Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Interviewing Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear

My Favorite Authors

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As my readers and followers know,
my favorite reading genre is historical fiction.
I was always a literature and history buff, so this makes
perfect sense.
Plus, coming from such a mixed and largely diverse heritage (which includes Native American, Norse, and a multitude of other Latin and European bloodlines), I am fascinated to know about the people and places that have cultivated our world. 
Of course, I also have a strong passion for prehistoric and ancient near eastern cultures, so when I found PEOPLE OF THE WOLF at my local library many years back, it not only drew me in,
but it changed my life!
That was the book that introduced me to North America's Forgotten Past series and to the Gears themselves.
Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear are two people that I have great respect for.  They value the same things I do:
Literature & words, nature, all life (human & animal), culture, knowledge, kindness and humility.
Their writing reflects their morals and intellect, offering me new perspectives and deeper understanding of the subjects they write about, to include human behavior and society.  It intrigues me and they present it in such
an exciting, adventurous, and entertaining way!
I cannot tell you how much these two talented writers have meant to me.  They have embodied all the things that I admire and have not only brought together the elements of this world that fascinate me, but they have done it in such a brilliantly delightful way!
I'm honored to share this author interview with you
as it's very personal to me!

My Interview with
W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear
First, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to allow me to interview you.
Your writing has been a personal source of entertainment and inspiration.  You have encouraged my education, opened my mind, and ignited my passions
for literature and history alike!
·         As I do in all of my interviews, I would like to begin by asking you both to describe yourselves.  How would you describe one another?
o   We’re companions, spouses, lovers, conspirators, colleagues, dreamers, and collaborators.  We balance each other, support each other, and cover for the other’s short-comings. Yin and Yang. Red and White. A whole greater than our parts.
·         What was the first piece of work that you collaborated on?  What motivated you to work together?  Did you intend for the professional partnership to continue or did it just sort of take on a life of its own?  What helps you to determine if a project will be written individually or co-authored?
o   Everything we’ve ever written has had input from the other.  We were first asked to “officially” co-author by Michael Seidman, the editor at Tor Books who acquired the PEOPLE series. It took us half of the book to work out the “who does what” but in the end, it lead us to a most remarkable collaboration. The success of PEOPLE OF THE WOLF cemented our reputation as co-authors.  Recently, what determines if a book has one of our names or both is the publisher’s marketing department.  Anything we write, even if it has only one name on it, will be co-authored.
·         Writing partnerships fascinate me, as you are combining two writing styles and voices into one.  How have you confronted the obstacle of blending your work into one successful and cohesive piece? 
o   Our partnership is unique in that we constantly rewrite each other’s material. We don’t fuss too much over the writing, but sometimes we’ve had some real knock-down drag-outs over the interpretation of the anthropological data. The goal is to create a piece of fiction that reads seamlessly.  We killed the sacred cows long ago.
o   One of the lessons we learned with PEOPLE OF THE WOLF was that one of us has to take the lead on a given story.  That person takes responsibility for the plot, characters, and setting—with lots of input from the co-author.  The decision is usually made based upon which of us has academic expertise in a given area.  For example, Kathleen is the Iroquois expert; Michael is more proficient in Southeastern Mississippian culture.  Either of us could take the lead on a Southwestern Anasazi book.  We constantly re-read and rewrite each other’s stuff, but sometimes it’s with a warning like, “Don’t touch the dialog in Chapter Seven. It’s got to read exactly that way for things to work out in Chapter Eight.”
·         Do you feel like things have gotten easier the longer you have collaborated or do you have to revisit the same challenges with each novel?  Why or why not?
o   Are things easier?  After fifty-six novels, we’re pretty much functioning like a well-oiled machine. All the obstacles and problems were solved decades ago.
