DA Kentner writes the column THE READERS' WRITERS for the (Freeport) Journal-Standard and GateHouse News Service. My alter ego KevaD lives under a stairway of dreams where he writes stories and grumbles about everything. Click the pic to visit KevaD's blog.
Drop me a line at dakentner@yahoo.com

I invite you to read my award-winning short story posted on Calliope Magazine's web site.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Author Todd Ritter

New Jersey journalist and editor Todd Ritter is a fan of Walt Disney and Alfred Hitchcock. Raised surrounded by forests and open fields in Pennsylvania by a bank teller mother and a father who dabbled in taxidermy, it seemed only natural such a unique blend of life experiences would influence Ritter's debut novel. But any chemist will tell you certain mixtures can be volatile. "Death Notice" exploded onto the literary scene, serving notice a fresh and exciting new voice had arrived.


In "Death Notice," Ritter captured the benign in a net of intrigue, and within the laboratory labyrinth of his mind morphed the commonplace into a community wrought with secrecy, characters we won't soon forget, and of course, nightmarish murder. Naturally, such a powerful and blood-chilling tale leaves the reader wanting more of Todd Ritter. Fortunately, the next addictive dosage, "Bad Moon," is forthcoming.

Therein lies the true quality of Ritter's work. Todd Ritter is a storyteller. Every word is utilized to its maximum proficiency to entertain the reader. And entertain he does. "Death Notice" is un-set-a-side-able. www.toddritteronline.com.

Q) You discovered being a published author isn't an easily pursued career. During the 2+ years of searching for a venue for "Death Notice," what pushed you to keep going and not give up?

A) At the risk of sounding unbearably egotistical, I knew I had a good story on my hands. Those who read “Death Notice” — both inside and outside the publishing industry — really responded to the concept and the characters. That input spurred me to keep working on it and to fix all the parts of the book that didn’t work. It took a lot longer than I thought it would, and there were times when I was very close to just throwing in the towel and moving on to something else. But I kept going because I loved my story and I loved my characters. I wrote the book that I wanted to read. And deep down, I knew others would want to read it, too.

Q) Describing your writing, you once used these three words: Morbid. Surprising. Sympathetic. Why those choices? And would you use the same words today?

A) I would still use those same words. I like to think that’s exactly what my writing is like. Clearly, all mysteries are a tad morbid. And hopefully they’re surprising, as well. “Death Notice” deals with pretty gruesome themes and goes to some very dark places. But I try to balance all that by respecting the characters and making them as real and believable as possible. I think some thriller and mystery writers forget that murder leaves behind a lot of collateral damage, not only for the victim’s family but for the people investigating it. That’s where the sympathy comes in.

Q) "Death Notice's" Police Chief Kat Campbell has a child with Down Syndrome. Experience has taught me, when a writer inflicts a child with such a disease it is because said disease has impacted their life. How did Down Syndrome play a role in yours?

A) To be completely honest, it didn’t. When I first started writing “Death Notice,” I wanted to introduce readers to characters they might not have seen before. I knew I was going to have a woman police chief, and I wanted her job to be only one aspect of her life. That’s when I got the idea for James, her son. Originally, I thought it would be a great way to humanize Kat while simultaneously showing her strength. Because raising a child with special needs is tough. The mothers who do that have more strength and patience than I ever will. But as work on the book progressed, James became less a story device and more of an interesting character in his own right. In the follow-up to “Death Notice,” I develop his character even further, in a way that creates new challenges for Kat.

Q) Your influences are Disney and Hitchcock, yet Hitchcock obviously won out. Why?

A) Because I love being scared and being on the edge of my seat. Hitchcock was the undisputed master of that. Growing up watching his movies, I knew I wanted to do the same thing. There’s something very cool about telling a good yarn and giving readers a nice fright. Judging from some of the e-mails I’ve received from readers, I’ve done just that. There’s no greater feeling than hearing that someone couldn’t put “Death Notice” down because it was so suspenseful.

Q) As a journalist and author, writing follows your every step. What do you like to do when you need to get away?

A) I love being a couch potato. I tend to avoid the dark dramas and go for something funny and smart, like “Modern Family” or “Parks and Recreation.” I also like to cook, which is another great way to escape. I can just turn off my brain and chop, mix and stir. There’s something very therapeutic about that.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Award Winning Author Dana Marton

With over 1.5 million books sold and the recipient of awards such as the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence, Reviewers Choice, and Best Harlequin Intrigue, Dana Marton has established herself as one of today's preeminent writers of romance.


