Jean Auel - Interviews and memories
Click on the photos to see an enlarged version
This page is to archive memories of Jean's talks and any information from people who have spent time with her.
Jean Auel in the cave of Arbreda 13th July 2001
Jean Auel visiting the Park of the prehistoric caves of Serinya in preparation for her latest work, Shelters of Stone. The excavations are of the deposits of the Reclau Viver.
See also: http://paleoassociation.ifrance.com/paleoassociation/arbr/arbrim.html
My thanks to Lois and AnnDee for finding another Auel interview:
Bookpage interview with Jean Auel
Interview on Video No 1 and No 2.
These interviews are from the site:
Click on the "Bookwrap" Icon
It was put up on or about 28th January 2002. Many people could not get it to download, so here is a transcript. My thanks to Rowena who transcribed it.
Video 1 Clip 1 The Childhood of the Human Race
The Shelters of Stone is the fifth in the series...that I've called Earth's Children...because this is the time of the childhood of the human race. This is the beginning of when modern humans first appeared in Europe.
We're talking about a very rich, very sophisticated, very complex culture.
It's all been a story about Ayla. She's the thread that ties this together. And as Ayla is learning to find her way, we're learning with her.
Now we are in France...and we have reached the area where we have the evidence of the art that was first invented...and this is the cave art that you find in southwest France.
Ayla's man, Jondalar, is the one...this is where he was born. He's a Frenchman.
When I found out about the caves I knew I was going to end up in France. I knew I was going to write The Shelters of Stone.
Video 1 Clip 2 Making of The Shelters of Stone
It's been probably eleven and a half years and I don't have a good answer for why it should have taken that long to write except that sometimes life sort of interferes with the writing.
When I started the series I really had....I have five children...and I had daughters in college and sons in high school. Now I'm a grandmother. And I've got fifteen grandchildren. So in the course of these books I have had many things happening.
Besides that...the kind of research that it takes...it's great fun and I really enjoy it...but it does take some effort.
Video 1 Clip 3 The Caves Took Me To France
This has always been story driven...not research driven. The research...as I got into it I kept finding new things, you know, I kept discovering...when I found out about the caves I knew I was going to end up in France, I knew I was going to write The Shelters of Stone. I just didn't know when I was going to get to it, you know, at the beginning.. I just knew this was just something I had to tell about because it was so exciting.
Video 1 Clip 4 Ayla Goes to 'The Big City'
My son Kendall said, 'Mammoth Hunters...that's like Middle America...that's like St. Louis...'...you know... 'It's good...solid...' he says, 'The new one...The Shelters of Stone...that's New York...that's LA...that's...we're in the big time now'...you know...
We're talking about very rich, very sophisticated, very complex culture...very...many, many more characters involved...many more characters to keep track of.
And of course...a lot going on...you know...there's a lot of levels...a lot of little...little things happening.
And as Ayla is finding her way among these people...we're learning with her.
Video 1 Clip 5 Laying Clues in Clan
Every one of the books have always been written as independent novels. They're a very tight series... But The Shelters of Stone...there are people that have told me that they have not read any of the others ones and they have read The Shelters and it's got a beginning...and a middle...and an end and it's a perfectly full novel in its own self...
It's a very difficult thing...in a way...you have to walk a fine line to write a novel in a series that is also a novel...it's an independent one and I've tried to do that with every one...you know ...so even with Clan of the Cave Bear in the beginning...I knew there was going to be much more to follow and I knew I was putting clues into that that I wouldn't pick up until I got into The Shelters of Stone which I have now started to do.
Interview on Video No 2
It was put up on or about 5th March 2002. Many people could not get it to download, so here is a transcript. My thanks to Rowena who transcribed it.
