Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena
Dina Santorelli is an award-winning, best-selling author of thriller and suspense novels. She was voted one of the best Long Island authors for two consecutive years. Baby Grand, her debut novel and the first book in the Baby Grand Trilogy, became a #1 Political Thriller, #1 Kidnapping Thriller and #1 Organized Crime Thriller on Amazon Kindle, and landed on Kindle’s Top 30. Dina’s mystery thriller, In the Red, was awarded First Place, Genre Fiction, in the 28th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards, and her most recent thriller, The Reformed Man, was a finalist in two contests: the 2023 New York Author Project and the 2023 American Writing Awards. Dina also lectures for Hofstra University’s Continuing Education Department, and she is an Indie Author Project Ambassador for the Library Journal and an Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). In addition, Dina has been a freelance writer, editor, and collaborator for more than 25 years. She has edited, written, co-written, ghostwritten, and contributed to a variety of fiction and nonfiction books.
L’Idea Magazine: Hello Dina. You are a successful author, but also an editor and a freelance writer. Which of these occupations do you find more challenging?
Dina Santorelli: I find it all challenging. Writing is not something that came naturally to me. I always had a passion for it, but the skill set wasn’t there in the beginning. It took many years of honing my craft as a journalist to reach a place where I felt comfortable delving into fiction. To answer your question, I would say being a fiction author is more challenging, simply because I haven’t been doing that kind of writing as long as the rest. But I’m still learning—whether as an author, editor, or freelance writer—every day.
“my family loved everything Italian…”
L’Idea Magazine: How do you feel being Italian American influenced your life and your life choices?
Dina Santorelli: I was just talking about this the other day with my family! I grew up in the Middle Village section of Queens, New York, where being an Italian-American was EVERYTHING in the 1970s. The families on my city block made their own tomato sauce and their own wine—bushels of tomatoes or grapes would be sitting on sidewalks, depending on the season. I grew up thinking every place in the world was like that, never realizing how special this neighborhood really was. Meanwhile, my family was more American than Italian, and we were buying McDonald’s and other fast food, much to the chagrin, or maybe amusement, of my neighbors. But my family loved everything Italian, whether it was The Godfather or Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, whom I was named after. (Note: I’m only part Italian—a little more than half—and my younger brother actually used to lie and say he was full Italian. My friends would ask me, “Dina, how could he be all Italian, and you’re not??”) Living in that neighborhood and being a part of an Italian family certainly shaped the culture around me as a kid and definitely went on to influence my writing. The first three books I wrote as a fiction author were mob thrillers: Baby Grand, Baby Bailino, Baby Carter. I guess I had seen the Godfather movies so many times, as well as Scorsese’s other films, and knew a little something about being Italian that I wanted to give the theme a try for myself. My fourth novel, In the Red, a mystery thriller, also features an Italian-American character, and so much of that character’s arc reminds me of my life back in Queens.
L’Idea Magazine: You have edited, cowritten, ghostwritten, and contributed to many books. Was there one that left a mark as if it was your own?
Dina Santorelli: I tend to think of all the books I work on as my own in some small way, even though my name may not be on the cover or title page. I’m so proud of my clients and what they’re able to achieve, and my hope is that if I am able to help them better envision or better organize or just finish their book, I’ve achieved my goal.
L’Idea Magazine: What was the inspiration behind writing a trilogy such as the “Baby Grand” one? Could you talk a bit about these books?
Dina Santorelli: As I mentioned, I was very influenced by the mob films of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, from The Godfather to Casino and Goodfellas. I didn’t necessarily set out to write a mob thriller, but I found myself writing one when I sat down to write my first novel. Baby Grand was only supposed to be one book—a standalone—but it turned into a trilogy. The book begins with the kidnapping of the infant daughter of the governor of New York, but that’s not how it began in my head. I started hearing dialogue between the kidnapper and the young woman who is abducted to care for the governor’s infant daughter. That’s how books usually start for me: as dialogue. I hear characters whispering all sorts of things to each other, and all I can do is try to write down what they say and build a story around it.
L’Idea Magazine: “In the Red” is also a thriller written by you. Could you tell us a bit about this book and what inspired it?
Dina Santorelli: I’m a big fan of the book Primal Fear by William Diehl and an even bigger fan of the 1996 film of the same name. Primal Fear has very little to do with In the Red, but it inspired one of the main characters who, in my mind, looks like Richard Gere from Primal Fear. Oftentimes, when I read a book or see a film or watch a TV series, characters leave a mark on me, and I find myself imagining all kinds of scenarios around that character. And then the character morphs, and then dialogue begins, and then before I know it, I’ve got a book in the making. That’s what happened with In the Red. It just sort of developed organically through my obsession with Richard Gere’s portrayal of the character Marty Vail. I even named In the Red’s character Marty Benning as an homage.
L’Idea Magazine: You took “steps away from thriller writing” to write and publish on Kindle Vella “Pat was Here,” a story of quite a different genre. Could you tell us about it, and what prompted you to write it?
Dina Santorelli: Amazon had just launched Kindle Vella, and I wanted to try something new. In grad school, I had written a short story, “Pennies for a Thought,” that was loosely based on my grandparents—specifically, my grandfather’s dementia—and I decided to serialize it for Vella. I think there are about seven episodes so far, and I plan on publishing more.
L’Idea Magazine: Your last book, “The Reformed Man” seems to belong to a Science Fiction genre, or am I wrong?
