How did you come up with the idea for this series?
I wish I could remember exactly how and when I came up with the premise for Baby Grand. All I know is it happened sometime in my twenties when I was working as a full-time editor in Manhattan. I used to commute every day by bus and/or subway and would read lots of thrillers by authors such as John Grisham, Michael Crichton, and James Patterson. I loved those books. Devoured them. And, for some reason, I always thought I had it in me to write one.
Did you know when you wrote the first novel that you’d be writing a series?
Not at first. I thought Baby Grand would be what they call a stand-alone novel. One and done. However, as I was writing one of the final scenes, I got this sudden sense that there was more to the story. I could see in my mind’s eye how things would play out, how the characters could continue, and it was in that moment that I made a major change to the storyline and decided to create Book 2. And then the same thing happened as I was finishing Book 2. I thought, Gosh, there needs to be a Book 3.
How did you come up with your characters Don Bailino and Jamie Carter?
I wanted a very complex villain, someone who wasn’t one-dimensional, someone who wasn’t entirely bad, but was certainly menacing and intimidating. One of the greatest compliments I get from readers is that they love Don Bailino and that they hate themselves for it. That’s exactly what I was going for. That how I felt when I watched Tony Soprano in the HBO series The Sopranos. For one episode, I’d think, This guy isn’t so bad. He’s just misunderstood. He needs a hug. And the next episode, when Tony’s violent streak reemerged, I’d think, What was I thinking? This guy is totally dangerous. He’s fooling us all.
As for Jamie, I wanted a woman who was down on her luck, someone who thought she had no control of her life and was always looking for others to guide her. I wanted to take that ordinary, complacent, and seemingly weak woman and place her in an extraordinary circumstance so that she had the opportunity to show how very strong she really was.
I’m often asked if Jamie is based on me since she is a freelance writer. The answer is no (I’m probably sprinkled across many characters), but making her a freelance writer definitely gave me better access to her emotional depth since I’m very acquainted with that life. As they say, you write what you know.
Do you use real-life locations for your books?
Yes and no. I mix it up. For example, early on in Baby Grand, my protagonist Jamie Carter is abducted while having lunch in Bryant Park in Manhattan. That’s a real place. When I worked in New York City, I used to eat lunch with my husband there on sunny days. (He worked about thirteen blocks from me in midtown.) I remember thinking one day that it was so crowded that somebody could probably be kidnapped and nobody would notice.
I also used the New York State Executive Mansion, another real place, as a setting in my book. In May 2010, in the middle of writing Baby Grand, I took a road trip to Albany, New York, so I could take a tour. Perhaps it’s the journalist in me, but I like incorporating true-to-life details in my descriptions—although I don’t feel any obligation or pressure to be accurate. This is a work of fiction, after all. But I do like that mix of fact and fiction in novels—when novelists play with the facts in such a way that the story seems real, even though it’s not. I think it keeps readers on their toes.
And then, of course, other locations I complete make up, such as Taryn’s Diner or Don Bailino’s log cabin, both in Baby Grand. For the log cabin, I initially conducted a quick online search of log cabins to get ideas, and I would sort of scroll through them one by one and say, “Nah… Nah… Nah…” I had a picture of what the cabin looked like in my mind, and, of course, nothing I came across could match that. So I decided to just go with what I had created in my imagination and so I describe it in the book as I saw it in my mind’s eye. To this day, I can still picture it, as if I’d been there hundreds of times.
Regarding the structure of your books, you interlace chapters, alternating between stories and point of views. Is this a structure you had in mind from the beginning or did it happen over time as you wrote the story?
That is the structure I had in mind from the beginning, simply because that was the structure of the thrillers that I had been reading. A colleague recently asked me if I “learned” how to write thrillers in grad school. No. I simply read a lot of them and replicated the format, because I thought it worked—bringing in different narrators and providing different points of view and then pulling it all together in the end. That’s one of my favorite things about writing these books—interweaving all those storylines in a way that feels authentic and purposeful.
Do you use an outline?
Believe it or not, I just plunged into the writing of Baby Grand. I didn’t have an outline or stacks of index cards with character descriptions or plot points or flow charts or diagrams. I was winging it, what they call a pantser—writing by the seat of my pants. Then, midway in, I started losing my way a bit, so I created a very brief outline—Chapter One, this happens; Chapter Two, that happens—just to keep myself on track. And that outline helped me get to the end of the book. I usually know how my books are going to end from the get-go, so the outline serves as a roadmap that gets me to my destination without veering too much off course. For the next two books, I pretty much had the same process: I had a general idea of the direction I wanted to go, started writing, eventually created a very brief outline, and then expanded on it as I wrote.
You self-published your novels? Why?
Originally, I had a literary agent, but after some initial rejections from publishers, I decided to try self-publishing. I tend to be a self-starter, and I like the control that authors have as self-publishers, making decisions on everything from the price of their books to formatting, book covers and marketing. Marketing, of course, is tough, but I think my traditionally published friends are finding it just as tough. We’re all in the same boat, really.
Any advice to writers interested in self-publishing?
My advice to writers who are thinking about self-publishing is not to think of self-publishing as a shortcut or as a way to bypass the “gatekeepers.” I’ve said this before, but Baby Grand is a much better novel having gone through the traditional publishing process early on, and I learned a whole heck of a lot. There’s much to be said for the input of agents and editors.
In other words, just because Amazon can make your book available to the public immediately doesn’t mean you should be writing “The End” on your last page and then submitting the book to Amazon the very next day. Have people read it and provide feedback. I also would suggest sticking your manuscript in a drawer for a month or two and then reading it again—you’ll be surprised at what you find. I know I was.
The Baby Grand Trilogy is coming to an end. Will we ever see these characters again?
I remember sitting in Panera Bread (where I like to write) recently, writing one of the last chapters of Baby Carter, and feeling tears well up in the corners of my eyes. It was like I was mourning the deaths of good friends. I really feel like it’s the end this time, but if there’s something I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older it’s that you never say never. I think this is goodbye, but who knows?
If you’d like to schedule an interview with Dina, please contact her at email@example.com.