Her stories revolve around nail-biting plots, nail-tough heroes, and heroines who melt iron hearts.

Dana epitomizes the modern-day woman balancing career (she spends around 8hrs a day writing), family, home and aspirations. In her precious little free time she gardens, scours flea markets for bargains, tries to keep up with Peanut the Destroyer, her exuberant beagle, and occasionally finds time to knit and paint.

It is when Dana sits down to write that this "every woman" transforms into the extraordinary. From her mind and fingertips emerge exotic tales of ancient Egypt, treasure-laden caverns, spies next door, intrigue, suspense, danger, and above all… love.

Nearly two dozen of Dana's novels have been published by Harlequin, and there are more on the way. From "Shadow Soldier" to "Sheik Seduction" to her latest "The Spy Who Saved Christmas," Dana continues to mesmerize fans around the world. Her work has been published in seven languages in eleven countries.

There seems to be no bottom to Ms Marton's well of writing and story-telling abilities.

And with tens of thousands of readers eagerly awaiting her every offering, we can only hope to enjoy many more years of Dana Marton novels. http://www.danamarton.com/

Q) You are one of the "overnight" success stories – it only took you 13 years to be published. There had to be a time when you considered giving up. What pushed you to continue until your work finally found a home at Harlequin?

A) The ideas in my head just won't quit. It's easier to write them down than to get them to keep quiet. Honestly, after starting that first manuscript, I don't think I had a choice. Some doors cannot be closed once they are open. Writing has many rewards that have nothing to do with the work being published. Even if nobody would ever publish another book of mine, I'd still keep writing. It's an amazing learning experience and a journey of self-discovery, a creative act that builds my soul. I'm not sure how entertaining my books are to readers, but writing them is enormously entertaining for me! It's the most fun I ever had at work.

Q) There's a rumor you read your first Harlequin Romance novel… at work… and decided then and there Harlequin was your dream publisher. Any truth to that story?

A) Well, that depends on whether my ex-employer is reading this.... Okay, seriously, yes, pretty true. I was a part-time receptionist who watched the phones at a company, working 2nd shift. I shared a desk with the 1st shift receptionist who was a voracious reader of Harlequin novels and used to leave books by the dozen in the drawer. Thank God, since I had no money those days and could have never afforded all those books. In my defense, 2nd shift was really slow. Rarely did anyone call. It was either sit there and stare at the wall or sit there and read. I could never resist a stack of books. Especially not books that combined amazing stories of romance and adventure. I was hooked from the first.

Q) Writing and editing sucks time away like a vacuum cleaner in a bowl of dust. How do you juggle your career, home and family? And, how supportive is your family of your writing?

A) Writing is my priority. I write before I do anything. My family is amazingly supportive and they were supporting way before I ever sold anything. At one point my husband even offered to sell his car to improve our finances so I could stay home and write full-time for a while. We came close to having to do that, but I ended up selling my first book a few months later. Since I've been writing for a living, everyone chips in during deadline time. Dishes, laundry, cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, you name it. All the credit for my books should go to my family.

Q) You personally seem to be attracted to sheiks and desert locales. What do you find so enticing in those settings?

A) Actually, my favorites are international intrigue and survival action/adventure stories. The sheik and prince angle tends to come from my editor. I love exploring other cultures and I do travel widely, despite my fear of flying. It's fun to see other countries and see how other people think, notice all the small and large differences in lifestyles, etc. I think cultural diversity is a huge treasure and an asset to this world. I never understood racism.

Q) What would be the perfect morning of the perfect day for Dana Marton?

A) The first day of a new story is the most amazing thing. The possibilities are wide open. There's a sense of anticipation. The present is still unopened. And I get to do that next Monday! I'm starting a new book, LAST SPY STANDING, that's set in South America. It'll be a Sep. 2011 release. I can't wait to get started. As I go on with a story, options become more and more limited. Plot questions asked at the beginning must be answered at the end. Characters need to act in character, etc. But at the beginning, there are no restrictions yet. I could come up with the wildest opening sentence and make it work. The beginning of the story always has a sense of limitlessness for me.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Multi-Award Winning Author Juliet Marillier

Australia's Juliet Marillier has won numerous literary awards including an American Library Assoc. Best Book, a Le Prix Imaginales and 3 Aurealis Awards. Yet, writing professionally didn't come until later in life. Ms Marillier is a gifted musician who taught high school and university music. An opera singer, she is also an experienced choral conductor.

