Don Bendell is a top-selling author of 25 books, a television pilot, and a successful feature film, with over 2,500,000 copies of his books, mainly novels, in print worldwide. He is also a successful screenwriter, producer, director, actor, stuntman, talk show host, cowboy, poet, speaker, political pundit, editorialist, and martial arts Grandmaster. Skilled in tracking since childhood, the former US Army Special Forces (Green Beret) officer, big game guide, and avid bow hunter, is often called on, and has had success, searching for missing hikers, hunters, prized animals, and fugitives.
A 7th degree black belt Grandmaster in 4 different martial arts and black sash instructor in Muay Thai, as well, Don is a 1995 inductee into the International Karate Hall of Fame and 1996 inductee into the Martial Arts Museum of America and owns and operates 2 successful karate schools in southern Colorado. He was previously on the National Advisory Board of the American Indian Registry for the Performing Arts along with such notables as Burt Reynolds, Wayne Newton, Will Sampson, and Jonathan Winters. In 2007, Don was highly-honored in a speech by US Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Nicholson along with NFL Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway. He has worked extensively with Vietnamese Montagnard refugees and on Montagnard issues and has also been listed in Marquis' WHO'S WHO IN AMERICA and WHO'S WHO IN ENTERTAINMENT ever since 1992. From December of 2001-2003, he was President of the Rocky Mountain Chapter (Chap. 4/24) of the Special Forces Ass'n where he is a Life member, is a member of the Special Operations Ass'n, Life member of VFW, American Legion, Life member of DAV, is a 70% VA-rated Disabled Vietnam veteran, a former member of the International Platform Ass'n, and is a member of the Western Writers of America, where he was nominated for 4 prestigious SPUR Awards for 4 of his 10 popular western novels. He is also a member of the Military Writers Society of America. He was appointed to the Colorado Governor's Council on Physical Fitness by former Governor Bill Owens (R) and reappointed to the Council by current Colorado Governor Bill Ritter (D). Don has also testified for the Colorado Legislature on a bill about Search and Rescue and another bill Don had first suggested to Representative Tom Massey about economic and other incentives to attract film and TV producers to Colorado. Both bills were passed and made into state law.
A graduate with a Business degree from Colorado Christian University, Don is currently in graduate school at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix pursuing a Master of Science in Leadership along with wife Shirley, has also been a US Army Special Forces (Green Beret) officer, a licensed Colorado big-game guide and outfitter, bodyguard, executive sales rep, TV Talk show host, and radio disc jockey. He is the father of 6 grown children and grandfather of 8. Don rides a big pinto National Showhorse named Eagle, and he and wife Shirley own the Strongheart Ranch south of Florence, Colorado.
He is currently writing westerns for Berkley Books (Penguin Group-USA) and also has recently authored military thriller novels for Berkley.
Tell us about your new novel?
I am very pleased because so far it has drawn 13 five-star reviews on amazon and many are people I do not know. Several of those reviewers have compared it with the works of Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey, so I am pretty jazzed about that.
Strongheart is a historical western fiction novel about a new character, Joshua Strongheart, who is the love child of a white woman and the Lakota, or Sioux Indian who saved her from a grizzly bear. Realizing their relationship could not work, he left her to live in a white man’s world. She married a tall quiet lawman who was tough on Joshua growing up, but taught him to be a man. His mother insisted he become educated, and he even learned to love Shakespeare. Promising his father, she would insure he learned the way of his people, and she frequently sent him to Lakota villages to learn the life of the red man.
Joshua who was tall, dark, and handsome, became equally adept with a bow and arrows, knife, or six shooter. In the book, he is a Pinkerton Agent who is a courier of a message to General Jefferson Davis in Oregon who has captured Modoc chief Captain Jack. It is a very important message and carried in Strongheart’s money belt inside his fancy holster, which is stolen by stagecoach robbers in Colorado territory. Strongheart meets and is immediately attracted to a beautiful young widow whose antique wedding ring was also stolen, and it is all she had left from her late husband and little boy who both perished in a prairie fire. Strongheart gave his word to her that he would retrieve the wedding ring, and the entire book follows him in that quest keeping his word. Surviving gunfights, ambushes, and many trials, he pursues the gang to retrieve his message and the wedding ring. In the process, he and the beautiful Annabelle fall deeper in love.
How is this novel different than your previous novels?
In the nineties, I wrote ten westerns for NAL-Dutton/Signet Westerns. They were referred to as the “Colt family series.” Then, the western market fell out, and I switched to writing military thrillers for the next four books. My last one was called Detachment Delta and the hero was a US Army Special Forces sergeant named Charlie Strongheart. I liked the name and when my editor asked me to switch back to westerns, I used that name for my book title and main protagonist.
