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Writing Popular Fiction Alum Chosen to Write Tom Clancy Jack Ryan Jr. Thriller

5/14/20 Story Update: Don Bentley has been chosen to write a Tom Clancy Jack Ryan Jr. thriller. It is scheduled to come out in June 2021.

Don Bentley, an alumnus of Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction graduate program, recently sold his novel, “Without Sanction,” to Penguin Random House. 

“Without Sanction” is the first installment in a two-book series. It is an espionage mystery following Matt Drake, a Defense Intelligence Agency operative who has returned home from Syria and is dealing with survivor’s guilt after breaking a promise that cost three people their lives and crippled his best friend. 

Bentley, who has an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering and spent a decade as an Army Apache helicopter pilot, first found out about Seton Hill’s Writing Popular Fiction program after reading a novel by Maria V. Snyder. Snyder had earned an undergraduate degree in meteorology before attaining her master’s in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill. Following a conversation with Snyder, Bentley decided Seton Hill’s “unabashedly genre-focused writing program” may be the missing piece in his quest to sell his first novel. 

"Incredible instructors were part of what I expected to find at the program, but what I didn’t count on was how much value I’d draw from my fellow students."

The program allowed Bentley to learn about himself and his craft while creating his thesis novel. One of the program’s most valuable attributes for Bentley was peer feedback. He says, “incredible instructors were part of what I expected to find at the program, but what I didn’t count on was how much value I’d draw from my fellow students.” Bentley’s first critique partner from Seton Hill actually remains his critique partner to this day. 

After graduating, Bentley took his thesis novel to the ThrillerFest writers conference in New York. He did not immediately sell the novel, but did attract the attention of Barbara Poelle from the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, who encouraged him to write another novel and send it to her when it was finished. When he did, she immediately offered representation, and after several months of revision, “Without Sanction” was sold in a two-book deal. 

Bentley’s journey to selling his first novel lasted 17 years. He says, “there are many defining moments in my journey as a writer, and my time as Seton Hill ranks as one of the most important.”