Video 2 Clip 6 The Earth's Children
Now I didn't start out saying I'm gonna write 6 books. I started out saying let's see if I can write a short story. I finally said okay...there's too much here...I'm gonna write a novel. So I sat down and I started to write it. I mean I just sat at the typewriter and started to tell the story to myself. I've never...I mean...I've read books all my life. I didn't know how to write. I just started to write...and it took me...it grew...it grew...because the material was there and the story was there and the characters were there. But then of course I ended up with probably close to half a million words of a...of a story that I thought I was gonna cut down. I was calling it Earth's Children.
Video 2 Clip 7 The Earth's Children Series
I started to write this big long thing that became a big saga in 6 parts. You know I thought it was gonna be part 1, part 2 of one big novel and after I finished that first thing and then went back and started to rewrite and suddenly I had another 100,000 words and I was only halfway through the first part and I said, 'uh-oh...I don't have one novel. I've got...I've got a series of novels,' you know. And then this thing...and then I...once I had made that understanding then I realized... of course I told my husband, 'I'm gonna write six books,' and then he said, 'You've never written a short story but you're gonna write six books?!' and I said, 'That's what this story is.'
Video 2 Clip 8 Naming The Characters
The names are interesting you know I mean...I...in coming up with names for these characters I tried to find a way of putting them together that would feel....I don't like names that start with X,Y,G,K,L,M then you can't pronounce them you know...I wanted names that you could at least sound out. So if...some...I say Aay-la...if some people say Eye-la...it's okay...so long as when they see that name in a book they understand who the character is.
Video 2 Clip 9 Ayla's Pets
She does tame a horse when she's in this valley because it's company for her and she kills the mother and she sees the colt. And what she did was raise this horse as though it was her child because she was lonely and then of course she also in the second book of course she raises a lion so when in the third book she finds a wolf...a wolf cub she's not at all afraid to then decide to tame it. So when we get to the fourth book where she's...they're traveling...and suddenly your in a society where people are only hunting animals and you see somebody coming along riding on the back of a horse... That's gonna look pretty spooky...that's gonna look pretty scary to you and besides that you've got a wolf that's following you around...what does that...does that...is that magic that makes you able to control that wolf? Well we know that these animals are tamable...but the people who lived then didn't.
Video 2 Clip 10 Little Aylas
Maybe one of the best things that happened is with I think it was The Mammoth Hunters. When I was in Santa Clara and it was a 2 hour autographing. And mothers brought me their children and there were seven little Aylas that I got to meet between the ages of four months and I think seven years. And I think to myself you know...why?....I mean...it's wonderful that they...that they want to name their children...that people want to name their children after the character in the book. It makes me feel like I must have touched on something, you know, universal or something...feeling that people were relating to.
Many thanks to Mandy who found the following excellent article, and to Lois for bringing it to my attention.
Prehistoric Return: Auel's Epic Saga Back at Last
by Glenn Lewis -- 15th February 2002
Born at Multnomah County PL, the 'Earth's Children' series finally comes home with The Shelters of Stone
The beginning of Jean Auel's soon-to-be-published The Shelters of Stone (Crown, April), the fifth novel in her classic 'Earth's Children' series, finds the Ice Age heroine Ayla and her companion Jondalar exactly where readers left them at the end of the previous book back in 1990. They still sit atop their horses, their pet wolf nearby, in what today would be the Dordogne Valley in France, looking up at a crowd of people armed with spears on the limestone ledge above. Jondalar remains just steps away from coming home after a prolonged period of travel, and Ayla hopes his people, the Zelandonii, will provide a home for her as well. The scene also stands as a homecoming for the author and her legion of loyal fans after 12 long years away.
For anyone who has lived on another literary planet for the past 22 years, Ayla is the Cro-Magnon child orphaned by an earthquake some 25,000 to 30,000 years ago and then adopted by a band of Neanderthals in The Clan of the Cave Bear (1980). She is eventually banished to a living death by a jealous leader and leaves behind a child of mixed blood. The teenager then learns to survive on her own – tames horses, a large wolf, and an even larger cave lion – and saves the handsome Jondalar from sure death in The Valley of Horses (1982). Finally, in The Mammoth Hunters (1985) and The Plains of Passage (1990), the lovers and their animals take on an arduous year-long journey back to Jondalar's people and a place where the pregnant Ayla can, one hopes, raise a family among her own kind.