"Daughter of the Forest," her first published novel, released to acclaim and was soon published in the U.S. and U.K. as well as New Zealand and Australia. This fairy tale told in an Irish setting became the first of the "Sevenwaters" trilogy (a fourth and fifth book have since been added). Her repertoire of stories expanded to four series plus the stand-alone novel, "Heart's Blood."

Ms Marillier's unique blend of history, folklore, romance and family drama continually leaves readers spellbound and awaiting her next beguiling tale of human relationships and personal journeys. A member of the druid order OBOD (The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids), her characters' interaction with the natural world around them reflects the author's own spiritual values.

While Ms Marillier would appear at the top of her game, life isn't always fair, nor scheduled, nor easy. In 2009, Ms Marillier was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was then, as so many women (including my own now deceased mother) can attest to, Ms Marillier had to find strength previously implanted in her fictional characters.

And, true to form, Juliet Marillier has risen to the challenge and chosen not to surrender, but to wage battle on her own terms against this disease.

For more on Ms Marillier's breast cancer experience: http://writerunboxed.com/2009/05/07/changes/

Q) Obviously, my heart and prayers go out to you, but I must ask (as the son of a prior cancer survivor) where do you stand today in your battle with cancer?

A) I’m doing well, thank you. It’s now almost two years since my initial diagnosis, which was picked up on a routine mammogram – there were no warning signs at all. Between March and November 2009 I had surgery, chemo and radiotherapy. Thus far my tests have remained all clear and I’m feeling well. Like many survivors of life threatening illnesses, I have a new appreciation of what is really important in life. I remind myself of that when I get grumpy about things like deadlines or bad reviews. In the bigger picture, they don’t matter in the slightest.

Q) You have an incredible gift of music. What inspired you to transfer your energy and passion to writing?

A) I’ve always loved both books and music. My parents were musicians, one professional, one amateur, and both of them were keen readers. I did a lot of writing as a young person but I chose music as a career. The desire to tell a story bubbled to the surface later in life, during a time of personal crisis and life-changing decisions. That was when I wrote my first novel, “Daughter of the Forest”. From there my career as a novelist developed more or less naturally.

Q) Genre tags tend to shelve and categorize a writer. To my personal amusement, many have tried and failed to box your work under a specific label such as gothic, fantasy, or supernatural. What do you consider your stories? Or are some people simply overcomplicating obvious historical romances?

A) That’s a great question. I do believe my work spans quite a few genres: historical novel, fantasy, romance, adventure, family saga, even gothic/ghost story in the case of “Heart’s Blood.” I quite like the fact that they are not easily boxed. For instance, I have many readers who tell me they don’t read any other fantasy, but love my books. I don’t consider my novels to be any particular genre. I just write the stories that I want to write and leave such categorisation up to booksellers, librarians and readers. While my books are set in real history and all contain love stories, they are probably a bit more than historical romances because of the strong folkloric and magical elements, the spiritual aspect, and the way they delve quite deeply into human motivations and personal journeys.

Q) You have been called a "folklorist." Fans have been known to challenge writers' research. To that end, you have traveled to places such as Turkey gathering background information for a story. How do you contend with critics and do you welcome readers' questions regarding your extensive research?

A) When I make factual errors, and I’ve done so several times, I’m happy for readers to let me know – sometimes these things can be fixed up in a later edition. Often it isn’t the history but something like making a flower the wrong colour or putting a New World vegetable in early medieval Europe (we caught that one in time.) On my website there’s a Q&A where I list these errors and their corrections. With experience, I have become much more thorough and careful in my historical research. In my original Sevenwaters trilogy, the history is quite flawed because I was writing with a fairy tale in mind, and I figured if readers could accept magical beings out in the woods they wouldn’t be troubled by a little historical inaccuracy. Mostly, they weren’t, but in retrospect the dodgy history bothered me a lot, and if I were writing that series again, it’s the first thing I would fix. When readers tell me about an error, all I expect is that they check out the website first to make sure I don’t already know about it. And they should tell me politely!

Q) Should the day come you decide to set aside your pen, what message do you hope to leave within your writing for readers?

A) Find the courage within yourself. Move forward bravely through whatever challenges life presents. Respect others, with all their flaws, and respect yourself. Learn the value of love, faith, honour, integrity, comradeship, family. These old-fashioned virtues will light the darkest pathway. http://www.julietmarillier.com/

Friday, January 7, 2011

An Interview with Bestselling Author Cherise Sinclair

Cherise Sinclair novels held four of the spots in a Top Ten list for 2009. Very few writers will ever be able to achieve such a feat. To do so, an author must not only write superbly, but also captivate an audience willing to make not one, but repeated purchases of the author's work.

