Friday, June 3, 2011



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(1) After reading your bio and combing through your site I understand that you have had an extensive military career. I commend you for your hard work in defending our country and would like to ask if there is anything you'd like to say to the soldiers today?

Yes, I would like to say “Thank you,” to all our fine young fighting men and women fighting for the cause of freedom, especially my two youngest sons who are decorated NCOs and combat veterans in the US Army Special Forces, including Iraq and Afghanistan. I would also ask God to bless the families of those American heroes for their family’s legacy of honor and valor.

I also would like to thank my fellow Vietnam veterans, who are unlike any other group of veterans in history. I am very proud to be a disabled Vietnam veteran and got so hurt one time long ago, when a loved one in an argument said that with my background and experience and training as a Green Beret, I frightened them. I am a warrior, not a murderer, and have fought so many years to prove that Vietnam veterans are usually spiritual, well-adjusted, men of law, and contributors to civilized society. That comment was as fair to me and other Vietnam vets as telling a woman that she has all the tools and equipment to be a hooker and then wondering aloud if she is. It is so typical of how Vietnam veterans are so regarded and unfairly labeled in this nation because of Hollywood myths and stereotypes that I just want to tell my fellow VN vets “Welcome Home and God bless you.”

(2) Your wife Shirley, is not only a beautiful woman but a remarkable one. Can you tell us about her and how she feels about your writing?

Yes, she is truly remarkable. Two months ago, after almost dying several times this year from crises due to Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia with Lymphoid Blast Crisis, she was sent home to die “in less than a few weeks” by three oncologists. She would not believe their prognosis and believed more strongly in the power of prayer and in fighting back. She went to Houston, Texas to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and got placed on an experimental drug called Ponatinib, and now she is in remission and getting a bone marrow/stem cell transplant starting in June which can cure her completely.

She and my editor, Tom Colgan, are the only people I listen to with critiques about my writing. I suggest that serious writers follow this example. Even a twin brother trying to spare your feelings will not be totally honest if your writing is not your best. It means nothing when many friends and relatives tell you that your book is brilliant, nothing. My friend and editor, Tom Colgan at Berkley Books, has a powerful reputation in the literary world. He has been the editor for Tom Clancy, W.E.B. Griffin, and other best-selling authors and that rep means the world to him. He insists on my best work only and does not worry about stroking my ego. My wife is my best friend, business partner, and will not back down one inch if she is trying to get me to strive to write something even better. She often says things like, “That is great, Honey. I cannot wait until you get to the final finished version of it that you will be proud to send Tom.” I want to strangle her when she does that, but actually I really love her for it. Everything I ever accomplish in life is simply me trying to show off for Shirley. All she has ever done is believe in me, which as a man, makes me want to scale the highest mountains to show worthiness.

(3) Upon first beginning the book "Strongheart" I noticed a dedication in there to your daughter Brooke which is absolutely beautiful. She seems to be an extremely strong woman as well. What's it like having all these phenomenal women in your life?

As if Brooke has not had enough trials in her life, Brooke just recently had a miscarriage, but she is a powerfully strong Christian and will get past it through prayer and discernment. Sadly, there is a point in our lives when it is no longer advisable to get pregnant and that will be for her and her husband to decide, but maybe they may consider adopting. I don’t know, but I do know she will survive. She always does.

My other daughter Brenna is also a survivor and also has MS, but like Brooke, it never becomes an excuse, just a challenge to grow even more. She is a marketing executive with Hanes Socks, a division of Sara Lee Corporation. Prior to that, with a degree in mass comm, Brenna was a floor director and news editor at CNN News in Atlanta. She is also, on the side, a professional photographer, especially great with portraiture. She and her husband are also parents and rescue sled dog types, such as malamutes.

Unfortunately, my ex-wife and I had a very nasty divorce and our relationship since has been horrible. As it always happens, the children are the ones who suffer the most and it was no different with my daughters and one son growing up. They have had a lot of challenges, but Brenna too is a devout Christian and a very strong and extremely impassioned woman. I am equally proud of her. As so often happens, there is anger and resentments that get in the way in some such relationships, but I love my children very much and pray for each daily.

My sister Bette is eleven years older than me, so is almost like another mother, especially since my mom passed at 92 a couple years ago. She is a very strong woman, a retired music teacher in Pueblo, Colorado about a half hour east of me, and she too has overcome many obstacles in her life. She has been inducted in several halls of fame herself, including the Colorado Music Educators Hall of Fame. Looking at 80 in her next decade, Bette has not slowed down since retiring and works tirelessly with theater and other musical projects. My mom was still teaching Sunday school when she was ninety.

My stepsister Kathy Schmidt of Fairfield, California is like another sister to me and just one or two years apart in age we are also very close. She too has been through many challenges, including having her first husband murdered leaving her with a houseful of young children. Kathy is one of the toughest yet most sensitive people I know, and I love her like a sister.

Three common denominators that Shirley and all these woman have is a deep and abiding faith in God, a determination to survive, and a mental and emotional toughness made of not steel, but titanium.

(4) Can you give us some insight into the world of a younger Don Bendell and what his family life was like before all the success?

We are the sum total of our life experiences and the lessons we learned from them. I am a VERY FIRM believer in experiencing whatever you write about, or being one of the best researchers around. For example, I frequently will give my main protagonist a drinking problem, as I have been a recovering alcoholic for 42 and a half years. I know what those hangovers were like, the stomach pains, soreness, headaches, and that horrible sweet-sour fur on the tongue taste in the morning. I have been through twelve step meetings and lots of counseling, the guilt and lonely feelings, and things like trying to fish for answers from friends about what you did the night before because you had a memory blackout, the “coyote women,” and so on.

