Dena Celeste: Romance was always a part of my life. From the fairy tales, to children’s TV shows (anyone remember Tommy and Kim on Power Rangers?), to Nancy Drew. When I got a little older, I became even more interested in romance, but it really struck a chord when I found erotic romance. It reflected more of the rawness that I associated with sex (at least sometimes) while still containing plot and emotional growth of the characters. My favorite authors at that point were Laurell K. Hamilton, Diana Hunter, Joey W. Hill and Jacqueline Carey. I’ve been writing all of my life, mostly poetry for the first 14 years or so. Then fan-fiction was my passion for about 4 years. That was when I had story ideas but I was, at least then, afraid of trying for what I really wanted: to get out an original story. Not that my fan-fiction wasn’t good or worth writing, but I really wanted to branch out into my own work with my own characters. Finally my boyfriend gave me a prompt and I ran with it. After that, I jumped in headfirst!
Phoebe: Did you know what type of romance you wanted to write about or did you experiment with different genres before you chose the one that you felt was for you?
Dena: I knew I was going to write erotic romance, mainly, because it tends to be my favorite thing to read. Writing in the BDSM subgenre was not only fun, but it gave me a way to express my thoughts and opinions about that Lifestyle and to explore and experiment in my own mind. Writing has always been my favorite medium. I intend to explore a few more subgenres, like the paranormal one, and I have a few works in progress in that vein. What really shocked me recently with my sweet romance in the anthology Winter Kisses was how much I enjoyed writing a story that had absolutely no sex in it. Still, I had a lot of fun ratcheting up the tension and still managed to imbue it with a different kind of sensuality.
Phoebe: What was the first fiction you ever wrote? And do you still have it with you?
Dena: My first original story was a paranormal erotic romance that I called Soulbound. It’s my first finished story and I’m still quite proud of it. I do still have it with me! It got saved onto my computer along with the rest of the writing I’ve done for the last 5 years.
Phoebe: How much research do you have to do for your novels and does it take you a long time to gather that research?
Dena: It depends on the story, of course. For Her Master’s Gift, most of the things that happened in the story have come from my own personal experiences. The only research I needed to do was on canes, the sound and feel of them, the different types, and so on. The rest just flowed. For Love in the Lights, I did a little more research. The characters use a little more Yiddish and Hebrew in there than I’m used to using, and for a certain part of the story I had to search for some Old Testament verses. For some of my WIPs, like my witchy Serpent’s Daughter tale, I have had to do some research into witchcraft, the elements, correspondences, etc. That’s been a lot of fun!
Phoebe: How did you come up with the concept for your debut novel, Her Master’s Gift?
Dena: At the time I started writing it, I was trying to get over a betrayal by someone I trusted. I wanted to grow past it, and get out into the world again, and also be free to experience the things my lover and Master wanted to help me to have. I had to understand that not every woman would hurt me, or even every dominant woman, and what specifically went wrong, and also work through my insecurities. So in a way, Her Master’s Gift expressed the love and trust a slave gives to her Master, the way I did to mine, not just for playing with toys or serving him, but in the really tough, scary, emotional situations.
Phoebe: How did you come up with the concept for your currently released anthology novel, Winter Kisses?
Dena: Love in the Lights was such fun to write! I saw the call for a holiday sweet, and I wanted to represent Chanukah, since my faith and Jewish roots are very special to me. My friend Valerie Mann actually helped me come up with the idea for the chapter-per-night format. The rest was just a matter of me making an outline and sticking to it…except when my characters decided to surprise me in a couple of places. I was rather shocked at how much fun it was to write a romance without the added sexual element. I found other ways to bring out the sensuality of both main characters, while still remaining true to the “sweet” part of the call.
Phoebe: How do you come up with each of your characters for your novels? How do you choose their names out of so many names out there?
Dena: Well, my characters tend to come out of hiding one at a time…I don’t do a whole bunch of torturing myself over how they look and so on. They’re usually fully-formed, except for names and histories. If their names don’t come to me on their own at some point, then I go looking on some naming websites. I go by the character’s background and personality-type to pick names. It’s not usually first names that give me problems, but surnames! Those are hard for me to come up with on my own.
Phoebe: Do you have a favorite character that you really enjoyed writing about in your debut novel, Her Master’s Gift? Did you have a character that you felt you could really relate to in your debut novel, Her Master’s Gift?
Dena: Well, in Her Master’s Gift, I explored myself through Katie’s experiences. So I obviously identified very much with her. My favorite character to write about was probably her friend Nancy. Exuberant and smart and very willing to help a friend.
Phoebe: Do you have a favorite character that you really enjoyed writing about in your currently released anthology novel, Winter Kisses? Did you have a character that you felt you could really relate to in your currently released anthology novel, Winter Kisses?
Dena: I felt I could relate to Abi in that I like having the connection to my roots, and to the man I adore, in my faith. My characters tend to show me things, and what she helped to show me, and hopefully readers, was the beauty in her faith. My favorite character to write about had to be Abi’s niece Danielle! She was a pip, that’s for sure.
Phoebe: Do you have a process of how you start to write your novels?
Dena: Not really. I’ll get a line in my head, or a title, or a character will show up, and I’ll put it down. Hopefully I can get the ball rolling from there, but sometimes I have to let it sit and stew a bit.
