Author Don Bentley, Interview (conclusion)

Q. What makes a writer great?

DB. I don’t know that I’m qualified to answer that question, so I’m going to quote my fantastic editor, Tom Colgan, instead. Tom once told me that the difference between a good writer and a great writer is that a great writer is not content to write the same book twice. According to Tom, a great writer will always push himself to do something different and bigger each time they write, and I think that’s true.

Q. and the all-important: What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like for you?

DB. I try to write my first draft as quickly as possible, but it inevitably takes longer than I want. In an effort to make the process more streamlined, I keep each POV as a separate word file until I’m completely done with the first draft as I’ve found this saves me quite a few headaches when I invariably move scenes around or cut them completely. Once the first draft is complete, I write out each scene on index cards and then arrange them using the Save the Cat beats as organizing tools. This is my first look at the completed novel, and I’ve found it’s a great way to ensure that I’ve hit the inflection points necessary for each Act in the Three Act structure. Once I’ve satisfied with the story’s layout, I’ll go back and begin editing in earnest. In my first pass or two, I’m concentrating mainly on plot weakness or other structural errors. In my final edits I focus more on language and the narrative flow.

Q. How has your life experiences influenced your writing?

DB. As a former Army Apache helicopter pilot and FBI Special Agent, I’ve been lucky enough to do some pretty interesting things. Since I write espionage/military thrillers, I draw extensively from both my background and the incredible people I’ve had the fortune of meeting and befriending. During a radio interview for WITHOUT SANCTION, my first Matt Drake thriller, the interviewer asked me if I was Matt Drake. I assured her that I was not, but I also told her that I’d stood in the same room with Matt a time or two. Once you’ve had the pleasure of spending time in the company of heroes, you can’t help but come away a different person.

Q. What’s your down time look like?

DB. That’s a tough one right now. I’m in the middle of transitioning from working a day job to writing full time, but until then, I work every single day. It’s a bit of a slog, but I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be writing a book in two different series. When I’m not working, I love to workout, go to concerts with my wife, and hang out with my kids.

Q. Have you or do you want to write in another genre?

DB. I’m a huge fantasy fan, particularly epic and urban. The first two novels I attempted to write were both fantasy, and I still dabble in that genre from time to time. If my schedule ever allows, I’d love to take another shot at writing my take on urban fantasy.

Q. Note to Self: (a life lesson you’ve learned.)

DB. To progress as a writer, you have to do two things: get better at your craft and refuse to give up.

Did my readers miss the other parts of this wonderful INTERVIEW with Don Bentley
BTW:  Thank you for your service to our country, Don, and Happy Independence Day!!

My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   February: Mike Lupica, March: Lee Matthew Goldberg, May: Jenny Colgan, June: Don Bentley writing for Tom Clancy, July: Veronica Henry.
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Don Bentley writing for Tom Clancy~Interview (part 3)

Don Bentley
Tom Clancy

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

DB. There are times when the words seem to fly from my keyboard onto the screen, but if I’m being honest, these instances are few and far between. Writing is work. Hard work. And while I enjoy writing, there are certainly aspects of it that I detest. First drafts are especially hard and, and are most often the times when I berate myself for not choosing an easier profession. Like rocket science! But writing also has some magical phases like writing the second draft. For me, that’s when the story comes alive as you untangle the narrative, build on themes you didn’t even realize you were there, and give that secondary character the starring role they deserve. This is when writing becomes fun, but to get there, you have to slog through the tediousness of the first draft.

Q. Are you working on something now or have a new release coming up? If so tell us about it.

DB. Yes to both! TARGET ACQUIRED, my first entry in the Tom Clancy Jack Ryan, Junior series comes out on 8 June 2021. I read my first Tom Clancy book when I was thirteen or fourteen, and he was my introduction to the military thriller genre. The notion that, thirty years later, I get to write in the universe he created really is incredible. In addition to my Tom Clancy book, I have my own thriller series starring Defense Intelligence Agency case officer, Matt Drake. I’m currently writing HOSTILE INTENT which is the third book in this series. It will be released in May 2022.