I wanted to be a writer and actor for as long as I can remember. I was always full of adventure and enthusiasm and had a wild imagination. My life started out through the sixth grade on North Hill in Akron, Ohio in a very rough middle class and lower middle class neighborhood, and my days were filled with dreaming about being a cowboy, an American Indian warrior, a soldier, always a hero of some kind. I was strongly influenced by John Wayne characters, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, the Range Rider, the Lone Ranger, Zorro, Cochise, and so on. I started reading John Steinbeck, Hemingway, London, and others while still in grade school. I also joined an American Indian fancy dancing group when I was very young, made my own costumes, and became steeped in Indian lore.

My father was a scoutmaster and explorer post advisor, so scouting became a big part of my life. I loved the woods and wilderness and found a lemonwood longbow in grade school and started shooting and bowhunting then, and learned tracking and stalking every chance I could get to get in the woods. Performing Indian dances, I also became addicted to applause back then. At the start of seventh grade, my life changed. After 24 years of marriage, my parents divorced, and I ended up with the stepdad from hell and stepmom from hell, and my life changed significantly. I basically raised myself. The good thing was that my dad moved to the country in Tallmadge, Ohio, and my mom lived by a big lake, Turkeyfoot Lake outside Akron in an area called Portage Lakes. I got to do many hours of fishing, bowfishing, snorkeling, and bowhunting and slept outside most nights throughout middle school and high school.

The other big influence when I was young was my great Uncle Roy Bendell, who was previously the manager of the Lyceum Theater in Chicago. He was a big man, over 6 foot 5 with a deep-booming voice and a vocabulary so extensive that it would have confused Webster. He toured the country giving speeches, in character, as Abraham Lincoln and a few other historical notables. His occasional visits and stories always had a profound influence on me and turned me on to words, grammar, and story-telling.

(5) What are you most thankful for in your life today?

My relationship with God; my long-term sobriety (without which I would have no wife or children or home); my wife/business partner/mistress/ best friend/ and riding partner of 30 plus years, Shirley; my children, all six of them, my grandchildren all eight (almost nine) of them, the tremendous material blessing from God to own and be the steward of a ranch which is a large parcel of land in a beautiful mountain valley in southern Colorado, my horses, cattle, peacocks, dogs, and cats. I love being my own boss and writing when I want to and being able to also own and operate martial arts schools to help keep me grounded and keep my sanity as a writer, since writers are very prone to depression.

(6) Taking into account that your current book "Strongheart" is about a man with both Native American and Caucasian backgrounds is there a reason you chose him as your hero for this story?

I am a cherry cupcake with vanilla frosting, red on the inside and white on the outside. My adopted Lakota name Wanzi Wanbli means “One Eagle.” As mentioned, I have been very much into American Indian lore since early childhood. My westerns are always very pro-Indian, hence Joshua Strongheart.

(7) What is the writing process like for you? Is there a lot of research involved?

OMG! Do I ever research! I try to ride my horse over every inch of ground I write about, so people experience being in the saddle on that mountain ridgeline or desert watering hole. I spend many hours researching local histories and will take real characters and anecdotes and weave my story through them. Many parts of stories are variations of experiences I have been through, too.

Many writers suffer from “writer’s block. I don’t. I have deadlines. I make myself write when unmotivated and this will get my juices flowing. Once they are, I toss whatever I wrote by forcing it. Once I start writing, I have to force myself to stop when my eyes are getting blurry. As much as I have heard people, especially men, whine about it, I have never actually seen anybody die from working too hard.

(8) How old were you when you first realized your love for writing?

As young as I can remember. I was either cursed or blessed by God with a genius IQ (157) with most of my aptitude towards the arts, so words and I became friends probably in kindergarten.

(9) What can we expect next from the wonderful world of Don Bendell?

Riding my big pinto Eagle, I have done a lot of tracking of missing hikers, fugitives, and missing show animals as a volunteer. Many people asked me to write about some of these experiences and tell my side of these stories, some of which were major national news stories. I did. So later this summer, late July I believe, Gold Minds Publishing, LLC of Nashville, will release worldwide my hardcover non-fiction book TRACKS OF HOPE which will probably retail for $25 to $30. It is exactly 100,000 words in length. Besides the obvious like bookstores and amazon and B & N, I do know that book will also be available for purchase on my

Next May, 2012, Berkley will release worldwide the sequel to STRONGHEART, my current western novel which I am writing now. It is entitled BLOOD FEATHER.

(10) Is there any advice that you'd like to give to other aspiring authors?

If you MUST write. I mean if you have a burning passion to put stories down on a page, and nobody can deter you, because it is something you feel strongly compelled to do. Then you are indeed a writer. However, if you met those other requirements, and if you have also learned to develop the discipline to make yourself sit there and type when a million distractions could lure you away, and do the hardest work you have ever done, yet you sit and make yourself do it. If you are willing to grow from rejection, instead of harboring resentments. If you are willing to feel things in life, even the painful experiences, and figure out how to translate them to the written word for the entertainment, education, or betterment of readers. If you are willing to ask God to look over your shoulder and give you tips to become better, then you will indeed become a very successful author, screenwriter, or playwright.

If any of your readers or aspiring authors live anywhere near Waco, Texas, I will be one of the three featured author/speakers at the Read West Foundation’s FREE conference at the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame in Waco on Saturday, June 11th. Please come by and shake hands and ask any questions about writing that you would like.

Thank you for asking me to do this interview. I was deeply humbled and honored by your request.

Don Bendell

Buy Don’s newest westernSTRONGHEART now In bookstores everywhere.
©2010, Kitty, all rights reserved.

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