Raised on Long Island, A.J DiChiara graduated, cum laude, with a B.S. in advertising/marketing (minoring in TV/Film production), from New York Institute of Technology. DiChiara has worked in the advertising industry in numberous capacites, and on a variety of accounts, over the years — small and large. In 1992, he formed DiChiara & Co., a freelance advertising/consulting company, and is currently president of Evolution Advertising & Multimedia, an advertising/marketing/multimedia, film/TV production company. He is also a columnist for examiner.com, and has also contributed articles for the entertainment newspaper, ‘Sneak Peak’.With all this success it’s a wonder that he also had managed to write two books as well.
OBS: How did you get into writing? Was it a difficult process?
AJ: I had always liked to write, even as a child. I read a lot of comics and since I could draw really well, I used to make up my own comic book stories — write and draw them out. In college I majored in advertising and marketing, but minored in film & TV production. I was always a movie buff as well. It was my experience in college that fostered the notion that I could one day write screenplays. When I graduated, I started working in advertising as a graphic designer, but eventually I was able to show them that I was a really solid idea man and could also write copy. In my spare time, I was writing screenplays. Then one day we got a new client, the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development. They are responsible for getting movie and TV crews to film out in Suffolk County, Long Island. I got to speaking with the director there about my interest in films and such and he told me about the Long Island Film Festival, and their “Best Screenplay” contest. I entered and won 4th place, which was a surprise, as my screenplay was a horror story and they don’t usually fair well with the judges — they look for art house stuff. Anyway, a talent agent got in touch with me an asked if he could shop my screenplay around. I said sure and forgot about it. Several months later, he called me and said that he couldn’t believe the replies he was getting. He had sent my screenplay to all the biggies — Paramount, Warner Bros., Dreamworks, 20th Century Fox, etc. They didn’t buy the screenplay, but they didn’t send typical form letters back either. This was in the early 1990’s and they all said horror was dead, but they told him that the screenplay should be turned into a book — that it would make a great novel. I balked, not thinking that I could write a book — I never did it before, and I wasn’t sure I had the patience. Screenplays are easy for me, because I see the whole thing in my head — like a movie. They’re only 120 pages, and don’t require all of the descriptions, they’re mostly dialogue. It wasn’t until about ten years later, that I decided to try writing a novel. My first book was THE HUMAN FACTOR, not the screenplay I had written and won 4th place for. The reason I decided to write a completely different story was because it hit me — the story just exploded in my mind, and I saw the whole thing, like a movie. I guess that was my muse talking to me, or rather screaming at me. So I just went with it, while the whole thing was fresh in my mind. I really wanted to capture the essence of great sci-fi novels and movies of the 50’s and 60’s, and so THE HUMAN FACTOR is a bit of a homage to them, as well as an homage to the Twilight Zone, of which I’m a big fan. I’ve always loved Rod Serlings writing, and always loved the twist endings of the Twilight Zone. I also wanted THE HUMAN FACTOR, to appeal to a wider audience that just the typical sci-fi crowd, and so I took great care to develop the characters, and make it a human adventure story and a story about human nature and our capacity to rise to the occasion when things look their bleakest, and how some of us crack. I also tried to keep the tech jargon to a minimum, because that is hard to absorb if you’re not a tried and true sci-fi fan. I’m proud of the fact that I achieved those goals and was also able to achieve a Twilight Zone-ish ending that I feel Serling would have approved of. I say this based on the e-mails I’ve gotten from readers and reviews I’ve received from reviewers.
The process itself, of writing a novel was not difficult to me at all. I see the stories in my head, like a movie. So it’s all there. My job then becomes the task of putting it down on paper so that the reader “sees” what I see, and can understand the story.
OBS: Who are your literary influences?
AJ: My influences are a bit unconventional. I’m more of a TV guy than a literary guy. It sounds more scholarly to say Hemmingway, but in truth, Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, and Jerome Bixby were big influences. These guys knew how to tell a story and make it compelling. They also were fiction writers and wrote some great novels and short stories.
OBS: What are you reading right now?
AJ: I mostly read informational books, in the areas of science and history. Actually, I’m reading historian David McCullough’s book about Teddy Roosevelt, MORNINGS ON HORSEBACK, and Mark Levin’s LIBERTY and TYRANNY. I’m also reading the complete works of H.G. Wells and Dean Koontz’s, THE DARKEST EVENING OF THE YEAR. Interestingly enough, I never read any of Koontz’s books before, until about a year ago, when a friend told me that our writing styles were similar. I’m not sure I agree — after all he’s a best-selling author, but I’ve become a fan nonetheless. It would be a thrill, to one day have him do a blurb for one of my books. I probably have a greater chance of winning the lottery… but one can dream.
OBS: What is your favorite book of all time? and why?
AJ: That’s a tough one to answer. I’d have to say that one of my all-time favorites is Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND. I love that book, and have reread it several times over the years. I first read it when I was in 6th grade. I love the way the book is paced. I love the way Matheson builds the tension — it’s a real page-turner. It was also the first book, where I really felt for the character. I also thought it was interesting the way he explained vampirism in scientific terms — that the myths had a basis in fact. Brilliant. It’s a shame that the movie was a pale reflection of a really great story. Oddly enough, the version that comes close to the book, and is pretty decent, is the low-budget adaptation of the book called, THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, starring Vincent Price. I prefer it to the Will Smith version any day. Maybe I’m just getting old.
OBS: What made you pick this genre of books?
AJ: It’s important to write about what you know, what you like, and what motivates you. I’m a big fan of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. So I stick with what I like.
OBS: How do you choose your cover art? Being a graphic designer, do you create the covers yourself?