Q. When did you begin to write seriously?

DB. I decided to take my writing seriously in late 2001 when I signed up for a series of online classes from Writer’s Digest Magazine. These classes helped provide a foundational understanding of the process of crafting a novel which I was sorely lacking. I then went on to write two more novels, each of which was strong enough to garner an agent, but not good enough to sell to a publisher. I then decided I must still have more to learn about my craft before I could be commercially successful, so I enrolled in the Seton Hill MFA program. This is a low residency program unabashedly geared toward writers who want to sell commercially viable genre fiction. I wrote my third novel as part of this program, but this one didn’t sell either. About this time, I was starting to wonder whether or not I was ever going to make it as a writer. Thankfully, I had the great fortune to meet Nick Petrie, author of the Peter Ash series, at the ThrillerFest writing conference in New York. Nick was kind enough to listen to my tale of woe, but he did more than listen. After sharing that he also wrote three books that didn’t sell before writing his fourth that did, he told me to go home, quit sulking, and write my fourth book. So I did. That book became WITHOUT SANCTION which my agent, Barbara Poelle, sold in a two book deal in 2018. Fast forward three years, and I’m now writing my third book in that series as well as poking around in the Tom Clancy Universe. To quote Nick, I guess the moral of the story is quit sulking and write your book!

Q. Do you think we will see, in our lifetime, the total demise of paper books?

DB. I don’t. I think there’s something tactile about paper books that people love.

Did you miss Part 1 or Part 2 of our Interview with Don?

My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    January: Madeline Hunter, February: Mike Lupica, March: Lee Matthew Goldberg, May: Jenny Colgan, June: Don Bentley writing for Tom Clancy, July: Veronica Henry.
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Interview with author, Don Bentley, writing as Tom Clancy

Don Bentley is the author of the Matt Drake thriller series including WITHOUT SANCTION, THE OUTSIDE MAN, and two forth coming titles, as well as Tom Clancy’s TARGET ACQUIRED, a Jack Ryan, Jr. novel. Don spent a decade as an Army Apache helicopter pilot including a combat deployment to Afghanistan as an Air Cavalry Troop Commander. Following his time in the military, Don worked as an FBI special agent and was a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team member. 

Q. Where do you write? Do you have a special room, shed, barn, special space for your writing?  Or tell us about your ‘dream’ work space.

DB. I’m lucky enough to have a spare bedroom that doubles as my home officer. It’s filled with memorabilia from my days in the Army and the FBI and is a really fun place to work. Hanging on the wall above my computer monitor is the framed acceptance letter for the first short story I ever sold back in 2001. I have to say that never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be writing a Tom Clancy novel twenty years later!

Q. Do you have any special rituals or quirks when you sit down to write? (a neat work space, sharpened #2 pencils, legal pad, cup of tea, glass of brandy, favorite pajamas, etc.)

DB. Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee! I also take a ton of research and plot notes while I write. One of my friends gave me a leather bound portable notebook from Saddleback Leather Company as a gift at the book launch party for WITHOUT SANCTION, the first book in my Matt Drake series. I absolutely love it. I can take it with me anywhere, the leather exterior wraps around replaceable notebooks, and I use a different notebook for each novel. As far as writing tools go, the Pilot G-2 #10 is the best pen every created. Period!

Q. Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?

DB. My wife and I are high school sweethearts, and we’ve moved 16 times in the 23 years we’ve been married. We spent about half of my 10 years in the Army living overseas, and we traveled extensively. She and I dove on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and our kids have been sled riding in the foothills of the Alps in Austria. Our life really has been an adventure, and I’m so grateful I get to spend it with her.

Q. What tools do you begin with? Legal pad, spiral notebook, pencils, fountain pen, or do you go right to your keyboard?

DB. I usually begin with a sense of terror that another book is due, and I don’t feel prepared to write it. But I don’t think that’s what you were asking! Before I start writing, I normally take a lot of notes in the notebook I mentioned before or a yellow legal pad. I wrote down things like plot summaries, questions I have, motivations, important research tidbits, etc. Then I hit the keyboard. Many of my books have multiple POVs and I keep each of these as separate word files until I’m done with the first draft and ready to figure out the scene sequence. I usually try to start a writing session with an overview of where the scene needs to go with a focus on goal, motivation, and conflict. Then it’s time to pound the keyboard!

Q. Do you have a set time each day (or night) to write?

DB. Until very recently I was still working a day job in addition to writing. Because of this, I had to be very intentional about my writing time. On weekdays, I would get up at five and write for an hour or so before work and then again for an hour or so at the end of the day before bed. On the weekends, I would spend most of each day Saturday and Sunday writing. Now that I’ve transitioned into writing full time, I still do two writing sessions a day but they are now morning and then early afternoon after my workout. I’ve found that it feels less intimidating to break my daily word goal into two more easily achieved chunks rather than trying to crank them all out in one sitting.

Q. What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?

Enjoy Part 2 of this Interview  June 25th


My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    January: Madeline Hunter, February: Mike Lupica, March: Lee Matthew Goldberg, May: Jenny Colgan, June: Don Bentley writing for Tom Clancy.
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  On the home page, enter your email address.  Thanks!