Arts & Entertainment

Bona Alum Donald Then Discusses His Fifth and Sixth Novels

Donald Then, a '74 alum of St. Bonaventure University, discusses his two newest novels.

“Let me tell you something, Mr. Then. You will find in this life there is no justice.”

Those were words Donald Then’s Russian professor at St. Bonaventure University, Bohdan Tomkiw, told him more than once back in the early 1970s. And those are words that stuck with Then.

In fact, Then incorporated them into his sixth novel, Netta’s Journal.

Sign Up for E-News

Then, whose novel is due to be published at the end of February, gave some background on his title character Netta: “She grew up in Krakow, and her father was adamant that she learn languages, but he would always say to her, ‘There is no justice.’ ”

Netta’s Journal revolves around a young man and a young woman who had been raised by the same nanny, Netta. When they were young, they had been in love; then they drifted apart. As Netta is dying, she tells them she wrote a journal about her own life and challenges them to find it. As they take on her challenge, they find their love reignited.

Then added that he also incorporated experiences from his travels in France and England into Netta’s Journal. For example, when he and his wife and daughter went on a cruise on the Seine in Paris, he recalled seeing a beautiful woman walk along the river. Inspired by the City of Love, Then said he “threw her a kiss and dammit if she didn’t throw a kiss back at me.” In Netta’s Journal, Then uses that experience as the means for Netta’s brother meeting his wife, to whom he is married for 60 years.

“You write better when you write about things you know. I try to transfer all the things I’ve met along the way and transfer them to characters,” he said. “One of things I want to get across is I try to take real-life things and transfer them to characters to make it more believable.”

Then, an Air Force veteran, has enjoyed a variety of experiences. The 1974 St. Bonaventure University journalism graduate and Hellinger Award winner, once owned his own newspaper, The Sunday Challenger, which he said won hundreds of awards. He also had been a marketing officer for a Fortune 1000 company and had been on the radio in the mornings for 10 years.

Now retired, Then likes to spend his time writing novels. His fifth novel, As Sure as the Sun Rises, came out earlier this year and is a love story set during the Vietnam War. That fifth novel had its origins as the book a main character is writing in Then's first novel, That Tender Light

“The problem when you write a book is the fact that it’s very difficult to finish the novel,” he said. “Everybody I talk to says they would love to write but very few people say they finished it.”

He recalled advice he received from the late Tom Clancy, an insurance agent turned best-selling author: “Finish the damn book.”

Then continues to take Clancy's advice seriously. “You can always go back and revise. That’s what I do. I make sure I finish the book and then I go back and edit and tighten and edit and tighten and edit and tighten.”

He added he is inspired by the precise writing of Hemingway. In his spare time he substitute teaches at schools in his town of residence, Hebron, Kentucky, and he likes to discuss Hemingway and Fitzgerald with the students.

“I’m well read. I know a lot of history, and I like to impart that if I can to help people,” he said. “That’s what life’s all about.”

Then diffuses his knowledge of different subjects into his books. He makes a habit of using history and quotes from well-known authors such as T.S. Eliot.

“In any serious adult novel by me, each part has a quote that starts that section and somewhere in that section one of the characters will use that quote or the guts of that quote in dialogue,” he said. “That‘s a trademark I like to use.”

Then also incorporates his journalism training from St. Bonaventure into his work. 

“If this were a journalism class, [the first sentences of Netta’s Journal] is my lede,” he said. “I just told you in six lines what that story is about. I just wanted you to know that I haven’t forgotten my roots of journalism and how to write and report.”

In fact, Then recently posted on the St. Bonaventure University School of Journalism and Mass Communication Facebook page that he is looking for an intern to help him with research for his seventh novel. He said the research he does to make his books historically accurate takes the most amount of his time. When he is writing, if he finds he needs research on a detail but does not want to interrupt his train of thought, he will highlight it in red.

“You want to make the streets right; you want to make the food they ate proper; you want to make all these things proper so when someone reads it they don’t say, ‘That’s phony,' " he said. “If you haven’t lived it, you have to rely on secondary and tertiary sources to make your story believable, but you have to flip them to fit your dialogue.”

Then likes a challenge. Each of his books is in a different genre and features a different voice. For example, Netta’s Journal is in a Southern tone. He has written a children’s book called Spencer Mouse’s First Great Adventure. He also wrote a mystery novel, The Heart By Which We Live.

“I think that if you’re a writer you can write in any genre,” he said. “I told my wife this morning maybe I’ll write a western. I just want to prove to myself I can. That’s what I do. I have a lot of fun writing.”

# # #

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Greater Olean

Becoming English in 90 Minutes

It was our first day in the country. The smell of fish'n chips filled the air, and the Wig and Pen was the place to be as England prepared to take on Sweden in the quarterfinals of the 2018 World Cup on Saturday.  Wearing blue and yellow was a death sentence. The streets were lined with fans dressed in red who stood in pub lines extending for blocks. We had one goal: Convince the locals ...