There is literally and figuratively a world full of people just waiting for this couple to get on with their lives. The series has sold an astounding 34 million copies worldwide over the years. The story of Ayla and Jondalar has been translated into 28 languages, and every book has been a number one best seller here at home as well as in a number of other countries.
Initial plans for The Shelters of Stone suggest that publisher expectations around the world have only been heightened by the extended hiatus. Crown has announced an enormous hardcover first printing of 1.5 million copies for the upcoming book. It has already put out a 75,000-copy special hardcover reprint of The Clan of the Cave Bear, complete with a sneak preview of the first two chapters of Shelters and a 25,000 – copy reprint for each of the other three works. In addition, the early fall foreign rights sales for the new book, and reprints of previous titles, hit a hefty $8 million six months before the spectacular international launch scheduled for Dordogne, France, on April 30.
Hailing a local literary hero
Despite all the global hoopla, nowhere is the new book more anxiously anticipated than in Auel's hometown of Portland, OR, and the 18 branches of the Multnomah County Library (MCL). Ginnie Cooper, the library's director since 1990, confirms how passionate patrons have always been about Auel's work and the author's longtime status as a legitimate 'local literary hero.' Cooper says people are acutely aware that 'Earth's Children' was conceived as a six – book series, and they have never stopped asking for the elusive fifth title or the final one expected to follow. She notes that every indicator points to The Shelters of Stone receiving an extraordinary reception.
'One of the ways we know a book is going to be really popular is by looking at the number of library users who place a hold or reserve on that title,' says Cooper, who estimates that the average best seller would tally 100 to 150 holds at Multnomah. 'As of the beginning of January, The Shelters of Stone already had 164 holds even though it was not due out for several months. So I expect it to wind up with around 400 holds and rival the popularity of the last Harry Potter book.'
Cooper even credits her coming to Portland to a memorable 1980 speech by Auel (pronounced owl). Cooper, then a library director in Kenosha, WI, heard Auel talk at a conference about how she managed to write her recently published first book, The Clan of the Cave Bear. The new author's powerful words painted an image of the MCL that stayed with Cooper for a decade.
'Jean was speaking with gratitude for the role her public library had played to make it possible for somebody like her – without anthropological training, working another job, raising a large family with five children – to write this major novel about prehistoric times,' recalls Cooper, who now considers Auel a good friend. 'She credited the Multnomah County Library with helping to make the book so complete in her head. I was thinking, 'Wow, this library must be an amazing place to be able to offer all that.''
Birthing a series and a career
Auel is also quick to acknowledge the MCL as being at least the incubator, if not the birthplace, of her series and writing career. In a recent interview with Library Journal, she spoke about every aspect of her life as a novelist and what it took to research and write this latest book. But she started her comments with Multnomah County Library, where the whole thing began.
'I went to Multnomah Library in 1977 to research a short story and came home with my first couple of armloads of books,' says Auel, sitting in the kitchen of her cliffside condominium that looks out on the city of Portland and four surrounding mountains. 'All that library research made me realize I had at least a book, which later turned into the plans for a six-book series. After writing my first draft of that original novel, then called Earth's Children, I knew I had to go back to the library to get books that would teach me to write fiction. Then I went back again for books on getting published.'
Auel's original premise for the short story featured an attractive heroine living with people we would consider different or ugly, but to them she is the different one. The author had a vague idea about setting the story in prehistoric times because she thought of Neanderthals, in that half-animal Hollywood stereotype, as being truly different. But she soon became frustrated by her total lack of knowledge about the way they looked, behaved, or lived. That sent her to Multnomah in search of an encyclopedia and eventually to a seminal book on archaeology.
