Author Ben Oliver is making up stories almost every day of the week, thinking up exciting adventures and daring heroes. There is nothing more fulfilling for him than to put these stories into written words for others to read. Sixth grade student Max recently had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his first book for kids, Kitt Pirate: Snaggletooth's Treasure (Thunder Peak Publishing, August 2011 print and ebook editions).
Since you're writing for children ages 9-12, tell us a little about what you were like as a child.
I grew up in the foothills of the Black Forest in Germany. It is a very rural and outdoorsy area that used to get completely snowed in during winters. So, I spent most of my summers hiking and adventuring in the forests, trying to learn more about the animal and plant life of the area, while also discovering and exploring caves and forgotten ancient ruins, some of which were still leftovers from the Roman Empire some 2000 years ago.
Photo courtesy Ben Oliver
My father instilled a love for books in me. He's always been a big reader himself, and during the cold winter months I would always spend a lot my free time reading.
Who was your favorite author as a child? What genre did you prefer?
When I was a child I loved adventure stories and mysteries. I remember that I was fascinated by the books of Jules Verne and his fantastic stories, like "Journey to the Center of the Earth" or "20,000 Leagues under the Sea".
I was also a big fan of a book series called "The Three Investigators" by Robert Arthur, which is a bit like "The Hardy Boys." This series got me interested in mysteries, and as I grew older I began to devour Agatha Christie's entire body of detective mysteries.
What was your inspiration for Kitt Pirate?
While my son, Lucas, went through elementary school I often helped in his school's library, something I enjoyed tremendously. There, I saw a lot of great books and stories and liked the idea of chapter books. I read a lot of Mary Pope-Osbourne's "Magic Treehouse" stories and liked the concept of short books that were adventurous and easy enough to be read by young readers without intimidating them.
One day, while seeing my son in his Halloween pirate costume, I thought to myself that stories about a young pirate captain who faces all sorts of adventures could actually be very interesting. And so, Kitt Pirate was essentially born.
Is this your first book? How long did it take to write Kitt Pirate?
Kitt Pirate is not my first book, although it is the first book I wrote for children. I have actually written ten more books that I published under a different name.
Writing Kitt Pirate did not take very long, two or three weeks, perhaps, but polishing it took a long time. When I first write a story, I usually just write things as they come to my mind. I do not worry about style or grammar too much. For me it is important to get my thoughts and the story into the computer before my ideas are lost.
Then I go through the book over and over again, and look at it from different points of view. I will read it and check only to see if the story flows properly, or if there are gaps that I need to fill. Then I will read it again and look only for word repetitions, for example, to make sure the writing stays interesting through the entire book. Then on another pass I will look at my sentences and make sure the grammar is good, and that sentences are not too long and that they are easy to understand. During another read I will look out for verbs, and in every sentence I will ask myself if there is a verb that may be stronger, that may say what I am trying to say better than the one I first wrote.
This takes a lot of time but with every step you can see the story get better until in the end I have a story that I feel is as good as it can be.
What are your plans for Kitt Pirate? Will he be back in more adventures?
I do have a number of more ideas for exciting adventures that Kitt and his crew could face but I have not started writing any of them yet. I am sure, however, that sometime soon, Kitt will come knocking on my door and tell me to get going. I am sure he won't be too happy to be the star of only one story, even if it is a mighty cool one.