Award-winning Cherise Sinclair has garnered a devoted following that is increasing with each new book.

Born in Iowa and currently residing in California with her husband, children and domineering cats, Ms Sinclair has become a powerhouse in the literary industry within the genre of . . . BDSM – Bondage, Discipline (dominance), Sadism, Masochism.

What sets Ms Sinclair apart, endears her to readers around the world, is her ability to intertwine the erotic elements of BDSM into romantic tales of love so strong, so powerful, the reader can't help but cheer when the leading man and woman finally fall into each other's arms.

The "Masters of the Shadowlands" series continues to reign supreme on Amazon's Kindle listings, while the combined romantic, science fiction & BDSM tale, "The Starlight Rite" holds top one hundred places in three separate categories, and her latest, "Master of the Abyss" is the #9 bestseller on two Kindle lists.

Yeah. Cherise Sinclair is one heck of a writer. http://www.cherisesinclair.com/

Q) To what do you attribute the growing reader/buyer interest in stories involving BDSM?

A) There’s probably a myriad of reasons, but I’ll give you a couple:

* To stay ahead of the increasingly hot mainstream romances, erotic romances must increasingly push the boundaries toward more ‘kink’, which is why BDSM is no longer considered outrageous. In addition, women now demand in their literature all the variety that men have enjoyed for so long. (‘Bout time, too)

* During the feminist movement, in order to stay politically correct, authors would emasculate their heroes to some degree. Even now, writing a dominating hero without crossing the he’s-an-arrogant-asshole perception can be tricky. However, with BDSM and a consensual exchange of power, the more dominant a hero is, the better. Cuff her, spank her, order her around? If it’s safe, sane, and consensual, it’s all good.

Q) What on earth first compelled you to write a story about finding love in the world of BDSM?

A) It sure wasn’t a planned career change. A couple of years ago, I was having health problems and feeling very unfeminine and unsexy. So I put aside the mainstream book I’d been working on, and--just to please myself--wrote the most erotic story I could think of. Just for my own pleasure.

Of course, once it was done, I couldn’t throw it away. A friend, Amber Green, recommended her epublisher, and I sent it off. When Loose Id bought it, I wasn’t sure whether to be thrilled or horrified. An erotic romance writer? Me?

Q) I'll wager your parents didn't read you bedtime stories about handcuffs, chains, and rope. What books did enthral you early on?

A) Oh, I was a nerd and read everything. From religious Grace Livingston Hills to Heinlein’s "Stranger in a Strange Land," from Bertrice Small to James Bond books, from Guideposts to the Penthouses under my big brother’s mattress. Focused, I wasn’t--and I haven’t changed much. I loved the library. I knew I’d gotten a hot story if the librarian gave me an over-the-reading-glasses look and asked, “Does your mother know you’re reading this?”

Q) How does your family feel about your chosen genre, and, do you foresee a shift in genres, one without BDSM, in your future?

A) My family is still a little off-balance, especially my big brother. I, of course, tell him it’s his fault I’ve gone over to the dark side--maybe if I’d never read his Penthouse or Playboy magazines in my tender, formative years…

My husband enjoys it all, including helping with research. Ah…yeah. Actually, he insists on helping with research.

I might eventually try my hand at seeing if I can create a very dominant hero for a mainstream romance. Just for fun. Then again, look how much trouble I got into last time I wrote something just for fun.

Q) Any advice for those who have a story to tell, but have yet to write it?

A) Ahem. Beginning writers: line up right here in front of me (and be grateful that I left the flogger under the bed). Very nice. Now ‘splain to me why you’re reading this instead of working on your story? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Listen carefully: I want you to sign off the Internet, plant your butt in the chair, and get to writing.

Sure it’s good to read craft books, join critique groups, and play with writing software. However, those activities are all secondary. Write! Think of riding a bike. You buy the bike, read the manual, listen to advice--but if you don’t actually climb on the darn thing and pedal, you’ll never be able to pop a wheelie.

Now go--get to work.

Monday, January 3, 2011

An Interview with Author and Artist Fiona Jayde

While Fiona Jayde’s romantic thriller novels such as "Night Haven" and "Pas de Deux" may, unexplainably, not have found their way to your library yet, it is likely you possess a sample of her artistry. For Fiona’s artwork has graced the cover of numerous novels, and the popularity of her work, and the demand for it, only seems to be increasing.