'The encyclopedia revealed the most recent time in history when two phases of human evolution existed together – and one of those peoples were us,' says Auel, who learned library skills pursuing her MBA. 'This felt like something I could really write about. It also gave me all the key terms – upper Paleolithic, late Pleistocene Epoch, Cro-Magnon, interstadial. Then I read archaeologist Ralph Solecki's book on his dig in the Shanidar Cave in Iraq. The Shanidar Cave became the model for the Clan of the Cave Bear society.'
Finding material firsthand
After the success of her first book, the author formed relationships with several prominent scientists in the field and periodically went to Europe to see locales or important finds firsthand. She even worked digs and found half a 30,000-year-old Cro-Magnon blade while researching The Shelters of Stone. But it was a trip to the dramatic Lascaux Cave in France that produced a pivotal part of the current book. Ayla discovers this exact cave, and it becomes an important, highly spiritual place for Jondalar's people.
Lascaux Cave is unusually open, appearing to be mostly white owing to calcium carbonates that form into clear crystals on the walls. Amazingly vivid paintings, uneroded by time, decorate several areas. In the book, Ayla supposedly finds the cave before the paintings exist, and religious leaders believe it to be the pure white womb of the Great Earth Mother herself. The cave also gives the Zelandonii artists a magnificent space to fill down the line. But it was the contrast between the white walls and startling paintings that first took the author's breath away.
'The original was so stunning, so overwhelming, that my eyes filled with tears and ahhh!' says Auel, finishing with a long gasp. 'I could hardly breathe. I knew it had to be in the book.'
Still savoring the research
Although field trips are obviously beneficial, the author still relies mostly on printed material for her information and ideas. But she rarely spends time these days working at the public library. 'Now I just buy the books – one of the luxuries I can afford,' says Auel, who also owns a beach house and a place in Portland. 'I have a research library of 2000 to 3000 books and over 2000 articles in my files. I now get signed, original papers from some of these specialists.'
All the books in the series are heavily laden with details on every aspect of the late Pleistocene Epoch, its people, and the land they inhabit. Yet, the novelist insists on digging every fact out on her own. She sees it as an essential part of the writing process.
'I don't use research assistants,' says Auel emphatically. 'They won't be able to read something and know what it might trigger in my brain. It might be something crucial I can use for the story. I need to get in there and read it on my own.' When pressed, Auel admits to enjoying the huge amount of time she invests in tracking down material. 'The research is actually fun, and the writing seems like hard work,' she confesses. 'Research is the ice cream – the dessert – and I get to have it first.'
Writing around the clock
There have been times over the past dozen years when Auel has found it hard to get back to writing. She has spent large blocks of time with her extensive family, traveling to exotic locales, filling the demands of fame, and doing research. But once she starts writing in earnest the schedule can be intense.
'I go to work at about 11:30 p.m. as my husband Ray goes off to bed,' says Auel, who often sleeps until two in the afternoon. 'I will write until six, even eight in the morning. When I see the sun come up, I know it is time to stop.'
As the end of the book approaches, the author can sense the story pulling her along. 'I get into this kind of Zen state where I am going for maybe 28 hours,' she says, then gives a giddy laugh. 'Then I will go to bed for two hours and wake up wired and write for another ten hours more. Then I go to sleep for another two hours and wake up wired again and go for another whatever.'
Responding to the critics
Popular appeal of the series aside, some critics over the years have homed in on two sensitive areas – claims that the characters often sound too modern and charges that too much research is offered in huge chunks at a time. 'These critics should do their homework,' says the author, taking on the first issue. 'In these books we are talking about modern man. These Cro-Magnon people have the same range of intelligence, facility with language, and psychological responses as people today.'
Auel tried to show patience with the second criticism. 'In a modern novel you can simply write, 'I got into my car and drove to the city for lunch.' But in a prehistoric story you have to hunt and kill an animal and find a way to build a fire to cook it. How and why you do this is not so clear. If this ingredient is not there, it doesn't work for me. So I write these books the way I want to read them!' she says, building to a shout and then laughing.
