By Jeremy Burns
Though she might be a new name to some in our readership, Starr Gardinier Reina is no stranger to suspense. An executive editor of SUSPENSE MAGAZINE and author of five hit mysteries, she takes readers on a paranormal twist in her new book, THE OTHER SIDE: MELINDA’S STORY. And though she’s marketing this one as a young adult novel, that’s no reason for readers of any age to pass by this gripping tale that Jon Land praises as “the best exploration of paranoia and insular terror since Ira Levin’s classic ROSEMARY’S BABY.” Starr sat down with THE BIG THRILL recently to tell readers about her new book.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I started writing when I was about fourteen. I was influenced by Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys series. I read just about every book I could get my hands on at that time. I was intrigued. I thought that perhaps I could write like that. So, I tried. I felt that my father, being the avid reader of the family, would be the right person to ‘critique’ my new found career path. I had him read the first four chapters I anguished over and put on paper. After reading it, he sat me down and gave me a half hour lecture on plagiarism. To a fourteen year old, that’s devastating. Those were my words, but I thought if my father didn’t have the faith in me, it wasn’t something I should consider doing.
Then I grew up. As an adult, the influence my father had over me dimmed a bit. I thought I should give writing another whirl. So, I did. I now have five books published. Ironically, the first book to see the light of the world was released on Father’s Day. Appropriate, at least to me. I started out with ‘early’ young adult books. I say ‘early’ because they were done early on in my writing career. Since that time, I’ve learned and adopted so much. Following, I published the Ivanovich series: IN THE NAME OF REVENGE, DEADLY DECISIONS, and ONE MAJOR MISTAKE, which were all of the crime/suspense genre. However, an idea called to me. One I couldn’t ignore. THE OTHER SIDE: MELINDA’S STORY was born from that idea. Many have told me, and I do believe it, that I finally found my voice and style with this young adult paranormal.
Tell us about your new thriller, THE OTHER SIDE: MELINDA’S STORY.
It’s really not considered a thriller, at least in my eyes. It’s more of a young adult paranormal with suspense weaved in. To give you a glimpse into what the book is about, here is a summary:
If you’re told you a weird story, will you believe it?
Melinda James is begging for people to believe her story. To her, it’s not a tale. There are cops and even family members who believe she is responsible for the mayhem that followed the death of her father.
Those events were terrifying and unbelievable. Her father begins to speak with her from the ‘Other Side,’ and warns her to take her mother and older brother Kyle and leave immediately because his death was no accident, like everyone assumed. But Melinda doesn’t take her father’s words to heart. Soon, her family members and friends begin to disappear, and all she’s left with is a ‘crazy’ story that none of the psychiatrists will believe.
Because she refuses to sway from the story she knows to be true, she is put in Skyview Haven, a mental institution. Murderers are still on the loose and they want something only Melinda has. But all Melinda wants is to get out of Skyview Haven and live her life.
As she journeys from one dangerous incident to the next, her dead best friend and family members try to help from the ‘Other Side.’ Will it be enough? Can dead people protect the living?
Does this ‘Other Side’ even exist? Will Melinda get her new doctor, Alex Leever, to finally believe her so she can be freed from the asylum? As portals open and close and a new friend arrives on the scene to perhaps protect or destroy Melinda’s well-being, she must find a way to understand that the voices speaking are sending a dire warning: that the killers from the past still exist and are beginning to get far too close for comfort.
What was your initial inspiration for THE OTHER SIDE: MELINDA’S STORY? How did the story’s premise develop through the early days of your writing process?
Honestly, I’m not sure how to answer the first question. My inspiration was an idea that formed out of nowhere. I was working on other book ideas, primarily finishing ONE MAJOR MISTAKE, the last installment of the Ivanovich series, when this idea popped into my head. It wouldn’t leave me alone. Much like a small child trying to get you to take them to the zoo or something. It nagged me until I sat down and listened and THE OTHER SIDE came to life.
As to its premise development, I sat down with no outline, no idea where it was really going and it seemed to write itself. Melinda (the protagonist) had a story to tell and she had to get it out. What better way than to bare your soul to a psychiatrist? The premise snowballed from there. It envelops the ideas that there can be another world right next to us and we wouldn’t even know it and how they can communicate to us if we are open to it.
As a long-time writer of romantic mysteries, this book is a bit of a departure for you genre-wise. Why did you decide to shift audiences and subgenres for this book, and what were some of the challenges in writing a paranormal young adult thriller this time around?
Like I said earlier, the shift occurred because the book idea was needling me, almost daring me into writing it. I didn’t think really about the genre switch, only that a story needs to be told, no matter the category it ends up fitting into.
As to challenges, I know this may sound a bit odd, but there really was only one. I’ve not written in first person before, nor have I attempted to go from past to present and continually back and forth, but it was easy. I feel like Melinda wrote that story, not Starr. Weird, right? As to what did challenge me, I’d have to say tense. Past tense when she’s recalling the past and present tense when she’s in the here and now. In my first few drafts (or so), I mixed up some tense issues, but I believe by the final version, I got them right.
What are your thoughts on “the other side”, and how did they affect your writing of this book (or vice versa)?
