Interview With My Favorite Author

Kathleen O’Neal Gear

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I am so excited to share this interview with you all!
Kathleen O’Neal Gear is a very influential person to me personally on so many levels.  Kathleen and her husband, W. Michael Gear are honestly my favorite authors of all time.
Furthermore, Kathleen is my personal role model.
She is an incredibly educated scholar, fearless archaeologist and naturalist, and incredibly charming.  Her passion is apparent even in her gentlest of voices and her thirst for knowledge is inspiring.
Not only do I love the way she writes, but I love the spirit in which Kathleen speaks and sees the world around her.
Her respect for life, the land, history, words…  the way she values people and nature and the stories they have to share are all reasons why I look up to her.  Furthermore, her kindness and the way she loves her best friend, husband, and partner, Michael endears me to them all the more.
After reading about this fascinating and talented lady, I am certain that you will love her too!
My Interview with Kathleen O’Neal Gear
First, I want to start by thanking you
for taking the time to allow me to interview you.
This interview is extremely personal to me because you are truly my favorite author.
Your intellect, skill, passion, and knowledge are admirable and what make you my role model!  To be able to speak to you as a fellow author and more so, as a friend is an incredible blessing to me!
·         As I do in all of my interviews, I would like to begin by asking you to describe yourself.
o   My idea of a great time is hiking as far back into the wilderness as I can to sit on a 
mountain cliff and stare out at receding layers of blue.  No technology, no music.  Just birdsong, buffalo calling to each other across the distances, and Michael at my side.  A great romantic weekend is cooking over an open fire, then falling to sleep in a tent with the rain pattering on the roof and the feel of Mike’s arms around me.
·         Is your Ph.D. in literature, history, or a discipline in archaeology?  Do you consider yourself to be one particular thing over another, like a historian instead of an archaeologist or now that you write full-time, do you consider yourself writer instead of a historian?  Why or why not?
o   I never finished my Ph.D., but my Ph.D. coursework was in American Indian history, which I thought filled a gap in my education.  I’d been studying comparative religions, particularly Native American religions, and archaeology. I felt that I needed to understand the historical development of native traditions to give context to the other disciplines.  I really don’t consider myself to be one thing over another.  I sort of switch depending upon the need at the time.  I’m an archaeologist, then a historian, then a novelist, or just someone who cherishes buffalo and all things wild–including Mike.
·         Both of your parents were writers, albeit in different facets of the field.  How did their literary involvement inspire you and do you feel that it helped or hindered your own literary career?  Why or why not?
o   I grew up in a household where my parents farmed by day, raised six kids, and wrote mostly by night and on the weekends.  They were absolutely the happiest when they were writing.  I don’t know how they did it.  Dad could write a great western short story with four kids hanging over his shoulders, staring at the typewriter as the words came out. Mom could cook dinner with one child propped on her left hip while she jotted notes about her latest newspaper article on a notepad on the kitchen table. They loved words.  They loved books.  Our house was filled with thousands of books.  They taught me that words were vehicles for self-transcendence and, like 
a time machine, they could take you wherever or whenever you wanted to go.
·         Is there a particular author or book that has touched you more than any other?  If so, who and what are they?  Have they changed as you have grown and matured?
o   Oh, so many authors have touched me over my life.  Margaret Mitchell, John Steinbeck, Frank Waters, W. Michael Gear.  I still think Mike is the finest writer I’ve ever known.
·         Who would you say have influenced you the most?  I realize that this answer can be different depending on what it relates to, so I am interested to know who had the most influence on you in your education, your writing career, your writing topics, and your life in general.  Is your answer different for each; why or why not?
o   That’s not an easy question to answer.  In terms of my education, one of the greatest influences on my life was Dr. Charles Kegley, who taught the history of philosophy and the history of religions at California State College in Bakersfield.  He taught me how to think critically, and why it mattered, which is maybe the greatest lesson a teacher can impart to a student. In terms of writing, the topics I love, and my life in general?  The greatest influence on me was my quirky family.  Talk about the inspiration for characters! 
·         You said your parents used to take you and your siblings to various historical and archaeological sites during family vacations.  I am curious to know if these were primarily Native American sites or how you were driven to be so impassioned by that various Native American cultures?  Is there one era or culture that speaks to you more than another?  Why or why not?
o   Yes, every summer after Dad turned off the water on the cotton, we took a family vacation to visit archaeological and historical sites around America.  They were primarily Native American sites, but not always.  If Dad was working on a short story about a western ghost town, we went to visit it.  If Mom was working on a newspaper story about a controversial dam being built near a reservation in the Southwest, we went to sit around a campfire with the native elders and listen to their side of the debate.  We spent half of those vacations in museums.  And we couldn’t just bounce around the museum glancing at things, we had to read the displays and talk about what the artifacts meant, how the prehistoric peoples lived, and speculate about what happened to them. Mom had a great way of teaching. We’d be standing in the middle of a prehistoric ruin, and she’d pick up a pot shard, hold it to our ears, and say, “Can you hear the people talking?” Believe me, when you’re four years old, every pot shard has a voice.  And, as it happens, they still do.