Critics and fans alike are already wondering how long they will have to wait for the final book in the series. Auel is confident that it will be finished much more quickly than the current one. She wrote a rough draft of the last two books before polishing off The Shelters of Stone.
Living without Ayla
When the author finished the rough draft of the sixth book she cried – actually writing the last words for the series should be worse. 'I feel like I have been living with Ayla all my life,' says Auel, with a catch in her voice. 'She is a friend who is always there. I have no doubt it will be hard on me. That means I have to go find someone else.'
Auel will be 66 years old by the time The Shelters of Stone comes out. But she is overflowing with ideas for what to write next. However, two ideas for novels seemed to top the list.
'What made us go from hunter-gatherers to farmers?' asks the writer. 'That would be a book on the Neolithic period of 5000 to 10,000 years ago. I also think the whole Egyptian story would be fascinating. What were the forces that caused a nation to first come together that still exists after 3000 years?'
By the way, Auel makes it clear that all projects after 'Earth's Children' will be individual novels. 'No more series! No more series!' she shouts. 'It would take me until I was 150!'
The next most recent is the following from a journalist who did an article on Jean for a magazine piece, not published at the time of posting.
The journalist spent an hour and a half with Jean on 8th November 2001 when she came to New York City to meet with her editor. Jean was very talkative, to the point where the journalist had trouble getting in her questions! Jean's husband Ray was there.
I had previously asked for some questions about the sites, and got the following information in an email from the journalist:
1. Valley of the Horses is a totally imaginary place.
2. The Sharamudoi site is an amalgam of mesolithic sites in the Iron Gates, but Jean did not know Cuina Turcului.
3. The Clan cave is based on Shanidar but put in the Crimean Peninsula.
4. The Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii is Laugerie Haute.
Thanks very much to Clarimonde who sent me this letter by Jean Auel to the editor of 'Science', originally posted by Kickdrum182 on the AuelBoard.
( Science ) Auel, Jean M.; 06-12-1998
I read with great interest Virginia Morell's Research News article "Genes may link ancient Eurasians, Native Americans" (24 Apr., p. 520). The general theory that has been proposed to account for a genetic marker that appears in people from Europe and Asia Minor, and Native Americans, but not in Asians, does not seem logical to me.
I have to question the concept of a small group of people remaining cohesive without detrimental inbreeding, and without leaving any trace, while traveling all the way across the European and Asian continents, and then across the Bering Strait land bridge. And what could possibly have motivated them to continue such a trek over the generations it would have taken to travel that far?Some years ago a theory was proposed that at least some of the original settlers in the New World, probably from Asia, did not walk across the frozen desert of Beringia, but used boats to go around the edge, where the richest supply of food would have been.
It was further suggested that these "boat people" may have traveled along the west coast of North American until they were south of the glaciers before they came inland, which could explain why South America (Chile, for example) apparently was populated before North America.There has also been speculation that Europeans could have come across the North Atlantic in boats.
I would think that if the moisture captured in glaciers dropped the level of the oceans some 300 feet, additional islands might have been exposed in the North Atlantic. And, similar to Antarctica, with the mass of glacial ice on the land, there could have been ice shelves extending out connecting these islands.There would not have to have been a land bridge; it could have been an "ice bridge." And like the stories of the Irish St. Brendan, a few Europeans could have made the voyage and met some of the larger population of Asians.
It could even have been an accident, a storm that blew a boatload or two of European marine mammal hunters (similar to Northwest Coast Indians) off course. That makes much more sense to me than a long trek overland by a small group of men and women across such a vast distance. At least it certainly makes a better story.
Jean M. Auel
Post Office Box 430,
Sherwood, OR 97140, USA
Author of The Clan of the Cave Bear, The Valley of Horses, The Mammoth Hunters, and The Plains of Passage.
