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Interview with Dana Mentink

You’d never know if by looking at her resume, but Dana is a home-loving gal. An author of more than 20 books, winner of nine (and counting) awards, with a gift for suspense she keeps readers on the edge of their seats. But mostly, Dana loves to be at home in California with her family and pets, thinking of characters who are pitted against each other.

In your novel Secret Refuge, you've created some very interesting main characters in Mick, who blames himself for disaster, and Keele,y who stubbornly blames him too. How much of yourself did you write into Mick and/or Keeley?
I have a tendency to hang onto my own mistakes, much like Mick does, and my sisters are my very best friends in the whole world, so I can relate to how wounded Keeley feels at losing her sister.

Who is your favorite character in the book? Why?
I am partial to little Junie. She's an effervescent little girl who rolls with the punches, loves easily and forgives quickly. Isn't that a nice way to approach life?

Which was the hardest character to write? Why?
It was difficult to write Keeley because I had to imagine what it would be like to lose a sister. That gives me shivers! I have three sisters and they all live close to me so we're a pretty tight group. Any one of them would drop whatever they were doing and ride to the rescue if I needed it (and they have!) Thinking about how Keeley would feel was difficult.

What helps you the most when you're developing your characters?
I like to sketch out a basic character outline and dive into the writing. I find that the writing part often reveals things about the character that I didn't include in the outline. That's very gratifying.

What led you to choose the genre in which you write?
Solving a mystery? Running for your life? Encountering villains and delivering justice? What could be more satisfying than that?

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
Time to get mushy! The most significant factor in my publishing journey is having a husband who believed in me, sacrificed for my dreams, and encouraged me at every turn. Writing can be a discouraging business, and having a staunch life partner to journey with you is priceless. Mike is a blessing to me straight from God.

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
Oh man! Hardest thing ever! I'm this ridiculous type of person who wants to DO IT ALL! I am both a part-time third grade teacher and a writer, mom to two teens and a board member for the California Women's Retreat. The only way I've been able to keep up the writing production is to be very committed, to set strict word goals and to get up at the crack of early. (Coffee helps, too!)

How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
I believe that I've been called to write books that are faith-focused. God is the author of all of our stories. If anything is good in me and my books, it's due to Him. If anything is lacking, it's because I have more spiritual work to do. I'm always asking questions, making mistakes, and being forgiven in spite of my sin. My characters do that too.

Who/What spurs you to write? Where do your story and character ideas come from?
This is a very strange world we live in. Every day I hear of incredible stories and I think, "You couldn't make that stuff up." As an example, I read an article describing how gold coins rained down from the ceiling when a workman was renovating an old grape drying barn in Les Riceys, France. No one knows how the coins got there, but they are worth more than million dollars. Even better? Under French law the workman is entitled to half the proceeds of the treasure. You see what I mean? Life is chock-full of story fodder!

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
I hope I am down to earth and unpretentious in my writing. It's my aim to have relatable characters and settings unique enough to drive a story.

What is the funniest thing that has happened to you as an author?
Since I am a klutz and a space cadet, funny things happen to me all the time. One moment that stands out is when I was wearing my teaching hat, attending a workshop on instructing student writers. The man sitting next to me said, "We shouldn't spend much time on fiction writing because nobody does that for a living." Ha!

What books are on your nightstand right now?
I'm judging books for the RITAs, so there's a giant stack of romances of all types. After that I'm looking forward to reading The Rosie Project and the latest Reader's Digest magazine.

What literary character is most like you?
Can I go with Alice in Wonderland? I'm sort of wandering around, investigating rabbit trails most of the time with my head in the clouds.

Finish this statement: The key to forgiving ourselves is…
...realizing that God has already forgiven us.

Any parting words?
Well, as I tell my third graders, words have power. My prayer is that my words, both written and spoken, will be an encouragement to people. Here's a link if you'd like to subscribe to my quarterly newsletter and free download. Thank you for the interview!

Thanks for sharing with us, Dana!

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