Author Spotlight: Rita Gigante, Bobbie Sterchele-Gigante, Donna McDine, and Renie De Mase

Meet the authors/illustrator team behind Angel’s Forever Home (Mascot Books), a true story about a dog who was rescued from a Chilean earthquake, and searches for his forever home. Facing his fear of rejection for not being like other dogs, he embarks on a journey that teaches him the importance of patience, courage, and the willingness to open his heart to others.

Donna 1.jpg

Where did you grow up?

Rita: Old Tappan, NJ.
Bobbie: Northvale, NJ.
Donna: I am a lifelong resident of Rockland County, NY and have resided in Tappan, NY for the last 21 years.
Renie: I grew up In Airmont, NY (Suffern).

Did you read a lot as a child?

Rita: No, I didn’t have an interest in reading till senior year in high school.
Bobbie: Yes. Pre-teen.
Donna: I was an avid reader as a child. I especially enjoyed the Nancy Drew mysteries. I still have the collection to this day.
Renie: Yes, all the time.

What were some of your favorite books/authors/artists?

Rita: There are so many and very diverse. Some are The Great Gatsby, The Eden Book series, Outlander, The Biology of Belief, Becoming Supernatural, The Glass House, etc.
Bobbie: The Godfather’s Daughter, An Unlikely Story of Love Healing and Redemption, Judy Blume books, astrology and healing books.
Donna: Judy Blume was my favorite author and I read Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret so many times the book was torn and worn out.
Renie: Renoir and Monet, I don’t really have a favorite artist.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Rita: I always knew I would help people but just allowed it to unfold to where I am today.
Bobbie: A nurse.
Donna: I had dreamed of becoming a reporter and enjoyed watching the Lou Grant show with my dad. It always intrigued me how the reporter would put their story together.
Renie: A mom and an artist. I considered interior decorating or art therapy as well.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer/illustrator.

Rita: I am a psychic, medium, healer, health coach, massage therapist and exercise physiologist.
Bobbie: Nurse, hairdresser.
Donna: In high school I worked in the bakery department of a local supermarket and eventually fell into the work as an administrative assistant. While I continue to write, I continue to work as an administrative assistant to keep the steady income flowing. Which is imperative with college tuition for our daughter.
Renie: As a teenager I worked in a bakery, a florist, and a clothing store. Later I worked as a realtor while trying to build up my art career.

How did you get started writing/illustrating?

Rita: I started writing my memoir 15 years before it came out in 2012.
Bobbie: When I started college I wrote lots of poems from my life.
Donna: Back in 2007 I came across the Institute of Children’s Literature aptitude test and my long-shelved desire to write was re-sparked. I eagerly completed the test and mailed it back. Yes, back then we used snail mail…LOL. And I now have six children’s books to my credit along with many print and online magazine articles.
Renie: I sketched and painted all the time growing up. I took every class available in high school. I studied art in NYC then continued with art lessons. I painted murals in both schools and private residences. I had the opportunity to teach children in an art/craft studio. I am now commissioned for custom artwork, painting pet portraits and house rendering and that is how I was asked to illustrate this book, I originally painted a pet portrait for the author.

What do you like best about writing/drawing?

Rita: For me it is very cathartic and healing. I also love to bring stories to life, make people laugh, and help others in their healing process.
Bobbie: Bringing a true story to life.
Donna: Once I have a story idea in place and I have conducted my research whether it be for historical fiction or internal character interviews, I move forward with the story. Even though I am the creator of the story, it often amazes me the twists and turns a story takes from my original plan.
Renie: Just the feeling of creating something, I find it to be a combination of fun, exciting, rewarding, and relaxing all at the same time.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?

Rita: Getting started.
Bobbie: Having the time to do it.
Donna: When conducting my research for my historical fiction books, The Golden Pathway and Powder Monkey I needed to remind myself when to stop the research and get down to the writing.

Angel's Forever Home.jpg

What do you think makes a good story?

Rita: A character that speaks to me. Good descriptions of people, places and events. A story should make you want to read more even when you get to the end. Anything that I can learn from.
Bobbie: The truth and experiences of someone’s life.
Donna: From my perspective it’s important not to be preaching to the reader by a lesson. To create a true world where a child can relate to his/her life will keep them interested rather than trying to get a lesson across.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Rita: Meditation, exercise, and discussion with other authors.
Bobbie: Inspiration comes from within and experiencing life with new people every day.
Donna: My inspiration comes from many facets. From jotting down conversations my children have had with their friends over the years while playing, newspaper articles, or even an overhead conversation or action while out and about.
Renie: Sometimes from my feelings whether I’m going through a good or even difficult time, which will affect my work. The beautiful colors outside also inspire me.

