Middle grade author Ben Gartner is back with me today. During this visit, we’re chatting about the second book in The Eye of Ra series, Sol Invictus. It’s a mix of time travel, historical fiction, action and adventure.
During his virtual book tour, Ben will be awarding a $20 Amazon or Barnes and Noble (winner’s choice) gift card to a lucky randomly drawn winner. To be entered for a chance to win, use the form below. To increase your chances of winning, feel free to visit his other tour stops, and enter there, too!
Ben Gartner is the award-winning author of The Eye of Ra adventure series for middle graders (ages 8-12). His books take readers for a thrilling ride, maybe even teaching them something in the meantime. Ben can be found living and writing near the mountains with his wife and two boys.
Welcome back, Ben. Please tell us about your newest release.
Thanks for having me, Lisa! My newest release is Sol Invictus, book two of The Eye of Ra series. Book 1, The Eye of Ra, came out last February 2020 and now book 2 is out February 2, 2021. Yes, book 2 on 2.2.
Sol Invictus follows siblings John and Sarah as they travel back in time to an ancient Roman frontier town in modern-day Switzerland. They’re thrust into a boiling melting pot of clashing cultures and must unite the Caesar of Gaul with his enemy, an Alemanni (Germanic) “barbarian” or probably never return home again. Or have a home to return to . . .
What inspired you to write this book?
I started The Eye of Ra as a fun collaboration project with my two sons who were nine and eleven at the time. We worked on the overall characters and story together and that was definitely a joy. The act of creating with them was certainly a “the journey is the prize” kind of endeavor. But the more we worked on it, the more we realized we had something genuinely appealing that filled a gap in the market. When they were younger, we all really liked The Magic Tree House chapter books. But as they aged out of those, there wasn’t really anything comparable for the middle grade crowd. So, we came up with The Eye of Ra about two siblings who travel through time. It’s more sophisticated than MTH but hopefully maintains a similar vibe of adventure, discovery, and learning.
Excerpt from Sol Invictus:
A twig snapped in the forest. Crocus’s body went taut. He looked around and picked up a suitable fist-size rock. Then he whistled his warbling birdsong. No reply.
John had been staring into the fire, and the night had grown dark quickly, so his eyes wouldn’t focus into the inky blackness surrounding them. Snowflakes appeared in the aura of the flames and sizzled into nonexistence. His breath puffed out as a visible cloud and dissipated. He perked up his ears, listening, motionless.
Then John’s breath caught in his throat. Two red eyes glowed at the edge of the tree line. “Th-there!” He pointed, but as soon as he did, the hovering fireballs disappeared.
Crocus spun in the direction John had pointed, but it was too late.
A second later, an ominous howl echoed through the canyon, a lament-filled ballad of loneliness.
“Wolves.” Crocus put his hand to his mouth to channel his yell: “Aurora! Sarah!”
John swallowed. Another scuffle of branches in the dark made him yip with fear. Crocus heard that one too, the stone cocked back in his fist and ready to be hurled at the approaching wild creature. John imagined bared fangs lunging for them, claws like knives ripping at their clothes. Would Crocus’s little rock make any difference? Who would the wolves attack first? Probably the scrumptious-looking smaller one, right? The outline of a human appeared, and John exhaled in relief. Aurora entered the circumference of the firelight.
What’s the next writing project?
I’m currently working on book 3 of the series where John and Sarah will travel to central Mexico in the early sixteenth century on a quest that puts them in Tenochtitlan and among the people we commonly refer to as the Aztec (they called themselves the Mexica). In book 3, much more will be revealed about the overall series arc and it’s the most ambitious project of the series. It’s been a lot of fun, though challenging.
What is your biggest challenge when writing a new book? (or the biggest challenge with this book)
Time and patience. I wish I had more of both. I truly love to write and to think and to work on books. I just wish I could spend more time doing it. It’s a ton of fun.
If your novels require research – please talk about the process. Do you do the research first and then write, while you’re writing, after the novel is complete and you need to fill in the gaps?
The Eye of Ra series is primarily historical fiction (with adventurous twists). Obviously, since time travel is a part of it, there are fantasy elements too, but the meat of the story is historically accurate to the time John and Sarah visit. So, yes, I do a lot of research. The bulk of it happens before I write or even outline. I read and research, looking for crevices in the story of our humanity that I want to dive into for further understanding. For example, with book 1, the idea of the very first pyramid intrigued me. It doesn’t get nearly as much air time as the more famous pyramids of Giza, and yet the Pyramid of King Djoser in Saqqara is arguably much more influential. Or for book 2, while researching the Roman frontier in central Europe, I came across the story of Crocus. The history is a little fuzzy, but the Romans called him the “King” of the Alemanni at one point, a Germanic tribesmen who was an enemy of Rome. And yet, on his deathbed, the Caesar of Gaul, Constantius, is reported to have consulted with Crocus on who should take his spot on the throne, leading to the reign of Constantine who was a much more famous and well-known ruler. The fact that Crocus may have had a hand in shaping history so dramatically, and we know so little about him, intrigues me. And that is where the writer’s imagination can fill in the gaps.
And back to your question, I also constantly research for details to fine-tune the story and make sure I’m being accurate with clothing, food, that sort of thing. I also use subject matter experts as beta readers to keep me honest.
What’s your writing space like? Do you have a particular spot to write where the muse is more active? Please tell us about it.
I need quiet and no distractions while I let my creative mind take over. I know some people listen to music or can write on the bus—that is NOT me. To that end, I often do a lot of writing on my iPad (with keyboard), then do more of my research and editing at a desktop. Fewer distractions with the iPad.
What authors do you enjoy reading within or outside of your genre?
Oh, there are so many to cite! I encourage readers to check out my goodreads recommendations. In terms of 2021 debuts, at the time of this writing, I really enjoyed The Last Shadow Warrior by Sam Subity, Amari and the Night Brothers by BB Alston, and Alone by Megan E. Freeman, to name just a few. I also loved Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk in 2020, then read all of her books. I will read anything she publishes. The Magical Imperfect by Chris Baron knocked my socks off. And Cleo Porter and the Body Electric put me on the Jake Burt fan train. And City Spies by James Ponti was awesome. And and and… I could go on and on, but I’ll stop myself there!
Anything additional you want to share with the readers today?
I love to hear from readers, teachers, parents, librarians, counselors, and the community. I try to engage with all of them, so don’t be shy about reaching out! I’m more active on Twitter than the other social platforms, but my email is right on my website if you ever want to get in touch. Hearing from the audience is a part of the conversation a writer needs!
Thank you for coming back to Reviews and Interviews!
Thank you so much for having me!