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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

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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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Interview with Mike Maden, writing for Tom Clancy


Mike Maden grew up working in the canneries, feed mills and slaughterhouses of California’s San Joaquin Valley. A lifelong fascination with history and warfare ultimately lead to a Ph.D. in political science focused on conflict and technology in international relations. Like millions of others, he first became a Tom Clancy fan after reading THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER and began his published fiction career in the same techno-thriller genre, starting with DRONE and the sequels, BLUE WARRIOR, DRONE COMMAND and DRONE THREAT. Mike’s fourth Tom Clancy novel, FIRING POINT, featuring Jack Ryan Jr., was released June 9th.
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Q. Where do you write? Do you have a special room, shed, barn, special space for your writing? (please provide a photo of you at work in your shed, room, closet, barn, houseboat….) Or tell us about your ‘dream’ work space.

MM. My office is a converted screened-in porch with a stunning view of the Smoky Mountains. We put in a giant plate glass window to capture that view and it’s a constant source of both inspiration and distraction for me as the seasons unfold before my eyes. I split my time equally between a sitting and a standing desk.

Witness the distractions (actual photos from my office/deck. My desk (seldom this uncluttered while working. My “stand up” desk (notice the hand crank). A gift from my wife after publishing my second book:

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.)

MM. Gallons of coffee and a workout at the gym (in that order) are my first morning rituals. I usually arrive at the desk late mornings where I begin the writing day with meditation and journaling. And coffee. Always more coffee. This period of time is always my least productive in terms of word count but absolutely necessary for my process. After lunch I crank out a few more words and often crash into a power nap and then really get rolling on the word count. The late evening is when the afterburners kick in; I’ve kept track of my word counts and writing times over the years and invariably 60% of my work occurs during this later period. I strongly urge all writers but particularly new ones to track their word counts. You might be surprised that your best writing doesn’t occur at either the time or place you assumed. All of us, including full-time writers, simply don’t have enough time to do everything that needs to be done. So if you are particularly time-challenged—balancing career, family, and other responsibilities against your writing time—then being as efficient as possible is absolutely necessary. Nearly every book on creativity will tell you that early mornings right after you wake up is your most creative time and many writers will tell you that they fall out of bed and onto the typewriter even before they have their first cup of coffee or tea. I’m here to tell you, that ain’t me and I have the stats to back it up. So take a week and assiduously track your writing hour-by-hour and find out when you are at your personal best as a writer and ruthlessly schedule yourself accordingly.

Q. How do you ‘get inside’ Tom Clancy’s head and write for him?

MM. The day I got the call from the series editor, Tom Colgan, and was offered the position was both the best and most terrifying day of my literary life. I’ve been a fan of Tom Clancy’s ever since I read THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. He was a giant and, in my opinion, single-handedly invented the techno-thriller genre, or at least the one we’re all familiar with. What an honor to be asked to join The Campus…but what a responsibility! It was as if Queen Elizabeth had called me up and asked me to add a play or two to Shakespeare’s First Folio. What to do? I was already writing in the genre that Tom Clancy had invented which meant I pretty much had to accept the offer, right? Otherwise, time to hang up my spurs. Except…I did have one pre-condition in my mind that would kill the deal: if I was asked to imitate Tom Clancy’s voice. It’s a huge mistake for anybody to try and imitate a wholly original voice because it simply can’t be done well and I was incredibly relieved to hear Tom Colgan warn me against trying to do so before I even had the chance to ask. This showed me that both Tom Colgan and the Clancy Estate knew exactly how to approach the problem of inviting writers into the Clancy world. I was told in no uncertain terms to write in my own voice and in my own style and I think that’s why all of the other Clancy writers have done such a great job over the years as well.

Q. Do you find your ‘voice’ creeping in when writing for another author?

MM. Absolutely—see above! The single most difficult but most necessary task of an author is to find their own unique voice. The only original thing we have to offer the world is our unique selves; the words we all use are the same, aren’t they? Have you ever read someone slavishly imitating the style of another writer? Yuck. It smacks of artifice and desperation—the act of someone utterly lacking in confidence and originality. We love writers who are original which is another way of saying that they are being their true selves on the page. There are, of course, rules—precious few, mind you—in the Clancyverse that I must obey (e.g., no one in the world recognizes Jack Ryan Junior as the son of President Jack Ryan Senior). But so long as I stay within the guardrails, I’m free to drive as fast and as violently as I care to.
And I do.

Tune in for part 2 of our chat with Mike Maden, June 19th 
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My weekly BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    March: Olivia Hawker, April: Dan Sofer, May:  Joram Piatigorsky, June: Mike Maden writing for TOM CLANCY
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Successor to Tom Clancy, an Interview with Grant Blackwood (part 2)

Part Two of my Interview with best selling author, Grant Blackwood, successor to Tom Clancy

blackwood-portrait-253x300Q. Who or what is your “Muse” at the moment ?

A. I don’t have a muse, per se. If anything, my muse is the drive to write stories that entertain readers. That’s the little voice that sits on my shoulder. Too often writers fall into the muse trap — believing that they’re creativity and productivity is at the whim of something “out there”, something fleeting. Start writing. The muse will be there.

Q. When did you begin to write seriously?

A. July of 1987, two months after I got out of the Navy. I’d been thinking about writing a book since I was eight or nine. That morning in July I caught myself on a good day. Instead of saying, “maybe tomorrow”, more »

Interview with Grant Blackwood, writing for Tom Clancy

While I was reading and reviewing Under Fire by Grant Blackwood (Tom Clancy) my burning question was:  ‘how do you write so well that we believe the iconic Tom Clancy is really the one putting pen to paper?’  These authors who write after the death of a beloved writer, like Ludlum, Parker, Fleming or Clancy, are really talented.  To be able to put their own unique ‘voice’ on the shelf and write so successfully for another author?  It boggles this writer’s mind!

Grant at work on his latest vampire/romance/thriller joined by his two consultants.”

Grant at work on his latest vampire/romance/thriller joined by his two consultants.”

Q. Where do you write? Do you have a special room, shed, barn, special space for your writing? (please provide a photo/s of your shed, room, closet, barn….) Or tell us about your ‘dream’ work space.

A. I have an office in our house. As we’ve recently moved, I’m still in the process of getting things decorated. That said, here’s the view I have when I work in the morning…The wall behind my computer is intentionally barren; when I’m writing more »

Tom Clancy * Under Fire by Grant Blackwood * A Review

reviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing Rating: 5 out of 5 quills A Review  UNDER FIRE by Grant Blackwood
for Tom Clancy

When I interview Grant Blackwood later this year, my burning question will be:  ‘how do you write so well that we believe the iconic Tom Clancy is really the one putting pen to paper?  These authors who write after the death of a beloved writer, like Ludlum, Parker, Fleming or Clancy, are really talented.  To be able to put their unique ‘voice’ on the shelf and write so successfully for another author?  It boggles this writer’s mind!

I’m the first to admit that espionage, shoot ’em ups are not my favorite pleasure read.  But UNDER FIRE engaged me from the start with its beautiful balance of modern politics, terrorist groups, and organizations like the CIA and even more covert groups. The story moves at a good clip and I didn’t want to skip ahead.  more »