About W. Ruth Kozak:
Ruth was writing stories from an early age, beginning with plays she wrote for classmates and friends in primary school. When she was a 16 year old high school student she learned about a fascinating character in history class: Alexander the Great, and he became her passion. By the end of high school she’d written an Alexander themed novel. From high school she followed her dream of becoming a journalist and went to work for the Vancouver Sun newsroom as a copy-runner (today “intern”) but marriage and children deterred her from this career. She never quit writing though.
Her love of travel took her to Europe, where she pursued her interest in Alexander and ended up living in Greece for several years. She started writing SHADOW OF THE LION as a young adult novel about Alexander’s little known son and heir, Alexander IV, but soon discovered it was too political a story and started over with multiple points of view. The journey, with research and writing, living part-time in Greece took nearly 15 years until July 2014 when the novel was published in the first of two volumes titled Shadow of the Lion: Blood on the Moon. Part two, Shadow of the Lion: The Fields of Hades, will be out in 2016.
Ruth is currently working on another historical novel and is a full time writer, travel journalist and writing instructor.
What inspires you to write?
Writing has always seemed to come easy for me, right from when I was a young kid. Perhaps it’s my vivid imagination and sense of adventure. I started out writing plays and in 2000 had a play produced that I had originally written in 1953. But it was historical fiction that has really grabbed me since about the age of 12, first writing about pioneers and Indians, then the Romans and Biblical themes, until at age 16 I learned about Alexander the Great in a high school history class.
I wanted to be a journalist when I got out of highschool but ended up working in the news library. My interest in journalism developed into travel writing when I realized I needed pubishing experience to get a book published. I’ve been a published travel journalist since 1982. I also teach writing classes.
Tell us about your writing process.
For my novel, I didn’t write chronologically and once I had the idea and theme, I had the beginnning and end written. It helped that I was writing SHADOW OF THE LION from a historical time-line. And as soon as I got the Theme I was able to forge ahead. For my current w.i.p. which is mainly fiction with a bit of history and historical characters added, I have a rough outline. I’m actually finding this first-person fiction historical more difficult to write than Shadow of the Lion.
For SHADOW I had a biography file and bios of all the major characters with shorter sketches for the secondary characters. As most of them are historical characters I did research on them and then fictionalized what I thought they were like according to what the historians had written about them. There are only a couple of fictional characters in SHADOW. I like to ‘tag’ real people to get a truer sense of what my characters might have been like and that makes it easier for me to develop them. I did a lot of observations and note-taking, even for lesser characters like the soldiers and cadets. For settings, I visited as many places that I could in Asia Minor and Greece to get an accurate idea of the lay of the land, sensory and visual details. This past March I was invited on a trip to Egypt by Egyptian Tourism and because of the novel was given a two day trip to Alexandria which is one of the settings in the book. For my current novel, the opening setting is on the Salisbury Plain near Old Sarum which I’ve visited a couple of times. From there, the story moves across Europe and down to Macedonia, Greece. I’ve been to most of the places and Google Earth has helped me visualize the terrain where I haven’t traveled.
Research is an important part of writing historicals but know when to stop and how much to use. Generally I research bits a time otherwise I get carried away. And only use what is necessary to forward the plot and help develop characters and settings.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I believe it is important for your characters to be as real as you can make them. I spend a lot of time getting to know my characters and developing them. After my novel was finished, I had two critique readers go through it. One day one of these readers called and asked “How are the doing?” I thought she meant our mutual friends. “No,” she said, “I mean the characters in the book. I miss them!” Then I knew I had nailed it and made them as real as I could. Since then other readers have told me the same. I have to admit that since the book is finished I really miss them too!
For the current novel, Dragons in the Sky, which is a first person narrative, I actually heard this girl’s voice telling me her story. It is almost like a past-life regression, a story linking the Brythonic Celts with the Greeks.
What advice would you give other writers?
Do your homework. Try to visit the locales of your stories and don’t make things up (unless you are writing fantasy, but even then you need to make your settings believable and real to the reader). Don’t give up. Do the work. Do your research and try to avoid distractions when you are writing. (I don’t have the TV on until late at night.) I do find the internet a distraction. But I have learned, from the time I spent in Greece while writing SHADOW, that my best times are 11 am to 4 pm for fresh writing and I try to stick to that schedule.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
I knew I didn’t want to self–publish SHADOW OF THE LION because it was a difficult book to write and I consider it to be ‘literary fiction’. But don’t get discouraged with the publishing business. I just kept sending it out and suddenly one day “Bingo!” and a publisher in UK accepted it. (MediaAria-CDM, Bristol). Turns out the publisher happened to love that history. Because the book was very long it was decided to break it into two volumes, so I got a two book contract instead of one. I’ll likely put it on Kindle before Volume Two is published.
If you do decide to self publish make sure you go through all the same steps: get a good professional editor. It’s worth it. It cost me a lot to have Shadow edited (plus the two critique readers) but the publisher noted that I’d had an excellent editor as there was hardly anything that had to be changed in the finished text.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I personally am not inclined to want to read a book off Kindle or an ebook because I spend too many hours peering at the computer screen. I love real books and have stacks of them (a lot unread!) But I realize that in this day and age people like to have quick reads and handy reads like ebooks, especially for travel. I still think print books are the best option, but I guess it’s a matter of personal preference.
What do you use?: Professional Editor, Professional Cover Designer
What genres do you write?: travel, memoirs, drama (plays), historicals
What formats are your books in?: Print
All information in this post is presented “as is” supplied by the author. We don’t edit to allow you the reader to hear the author in their own voice.