Tuesday, November 27, 2018

W. Michael Gear Interview - Abandoned

Photo Content from W. Michael Gear

W. Michael Gear was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A fourth generation Colorado native, his family had been involved in hard-rock mining, cattle ranching, and journalism. After his father's death in 1959, Michael's mother received her Master's degree in journalism and began teaching. In 1962 she married Joseph J. Cook, who taught tool and die making, and the family lived in Lakewood, Colorado, until 1968. At that time they moved to Fort Collins so that Joe could pursue his Ph.D.. During those years the family lived in the foothills above Horsetooth Reservoir.

It was there that Mike developed a love of history, anthropology, and motorcycles. They would color his future and fill his imagination for the rest of his life. During summers he volunteered labor on local ranches or at the farm east of Greeley and landed his first real job: picking up trash at the lake and cleaning outhouses. It has been said that his exposure to trash led him into archaeology. We will not speculate about what cleaning the outhouses might have led him to. On his first dig as a professional archaeologist in 1976 he discovered that two thousand year old human trash isn't nearly as obnoxious as the new stuff.

Michael graduated from Fort Collins High School in 1972 and pursued both his Bachelor's (1976) and Master's (1979) degrees at Colorado State University. Upon completion of his Master's - his specialty was in physical anthropology - he went to work for Western Wyoming College in Rock Springs as a field archaeologist.

It was in the winter of 1978 that he wrote his first novel. Irritated by historical inaccuracies in Western fiction, he swore he could do better. He was "taking retirement in installments," archaeology being a seasonal career, in the cabin his great uncle Aubrey had built. One cold January night he read a Western novel about a trail drive in which steers (castrated males) had calves. The historical inaccuracies of the story bothered him all night. The next morning, still incensed, he chunked wood into the stove and hunkered over the typewriter. There, on the mining claim, at nine thousand feet outside of Empire, Colorado he hammered out his first five hundred and fifty page novel. Yes, that first manuscript still exists, but if there is justice in the universe, no one will ever see it. It reads wretchedly - but the historical facts are correct!

Beginning in 1981, Michael, along with two partners, put together his own archaeological consulting company. Pronghorn Anthropological Associates began doing cultural resource management studies in 1982, and, although Michael sold his interest in 1984, to this day the company remains in business in Casper, Wyoming. During the years, Michael has worked throughout the western United States doing archaeological surveys, testing, and mitigation for pipelines, oil wells, power lines, timber sales, and highway construction. He learned the value of strong black coffee, developed a palate for chocolate donuts, and ferreted out every quality Mexican restaurant in eight states. He spent nine months of the year traveling from project to project with his trowel and dig kit, a clapped-out '72 Wonder Blazer, and his boon companion, Tedi, a noble tri-color Sheltie.

That fateful day in November, 1981, was delightfully clear, cold, and still in Laramie, Wyoming. Archaeologists from all over the state had arrived at the University of Wyoming for the annual meetings of the Wyoming Association of Professional Archaeologists. It was there, in the meeting room, way too early after a much too long night, that Mike first laid eyes on the most beautiful woman in the world: Kathleen O'Neal Gear. The BLM State Archaeologist, Ray Leicht, introduced him to the pretty anthropologist and historian, and best of all, Ray invited Mike to lunch with Kathleen. It was the perfect beginning for a long and wondrous relationship. Not only does Ray make a mean violin, he's not half bad as a matchmaker either. Michael and Kathleen were married on October 1, 1982.

As a result of changes in Federal policy, the long hours away from home, the ever growing dream of writing full time, Michael sold his interest in Pronghorn Anthropological Associates in 1984.

All through 1985 Mike wrote full time while Kathy worked for another year. Many of her colleagues asked, "But has he made any money yet?" Finally, in 1986, Kathy left the Bureau of Land Management and the two of them moved to the Colorado cabin at Empire. For the next three years, with no running water and only two wood stoves for heat, they pounded out novel after novel. Mike wrote eight before he finally sold one. Kathy wrote five non fiction books, and sold the first novel she ever pitched.