·         Co-authoring has its own unique challenges, but do you think being married has helped or hindered you in this endeavor?  Why or why not?
o   In our case, being married has definitely helped. We trust each other implicitly. Our entire relationship is based on teamwork and partnership. We make a joke out of it, but our philosophy is: if you have no talent, marry it!
·         How do you blend your stories into one?  Do you delegate different responsibilities for different projects or is there a certain pattern which you follow?  How do you decide on the story, characters, and events you will write about?
o   How do two people create a single story?  We talk a lot about the story arc, who the characters will be, and how the plot will unfold.  In discussions about the craft of writing, research only receives lip service, but along with story, characters, and setting, it’s a huge part of the author’s job. In many cases the research dictates the direction a novel must take. For instance, we would have loved to have killed Atotarho in the PEOPLE OF THE LONGHOUSE quartet.  The same with Hernando de Soto in A SEARINGWIND.  Historically, to have done so would have been inaccurate.  Research also dictates what we’ll write about, from papers in professional conferences, to journal articles, to actual visits to archaeological sites.  Sometimes the decision is based on what’s in the news, like Kennewick Man in PEOPLE OF THE RAVEN.  With PEOPLE OF THE NIGHTLAND the book was born out of a suggestion by our editor.
·         We all have different people, places, or things that move us.  Are your influences different than one another’s and if so, how to you deal with that?  Do you have specific writers who influence you as team opposed to just as individuals?
o    Are we moved by different influences?  Of course. Kathleen was very moved by the high percentage of young Native American girls who end up being forced into the sex trade in Minnesota. It influenced how she developed PEOPLE OF THELONGHOUSE—for which she had the lead--and provided a motivation for individuals from warring enemy nations to create an alliance.  Michael agreed and augmented the book, helping to create one of our great villains: Gannajero.  In PEOPLE OF THE MORNING STAR, Michael has been fascinated by the size and extent of Cahokia as it’s been revealed through modern excavations. With Kathleen’s guidance and input, Seven Skull Shield has appeared—a man who could exist nowhere else but Cahokia.
·         Is there a certain tribe or culture that speaks to you more than any of the others?  Why or why not?  Are there areas that one of you is better educated than the other and how does that impact the progression of a story?  Will this dictate who will write about a certain topic or who is to research a certain element in your work? 
o   Does a particular prehistoric culture or nation speak to us more than others?  Sure.  We have favorites like the Iroquois, Muskogeans, Anasazi, Mississippians, Cahokians, and others, but tens of other cultures remain to be written about.  We’d love to do a Fremont book set in Utah in the 1100s, or a Hohokam book set in the Phoenix basin in the 1200s.  We have not written about the Adena peoples of the upper Ohio River, or the ancestral Cherokee, or the Caddo in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma.  There are just so many cultures, so little time to research and write about them.
·         Do you have any quirky writing habits?  How do you get your muse?  Some writers try to write a certain amount each day and others use different techniques.  What does a typical writing day look like for the two of you?  Does this differ from your individual styles?
o   Michael’s office is in the basement.  Kathleen writes in her office on the second floor. We’re separated because we like different kinds of music. Michael goes for classical and opera, Kathleen for folk, blues, and soft rock.  Kathleen writes as an immaculate craftsman, writing and rewriting paragraph by paragraph to create a finished product.  Michael calls his method “vomit and mop” wherein he spits out twenty pages at a time, only to go back and spend a couple of days revising, correcting, and polishing.  We’d love to have a schedule where we could dedicate a certain amount of time each day to writing. Instead, given the exigencies of the real world and the ranch, we write whenever we can lever the time into our schedules with a crowbar and a hydraulic jack.
·         How do you move from a story concept to seeing that idea come to fruition?  Do you use an outline or story board of some kind?  How do you keep your story on target together?  I would assume you have regular meetings about a story and its direction.  What is this like for you?
o   Normally we don’t outline or story board. Generally the archaeological or historical information provide us with the story and its conclusion. After fifty-six published novels, structure is almost instinctive. On the other hand, outlining is a tool we’ve used in the past when we’ve found ourselves stuck.  It just depends.
