Thursday, February 25, 2010

Q & A With Michael & Kathleen Gear

Please join me in welcoming renowned archaeologists and authors W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear to Thoughts in Progress today to answer some questions about their upcoming release.

“Coming of the Storm” is the first book in an exciting new series (Contact: Battle for America) from the husband and wife writing team. With 23 internationally bestselling novels, this writing duo is regarded as the definitive authors of pre-Columbian Native American history.

With the release of “Coming of the Storm” they bring to life the clash between Native Americans and Europeans for the first time. Hernando de Soto landed in Florida in 1539 with a thousand soldiers, horses and slaves, and proceeded to march through 16 American states forever changing the face of America. “Coming of the Storm” follows his journey through Florida, as told through the eyes of a Chickasaw trader named Black Shell.

Thanks to Sarah at Simon and Schuster I have one copy of “Coming of the Storm” to giveaway. However, this contest is only open to U.S. residents. The contest will run through 8 p.m. on Thursday, March 4, and the winner will be selected from those making comments on this post.

Now the Gears have graciously answered some questions about working on a book together, as well as give a little background on the book and the new series.

How difficult is it to work on the same book? 

We’ve been co-authoring for about twenty-three years, so we pretty much have it worked out. In the beginning it was simply editing each other's work. Nothing leaves this house--even if it only has one of our names on the title--until it has suffered a critical line edit, numerous revisions, and a unanimous "ok" from the two of us. We employ the same process with books that have both of our names on the cover. One of us will have more of an expertise in a give cultural period, or with a particular archaeological tradition. That individual will write the initial draft--perhaps two or three hundred words in length. Then we pass the story back and forth, all the while sharing ideas, criticisms, and revisions, re-writing each other's work until we’re both happy with it.

Our goal is to make the novel seamless for the reader. We want you to fall into that world so completely that you don't come out until the last page is finished.
Is it difficult? Sometimes. We get into some impressive arguments about the archaeological and cultural data. There are often gaps in the data that we have to fill in, interpret, or take an "educated guess" about  before we can reconstruct a functional prehistoric or historic culture. 

An example: Net sacks that date back to 9,000 years ago have been recovered from Great Basin dry caves. Is it reasonable that they were in use 11,000 years ago on the Pacific Coast? Or, the historic Calusa believed humans had three souls. Can we legitimately project that concept back to the Windover Pond culture in Florida 8,000 years ago? 

What we do not squabble over is the actual writing. Mike has been known to produce such profound and intense prose that it was going to redefine Western literature and rock the Pulitzer committee back on its heels. Kathleen has been known to mark said passages up in large red letters stating something to the effect that it was "real...fecal material?" 

Okay, she used a shorter four letter word with Teutonic origins. Here's the thing: If Kathleen had trouble with the verbosity, so would some of our readers. Therefore, we go back, smooth, polish, and make the prose

understandable. We want you in the story with the characters, not puzzling over hidden levels of abstract meaning.
The end result is that we trust each other implicitly, and respect each other's instincts for story, characterization, dialogue, and pace. 

What inspired the CONTACT: BATTLE FOR AMERICA series? 

Individually we have written other Contact era novels, including THIS WIDOWED LAND, MORNING RIVER, and COYOTE SUMMER, but the  opportunity to co-author a critical Contact story like the Hernando de Soto entrada was too good to pass up. 

Why de Soto? Because most Americans think he was a hero. We have counties, parks, even elementary schools, named after him. Yet he was one of the most vile, disgusting, and evil human beings to set foot in the Americas. 

Another reason to tackle Contact is that we like overturning commonly held myths--especially the one that portrays the native peoples as pathetic victims of an overwhelming White onslaught that flattened the native peoples. Despite de Soto’s steel armor, guns, horses, and war dogs, in the end, our native peoples won. They destroyed his army and drove it out of the country in rags. And HOW they did it makes for fascinating reading.

COMING OF THE STORM is set during the truly the Heroic Period of native resistance to the European invasion of America, and while Black Shell and Pearl Hand don't exactly rock de Soto back on his heels in book one--it took the native peoples four years to destroy the bad guys-- in the end, well... Read along as the novels come out.

How many books will there be in the CONTACT series? 

That will depend entirely on the readers. We are just beginning our relationship with the good folks at Pocket Books and Simon & Schuster and really hope that CONTACT is but the first of many projects. Currently we are under contract to write three de Soto novels. We would really like at least four. After all, it's a four year story that crosses half of America and deals with hundreds of different cities, peoples, and polities.