The hard work paid off in March of 1987 when Tor Books bought LONG RIDE HOME on Thursday and DAW Books bought the Spider trilogy the following Tuesday. Kathy made her first sale that summer, and they were on their way. In answer to Kathy's one-time colleagues, it would seem that he can pay the bills after all.

In all, Michael has published twelve novels under his own name and co-authored another thirty-four with Kathleen. His work runs the gamut from historical, to prehistorical, to science fiction, to modern thrillers. All of his work deals with some aspect of anthropological theory. His MORNING RIVER was nominated for the Pulitzer prize in fiction, and the National Book Award in 1998.

Currently residing in Thermopolis, Wyoming, Michael has returned to his lifelong loves. He lives on a ranch that contains a stratified, two-hundred-and-fifty acre archaeological site, some of the most outstanding scenery in the world, and unlimited opportunities to practice his shooting. A twenty thousand volume library keeps him up to date in the anthropological field, as do the annual Society for American Archaeology and American Association of Physical Anthropology meetings he attends every year. He and Kathy are raising some of the most glorious bison in North America, and a bug-spattered BMW 1100RT motorcycle waits to take them cross country for summer events. His office window looks out over the Wind River Indian Reservation and the nearest neighbor is an Arapaho Ranch line camp six and half miles to the southeast.

What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
That’s an impossible question, the answer for which covers an incredible amount of ground. Overall, I would have to say that the most important thing I learned was how to be a scholar. By that I mean learning how to learn, how to think critically, how to organize data, and how to explore the landscape beyond the doors that education opened.

What was your favorite book as a child and why?
THE PHANTON CITY, a Doc Savage novel by Kenneth Robson. I found it on the floor of our 1967 Corvair. I was in the back seat on vacation, bored out of my mind while the folks drove between Phoenix and Tucson. Being only 9, I just knew that a paperback book with little print was too adult for a kid of 9. But, hey! Didn’t have anything else to do, so I tried to read the first page. It didn’t just snag me, I swallowed the hook. You see, after the “children’s” books, about facile subjects like flower gardens and lost dogs, here was killer vampire bats, a lost city in the Sahara desert, Doc, Renny, and Monk. Great characters, a fascinating plot! Couldn’t stand reading until I found that Doc Savage novel. After that, nothing was too difficult or “adult” to tackle. I was blessed by having parents who would give me anything I wanted to read, and I was obsessed by historical fiction. Frank Yerby, Mika Waltari, Harold Lamb, Mary Roberts Reinhardt, Thomas B. Costain, as well as anything nonfiction on ancient Greece, Rome, or Egypt.

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and why?
KJ Howe and her ground- breaking new thrillers. Loved both FREEDOM BROKER and SKYJACK.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to have a life in writing?
Anyone who wants to write has to write. That translates to hours at the keyboard. It’s a skill and art that cannot be taught, but it can be learned. For people with obligations, start with a promise to make three pages a day. If you don’t have job, and you’re giving it your all, make that ten pages a day. Read copiously in many different genres. Study how your favorite writers do what they do. Dissect the paragraphs, the sentences, outline their plot structure until you understand how to build a story, seriously think about their use of language. Then do it in your own way, with your own characters. Yeah, it’s friggin’ hard work. If you want to tackle something easy, try brain surgery or theoretical physics. And, finally, remember that tenacity is 98% of the key to success, and talent makes up a whole whopping 2!