Dina Santorelli: The Reformed Man is a thriller, but it’s a different kind of thriller for me. There are elements of dystopia and sci-fi, which I had never really written before. I had a dream a few years back about two young men running toward the future, and when I woke up, I knew I had to write that story, even though I didn’t really know what that story was. I ended up writing a 500-plus page book from that germ of an idea, and I’ll be writing the sequel soon.
L’Idea Magazine: Are you going to return to the thriller genre in your next book?
Dina Santorelli: I consider myself an author of thriller and suspense novels, first and foremost. I don’t look at The Reformed Man as a deviation from that. And, yes, I will continue writing thrillers into 2024 and beyond, hopefully. My next book is My Best Friend’s Wife, a psychological thriller about a trio of close friends who live on Long Island, New York, and what happens to them after one of them impulsively gets married.
“I have been writing stories since the time I was a child…”
L’Idea Magazine: Other than “My Best Friend’s Wife,” are you currently working on other projects?
Dina Santorelli: Yes, I tend to work on many projects at once, which might explain why I don’t sleep. LOL! I’m right now coauthoring a military thriller and also getting ready to work on a novella series that I hope to introduce in 2024. I’m also continuing to work on writing and editing projects.
L’Idea Magazine: Are any of your books published as Audiobooks?
Dina Santorelli: All my novels are available as audiobooks, except The Reformed Man, which will be available as an audiobook in 2024.
L’Idea Magazine: You define yourself as an “author of thriller and Suspense novels.” Was that your calling from the beginning or have you grown into that?
Dina Santorelli: I have been writing stories since the time I was a child. I have found stories that I’d written on construction paper when I was around 8 years old that were—believe it or not—thrillers. About hearing a noise in the house and being scared. About my mother not being home. Who knows. Maybe writing was my way of dealing with being a latchkey kid. Or maybe that was the kind of writing that has always appealed to me (it still does). I’ve also always had very vivid nightmares, so there’s SOMETHING going on inside me. LOL! Whatever it is, I’ve found a way to channel it in a way that serves me well.
L’Idea Magazine: You also offer “writing services.” Could you elaborate on that?
Dina Santorelli: I’ve written all kinds of things over the course of my career. Match.com bios. Letters for family members. Website copy. Memoirs. Trade magazine articles. I am more selective about the writing projects I take on now, but I still like to take on these projects. It keeps my skills sharp.
L’Idea Magazine: You also offer “Editing services” …
Dina Santorelli: I love editing. I really do. If I had to pick one, I’d say manuscript development, or developmental editing, is my specialty. As an author myself, I know the challenges and emotional investment that come with book writing, and as a developmental editor, I work closely with authors to help them present their ideas in the best light possible. I also do line editing and work directly in my clients’ manuscripts: I look for discrepancies in plot or organization, suggest rephrasing or word changes, ask questions about character motivations, highlight inconsistencies, and check the overall narrative flow of the manuscript. Lastly, I do magazine/newspaper editing and have been hired to produce magazines and work with freelance writing staff.
More info on Dina Santorelli’s writing and editing services may be found on elunamedia.com
L’Idea Magazine: If you could define yourself with three adjectives, what would they be?
Dina Santorelli: In terms of my business self, I’d say I’m 1) driven, 2) approachable, and 3) creative. If I could add some more, I’d say passionate, enthusiastic, trustworthy, resourceful, and hardworking. (I totally cheated and stole some of these from a Google list. 😊)
L’Idea Magazine: What other interests do you have besides writing? Any hobbies?
Dina Santorelli: I love to cook and bake, and, of course, spend time with my family and travel, but writing seems to be the thing that excites me the most.
L’Idea Magazine: Have you visited Italy?
Dina Santorelli: I have not visited Italy yet, but am planning to in the near future!
L’Idea Magazine: Any unrealized dreams you feel like sharing with our readers?
Dina Santorelli: One of the greatest compliments I ever received was from my very best friend. She said, “Dina, you’re impossible to buy a present for because whatever you want, you get yourself.” I realized she was right. When I want something, I go after it. I wanted to have a family. Be a writer. Travel. Meet all kinds of people. Have a diverse friend network. Get a dog. I’m a firm believer that life doesn’t find you and dreams don’t find you. You have to go find them. That said, I can’t think of any unrealized dreams at the moment. But if I do have them, my hope is that they won’t be unrealized for long.
L’Idea Magazine: If you had the opportunity to meet and talk to anyone from the past or the present, who would that person be and what would you like to tell him (or her)?
Dina Santorelli: Ah, finally, the Barbara Walters interview question that will make me cry! 😊 I would definitely say my mother. I would grab hold of her and tell her that she was right. About everything. (Yes, I’m crying.)
L’Idea Magazine: A message for our readers?
Dina Santorelli: My advice would be: it’s never too late. I meet so many people who are my age—I’m 55—and they have given up on their dreams. In fact, they gave up long ago for one reason or another. There’s a meme I’ve seen floating around that says something like: “A year from now, you’ll be glad you started today.” So true. There’s no time like the present. So, whatever it is you want to do—develop a healthier lifestyle, run a marathon, write a book, volunteer, find new friends—do it. Today. I’ve been lucky to have a long and diverse career as a writer and editor, but I’m STILL taking that advice. I’m still trying new things and looking forward to what is to come. In some ways, I feel like I’m just getting started.