Monday, June 11, 2012

Ben Kane, author of Spartacus, Guest Post and Book Giveaway (ends 6/25) U.S./Canada

If you read recognize Spartacus yesterday, you will recognize the author of my guest post today.  I am welcoming Ben Kane, the illustrious author of this great work of historical fiction. 

The processes I go through when writing

As an author, I consider myself a lucky man. Other authors might well feel the same ― I suspect that they do. The first reason is that I now have a job that I absolutely adore. I work for myself, from home. My commute is a ten second walk from my back door to my office. But best of all, thhe history of the world is my oyster. I get to sit and read about times past, and then to make up stories set in periods and places of my choosing. Life wasn’t always like this. I used to have a ‘real’ job, as a veterinarian. I did that for sixteen years. Once I had written my first novel, however, things changed forever, and in a good way.

The whole process of learning to write and to edit, being disciplined enough to do it every day, taking criticism from my beta readers and then my agent, gave me a new confidence in my abilities. Life’s velocity increased even more when I secured a deal for three books with a major publisher. Suddenly, my hobby/obsession had become a way of earning my living. Over the next year, it became my fulltime day job, and I had to develop a routine that would allow me to produce a novel every twelve months, rather than whenever I chose.
Obviously, it’s vital to have a good plotline. I like to think that I can now spot one of them a long way off. Single standout events (e.g. the eruption of Vesuvius and its effect on Pompeii) are often the eye catcher, but there has to be a compelling story filled with interesting characters to go along with it (cf. Robert Harris’s amazing novel, Pompeii). I choose a time period ― usually Rome ― and then, using a textbook that covers ancient history in general detail, I find an event, a person, or a war that I’d like to write about. Spartacus and his rebellion are a good example. I then buy up every text that I can find on that specific topic. I read nearly all of them from cover to cover; if there are more than ten, I skim read some of the texts. I’ve learned to make copious notes as I read. I didn’t use to, and discovered that I couldn’t remember half of what I’d read (sounds obvious, eh?). Even if I could, I wasn’t able to find it in any of the textbooks. I go online and find photos of some of the places in the book. 
If I can, I pay a visit to the country itself. Fortunately, I have already been to many of Rome’s ancient sites, which serves a reasonable memory bank for the information needed in my books.

Once I’ve finished my researching, I start writing a plot. I come up with at least four characters, but usually six to eight. I make sure that I have characters to tell both sides of the story i.e. from the Roman side as well as from Spartacus’ side. I usually write down the physical characteristics and traits of each person, so that I have an image of them in my head. I record the main events in the book, say, the things that really happened. Next I begin to build the story around them. It might sound a bit sad, but I make a list of about twenty chapters, and I work out what’s going to happen in each one. I do this for good reason because with my second novel, The Silver Eagle, I lost focus, taking the story away from its central theme. I ended up having to rewrite 25% of the book – twice! I have tried hard since not to fall into that trap again. Of course many of the final chapters don’t end up exactly as they were planned, but that doesn’t matter. What’s important is to have a clear plan before beginning to write.

Often the hardest thing about writing a novel for me is starting it, because of that sense of ‘having to produce the goods’. Also, the opening scene has to be very strong. It needs to convey a powerful sense of time and place, and hook the reader within the first page, so I work hard at establishing that. The first scene can take many days to write, with a much lower ‘words per day’ total than normal. This can’t be helped. With a good foundation, the book will flow much better. Once I have the first 10,000 words or so written, I start to feel more confident about my novels. My writing speed picks up, and I usually average at least 1500 words per day, 5 days a week. I’ve got in the habit of showing my editor what I’ve written by the time I get to about 30-40,000 words. I have to make sure that she’s happy! Once she’s given me the thumbs up, I don’t stop until I’m done. I can’t seem to reach an average time to write my novels, but the last two I’ve written have taken about six months each. The two before that took about nine months each. Maybe I’m getting the hang of it!

I have really good news.  One of my readers will win a copy of the book Spartacus.  This giveaway is only open to my U.S. and Canada readers, and you will have the choice of either paperback or e-book.  All you need to do is enter the rafflecopter form below by June 25 9:00 P.M. Pacific time.  Best of wishes to everyone!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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