People of the Longhouse by W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear

people-of-the-longhouse.JPGby L. Dean Murphy

With their forty-eighth novel, titled People of the LonghouseKathleen and Michael Gear introduce the new “Iroquois series,” following New York Times bestselling People of the Thunder, of which Booklist said the “bestselling authors continue their superbly researched and rendered North America’s Forgotten Past series.” Morning River was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, and the National Book Award. Michael and Kathleen are currently writing another prehistory novel set at Moundville, Alabama in the 1300s.

Set in 1400 in what is now New England amongst five warring Iroquois nations, youngsters Odion and his sister Tutelo fear that Yellowtail Village will be attacked. Prophetically, that day arrives and they are spirited away into slavery. Odion’s only hope is that his parents will rescue them. They try, but War Chief Koracoo and Deputy Gonda think they are tracking an ordinary war party herding captives back to enemy villages. Instead, they closely track a legendary evil–an old witch-woman named Gannajero, who captures children, sort of a Hansel-and-Gretel syndrome. “Longhouse” chronicles the lives of those in American prehistory [a/k/a “Indian” by the politically incorrect], based on the lives of real people not commonly known. A teaser to read the book, to learn who?

Hollywood portrayed Native American cultures as savages, but did true savages came from Europe? Brain surgery is documented by skulls that had been opened and then healed afterward, generations before Columbus, Cortez and European diseases decimated native populations. In 1300, the largest city was what is now Moundville, Alabama, when Paris and London were thought to be population centers. A confederacy of five nations, the Iroquois call themselves Haudenosaunee, meaning “people of the long house” or “League of Peace and Power,” which comprised the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca nations.

The bestselling authors put the transmission into high “Gear,” to give ITW readers a thrilling ride!

What inspired you to write your current thriller?

As archaeologists, archaeology of the period inspired us to write this series. The evidence for brutal warfare is not just recorded in Iroquoian oral history, but with each shovelful of dirt that comes out of archaeological sites. We used both Iroquoian history and the archaeological record to create the plot. Our books are based upon anthropological or historical information.

What qualifies People of the Longhouse as a thriller?

It’s a nail-biting, child-in-jeopardy chase story with a thunderous climax. Some characters act as agents for others–each with an agenda. And, of course, there are the secrets. Such as the mysterious shell gorget found on a dead girl’s body.

Did you read thrillers before you wrote your own? What do you now read?

Well, they weren’t called thrillers–that’s a relatively modern marketing term–but of course that’s what the Doc Savage books were. So, absolutely we read thrillers before we started writing! Today, we read everything, thrillers, historicals, mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, and non-fiction.

Who spurred your interest in writing?

Kenneth Robeson, Frank Waters, and Bjorn Kurten are some. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Will Henry, C.J Cherryh, Larry Niven, Louis L’Amour, Margaret Mitchell, James Michener, and Frank Yerby.

Which authors are at the top of their league, in any genre, but specifically with historical fiction, and to that end, Native American?

Doug Preston and Lincoln Child always make for great reading, and Lisa Gardner is rapidly becoming one of our favorites. Anything by Tess Gerritsen is marvelous. David Morrell remains a long-time favorite, and Harlan Coben. Among the best writers dealing with Native Americans, Margaret Coel is outstanding. A neighbor at Wind River Reservation, she gets it right.

What advice/suggestions have you for aspiring writers?

gear-michael-kathleen.jpgTenacity is worth ten times what talent is. Don’t get discouraged by criticism. It’s just part of the process. In today’s market as a first-time writer, be prepared to write five novels before you sell your first. And then be ready to spend the next thirty years working your butt off. Read everything, write everything, and never think you’ve “got it.” Listen carefully to other authors. No matter how many books you’ve published, other writers can teach you things that will make you a better novelist. That’s one of the reasons we always attend ITW CraftFest. Sure, we’ve published four dozen books and a couple of hundred non-fiction articles, but we’re still learning. And at ITW, we learn from The Best.

Did the story change along the way?

We live the story with our characters, so we let them lead the way. However, since the plot is based on archaeological and historical data, we obviously know the ending before we start writing.

Do you write straight through or do you backpedal to fill in the gaps?

Mike writes straight through. He calls it the vomit-and-mop method. Purge, then go back and clean up. Kathy’s a bricklayer. She rewrites every chapter a dozen times before she moves to the next.

What comments from readers do you find most rewarding?

We get letters from Native American readers who tell us that our books have helped them better understand their own heritage. We also get letters from students who decided to become archaeologists because of our books. Both are humbling.

What title can we look forward to and when?

Next February Pocket Books will publish our novel, Fire the Sky. Our latest eco-thriller–sequel to Das Ende Aller Tages–will be released in Germany next summer.

Do you anticipate a tragic end for any of the main characters?

Yes, but if you think we’re going to tell which ones, we’ve got a bridge to sell you.

Kathleen O’Neal Gear is a former state historian and archaeologist for the United States Interior Department, and two-time recipient of the federal Special Achievement Award for outstanding management of cultural heritage. W. Michael Gear is principal investigator for Wind River Archaeological Consultants. Their combined 48 books have been translated into 23 languages. Kathleen and Michael live on a buffalo ranch in Wyoming’s Owl Creek Mountains. Michael considers himself a “Western Gentleman.” He does not wear a hat in a restaurant. “And that’s the truth.”

The Big Thrill readers are invited to visit the authors’ website at Gear-Gear.com

Dean Murphy

L. Dean Murphy interviews authors and reviews books for Bookreporter.com & The Big Thrill. The MWA, FWA and ITW member is working on, The Art of Murder, and Two Bodies. His maxim is "When there’s nothing left, write."

Visit him at: www.DeanMurphy.net.

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