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Donna Gentry

Like many other fans, the fanfic was what really hooked Donna Gentry (a.k.a. Ysone) on The Sentinel and prompted her to give the show a second try. Already familiar with fanfic for other TV shows, she began writing her own Sentinel stories sometime during second season and is often mentioned as a favorite writer in our fandom. She particularly enjoys reading and writing emotional stories with lots of H/C and angst, as well as alternate universe pieces. Donna's Cascade Library listing currently includes 11 stories. Her stories are located at her website, Ysone's Fanfiction and Stuff.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Donna!

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

First and foremost, I'm a mom. Everything else in my life is secondary, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I run my own company, which is a truly wonderful way to make a living, but takes an extraordinary amount of time and energy. My greatest pleasure in life is five minutes alone with a really good cup of coffee. Or a chocolate bar. Same difference.

What else do you enjoy doing besides writing TS fan fiction?

Everything. Unfortunately, there aren't enough hours in the day, and I'm not giving up my sleep. But when I can find the time, I like to camp, hike, garden, sew, and create (anything -- from stories to teddy bears to homemade soap). Oh, and football and baseball...watching, not playing. ~grin~

How did you become a Sentinel fan?

I wish I could say I've been a fan from day one, but to tell you the truth the first couple of episodes I saw really didn't catch my attention -- beyond the fact that there were two reallly nice looking guys in it (who's shallow?). Then I stumbled across the fanfic. What I read was so wonderful that I decided I must have missed something in the episodes I had seen. I gave it another try, about mid-second season, and was hooked.

What is your favorite episode and why?

Switchman/Siege, which I always think of as one two-part episode. There was just so much raw potential there. I think if it had never gone any further than that, tons of wonderful fan fiction could have been written just from the premise that was set up right there. If I had caught those two episodes the first time around, I would have been hooked from the start.

How did you start writing Sentinel fan fiction?

I was actively writing fanfic for another fandom when I stumbled across the fic for TS. After reading a dozen or so stories, I thought, "I want to be a part of this. I want to write for these characters." So I got a hold of some tapes of the shows I had missed and started learning everything I could about these guys and their relationship. It was very important to me to get it right.

Deliver Us From Evil was my first effort. At the time I wrote it, I was helping my husband deal with the effects of severe head injuries suffered in a head on collision with a drunk driver, so it seemed only natural to apply the things I was learning to a Sentinel story. Writing it was the easy part. Posting it was terrifying. Up until then, I had only written for fanzines, which has this nice, safe, anonymous feel. Posting to an email list where hundreds of people would receive it instantly was terribly frightening by comparison. I had no idea what to expect. Fortunately, I was made to feel very welcome. Feedback was a new concept that I quickly fell in love with; you just don't get that with fanzine stories. I kept thinking, is this a mistake? Did they mean to send this to *me* ? I still think that way.

If you could see any of your stories made into a real episode, which one would you choose?

In the context of the canon we were given, I don't think any of my stories could be an episode, and that's fine with me. I started writing because I wanted to see something beyond what we were given. I wanted to expand and explore concepts and angles that the forces behind TS couldn't or wouldn't deal with. Which isn't to say I wouldn't *like* to see my stories as episodes. I would love to see Falling Awake on screen, just because I think the actors would do such a wonderful job with the emotion and angst.

Which story are you most proud of?

Well, I'll probably regret admitting this, but the story that means the most to me is one that I don't even claim. It was posted under a pseudonym, for reasons too complicated and boring to get into. It was a very difficult story to write. Very emotional. I felt like each and every word was ripped right from my heart. I really put my soul into that story. I'm very pleased with the way it turned out, even if I don't claim it.

Which character do you most enjoy writing?

Without a doubt, Blair is the most challenging, therefore the most enjoyable, character to write. There are so many layers there. It's not always obvious what drives him, what his reactions to any given situation might be. I think that's in part due to GM's wonderful portrayal of the character. There were so many things going on with him, even when he wasn't the focus of a scene. Body language, facial much was left open to interpretation. Simon is also a lot of fun to write. Jim is the easiest. Maybe it's because we were given so much more canon background on him, but it's easier to predict him. His motivations are pretty black and white, for the most part. I don't have a least favorite.

What genre(s) do you enjoy writing the most?

My answer today is totally different than what it would have been a year ago. I've become very partial to AU stories. I like the challenge and excitement of exploring new circumstances with familiar characters. I also like to write emotional drama. Someone told me once that the emotion in my stories didn't come across as real. I took that as a challenge, and I have been striving ever since to get the emotion "right". I can't write humor to save my life, and I can't see myself ever writing a crossover. Most everything else is pretty much fair game.