Understanding the Tough Times at The Buffalo News Can Lead to Brighter Future for the Newspaper 

Given the fiscal state of the news industry, the changes underway at The Buffalo News are not unique. To offset revenue losses, newspapers across the nation have bid farewell to longtime reporters, eliminated once-popular sections and removed jobs that involved covering important beats, such as education, the environment and transportation. 

What makes the ...

Grandpa Practiced Sustainability

My grandpa was of the Depression Era. Sustainability wasn’t “a thing” back then — it was just the way you lived. Though he was raised in a time when you were thankful to be able to put a good meal on the table, he likely had a standard of life that we would consider average or middle class today. He didn’t grow up in a slum or shanty town, but he did understand the ...

Upcoming Events


Sun, July 22, 11:00 AM

War Veterans Park, Olean

Taste of Olean / Art in the Park

Arts & Entertainment Food & Drink

Mon, July 23, 12:00 PM

Allegany Public Library, Allegany

SBU's Quick Center ArtMobile


Mon, July 23, 2:00 PM

Olean Public Library, Olean

Ladies Social Hour

Arts & Entertainment

State Grant Wil Help Ellicottville Brewing Company Expand in Cattaraugus County

July 18, 2018

ALBANY, NY – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday announced the grand opening of Ellicottville Brewing Company's fourth location in Cattaraugus County.

The company's new 75,000-square-foot facility in Little Valley allows for the expansion of commercial production and bottling operations and the addition of 40 new full-time jobs. Ellicottville Brewing Company, which distributes its ...

Quick Center’s ArtMobile Embarks on 10th Year of Summer Visits to Area Libraries 

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — The Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts at St. Bonaventure University kicks off its 10-year anniversary this month participating in the National Summer Reading Program, making stops at public libraries across New York and Pennsylvania.

“This is one of the Quick Center’s most ambitious summers to date,” said Sean Conklin, assistant curator of the ...

Four area students receive Murphy scholarship

Four area high school graduates each recently received a $10,000 John J. Murphy Family Scholarship managed by the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation.

Tyler Lashway of Port Allegany High School; Emily Rohrs and Anna Seamon, both of Allegany-Limestone Central School; and Olean High School’s Natalie Sova each received the John J. Murphy Family Scholarship.

The $10,000 scholarship is ...

'A Day in the Life': One Transportation Supervisor Serves Portville and Olean

PORTVILLE, NY – A whiteboard with dozens of destinations and vehicle numbers written in various colors sits inside the Portville bus garage, ready to be changed at any moment. David Youngs, the transportation supervisor of the Portville and Olean School Districts, knows that before 2 almost every afternoon, he is likely to receive an email changing the entire meticulously planned ...

'A Day in the Life' Follows Della Moore of the African American Center for Cultural Development

OLEAN, NY – When Della Moore walks down the street, she greets everyone she passes and makes sure to ask, “How are you doing?” 

From the moment I joined her at the 7-Eleven on a cloudy, cold December morning until we finished making our stops along State and North Union streets, she remained ...

'Day in the Life' Follows Warehouse Selector Justus Elliot

OLEAN, NY -- For Justus Elliot, time and pace are essential. As a warehouse selector for Olean Wholesale Grocery Co-Op, most of the 21-year-old’s job calls for efficiency.

“Everything is time-based," Elliot explained. "One hundred percent is the norm, and it’s what we work for every day. If our score is less, then we are moving too slow, and we kick it into ...

Happy Veterans Day, Mom

What began as an attempt to boost her GPA soon turned into a 22-year career for my mom, Ramona Lee Discavage.

On the first day of her freshman year at St. Bonaventure University in 1989, members of the Army ROTC Seneca Battalion helped incoming freshmen move their stuff into their dorm rooms.  Afterward, they invited all of the freshmen to a lunch.

“When they described the ...

Lynn Kemp: ‘Best Soldier I Could Be’

Lynn Kemp is nearing 95 and knows he has lived a good life.

“The good Lord has been awful good to me,” recalled the lifelong resident of Shinglehouse, Pennsylvania. “I never refused an order. I tried to be the best soldier I could be. I don’t know what your relationship is with God, but mine is pretty close.”

Born Oct. 29, 1920, Lynn grew up in a home on Turkey ...

WW II museum provides role models for young people

When Steve Appleby asks area students if they know Snoop Dog, Eminem, Kanye West, the Kardashians, Parris Hilton or Miley Cyrus, they answer yes. Then Appleby will ask which of them knows Jason Dunham is, and the students will not have a clue.

Appleby will explain that Jason Dunham was a Marine from Scio, in Allegany County, New York, who was killed in Iraq in 2006 after jumping on a grenade ...