·         Do you have a particular book or series that you enjoyed writing the most?  Do you both agree on the answer?  Why or why not?  How does your answer change if you are asked this as solo artists?
o   Yeah, all of them!  And that’s not stated facetiously. If they weren’t fun and favorites, we wouldn’t have written them.  That’s not to say that some books weren’t harder than others to write, for example PEOPLE OF THE SONGTRAIL coming in May of 2015 was particularly difficult.  The novel is about early Norse contact with the Native peoples in the Canadian Maritimes.  Our problem was how to make Norse religion, especially Seidur magic, not sound like modern fantasy.  And to put a spin on your question, we sincerely believe the most important novel we’ve ever written was THE BETRAYAL.
·         How is publishing a work of fiction different from publishing a scientific paper in the archeological world?  Is one type of publishing easier than the other?  What about the writing element, is it easier to write facts or fiction for you?
o   Call it two different universes in which each piece has its own obstacles. It just depends.  The same with the writing.
·         What advice would you give to a new author?  What about a writing team?  Does that advice change and if so, how and why?
o   Our best advice to a new author is that tenacity is worth ten times what talent is. Michael wrote eight novels, learning his craft, before he finally sold one. Authors who want to succeed must learn how to structure the plot, develop compelling characters, and drop them in enticing settings.  All of this hinges on in depth and exhaustive research.  Then do it again, and again, and again, never giving up.
o   Co-authoring is a whole different can of worms fraught with landmines, but if each partner is willing to do 80% of the work, and if they have a well-thought-out business plan, and trust each other implicitly, it can be wonderful.
·         What do you think it the most difficult part of the literary world and how do you deal with it?  What do you feel is the most rewarding part of the industry?  Was there anything that surprised you when you decided to write professionally?  Has that changed as the industry has changed?
o   In this day and age, almost everything. We spend more time on social media, marketing, and administering than ever before.  In the last ten years 80% of the retail space devoted to books has vanished. Amazon and the publishers are locked in a battle for the future with authors caught in the middle.  Print books are becoming a boutique industry, and the e-book market is an ocean of product containing millions of titles screaming for attention.  We can see the day coming when a quality, bestselling novel that took a year to research and write will net an established author less than he’d earn running the cash register at the local convenience store.  Publishing has never been fair, but through hard work, if an author consistently provided a quality read, he was generally incentivized to write another book. That day may be past.
·         What can we expect to see from you next?  What are you currently working on?  I, personally, am extremely excited to read your new series about De Soto – the Contact series!
o   We’re delighted that you’re reading the CONTACT:BATTLE FOR AMERICA series.  It starts with COMING OF THE STORM followed by FIRE THE SKY and concludes with A SEARING WIND. No one has ever told the native side of the de Soto story.  The man was a narcissistic butcher, and American grade schools are named after him?  The trilogy focuses on a Chickasaw trader, Black Shell, and his wife, Pearl Hand, who will do anything to stop de Soto as he burns his way across America.  Do let us know what you think when you finish the trilogy.
o   Additionally, PEOPLEOF THE MORNING STAR is out in hardback and e-edition.  We’re working with the publisher to include the novella, COPPER FALCON, also set in Cahokia, in the mass market of PEOPLEOF THE MORNING STAR to be published in March.  Then, in May, PEOPLE OF THE SONGTRAIL, our Viking novel, will be released in hardback.  You’ll meet Godi Gunnar, a self-made noble, who locks horns with the evil Thorlak as the latter seeks a hidden Seidur seeress and her Power.
o   At the same time, we’re hard at work on another MORNING STAR novel featuring Clan Keeper Blue Heron, Night Shadow Star, Fire Cat, and the irascible Seven Skull Shield.  Again the setting is Cahokia, and again the Powers of the Underworld are in jeopardy.

Thank you so much for your time!
I wish you success, prosperity, and joy in all you do!
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To learn more about the Gears,
check out the individual interviews I did with them!

Just click on their name to be linked to their interview:
Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear

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