Who are your beta readers and what do you appreciate most about them?

Diana betas for me most of the time. I'm grammatically challenged, so she really has her work cut out for her with me! I value her opinions tremendously. She's very honest and straight forward with me, and I really need that. My poor overused, under-appreciated alpha reader is Debbye. She gets the raw stuff, in all its glory, and helps me sift through it to find the useable parts. She gets me over the rough patches and keeps me going. I couldn't do it without her.

Falling Awake and its sequel Onoma involve a complicated plot in which Blair gets sick and is eventually kidnapped and brainwashed. Was it difficult to decide how Jim and Blair would act when separated from one another?

I'm not really sure where that story came from. I had an initial idea in mind, but once I started putting it to paper, it took off on its own. When I finished and looked back over what I had, I felt like it had been written by someone else. I've heard other writers say that "Jim told them the story" or "Blair whispered it in their ear", but this was my first experience with the characters taking over and writing the story themselves. I guess I'm a believer now.

Accessible is a very emotional story describing Jim and Blair's reaction to one of them becoming disabled. What inspired this story?

I have a folder on my computer labeled "4me". In it are literally dozens of stories, mostly unfinished, written strictly for myself. They involve things I'd like to see happen to the characters that I feel are "too much", over the top. But there are days when that's the kind of stuff I want to work on. Accessible started out as one of those stories that grew too big. By the time I had finished, I had so much emotionally invested in the story, I just had to post it in hopes someone else might enjoy it.

Heart/Soul is the same story written from both Jim and Blair's points of view and involves them working through a problem that resulted from some miscommunication. How is this an example of their relationship?

For all of Blair's verbosity, he doesn't always express himself very well, and frankly, Jim doesn't always listen very well, so I see miscommunication as one of their biggest obstacles. In Heart/Soul that lack of communication almost came between them in a way they couldn't overcome. I wanted to explore how they could come to that point and then work their way back, not with cliched, macho displays or jokes, but with real words and actions, like real life friends would have to in order for the friendship to survive.

Night Eagle is a western AU with Jim as a cowboy and Blair as a half-Indian. What inspired this story, and how does it compare with Jim and Blair's canon characters. Are you planning to write more in this series?

Way back when I first got into the fandom, there was a discussion on one of the email lists about different AU settings where the Sentinel/Guide story would work well. Someone (I wish I could remember who so I could give her credit for the idea) mentioned that she would like to see Blair as a half-breed Indian. Being a very big fan of pulp westerns, I thought it was an idea with a lot of possibilities, but I had no desire to write an AU. I didn't feel I could put the guys in such a drastically different setting and stay true to the characters. But after a year, the idea still wouldn't leave me alone, so I decided to give it a try. Some of my most treasured LoCs are the ones commenting on the characterizations in that story. I'm working on a sequel which will introduce Blair to Jim's world (and Simon and some of the other MC guys). It's slow going, but I'm determined to finish it before I'm old and gray.

You've written a couple stories about Blair's childhood. What do you think his life growing up was like?

The reason I'm so attracted to stories about Blair's childhood is because there are so many possibilities, based on the kind of man he grew into. We weren't really given much concrete evidence in canon, so the imagination can run free. The only absolute I hold to is that Blair must have been special as a child, very spirited and vivacious, but also wise and mature beyond his years. I hope to explore that more deeply in future stories.

Mark of the Beast is a very intriguing AU story you recently wrote in which Blair is already working with another sentinel when he meets Jim. How did Blair's relationship with the abusive sentinel change his character?

Assuming that Blair's background was basically the same as in canon, I think that deep down inside, he is the same open, energetic, verbose young man he always was. He's just had to suppress that somewhat in order to get along with a Sentinel that has no patience with him. He's simply putting on a front, playing a part to get what he wants. It wouldn't take much effort on Jim's part to make Blair feel secure enough to be himself again.

What do you do when your muse takes a vacation?

My muse went on permanent vacation about a year ago. At first, I waited patiently for her to return. When it became obvious she wasn't coming back, I hiked up my britches and began plodding along without her. Some days, I just stare at a blank computer screen waiting for the words to magically appear. Some days, I just jump in and write, figuring I can always delete later, if need be. I find it really helpful to reread some of my favorite stories to remind myself why I love this fandom so much. On the really bad days, I read the most dreadful piece of fanfic I can find (in another fandom, of course ~g~), and tell myself, I can do at least that good. That almost always works.

What is the hardest part about writing for you?

