I am pleased to introduce Don Stephens, who says he has never had a bad day in his life – some just turn out better than others.
Shelagh: Please tell everyone about yourself, Don.
Don: I was born on a small farm in Nebraska; my Dad sold the farm and moved us to Chicago so I could go to the Shiner’s Crippled Children’s Hospital to have my club feet corrected. I spent nine months a year for my first five years in the hospital undergoing surgery. I spent the first two years of high school in the seminary before deciding the priesthood was not for me. Joined the Army right out of high school and spent nearly ten years (nine years, ten months and eight days) in the service. While on active duty in the Army, I competed nationally for a Division Rifle Team and was also a member of a Post Skydiving Team. I’ve made 1,400 Parachute jumps; over 1,100 of those jumps were free-falls from over 12,000 feet and 21 of the jumps were HALO jumps (HALO is a military acronym for High Altitude, Low Opening) meaning the jumper exits the aircraft from over 20,000 feet and is under 1,000 feet when the chute is deployed. I live in the northwestern suburbs of Chicago with my wife of forty-one years.
Shelagh: When did the writing bug bite?
Don: I got the writing “bug” back in the mid-eighties. A very dear friend of mine had a book published and we were talking one day and I told him I had an idea for a book that I had gotten while hunting in the Rockies. I told him I would give it to him if he wanted to write it. He said, “Write it yourself, everyone has at least one good book in them.” So I did. I wrote Bearkiller. I wrote it in long hand on legal pads, then bought a word processer and transposed the entire manuscript.
Shelagh: When you started writing, what goals did you want to accomplish? Is there a message you want readers to grasp?
Don: The only goal I really had when I started was to be able to hold my book in my hand and say, “I did it!” It took me ten years and a shoebox full of rejections to get it published. When I held the finished book in my hands, there is no describing the tremendous feeling of pride.
I’m not trying to give the reader any message…I just want them to get swept up in the story and not want to put it down until it’s over. I want them completely exhausted when they finish.
Shelagh: Briefly tell us about your latest book. Is it part of a series or stand-alone?
This is a sequel to Halo – The year is 1965 Jeff Barkil leads a six man team of highly trained special service operatives on a mission – Code Name “Tarnished Halo” – to terminate two of the Golden Triangles top drug lords. The problem, the drug lords are to be attending a meeting across the Burmese border in China. The team’s radio is destroyed during a river crossing early in the mission leaving them with no contact to the outside world. The team has to fight their way across the jungles of Laos and North Vietnam to reach their objective. Then they must rely solely on their small arms and combat expertise to fight their way back home. There is to be no option of capture or surrender and there will be no rescue operation.
Shelagh: What’s the hook for the book?
Don: I hope it would be the non-stop action.
Shelagh: How do you develop characters and setting?
Don: I relied heavily on my military background for Halo and Tarnished Halo. For Bearkiller it was my Native American Heritage and a whole lot of research.
Shelagh: Who is the most unusual/most likeable character?
Don: I would have to say the most unusual character would be Bearkiller and the most likeable would be Kelly, the CIA control officer in Halo and Tarnished Halo.
Shelagh: Do you have specific techniques to help you maintain the course of the plot?
Don: Not sure this is the right answer for this question, but I like to create an outline when I get a story idea. If I need to research an outline point, I ad the notes for that point to the outline. As I develop an outline point into the story I check it off, often as I’m writing I will get another idea to add to the outline, The outline gives me an overall idea of where the story is going and keeps me on track.
Shelagh: Do you have a specific writing style?
Don: I write like I like to read. I don’t take two or three pages to set a scene when I can do it with a paragraph. I want the action to keep flowing. When I read, I hate having to go through three pages describing the scene before I can get back to the action. I love James Michener stories, but I truly believe his stories could be told in three hundred pages instead of six hundred.
Shelagh: How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?
Don: I have to say environment/upbringing most definitely color my writing, as I mentioned before…my Native American heritage and my military and parachuting background have a profound impact on my writing.
Shelagh: Share the best review (or a portion) that you’ve ever had.
Don: I think this is the best review:
Story Telling At It’s Best:
D.J. Stephens has done an excellent job of pulling the reader right into the story with the characters! The author has given very close attention to details and has an uncanny ability to entwine accuracy within his story telling. Bearkiller is an adventure that caught my attention on the first page and drew me so deeply into the story I could not stop reading. I was one with the characters, experiencing the Native American life page after page. The story is at times raw and rough as life was in the days the Native Americans roamed free in the Montana Mountains. I held my breath through gruesome battles that were handled with delicacy for all who read. I experienced great hunts and felt the thrill of the kill! This book is full of action and adventure yet involves love and caring. Throughout the entire book I appreciated the respect the author displayed to the Native American and their beliefs. This was brought out in such a clear and tender way. I was captivated from the first page and the pace of the book remained true to the end. This is by far one of the best by a new author that I have had read. D.J. Stephens proved to be an artist with words. He took the tiniest details and made them become real to my eyes. If I were to recommend just one book from Publish America as a must read, Bearkiller would be my choice. The only disappointment I felt with this book was the fact that I came to the end and there was no more to read! When I did read the end, D.J. Stephens did not disappoint me. The story ended as well as it began and as well as it read all the way through. I walked away from this book feeling I had been blessed with a very up close and personal glimpse into the life of my ancestors. I knew when I put this book down I had just read the work or a real professional!
This was my favorite review: (From a soldier)
I have to say, up front, I am not a big reader. I picked up your book Bearkiller and I could not put it down. From start to finish it kept me reading, I even wanted to miss work just to see what Bearkiller would do next, but duty and soldiers come first, so I put the book down the first day just long enough to work and I had to finish reading it that night. The adventures were adventurous to say the least but close to realistic, the romance was relatable to the romance we pursue in our daily life, and the honor and valor in which he fought every battle is one that every soldier hopes to achieve in that split second of fate.
Thank you, for sending us a piece of your work and taking the time to sign every copy. I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future.
Eric D Honeycutt
Shelagh: What are your current projects?
Don: Working on a sequel to Death Rider
Shelagh: Where can folks learn more about your books and events?
Don: Either on my website or Authors Den:
Shelagh: Thanks for joining us today, Don.
Don: Thank you for this opportunity.