For those who are unfamiliar with the Donovan series, how would you introduce it?
The Donovan books have been likened to a cross between Deadwood and Avatar. But I’d have to say that each book poses a question, and a twist. For example, in OUTPOST, the question is begged: If you’re looking to be eaten, dying a hideous death, or ending up abandoned on a hostile world without modern resources, would you choose to stay and take your changes, or to ship home to Solar System knowing that you only have a 20% chance to make it alive? And, if the ship vanishes, it could be into a void where you will die of old age locked inside that hull? Between two bad choices, which do you choose? When you get to the point that Turalon spaces, ask yourself. It’s been fascinating. Generally urban folks choose the ship, rural folks tend to choose the planet with its terror. So far, response has been great. Book two, ABANDONED comes out this month (November) and book three, PARIAH will be on shelves in May of 2019. Book four, TEMPEST is being written and is scheduled for 2020. So there’s a lot of twists and turns coming, and I’ve loved the world building.

Which character have you enjoyed getting to know the most over the course of writing this series?
Ha! Another question with no simple answer! The saying is that people go to Donovan to find themselves, to turn around and leave, or to die. Talina Perez is the most complicated, but she has Mayan cultural legacy; at the same time an alien biology is slowly insinuating itself into her neurology. Creating that biology, making it credible, is fascinating and great fun. Kalico Aguila, the Corporate bureaucrat, is on her own trajectory, and watching her figuring out what it’s going to take to survive on Donovan has been particularly rewarding. Then, in ABANDONED, there’s Kylie and her pet quetzal, Rocket. The hardest character to write is Dan Wirth, the psychopath. He’s really distasteful and abhorrent as a human being. When I’m writing from his POV it’s always an uncomfortable process, but the psychiatric professionals that I rely on to vet my work tell me that I’ve nailed him. (See the DSM-5, Axis II, under Antisocial Personality Disorders, and check all the boxes.) The key to fiction is a good villain, and Dan is one cold psychopath.

What do you feel is the most significant change since book one?
OUTPOST was good, but it is only the introductory novel. The bar had to be raised for ABANDONED. Then, again, for PARIAH. And now I’m dealing with TEMPEST. So far the reviews coming in say that ABANDONED is a better book than OUTPOST. The few who have read PARIAH say it’s better yet. So, that’s the most significant change: The books are getting better as the Donovan universe offers more sophisticated challenges.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
The hard, cold reality in our modern publishing world is that authors are required to handle so many aspects of marketing, managing, and production. Kathleen and I do four hours of social media a day, which, fortunately we can split. I do not have an agent, so I handle all the business dealings, negotiations, requests for info, subsidiary rights, etc.. And, of course, running a buffalo ranch is a constant interruption. If the elk run through and tear the fences down, we have to fix them. Now! Checking the bison, bringing in feed, tagging, doctoring, keeping the trucks running, it all takes time. And then there’s the “real world.” People like the IRS just refuse to be put off just because we have a deadline. The government just doesn’t get it that you’ve got a book to write. They seem to think their interests come before mine, my characters’, and readers’.

If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be?
I would stop Cleopatra’s brother, Ptolemy XIII, from killing Pompey Magnus on the beach, thereby allowing Julius Caesar to pardon him, which would have stopped the civil war, preserved the triumvirate, and relegated Octavius to mere mention in history. The Roman empire, had it ever existed, would have been established decades later. It would have been a very different sort of empire, and, well, nothing after 48 BC would have been the same in our history books. As in nothing. Religion, history, science, all different. The downside, of course, is that none of us would be here either. I actually get into this in ALPHA ENIGMA, a multiverse novel coming in 2020.

When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone on paper?
Last Friday.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
Grow, hunt, harvest, and butcher their own food. Serves as a great reminder of what’s ultimately real about existence. I might add, live for a month without electricity. Talk about a game-changing reset to your life. You’ll never see the world the same again.

What is your happiest childhood memory?
Hey, here’s another one I can’t answer with a definitive event. I had a pretty good childhood. Good times on the mining claim, while traveling, enchiladas one Thanksgiving in Taos, growing up with Japanese, German, Mexican, and black family friends, but the best of all probably revolve around motorcycles, trials riding, and building that unity of motion between man and machine. Viva Bultaco! 