Keeping my attention focused on one story at a time. I have dozens of stories in various stages of development, and right in the midst of working on one, I'll be hit with an idea for another one and just jump over to work on it. Makes it difficult to finish anything.

What is the most satisfying part of writing for you?

Other than actually writing the words "The End", it's when someone tells me they feel I got the characters right. That's my biggest concern. The "voices" of the characters can make or break a story, and I'm always worried I'll miss the mark and end up with a story that doesn't work. When someone comments that they felt the characterizations were right, I feel like I've succeeded.

What are your feelings on story feedback?

I've heard other writers talk about feedback like it is a thank you note for a gift they've given, but I see feedback as the gift and deserving of a thank you note in return. I treasure each and every email (compliments and criticisms alike) just as I would a gift from a friend. I have printed copies of them all that I thumb through when the muses refuse to bash or if I'm just down and need a quick pick-me-up. I honestly don't think the average reader knows just how much feedback means to a writer.

Do you have any advice for new TS fan fiction writers?

Write what *you* want to read. The biggest mistake a writer can make is to try to write what she thinks others want to read. Rick Nelson said it best, "You can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself." Each of us knows what kind of stories we like to read ourselves, and that's what we should concentrate on writing. It's what we'll do best.

What was the first piece of fan fiction you ever read?

Gosh, I can't remember back that far, but it would have been Star Trek, probably DS9, because that was my first fandom.

What was the first piece of fan fiction you ever wrote?

A DS9 novella called Prophecy of the Resh for a Star Trek fanzine. I had been "writing" fanfic in my head for years, but that was my first attempt to put anything on paper.

What was the first piece of Sentinel fan fiction you ever read?

Kris Williams. Well, hers weren't actually the first, but hers were the ones that hooked me, that made me want to get to know this show better. There was something wonderful between her characters that made me sit up and take notice. I knew right then that I wanted to write for these two guys.

Are there particular kinds of Sentinel fanfic stories that you especially enjoy reading?

I'm totally, completely and irrevocably addicted to good angst and h/c. I love emotional (not sappy) stories. I like a good case story, but that's not a top priority for me. I can get that from any mystery novel. Top priority for me is the deep bonds of friendship between all of the TS characters, but especially Jim and Blair. Lately, I've found myself searching out AU stories. I like the challenge to the imagination.

What is it about The Sentinel that inspires you to write?

They have the ideal friendship...the kind of friendship that everyone wants and few people are fortunate enough to find. They genuinely care for one another. There isn't nearly enough of that in real life, so we turn to fiction to fill the void.

What do you believe are The Sentinel's greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses as a series?

Greatest strength: the development of a deep friendship despite the diversity of the characters. I think it's what drew the majority of fans to the show in the first place.

Greatest weaknesses: inconsistencies, tired plots, lack of character development. They had such wonderful characters to work with, but so many of the episodes could have substituted actors from any other television show with the same results. Such a waste.

Do you find yourself identifying more with Jim or Blair?

Hmmm...neither really. If I had to choose, I'd say I share more personality traits with Jim, but I'd like to be more like Blair. Blair seems to get so much out of life, like he knows time is limited and he has to get as much as he can, as quickly as he can. Truth be told, I can probably identify more with Simon. He's on the outside, looking in...almost a part, but not quite. That's how I feel most of the time. And, like Simon, there are few things I love more than a really good cup of coffee. <g>

If you were given the opportunity to write an episode of The Sentinel, what story would you like to tell?

How the whole final episode was just a vision, sent to Blair to warn him of what *could* happen if he isn't careful.

What three specific things would you like to see on The Sentinel that we haven't seen yet? How about general changes?

Specifically, I would like for Jim to verbally acknowledge Blair's contributions in his life, more interaction between Blair and Simon, and I would love to see Blair working with Jim to solve sensory problems. I would like to see Blair actually *be* a Guide, like he is in the vast majority of fanfic. Generally, I would like to see less emphasis on tired, standard cop-show plots, and more emphasis on the characters.

What one story do you think people will always remember you for?

Probably Heart/Soul, judging by the responses I've gotten. It's ironic, because I almost didn't post that one. I sat on the finished story for months before I finally decided to take a chance and post it. I really didn't expect it to be as well received as it was.

Can you tell us what stories you have in the works right now?

Too many! My biggest problem is a short attention span. I move from story to story without getting anything done. I'm still plugging along on Shadow Cat, the sequel to Night Eagle, and I'm working on a coda to Crossroads. I also have a couple of first season stories in the works, set right after The Debt. And then there's that AU, set in the future, and another snippet from Blair's childhood, and...See what I mean? No self discipline.

Thanks Donna!

Last updated 2/7/00 clc