I’m a writer by night, and by day I work in the fundraising-by-mail field (please don’t call it “junk mail!”). I’m married to my wonderful, beautiful wife Cathey (who’s also working on a novel of her own), and trained/owned by a tortoiseshell cat who runs the household (me and my wife go to work every day to earn money to pay the bills; the cat stays home and basks in the sunshine all day long. Who’s the smarter one in the house?)
I’m full-blooded Italian (three of my grandparents came “off the boat.” I’m originally from the Bronx, New York, and I ended up in the Washington, DC area 15 years ago, and I’ve been there ever since.
So you’re one of the ‘cat people’…I’m on team dogs, but let’s not go into that now 🙂 What is or are the genres of your book or books?
Paranormal romance/suspense is probably the best description. There’s a little bit of everything, though: mystery, humor, the supernatural (Sara, my heroine, can see other people’s dreams), and just everyday life.
Sounds interesting! When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve been writing at least since high school. I’ve always had a creative side, and in high school and college I got a little more serious about it. 10 or so years ago, I finally finished a long piece – the original draft of what would become “Dream Student.” But it wasn’t that good and I put it aside, until a year and a half ago, when a friend sold her first novel. I said, “Why not me, too?” and I dusted off that old draft, got to rewriting, and went from there.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I finished the first draft of the second novel in the series, “Dream Doctor.” One book could be just a “fluke” but two books is a big deal!
Where do you get ideas for your stories?
I’m honestly not sure exactly where the original idea for “Dream Student” came from. It just “occurred” to me – what if you could see into someone else’s dreams? I played around with that idea, and it led very quickly to the thought of seeing a horrible crime in those dreams. You’d be the only witness and you’d have no proof that you could bring to the police. So if you really believed that what you saw in the dreams was happening in waking life, you’d be the only one who could do anything about it.
Once I finished the first book, the idea for the second seemed pretty obvious. Sara was hoping to get into medical school in the first book, so why not send her there? And I also reversed the problem she faced in the first book. In the first book, she had no idea who the killer was, and she had to use clues in the dreams to figure out who he was and where he lived, etc. In the second book, there are several people who all want to kill someone. Sara knows all of them, and they all have good reason to want the potential victim dead, so she has to figure out which one is actually the prospective murderer.
In each subsequent book, I ask a question, and that usually leads to the story. “What if her young child inherited her dreaming ability” led directly to “Dream Child.” And “what if someone else had Sara’s talent…but not her morals?” led to the fifth book, “Waking Dream.”
So there’s at least five books in the series! That’s awesome! What was the hardest part of writing your books?
The only really difficult part was writing the fourth book, “Dream Family.” I lost sleep over the hell I put Sara through in the first 2-3 chapters of the book.
Have you ever had a writer’s block and if yes, how did you make it go away?
Not really, at least not for more than a day or two. Usually I just wait it out. If it seems like it’s going to continue, I skip ahead and write a later scene in the book I’m working on, just to jump start my brain.
Indie or traditional publishing?
Indie. I’d still be waiting for a response if I’d gone the traditional route, and in the meantime I’ve racked up 700+ sales, 60+ reviews and gotten enough feedback to know that I’ve got real books that I can stack up against anyone else’s work.
That is amazing! And I totally agree. I took the Indie route couple of years ago, too, and haven’t regretted that for a day. What is the force behind your writing?
I’m just writing from my heart. I’ve come to really love my characters, and also the things that I believe strongly and try to live by (although my characters do a better job of that than I do!) definitely come through in my writing.
Do you have any weird writing habits?
Not really, unless you count my characters having conversations in my head at all hours of the day!
What is your favorite cartoon character?
Modern? Perry the Platypus.
Old-school? Marvin the Martian. I always wanted to live on his weird, Art Deco space station.
Cool! Your favorite author? Book?Movie? TV-series?
Book? “Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helprin. Both my favorite, and also the best book I’ve ever read.
Authors? Stephen R. Donaldson, Alastair Reynolds, Terry Pratchett
TV Series? “Farscape” (cancelled too soon), “Pushing Daisies” (cancelled too soon), “Doctor Who”
Movies? “Almost Famous”, “Prizzi’s Honor”, “The Hudsucker Proxy”, “The Big Lebowski”, “Forbidden Planet”
Oh, I love Terry Pratchett, too! What do you do in your spare time?
Read, watch sports (go Giants! Go Yankees!), listen to the opera, plan trips to Europe that I’m hoping to sell enough books to pay for!
Well, you’re welcome to visit me in Finland any time! Any current projects you’d like to share?
I’ve got the fifth book of the Dream Series coming out in August, and I’m working on the sixth book as well. I also have another, unrelated book I’m working on (I’m shooting for a breezy adventure along the lines of “Romancing the Stone” if I can pull it off)
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
That my writing was flat and lifeless and the reviewer couldn’t bring themselves to care about my characters. That hurt.
Ouch! What has been the best compliment?
There’ve been so many. The best, though, was someone who worked in the health care field, who asked after reading “Dream Doctor” if I was a doctor as well. I guess I did a good job with my research!
Go you! That is a great compliment! If you could meet one ‘celebrity’ author who would it be?
Stephen R. Donaldson. I’ve loved his work since high school, and I’d love to talk to him in depth about it.
Do you have any words of wisdom for the other writers?
When the book is done, your work is just beginning…whether you’re going the traditional route or indie self-publishing.
So true! Favorite quote?
“I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.”
Where can people find out more about you and your books?
Facebook: the Dream Series page
Facebook: my personal page.
What if you could see everyone else’s dreams?
Sara Barnes is about to find out…
I skip ahead to the awful part: the man and the girl and the bedroom. I realize, as I’m telling her about it, it wasn’t separate dreams, it was the same dream. I was in one place, and then in the other, just like that. And it was the same feeling of being not in my own mind again, just like all the other times. I must have been on the street, at the accident scene, and then I was in the bedroom watching. There wasn’t any in-between at all.
By the time I get to the end, I can barely get the words out. I don’t want to see it, but it’s there, playing out over and over and over.
I don’t know how long I cry for this time, but Beth is a real trooper, she holds me until I finally recover a little. Not much, but enough to keep talking. “He killed her. I watched the whole thing, and I tried to help but I couldn’t move, and they didn’t hear me and there wasn’t anything I could do. She was – she was kicking and fighting but it didn’t do any good.”
Beth thinks about that. She’s staring hard at me, and I can tell exactly what’s going through her head. She’s wondering where the hell this came from. I don’t like horror movies; I hate even watching the news sometimes. And nothing’s ever happened in my life or to anyone I know like what I dreamed. Beth knows all that, and I can see from her expression that she’s nearly as freaked out as I am.
“God, Sara. I don’t blame you for losing it. That’s – I’d say horrible, but horrible doesn’t cover it.”
Yes, I know. “The worst thing is that it looked so real. And I have no idea who they were. They didn’t look like anyone I can think of.” Well, the girl didn’t, I’m sure about that. When I picture the man I can’t place him either, but I’ve got this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I ought to be able to.
Thank you J.J. It’s been a pleasure to have you here! Please, visit us soon again!