pennington, and Lumpy is snoring at the foot of the bed. I’m finally just now drifting off to sleep. The last thing that goes through my mind before I’m out is that, maybe, my father’s crazy words might not be quite so crazy after all.