Have you had an incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
The way that I think today is pretty much the same thought process I’ve followed since graduate school. 1) Define the problem. 2) Determine the baseline assumptions. 3) Develop hypotheses to test. 4) Formulate a research design and think critically about it. 5) Collect the pertinent data. 6) Categorize and manipulate the data to be manageable. 7) Analyze the data with the best tools. 8) Obtain a valid conclusion. I have experienced a lot of events that caused me to question my baseline assumptions.

Who has had the most influence in your life?
My wife, partner, lover, and co-author, Kathleen O’Neal Gear.

Where can readers find you?
We’re found @Gearbooks on Twitter, my personal site is Michael Gear on Facebook, and our business site on Facebook is Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear. In addition there is the Gear Fan Club: book series, First North American’s site on Facebook. We also have a LinkedIn account under Kathleen Gear. Finally fans can visit our website at www.Gear-Gear.com.

The second book in a thrilling sci-fi action adventure, set on Donovan, a treacherous alien planet where corporate threats and dangerous creatures imperil the lives of the planet's colonists.

New York Times bestselling author W. Michael Gear returns us to the world he laid out with such sure purpose in Outpost. The struggle for survival sharpens as resources dwindle, technology fails, and the grim reality of life on Donovan unfolds.

Supervisor Kalico Aguila has bet everything on a fragile settlement far south of Port Authority. There, she has carved a farm and mine out of wilderness. But Donovan is closing in. When conditions couldn't get worse, a murderous peril descends out of Donovan's sky--one that will leave Kalico bleeding and shattered.

Talina Perez gambles her life and reputation in a bid to atone for ruthlessly murdering a woman's husband years ago. Ironically, saving Dya Simonov may save them all.

Lieutenant Deb Spiro is losing it, and by killing a little girl's pet alien, she may have precipitated disaster for all. In the end, the only hope will lie with a "lost" colony, and the alien-infested reflexes possessed by Security Officer Talina Perez.

On Donovan, only human beings are more terrifying than the wildlife.

Praise for the DONOVAN Novels

“What a ride! Excitement, adventure, and intrigue, all told in W. Michael Gear's vivid, compulsively readable prose. A terrific new science-fiction series; Gear hits a home run right out of the park and all the way to Capella.” —Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of Quantum Night

“A marginal colony on a living world--where human life and human will are tested to the limits. An intriguing and inventive new work from Michael Gear, first of a trilogy. Recommended!” —C. J. Cherryh, Hugo Award-winning author of Downbelow Station

“Gear kicks off a new sf series by weaving a number of compelling characters into the narrative, including bold heroine Talina Perez and Donovan itself, a planet teeming with danger and delights in turn.... Fans of epic space opera, like Rachel Bach’s Fortune’s Pawn (2013), will happily lose themselves in Donovan’s orbit.” —Booklist

“W. Michael Gear creates a fun and colorful setting on a planet full of interesting fauna and cunning, deadly animals.” —RT Reviews

“Dark and gritty, this book shows both the best and worst sides of humanity, all while being emotional and thought-provoking.” —It Starts at Midnight

“It's not easy to create an entire new planet setting and to immediately ground the reader in that world, but Gear makes it look easy.... He strikes an impressive balance between only telling us what we need to know when we need to know it and making this feel like a fully-realized place from the get-go.” —Den of Geek

“The novel's prose is as razor-sharp as Donovan's toothy beasts, its characters deftly defined. The enveloping narrative gallops along at a fierce pace and will make Outpost one of the must-read sci-fi releases of 2018 when it arrives on February 20 from DAW Books.” —SyFy Wire

“A thrilling tale of high-stakes survival on an alien planet.” —Dread Central

You can purchase Abandoned (Donovan Trilogy #2) at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you W. MICHAEL GEAR for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Abandoned (Donovan Trilogy #2) by W. Michael Gear. 

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