Do you ever feel like you have to defend yourself for writing "genre fiction"?
Heck no. I wrote 6 science fiction books under the pen name Ron Stillman. I have written 11 westerns, 4 non-fiction Vietnam War books, 4 modern day military thrillers, one book of poetry, one feature film, and one as yet unpublished modern day non-fiction book about my adventures tracking missing people, fugitives, and animals. I like to have a variety of interests and color in my life. I am doing exactly what I am supposed to do in life and am happy and successful. Why should I have defend that?
Why do you write westerns?
I grew up watching corny unrealistic idealistic heroes on TV and in film, such as John Wayne’s characters, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Rex Allen, the Range Rider, Zorro, Cochise, et al. They really were heavy on the principle side, but when we have such characters to emulate it makes us reach for the moon. When we do, we never end up with a handful of dirt. I have been very fortunate in my life to be a disabled Vietnam veteran, a former US Army Special Forces (Green Beret) officer, and have also been blessed enough to be long time student of the martial arts for over 44 years, a Grandmaster and a 1995 inductee into the International Karate and Kickboxing Hall of Fame. I am proud of such things, and they never would have been accomplished if not for my childhood heroes growing up. I think; no, I know, children and many adults in America need such heroes now. I am a real cowboy with my own code of the west, horses, ranch, mountains, etc. I am living what I dreamed about and pretended growing up as a kid in Akron, Ohio.
What are the difficulties and pleasures of writing a long-term series?
I have written several series. The biggest problem is that deadlines seem more important to the editor (publisher) with a series. My second book deal was for six books in a series, and they plan their releases well in advance and want them in right on time. The pleasure is job security and giving “multiple births.”
When did you know you were a writer?
When I was five years old. I was one of those children who was speaking right after coming out of the womb. I have remembered and related to relatives things that occurred when I was one year old, so knew maybe more than most five years olds. I wrote my first poetry back then.
What’s a work day like for you?
I usually awaken around 7 or 8am, do 40 crunches immediately, get up, shave, shower, feed horses, peacocks, cows. Eat breakfast. Read email, check Facebook, etc. I may do some chores around the ranch, work out, or ride my horse. Go to work at my computer. I take breaks during the day, stretch, shadow box, or get some kind of exercise. I teach martial arts two evenings per week. It helps keep my sanity as writers are prone to depression. Usually work until 1, 2, or 3am.
What’s a day off like for you?
My wife has leukemia right now, but normally, since we are both workaholics, we stop working every Saturday around 5pm. We take showers, put on nice clothes, and go out on a date. My adult kids know not to call us then. We also because of our personal religious beliefs do not do work on Sundays. We use that day to recharge our batteries, and it works. We actually get more and better work the rest of the week, by diverting ourselves on Sundays. I may saddle my horse and go mend barbed wire fence, but I do not consider that work.
If you could be anything other than writer, what would it be?
A NFL head football coach.
Any advice for new writers, especially those considering self-publishing instead of taking the traditional route to publishing?
I self-published one book and have 800 copies sitting in storage. Want to buy some? LOL. I do not suggest self-publishing ever. There is an old Broadway saying, “If it ain’t on the page, it won’t reach the stage.” Same basic principle. I feel one is better off to work on improving one’s work or ability to write. I have had 25 books published by Berkley, NAL-Dutton, Dell, all major NYC publishers. They pay me, not vice versa. I have over 2,500,000 copies of my books in print and have received advances for all and royalty checks for most. The one I self-published did nothing but cost me money.
I did write a book which I sell on my website entitled “How to Become a Published Author” and sell it in hardcopies or download online.
How do you define success?
To me, success is a journey, not a destination. I think success is taking pride in whatever work you do, which you must have a passion for, and seeing it flourish. Everybody, I think, can be Johnny Appleseed, but not everybody needs to cause apple trees to grow. There are many different kinds of seeds which can be planted by us.
What’s next for you?
I am writing the sequel to Strongheart, called Blood Feather under contract with Berkley. I have written the hardcover book Tracks of Hope, which is about my horse and me in the wilderness tracking various missing people or sometimes animals. My agent, John Talbot, is shopping a publisher.
May 5th, I graduate with my Master of Science in Leadership and am working on my last class now.
I have written a screenplay called “Yards,” and am shopping it in Hollywood.
I also am going to sponsor a contest on my blog, located at my website, www.donbendell.com where I will give an autographed copy of Strongheart to a select person who comments on the blogsite.
No matter what, I will always be writing . . . . . mainly about westerners and their stories.