Interview with J.J. DiBenedetto, author of “Finders Keepers”

A common misconception entwined with authors is that they are socially inept, how true is that?

It’s true of me personally, but I don’t think that has anything to do with being an author! I was socially inept long before I wrote my first book.

How important is research to you when writing a book?

Very important! My books are set in the fairly recent past, but far enough back that the world was a different place (1990’s), so I need to research very specific details to be sure I don’t get anything wrong. I’ve also written on topics I knew nothing about – in one of my books, the heroine is a medical student and I had to research what that whole experience is like. I think it’s vital in building a believable world to do the work to get everything right that you can.

What works best for you: Typewriters, fountain pen, dictate, computer or longhand?

Computer, hands down.  The ease of editing as you go, cutting and pasting are just such huge advantages.  As for longhand, I can’t read my own handwriting, so that’s not a good option.  And I talk too fast for dictation to be much use.

I try to write every day.  My goal is 1,000 words, which I don’t always reach, but I do more often than not.

How hard was it to sit down and actually start writing something?

Not hard at all. What was hard was getting something to the point where I had enough pages that I felt good about to keep going and not just toss it aside after reading it over. That took a long time!

What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?

Marketing! Writing is actually the easiest part of the whole business of being a self-published author.

Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?

Yes! I think every writer does, really. My favorite genre is actually science fiction, although I read pretty widely. My favorite authors are Stephen R. Donaldson, Mark Helprin, Julian May & Frank Herbert.

Have you ever left any of your books stew for months on end or even a year?

My first book, Dream Student, sat for a decade after I wrote the first draft. It wasn’t nearly good enough to do anything with, and I just let it sit there. But then a friend sold her first novel, and I said, “why not me?” and dusted it off and rewrote it from page one.

Have you ever designed your own book cover?

Sort of.  I worked with a friend and co-worker who was also an artist, and I had her hand-paint the covers to my first four books.  I gave her very specific directions and drew sketches (which I will not share because they’re hideous!), and she did a fantastic job.  She gave me exactly what I asked for.

Only one problem: I asked for the wrong thing, and the covers were totally wrong for my genre, so I had to change them, and I went to a professional cover designer.

How would you feel if no one showed up at your book signing?

That actually happened. I had a table at a big local street festival, and in eight hours I sold no books and spoke to maybe half a dozen people all day. Afterwards, I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.

Do you read and reply to the reviews and comments of your readers?

When it comes to online reviews – I read them, yes. Reply to them, no way! When it’s feedback directly to me, on my website of via email, I always respond to that.

Does a bad review affect your writing?

Only if there’s usable feedback there. If it’s just “I hated it!” or if they didn’t like the genre or the POV (my Dream Series books are written in first person, present tense, which some people really dislike), I can’t take anything from that. If it’s more specific, then I consider it and (if I agree with it) I try to take it into account as I go forward.

What did you want to become when you were a kid?

An astronaut! Or a companion on Doctor Who (not an actor on the show, but an actual companion travelling in the TARDIS!)

Do you recall the first ever book/novel you read?

I doubt it was the first, but the one I remember most from my childhood was a book called “The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel)”. I don’t actually remember much about it except that the main character was searching for Leon, and kept running into Noel, who really was Leon except he had lost his memory. It was a long time ago!

Do your novels carry a message?

I didn’t really set out to put a message into them, but I think one is there anyway. Especially in the Dream Series books, they’re all about responsibility – using the power you have responsibly, not abusing it, doing the right thing even when it’s difficult or costs you something.

Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?

Absolutely! Jane’s professor in FINDERS KEEPERS is based on a real person, who I met as a volunteer with Earthwatch. I basically took him and his research and used that as a big part of the setting for the book.

How realistic are your books?

I try to keep them as realistic as possible, considering the stories. They take place in our “real world” except where the specific characters and stories depart a little bit from that.

Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?

I’m working on the next Jane Barnaby Adventure right now. As a hint, there’s one wedding she has to help make happen, another wedding she has to break up, and a cache of art stolen by the Nazis in WW2 and lost for 50 years that she has to find.

If given the opportunity to do it all over again, would you change anything in your books?

Just details, little corrections. I wouldn’t change the stories or the characters at all.

From all that we have been hearing and seeing in the movies, most writers are alcoholics. Your views on that?

I’m not, my wife isn’t, and my friends who are writers aren’t, so it’s pretty inaccurate as far as my personal experience goes!

People believe that being a published author is glamorous, is that true?

Is it true that people believe it? I guess so. Is it true that my life as a published author is glamorous? That’s about the last word I’d use to describe it!

Do you reply back to your fans and admirers personally?

Definitely! If they take the time to contact me, I owe them that.

They say books die every time they are turned into a movie; what do you think?

I think movies/TV are such a different medium with different storytelling rules that things have to be changed, sometimes in a major way. It’s inevitable. The best you can hope for is that the people who adapt a book really “get” what the story is about and what makes the characters special, and they put that on the screen, even if the details change.

Have you ever taken any help from other writers?

All the time! I think the community of indie authors is incredibly generous with their time and their knowledge, and it’s helped me a lot.

When can the readers expect your next book in print?

The next Jane Barnaby Adventure should be out in July, and then another book in December, hopefully!

In case one or any of your books honor the big screen, which book would you like it to be?

If I had to pick just one of my books, I’d probably pick DREAM CHILD, just because I’d love to see Lizzie (the heroine’s daughter, who really steals the whole book) brought to life.

If you were to watch your favorite book (which hasn’t been turned into a real life motion picture) turn into a movie, which would you choose? Or would you rather keep it stayed as a book?

I would love to see Julian May’s “Saga of Pliocene Exile” done as a movie, or maybe a 10-12 episode TV series on HBO or something. The special effects are good enough today to make all the crazy psychic powers and aliens look realistic, and it’s such a perfect story for the screen.

Have you ever written a character with an actor in mind?

I didn’t realize I was doing it until the third book of the Dream Series, but the heroine’s mother-in-law was totally based on Emily Gilmore in “Gilmore Girls.” I was unconsciously drawing on her character and the actress’ (Kelly Bishop) portrayal to create her the whole time.

If you had to rewrite any of the novels out there, which one would you choose? And do you think you’d do a better job than the writer?

The conclusion to the Dune series written by Frank Herbert’s son after he died. I hated it so much that I actually returned the book to the store for my money back (which I hadn’t done before and haven’t done since). I don’t know that I could do better, but I could hardly do worse.

What’s your favorite movie which was based on a book?

Recently, the Lord of the Rings trilogy. They did such a great job capturing the heart of the books.

Were your parents reading enthusiasts who gave you a push to be a reader as a kid?

Absolutely. Both of my parents read a lot, and I think that’s the most important thing you can do for a child is give them that example.

Have you ever written fan-fiction?

Yes! If you look under the username “starkllr” on Fanfiction.net, you would find my Star Trek fanfiction, which actually isn’t that bad, honestly.

Do you think translating books into languages other than their origin forces the intended essence away?

I think it has to, just because there are different figures of speech, different cultural references and different modes of thought.

Do you blog?

Yes, at http://www.writingdreams.net