Phoebe: Have you ever considered writing a series or are writing stand alone novels your preference? How would writing each be different for you?
Dena: Oh gosh. I have considered writing a series, and in fact started a prequel to one of my finished stories, but right now my muse has distracted me with a couple works-in-progress that just won’t leave me alone! Every story is different for me. The process and how it pours out differs. I like the continuity that a series represents. I have several that I love to read, and there’s a comfort in returning to the same characters with a new story! A standalone is exciting and nerve-wracking as I pick out character names, think about what might happen, and wonder what the story will evolve into.
Phoebe: What process did you have to go through to get your first book published and did it take you long?
Dena: Well, my first published book, Her Master’s Gift, was originally written for a submission call. When it wasn’t accepted, I couldn’t just let it lay there, especially since it incorporated a few F/F scenes, one of my favorite things to write! I loved what it had become, so when a good friend told me about Noble Romance Publishing, and I saw how daring they were and willing to accept that aspect, I had to give it a go. I’m so glad I did! It took a good 5 months from the time I began writing it, which is amazingly fast all things considered. However Her Master’s Gift was the first book published, not just finished, so its acceptance was the exciting leg on a journey I’d been on for about 3 years there.
Phoebe: Do you ever get writers block? What do you do to get rid of it so you can get back to writing your novels?
Dena: Oh, do I ever! Sometimes I wait it out, let things stew. Sometimes I try to write an outline and see if that gets the juices flowing. If all else fails, I’ll just write one word at a time, no matter how bad it is. Can’t fix a blank page, after all.
Phoebe: What is your biggest reader pet peeve, if you have any? (stock characters, unresolved endings, predictability, everything wrapped up hurriedly in the end, etc.)
Dena: I don’t like it when a story is wrapped up in a way that feels rushed, no. But my biggest reader pet-peeve…wow. That’ a difficult one. Probably a stilted feel to a book. I want to be taken on a journey, and I know that sometimes the flow will change, but…that odd, start-stop-start-stop-like-a-15-year-old-just-learning-how-to-drive makes me want to climb the walls!
Phoebe: Which aspects of writing do you enjoy the most and why? And what is your biggest writing pet peeve? (overuse of exclamation points, adverbs, bad guys named Wayne, etc.), if you have any?
Dena: Hm. I love the art of creation, and exploring things that I might otherwise not, either physically or mentally or emotionally, or all of the above! I don’t have a writing pet peeve, really.
Phoebe: What is the one writing tool can you not live without?
Dena: My computer! My hands cramp up horribly sometimes, so I like to be able to go with the flow of the story, as fast as my mind can take me. I have my own version of touch-typing that works well for me.
Phoebe: How do you handle your writing schedule and your personal life without going insane?
Dena: Who said anything about not going insane?
Phoebe: What do you do to relax after having spent a long while writing? Do you have any hobbies?
Dena: Actually, writing is my relaxation after having spent a long while taking care of my parents, or studying for a test, or reading an emotionally-heavy story. My hobbies are playing with cameras, phones, and any techno-gadget with buttons. I try to behave in elevators… I also like to spend time with animals, to walk and ride my bike, and watch TV and movies. Reading I would term as a need, more than a hobby. It’s like food and water…I can go without for a little while, but not happily and eventually I need more!
Phoebe: Is there any advice that you would give to an aspiring romance writer that you wish someone had given you?
Dena: I have gotten amazing advice on this journey. The best advice: Keep writing. We all need encouragement and cheerleaders of course, to help us to keep writing. If you want to write, then write! What’s funny is that 5 years ago, the “Sit down and write” advice frustrated the heck out of me. But as I’ve gone on, there’s just no way around the truth: Writing is lovely, and wonderful, and a passion that I will always do. But it’s work. Hard work.
Phoebe: Is there any writing tips, research tips, promotion and marketing tips that you would give to an aspiring romance writer that you wish someone had given you?
Dena: Get a publicist! I have the most awesome publicist (Alix Taylor with Heetr Promotions) who helps me to promote my books, and gets me to fabulous blogs like this! I have many more opportunities thanks to her help. Getting published is a major milestone, but the work increases exponentially from there! You need to promote, get your name out there and your book(s) out there!
Phoebe: Do you have a favorite genre you like to read? Who is your favorite author(s)?
Dena: My favorite genre is romance, of course. Subgenres from there: BDSM, paranormal, ménage, contemporary, fantasy. Favorite authors: JD Robb/Nora Roberts, Jacqueline Carey, Joey W. Hill, Laurell K. Hamilton, Christine Feehan, Jean Johnson, Valerie Mann, Selena Blake, Chris Owen, Sean Michael, Bobby Michaels and the list does go on. Those are just some of my auto-buys.
Phoebe: What are you reading now? And what do you plan to read after that?
Dena: I’m currently reading Street Game. Soon I have to crack into my schoolbooks, but in between study sessions, I have plans for Flirt (the newest Anita Blake book), Naamah’s Curse (the newest Kushiel’s Legacy book), Fantasy in Death (JD Robb’s IN DEATH series!!), and Savor the Moment (Bride Quartet book 3). Those are on my auto-buy-as-soon-as-affordable list.