AJ: I designed my book covers myself. Being an Illustrator and graphic designer helps. I’ve not only designed my own book covers, I also design book cover for other authors. My most recent cover design was for a book called DIFFERENT IS NICE by Randi T. Sachs. I’m available to anyone who would like me to design their book cover. They can contact me through my website www.ajdichiara.com.
OBS: What kind of research did you have to do for The Grinning Man? Was there a lot of information out there to sift through? Did you rely on first hand accounts for details about The Grinning Man?
AJ: The story for THE GRINNING MAN came about in a strange way. About 20 years before I wrote the book, my sister had been driving home from a business trip and saw this horrible “grinning man” driving an old station wagon, and it scared the heck out of her. When she told me what happened, I chalked it up to her being tired or her imagination. Then, about ten years after the incident, I was reading a book about strange phenomenon, and there was this entry for the Grinning Man. Well, as soon as I read it, I got chills down my spine. Needless to say the reports that some of the people gave about their encounter/sighting was almost exactly like what my sister had experienced. After I had written THE HUMAN FACTOR, I was toying with the idea of writing another book, and then it hit me— why not take my sister’s incident and create a fictional story around it. But as I researched the grinning man, I found that it was associated with UFO’s. Since I had just written a sci-fi novel, I didn’t want to go back to sci-fi so soon, especially when I had agents and publishers telling me that, “sci-fi is hard to sell.” So, I figured I’d try my hand at a horror/thriller— hey, it seemed to work well for King and Koontz. But I found that I had a problem. If I stuck to the UFO angle of the grinning man, then that would lead me back to sci-fi. The other problem was, that I couldn’t wrap my brain around what this “grinning man” wanted, what his motivation was if he were some sort of alien. It just didn’t work for me. They I started thinking about the possibility that this was not an alien, but some sort of evil entity. Then everything started to jell. That was the angle. So I turned the grinning man into an evil entity, which then made it easy to write a gothic horror/thriller tale.
OBS: Have you had any ghostly or paranormal encounters?
AJ: Personally, yes I have had some paranormal encounters. I know that makes me sound like a flake, but it’s the truth. There was a time, I think I was in Junior High, when we started playing with a Ouija Board, and using a tape recorder to tape our sessions. When we would play back the sessions, we’d hear voices and sounds that we never heard while we were using the Ouija, only during playback. Several months after that, I saw some strange things— I don’t know if they were ghosts, demons, or entities. I’ve also seen a few UFO’s over the years as well.
OBS: How do you develop your character’s individual personalities? Are they inspired by anyone you know or do they have a little bit of you in them?
AJ: Developing characters, for me is an amalgamation of real people (people I know, people I’ve known in the past, people I’ve seen in public that stuck with me for some reason, people I’ve worked with, etc), mixed with fictional characters— like a character from a movie or TV show, and a little bit of me I suppose— after all it’s all coming from my head.
OBS: I read on your website that you’re working on a children’s book “If I Had Super Powers”. If you could choose one super power, what would it be?
AJ: That’s a really tough question. I don’t know if I can pick a certain power. I think that if I could be a super hero or have their powers, I’d pick Green Lantern—with his power ring you could do anything that you can think of/imagine. I also wouldn’t mind having Wolverine’s powers— a healing factor, and unbreakable adamantium bones and claws that can cut through anything.
OBS: Are you enjoying the process of writing a book for children? How different is it from your other works?
AJ: Writing a children’s book is very different from writing a novel for adults. Firstly, their shorter and you can always add Illustrations to expand the story, ideas or themes. It also requires a lot of imagination, and you have to dig down deep and go back to your childhood and remember what really excited you as a kid. Kids always play pretend— you just have to tap that part in you and then put it down in words and drawings. I really enjoy writing children’s books and actually have finished another entitled THE LOST TOAD OF BRUSH MEADOW. I’m currently looking for a children’s book agent to represent me, so if any are interested that can contact me through my webste, www.ajdichiara.com.
OBS: What media do you use to help inspire you while writing (Music, Art, Movies, etc.)? Anything specific?
AJ: I usually listen to movie scores. I love anything by John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner. When I listen to movie music, it helps me set the timing and pacing of the story. It also helps me set the tone and mood. Telling a story, whether in written form, or in moving pictures form, there are rhythms and beats. When you’re editing a movie, you go through a process— how do I balance this story? You might say there’s too much action, I need to slow this down, have a quiet moment. When I listen to movie scores, it helps me find those beats and rhythms in the story I’m writing, and hopefully the results make my writing more like “reading” a movie, instead of actually watching one.
OBS: What is one thing you’d like your fans to know about you and your books?
AJ: I write what I would like to read. I know that time is an issue these days. We all complain that we don’t have the time we used to, especially to read a book. That’s why I try to write a book that’s fast-paced (almost like a watching a movie), and doesn’t go on for 500 to 600 pages. I often feel that those books are padded and that the author could have ended the story earlier, and I’m sure a lot of people feel the same way— I’m not talking about the avid reader, just the occasional reader that doesn’t read as much anymore. So that’s why I try to keep my novels under 400 pages. If I can tell a good, solid story within 250 to 300 pages— great. My goal is to get more people reading, and of course to sell books. If the average person can buy my book on a Thursday or Friday and get through it over the weekend, they’re going to be happy and feel like they’ve accomplished something. Hopefully they’ll think it’s a good book and recommend it to others. I really don’t care what a reviewer thinks, as much as I care about the readers and what they think. It’s the folks that will make or break you. I care about the people who buy books. That’s all that I can hope for, If a majority of people who read my books likes them, then I’m satisfied that I did a good job.
Thanks AJ for the wonderful interview and detailed tales of your life. We wish you the best success on your books and hope to see more from you soon.
If you are interested in AJ’s work, you can check out his website here:
(in case you missed the proper plugs above).