Admittedly, I rarely look to see who created the cover that plays such an important role in drawing my attention to a book. But, the cover is the initial impression that separates one novel from all the others on the bookstore shelf. It commands our attention, encourages and seduces us to place the book in our hands and read the tagline, then, hopefully, the blurb, and ultimately the first few paragraphs, maybe the full first chapter.
The cover whispers, “Read this book… buy this book.”

While the cover plays such an important, almost critical role in a potential reader’s first impression, the cover is also the one thing the average author has the least amount of input into. The publisher has the final say, not the writer.

Ironically, as a consumer, you and I care little about who created the cover and don’t buy the book because Fiona Jayde developed the jacket. But if the artwork is cheap or tacky in appearance, many pass by the book, assuming the story will reflect the same lack of professionalism. We subconsciously conclude that if the cover doesn’t draw our interest, how could the story?

And therein lies Fiona Jayde’s popularity. Her artwork stops our eyes and hypnotically commands us to pick up the book. We may not buy the book in the end, but we walk away mentally mumbling how ‘neat,’ ‘cool,’ ‘awesome,’ or ‘intriguing’ the cover was.

Yes, dear reader. Every time we buy a book, we help put food on an artist’s table. http://fionajayde.com/

Q) You are an outstanding writer, yet, had a desire to let your artistry flow to design. How did you convince that first publisher to give you the freedom to design a cover?

A) Thank you! I'm fairly "scattered" in my personal hobbies and interests - in addition to writing and designing, I also play a bit of piano, take martial arts classes, and do some web developing on the side. Its all "artistic" in its own way, even the coding.

As far as convincing that first publisher to let me design cover... well, honestly? A hint of blackmail. I had a series my publisher wanted to condense into a collection and re-release as a bundle. I agreed, with the caveat the publisher would consider my own design for the cover. They had the right to tell me I was full of it, but at least they would look at it. Luckily for me, they liked it enough to publish the collection with that cover. This particular book is no longer in print, but it gave me the start of my "official" cover art career.

Q) What does the process entail for creating a cover? How are you inspired, and just how much do you actually work one-on-one with an author?

A) I usually base covers on what the author envisions - and really, what the author wants to "feel" about the book. I'm known to sometimes ignore an aspect or two in favor of the cover "feeling" right. As such, the most important thing for the author to do is give me examples of what the book visually feels like - dark and moody, magic, a fun romantic comedy, etc.

I'm more of a designer than actual artist - I can't really "make" anything visually (I have a degree in Studio Arts and barely can draw a stick figure), but I have knack of fitting things together into one cohesive image. Usually I'll troll through various image sites and get ideas from other people's art (as well as author provided samples) for inspiration. Much like writing, sometimes the design takes over half way into the process - and that's the most fun (and the most frustration).

I can't say I work one on one with the authors too much, although there have been occasions. My job is not to represent characters or settings exactly how they are in the book - my job is to make the cover as intriguing and attention getting as possible.

Q) I have to ask this. Has there been a time where the publisher rejected your artwork for one of your own books?

A) Oh yes, absolutely. It was one of the first cover mockups I've made and I was convinced it was the best thing since sliced bread. The art director of the publishing house I was with didn't quite agree with me, and for the life of me I couldn't understand why he didn't see things my way.

These days I don't usually do my own cover art. Why? Because I'm my own worst client. It takes me days and weeks to agonize over a design. (Take a look at the graphic at my website for example - days and days of minor OCD). I drive myself crazy. As such, both covers for "Pas De Deux" and "Night Haven" were done by very talented cover artists at Samhain Publishing (Amanda Kelsey and Kanaxa respectively). I love giving my written works to cover artists I admire and seeing what they'll do with it.

Q) Do you ever use live models for your designs? Why or why not?

A) Live models as in take pictures of someone and then use them in a cover? I haven't really, as this is usually a cost issue for the publisher. (Plus I know nothing about photography or lighting or any other intricate details!)

However I'm involved in a mystery book series where the covers will be based on an actual live photo shoot. I'm really looking forward to it!

Q) Normally in the final question I ask the author to offer some advice to prospective writers, and feel free to do so. But, I’d really like to hear any advice or encouragement you can provide to young artists interested in designing covers for novels.

A) I think the advice would be the same for both - writing and cover art design - keep practicing your craft. The best way to break into the cover art business is to have a cover art portfolio readily available so that prospective clients can see your work very easily. (It can be for fake books if you have nothing else - which is how I got started!) Develop a portfolio of your best work and have it ready to go. Then simply talk to people, offer to do mockups, and always look for things that inspire you.