If you’re asking if I believe in the paranormal, the answer is a resounding yes. I’ve had an experience, so I know there are things we just don’t understand. I should tell you however, that this paranormal book is a work of fiction and has nothing to do with my own experience; not in the least. The writing of this novel was affected only because of that belief of the paranormal. Remember: paranormal means anything outside of the normal. Define normal. We as human being living on Earth understand normal to mean there is an explanation for most things. Most being the operative word. Normal is a light bulb blew because its filament was burned out. A paranormal viewpoint might be that a spirit turned off the switch. Sounds simple and some scoff at the idea, well most people, actually. But you can’t when you’ve had your own experience. I’m not saying this is an everyday, everywhere occurrence, just that we should all keep our minds open.
What are some of the ways you’ve conducted research for this novel? Any interesting stories there?
I watch tons of paranormal shows and yes, I read other paranormal books. But research would be hard to do inside the paranormal. There are no ‘scientific facts’ with which to gather information. Because we don’t understand the paranormal or its capacities, the field is really wide open. We as fiction writers are not limited as much to ‘believability’ because almost anything can go with regard to the paranormal.
Your bio says that you’re a “paralegal by day, author by night.” Have any aspects of your secret daytime identity crept into the characters or this new book?
Slightly. I used to work with an attorney where we concentrated on the offshore world. Clients creating trusts there, moving money there, etc. So, there is one slight part in THE OTHER SIDE that references something along those lines. I’d hate to go into detail here for fear of giving away too much about the book.
How much of yourself do you put in your characters? With which character in THE OTHER SIDE: MELINDA’S STORY do you most identify?
I put all of me into the development of my characters. That doesn’t mean I model them after me, but I breathe life into them. I create them, make them the person(s) they need to be for the story. I can only identify with the characters within THE OTHER SIDE because I birthed them. Their personalities, characteristics, etc., are nowhere near who I am. Perhaps that’s just it. I want characters who are exactly the opposite of me. Great insight I just realized.
Which character was the most fun for you to write? Why?
The protagonist’s father because although he was a ‘side’ player, he was a ‘supporting one.’ With him, I got to write a glimpse into the ‘other side,’ how he viewed it. He made it seem all rosy until the black cloud…that’s all I’m saying on that subject.
Do you currently have plans to turn THE OTHER SIDE into a series?
When I first began writing THE OTHER SIDE, it was to be a single book. I didn’t realize another needed to be written until I wrote the ending. With those words (I’m not giving it away), it begged for another tale to be revealed. Only it’s not in Melinda’s voice, but she will be instead, a ‘supporting’ character.
Other than THE OTHER SIDE: MELINDA’S STORY, what is your favorite book you’ve written? Why?
You say ‘other than,’ but my answer is: my favorite is THE OTHER SIDE, because it came out of left field, it was easy to write, almost as if it was meant to be seen on screen (that’s a hopeful, but when I wrote it, that’s exactly what I pictured), and it was fun. I feel like my previous books were preludes to this, as if they were written just so that I could hone my skills of being an author.
What is your favorite book by another author? Why?
Any of Paul Kemprocos’ books in his Soc series. The protagonist Soc, in those books lives and investigates as if he’s living twenty or thirty years ago, which is probably when Paul started writing them. By this I mean, Soc doesn’t even so much as have an answering machine. He doesn’t use cell phones. he investigates the old fashioned way – door knocking and street walking. And Soc is witty!
What is your favorite travel destination? Why?
If you’re asking about one I’ve been to I have to say Aruba. It’s beautiful there and has a relaxing atmosphere. There is much to see and do there. I could spend a lot of time there.
As to where I’d like to go? Alaskan cruise. It’s on my bucket list.
What do you find most rewarding about writing?
Being able to weave a story readers truly enjoy, where they can get lost in the tale and forget about anything else that may be going on in their lives. Much like what happens to me when I write.
What is one thing that would surprise your fans about you or your writing process?
Probably that I do it amidst a houseful of noisy people, barking dogs and meowing cats. That is, when I’m home. At work, between phone calls, meetings and pleasing the boss by doing that little thing they call work.
What advice would you give to new or aspiring authors?
The same advice that was given to me: do not give up. Don’t let people sway you into thinking you can’t do it. If you are meant to write, then do it and disregard all other outside influences.
What can we expect next from you, and where can readers go to hear
the latest news?
I’m currently writing THE OTHER SIDE: TRENT’S STORY now. With any luck (or intervention from the other side), I hope to have that out early 2014. If anyone wants to be kept up-to-date, just join my blog or check my website. I also invite anyone with any questions, to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A huge thank you to Starr Gardinier Reina for taking us behind the curtain of her latest venture. Whether you’re a longtime fan or if you’re just interested in a fantastic paranormal mystery, make sure to pick up THE OTHER SIDE: MELINDA’S STORY when it hits stores this month.
A paralegal by day, she’s an author by night. Apart from being an award winning author for her short story CUT. Reina has appeared in a blaze and made her mark on the literary world. She has found her unique style and is known for her works’ distinctive voice, making every character stand out in her thriller and paranormal works.
Reina is a member of INTERNATIONAL THRILLER WRITERS (ITW) and of SISTERS IN CRIME, Los Angeles Chapter and nationally. Reina is also an executive editor for SUSPENSE MAGAZINE.