Do you write about Native Americans in modern times? 

Yes. Many people have read our Anasazi Mystery series, THE VISITANT, SUMMONING GOD, and BONE WALKER; they keep  asking us to write more Dusty and Maureen books. After ten years, the books have developed a cult following, and perhaps a third of our fan mail asks when the next novel is coming. 

Actually, it's out. But there's a hitch. Das Ende Aller Tag is a thriller published only by Bastei Lubbe in Germany. Oh, and Maureen may or may not have a new man in her life. His name is Skip Murphy, and he'll be back in the next German thriller, the English title of which is: CARBON CAULDRON

Why no American edition? First, publishing--like every other industry--is tightening its belt. Second, the editors who buy thrillers aren’t familiar with the Dusty and Maureen books, or how they could market the latest thrillers to that audience. Meanwhile, the Germans are on it!

Finally, we’re looking forward to a great many NEW writing projects. PEOPLE OF THE LONGHOUSE comes out in July, followed by PEOPLE OF THE FOREST in 2011. 

The sequel to COMING OF THE STORM, currently titled THE FIRES OF MABILA is finished, and we’re starting on the third book which will take Black Shell and Pearl Hand to the Chickasaw country in eastern Mississippi and a battle that came within a breath of destroying de Soto’s army. 

In the meantime, we wish you happy reading, and don’t forget to visit our website at! We love to hear from readers!

Thanks so much Kathleen and Michael for giving us a look at what it’s like to be a husband and wife writing team, as well as background on your latest book.

What are your thoughts on de Soto and/or Native Americans. Do you think Native Americans have been portrayed correctly in books and movies?


  1. What it must be like to have someone else there when you write. Now for your question.
    I always thought Native Americans were portrayed inaccurately in films until I say Smoke Signals. The characters were fun, smart and fully realized, you know like a human being aught to be.
    Continued success to you both.

  2. Mason- As always, you have the most interesting guests!

    Michael&Kathleen- I am intrigued and can already think of a friend to whom I will recommend your book(s). But I'd love to know a little more about what got you here. What are some of your favorite digs (if I may use the term as a layperson)? How did you make the jump from archeology to writing? Thank you!


  3. Co-authoring is one thing, but I think it's awesome these two do it as husband and wife. What a great way to work together!

  4. Mason - Thank you for hosting the Gears!

    Kathleen and Michael - Congratulations on this new series. I look forward to getting hooked on it : ). I thoroughly enjoyed your Anasazi series, and I'm sure that this one will be wonderful, too. Thanks for updating us on what's been happening with the Anasazi series, too; I really hope that there will be English-language editions soon. I wish you all the best with the new series.

    I'm not Native American, so I don't know from personal experience how accurately crime fiction (and other literature) represents them. I know that it's a matter of real debate, though. I do congratulate you both, though, for doing so much to give us a more accurate perspective.

  5. I think your process for co-authoring is amazing. I love the editing you do for each other. That's a phase that can really tear apart friendships - and you two have made it work.

    Straight From Hel

  6. I've never heard of a husband and wife co-author team - and 23 years at it and still married? Now THAT's a solid performance! lol - really enjoyed the feature interview. What a fascinating arena/subject matter to write about ... I like your approach to it a great deal.

    Marvin D Wilson

  7. Part of me thinks it would be really cool to have a co-author. And part of me says it would be *really* tough. And then you have the whole working-with-someone-you-live-with angle. Congratulations on doing such a great job and making it work!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  8. Sounds like a great book. This was such a fascinating time in history. Entire worlds and widely-held concepts were changing. Great fodder for an author for sure!

  9. Great interview!! I love Native American culture & history. Definitely adding this book to my list!

    BTW, have I told you before that I love your header? It's awesome, love the colors!

  10. Michael and Kathleen, thank you both so much for answering these questions. I've enjoyed your other series and look forward to reading this new book.

    Hope everyone is have a good Thursday. In case the Gears don't have a chance to drop back by, I'll be sure to forward any questions you have for them.

    CC, thanks for the kinds words about the header. I've never been a big fan of green but for some reason this shade seemed calming to me.

  11. the book sounds interesting and I love the cover. I love historical books as you known, and we don't publish much of South American history novels here in Europe so it's always nice to read something like that.

  12. Tremendously interesting! Sound fabulous!


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.