What is your favorite reading/writing/drawing snack?

Rita: Popcorn.
Bobbie: Cheese doodles.
Donna: French vanilla tea with bite-sized cold chocolate chip cookies. Yum.
Renie: I don’t eat when I am painting, however starting early in the morning with a good cup of coffee is always nice. Although I’ve gotten so into my project that I’ve dipped my brush into my coffee instead of the water…

Do you have any quirky writing/illustrating habits?

Rita: Not really. Just need a quiet place and sometimes exercise will give me motivation and great ideas.
Bobbie: I doodle while I write.
Donna: My research, character interview, outlines, and first drafts are always written long-hand with my favorite writing pen. A Graf von Faber-Castell pen gifted to me by my husband and daughters when my first children’s book, The Golden Pathway was published in 2010.
Renie: Not really quirky, but I have an old eraser I should toss but I love using it, even though I have newer ones, I always use that one. Also I like blending colors with dirty water for shadowing.

What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors and illustrators? 

Rita: Push through. Know that whatever you have to say is worthy and can help others. Trust the process.
Bobbie: Write from your heart.
Donna: Participate in writer’s workshops, conferences, and critique groups. Read, read, and read some more in the genre you find the most inspiring to write for.
Renie: Just create, don’t overthink, especially wondering if it’s “right “or “wrong,” because it’s not either, it is your creation, just let it flow out…. When drawing a person or an animal, always use absolute black and absolute white in the eyes. A teacher taught me that when I was younger and I always think of that, just a simple fact.

If you could spend a day in any imaginary world from a book you’ve read, where would it be and why?

Rita: Outlander. Love the culture, land, time period, etc.
Bobbie: I would be in the afterlife and experience what it would be like and then come back to Earth and share my experiences.
Donna: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. It is absolutely fascinating how the characters go from one world to another.
Renie: I would spend the day in a mystical garden; I like the woodland/garden watercolor scenes with fairies and angels all around.


For more information about Rita Gigante and Bobbie Sterchele-Gigante, visit

For more information about Donna McDine, visit

For more information about Renie De Mase, follow her on



Spotlight Book: Penny the Pink Nose Poodle


The things that make us different are the things that make us wonderful... 

           ISBN: 978-1-68401-257-2

Penny the Pink Nose Poodle is a children’s book based on the real life story of Penny, who was rescued from an animal shelter by Norina, who later introduced the poodle to the rest of her family. 

The story follows Penny on her journey from the New Castle Pound to find her perfect forever home. Penny the Pink Nose Poodle is a reminder of the importance of showing kindness to others in need. 


2nd Place winner, Animals/Pets category, 2018 Purple Dragonfly Book Awards

Five star review: "I love this book. I read it to my grandkids and they were not only delighted, but my 5-year-old granddaughter told her parents, "being different makes you more loveable and hugable." - CDNon, Amazon Reviewer


Available for purchase at Amazon, BarnesandNoble, and Mascot Books 

ISBN: 978-1-68401-257-2


Author Spotlight: Lea Herrick

Lea Herrick is the award-winning author of The Courageous Corgi and Ace, King of My Heart, and was inspired to write the books as tributes to her love for animals and the environment, with the hope that all living things will be cherished and protected.

Where did you grow up?    
I grew up in the Baltimore/Washington area but lived in Europe during part of my grade school years where my father was stationed abroad. I was given a wonderful opportunity to see other countries and cultures as a child at a time when most people were not traveling yet.

Did you read a lot as a child?  
Some of my first memories were of going to the Woolworth or Kresge dime stores with my mother and if I behaved, right before leaving the store, I would be allowed to select a Golden Book. Also, in elementary school, every child was given a Scholastic Books flyer to order books to purchase for reading at home. It was so exciting when the books arrived! I loved Margaret Rey’s Curious George series, the Homer Price books by Robert McCluskey, and Henry Huggins books by Beverly Cleary. I think there was a theme of curiosity and mischievousness that intrigued me. I also loved the Nancy Drew mysteries by Carolyn Keene.