·         Do you have a preferred writing genre?  Do you prefer to write fiction or non-fiction?  Why or why not?  Is it more difficult to publish one type of genre over another?  Is your favorite reading genre different from the one that you prefer to write in?  Why or why not?
o   I love writing both fiction and non-fiction.  Mike and I write a lot of non-fiction articles about archaeology, history, and the conservation and management of North American buffalo, or bison.  We enjoy teaching about those subjects.  However, fiction has a special magic.  With fiction I can live ten thousand years ago, I can make the stone tools that we’re uncovering in the archaeology excavations, and hunt mammoths, and be hunted by giant short-faced bears.  That’s the charm of being a mental traveler.  When a bear has you by the throat, you can just switch scenes.  My favorite reading is non-fiction historical works, and fantasy novels, exactly the kind of things I write about.
·         Do you feel that co-authoring with your husband Mike has had any effect on your writing style, topics of interest, or writing habits?  Why or why not?
o    Co-authoring with Michael definitely influences my writing habits. We have a schedule.  Every evening we read what the other has written, make suggestions, discuss directions, and then over breakfast we talk about what the characters are going to do that day.  And actually, everything we write is co-authored. Even when only one of our names appears on the cover, the other acted as editor, writing consultant, and sometimes actually wrote a scene on two.
·         Do you prefer to write solo or as a co-author to your talented husband, W. Michael Gear?  Why or why not?  What do you feel has been your most enjoyable project to write, both individually and with your husband?  Why or why not?  Which has been most challenging?
o   Both!  No, really.  Each has its own special kind of challenge.  The most rewarding project, for me personally, was the PEOPLE OF THE LONGHOUSE quartet of books.  Having a half million words to tell a story is a great gift, especially a story as important as the founding of the Iroquois Confederacy in the fifteenth century.  Iroquoian concepts of democracy heavily influenced America’s founders, and continue to set the tone for American ideals. Probably the most challenging book to write was PEOPLE OF THE SONGTRAIL, which comes out next May, 2015.  The information about Norse contact with North American native cultures is limited to just a few archaeological sites, so it meant we had to fill in more of the gaps with oral history, but that’s also an enjoyable challenge.  And being able to write about the religious persecution of the Norse traditionalists as Christianity spread across Europe was very interesting.
·         What motivated you to have a buffalo ranch?  I know you grew up on a crop farm, growing mostly cotton and alfalfa.  Do you think growing up on a farm benefits you in your life as a rancher?  Why or why not?
o   As archaeologists we had been excavating buffalo from sites for many years, and we knew the sacred role they had played in Native American cultures.  We started raising buffalo to try to understand why.  It didn’t take long to discovery that when you look into the eyes of a buffalo, you see God looking back.
·         Is there anything you would do different in your writing career if you could?  Why or why not?  Was there anything you were surprised by becoming a novelist, despite seeing your parents work in the literary world?  How do you think these have effected your decisions in your career?
o   No, I wouldn’t do a single thing differently.  Every hardship in a writing career teaches you a lesson.  Mike and I quit two good jobs and started writing novels in a mountain cabin with no running water.  Walking up the slippery mountain trail to the outhouse in 40 below zero was always exciting.  You certainly didn’t dally. We got down to $184.47 in the bank before we sold our first book. When we finally started selling books, the thing that surprised me most was that people actually wanted to read them.  For the most part, I think authors write about what they love, and they write primarily for themselves, so it’s always a gratifying surprise when you discover that other people care about the same things you care about.
·         Do you feel like it is easier to publish scientific papers related to your work or to publish books?  Why do you feel this way and do you think they are mutually exclusive or do they benefit each other?  Does it make it easier to publish in one if you are already published in the other?  Why or why not?
o   It’s probably easier to publish scientific papers than novels, but if you’ve published scientific papers, and your books are related to that topic, I think the scientific papers lend credibility to your novels.
·         What advice would you give to a new writer, a budding archaeologist, or a history major?  What advice was given to you that has had a lasting effect?
o   Advice to a new writer?  Persistence is worth ten times as much as talent.  Hang in there.  If you keep at it, you will publish a book.  Learn everything you can.  Read voraciously.  Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.  What do they know?  The best advice ever given to me came from Mike: “Don’t try to be fancy.  Just tell a good story.”
o   To budding archaeologists or historians I would say: “The past is like a black and white photograph that’s been torn to shreds and half the pieces are missing.  Your goal should be to piece it back together as best you can, and tell the story.  Who were they? What happened to them?  And most importantly, tell modern people why they should care about something that happened five thousand years ago.  Explain what relevance it has to who we are as human beings today.”
·         What can we expect to see from you next?  What are you currently working on?
o   We’re currently working on a sequel to PEOPLE OF THE MORNING STAR, which is set in Cahokia, Illinois, in the eleventh century.  It’s always a pleasure to write about the spectacular moments in North American prehistory, and this is certainly one of those.  Cahokians were charting the cycles of the sun, moon, and stars. They were trading across half the continent and constructing massive earthen mounds and multi-story buildings.  They were amazing.
·         Where do you see yourself in five years?
o   I hope I’m writing about recently discovered archaeological sites in Europe that document the fabulous trans-oceanic voyages of the earliest Native American peoples. I believe they’re there.  I think Native Americans discovered Europe long before Europeans discovered America.  Now, archaeologists just have to prove it. I can’t wait.
Thank you so much for your time!
It has been a pleasure to speak with you and I know my readers will love you just as much as I do!
I wish you success and joy in all you do!
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