What were some of your favorite authors and books?   
I still love to read books for young readers, such as Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague series. I also have enjoyed Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie, Lisa Greenwald’s Dog Beach Unleashed and Gilbert Byron’s Mission Boy, which is a novel about Spanish Jesuits in the Chesapeake Bay area. My all-time favorite book is Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, and I spent one entire summer reading that as a teenager.

What did you want to be when you grew up?   
Believe it or not, I wanted to be a geologist. At some point, I decided that maybe rocks were not my thing. Years later, I went on to get a Bachelor of Science degree and have loved animals, the beach, and things pertaining to nature ever since.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer.  
I began babysitting and had a neighborhood carwash business at age 11. Then in my teen years, I worked in a movie theatre and eventually had jobs as a secretary, bookkeeper, bartender, waitress, social worker, and volunteer coordinator.

The Courageous Corgi.png

How did you get started writing?    
I was writing reports and newsletters in some of my full-time jobs, but when I retired, I felt a need to write a book as a tribute to my beloved corgi rescue dogs who came to my aid during a debilitating illness—hence, my first book in 2004, The Courageous Corgi, which is based on a true story. My two corgis came over to America from Wales and since my family also came to America from Europe, it became kind of autobiographical. I was thrilled when a London magazine picked up the story, and I even received a letter from Queen Elizabeth’s secretary regarding my book! Best Friends Magazine was the first to review The Courageous Corgi and just being a tiny part of the no-kill movement and seeing the growth in animal rescue is beyond words! Over the years, our family has had a number of rescue dogs, and currently my husband and I have two rescues—a standard poodle and a cocker spaniel. They came as a bonded pair and these “brothers” make us rich in love and teach us that the simplest pleasures in life are things that money just can’t buy.

Why do you write books?   
I love the creative process of telling a story, envisioning the cover, the art work, etc., but most importantly, want to convey a message in what I write. I want people to feel good at the conclusion of my books and take away something to inspire them as they go about their daily lives.

What do you like best about writing?   
I love watching the story unfold as it all comes together in a neat package.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?   
Multiple edits and rewrites to get the story and syntax just right can be very challenging, especially when you are trying to remember all your grammar rules from so many years ago.

What do you think makes a good story?   
Inspiration from a true event or place that the writer has experienced and has a passion for makes a great story. Write what you know.

Where do you get your inspiration?   
My inspiration these days are the animals and the beauty of our surrounding environment and wanting to share this message of protecting and conserving what is right in front of all of us. Also, my mother was my role model as she was a terrific writer and had a weekly column in our local newspaper as I grew up. She wrote poems during World War II, which unfortunately have been lost, but she also wrote a beautiful synthesis about immigration and her family in the early 1900’s, coming to America in steerage through Ellis Island.

Ace, King of My Heart.jpg

Tell us about your latest book.  
Ace, King of My Heart is my latest book and is a celebration of the 50th birthday of Assateague Island National Seashore and the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. It tells the story of the herd behavior of the wild horses on the barrier island off the coast of Maryland and incorporates the animals and plants of the ecosystems that co-exist with the horses on Assateague. The herd on the Maryland side of the island are never rounded up and sold. They are allowed to live out their days as free, wild animals. The book was written at the time of the first round of talks regarding off-shore drilling off the coast of Maryland, and I wanted to capture a snapshot of what Assateague was like at that moment in time, through the eyes of a young colt, so that no matter what happens in the future, we will always have a mental picture of the island before any man-made intervention.

I remember listening to the baseball games with my dad on the radio, and the announcers were so adept at describing everything that you could envision it, and it was like you were sitting right in the stands at the ballpark. That is what I try to do when I am writing a story so that you feel like you are in that place and time. The park rangers and so many people that take care of Assateague State and National Park need to be commended for the terrific job they do, and a special shout-out to all that helped with the book! I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my husband, who has worked with me and whose photographs served as templates for many of the illustrations in Ace, King of My Heart.

What’s next for you?   
I don’t think I am finished with the Maryland Eastern Shore as we have such bounteous gifts of beauty of our natural environment, and there are still more stories to tell.

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books?
I’d like people to know that every person can have a second act, or a third act in life, and whatever that is, use your talents to try and make our world a better place. Take a chance, take a risk, and just go for it!

Lea's books are available on