From: Margaret's Corner, at:
During one of the many interviews with Jean Auel when the 4th book was released, one statement she made remains in my memory. She disclosed that Ayla would live to be 42 years old. Since she is about 18 when they reach the Zelandonii cave, I would look for the 5th book to cover up to perhaps 20 years. Obviously, there will be cultural clashes, but there are indications the Zelandonii can learn. Trading can be established with Guban's cave. Danug from the Mamutoi will visit.
This article was presented at the 1990 Society for American Archaeology Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada as part of the Special Plenary Session on archaeological looting. It is presented in the style it was given at the conference.
Romancing the Public
Jean M. Auel
In looking over the schedule, this meeting of the Society for American Archaeology promises to be informative, exciting, provocative, perhaps controversial, and stimulating.
All the elements, in fact, for a good work of fiction, except the stories that will be told here are true -- or at least as close to truth as anyone can come when dealing with information derived from artifacts and sites of ancient times.
I am the writer of fiction here, though some of the newest information emerging from the study of prehistory truly verifies the old saying that 'truth can be stranger than fiction.' The current work being done by researchers working in the field and in laboratories is truly amazing! New revelations are following so closely on the heels of new discoveries, it's hard to keep up.
One of the important issues to be raised during this conference is the question of preserving the archaeological record. Talking to this group about the importance of preserving archaeological sites is indeed a case of preaching to the converted. Archaeologists know the fascinating and important knowledge to be gained from a site that is undisturbed. The question is, why aren't people interested in preserving archaeological sites and artifacts? How do you overcome public apathy toward learning about prehistory?
Part of the problem is that many people don't identify the sites or artifacts with anything important to themselves. In this country, some think, it's just a bunch of old Indian stuff; who cares about Indian history? For others, the problem is just the opposite.
Many people like to collect fossils and artifacts, not only because of the lure of selling them for easy profits, but to put on their own shelves, if only to collect dust. After all, someone is buying the illegally sold artifacts. The interest is there, many people simply don't know the importance of undisturbed sites, or even of archaeology itself.
There is still a tendency for people to look upon hunting and gathering peoples, whether modern or prehistoric, as savages. A view expounded, often very colorfully and imaginatively, in earlier days by Victorian Antiquarians, though modern anthropologists have been trying to overcome it for many years. In a recent issue of Current Anthropology, in an article entitled 'Hunter-Gatherers and Their Neighbors from Prehistory to the Present,' Thomas Headland and Lawrence Reid point out that 'Ethnocentric and racist statements...still appear in print, and the prejudice they reflect continued to be widely held.'
They maintain that while few anthropologists today would accept any part of the 19th century evolutionary theories, many lay people continue to believe in the fiction that human peoples evolve culturally from savagery to barbarism to civilized status. 'Implausible as this viewpoint is in the light of new archaeological, linguistic, archival, and ethnographic data, it continues to overshadow recent scientifically sound analyses...' But the authors also criticize some anthropologists for reinforcing the view by presenting them as 'primitive,' 'the Savage Other,' rather than as fully modern human beings, and for failing to recognize the extent of their associations and accomplishments.
No one has more respect and admiration for scientists and researchers than I do. It is their dedication that enables all of us to know about our ancestors -- and therefore ourselves. In fact, I'm sort of an 'archaeology groupie.' I enjoy talking to the professionals, but more than that, I have a vested interest in archaeologist - and archaeology.
You, as archaeologists, make your living by 'mining' the sites for information, then adding your own skills, knowledge, insights and interpretations. The result is increased information, knowledge, and insights about who we are, where we came from, and where we may be going - and on the practical side, you get to keep on doing what you are doing: earning a living at something you enjoy.
I earn my living by 'mining' your results - your reports and papers, and conversations - then adding my interpretations, insights, imagination and skills. The result is increased knowledge and insights, and stories grounded in a solid core of scientific information that, among other things, helps people understand more about prehistory and the people we were and are, in a human and entertaining way. On the practical side, I get to keep on doing, earning a living at something I enjoy.
I also must 'dig' for my information, though not in the dirt. Let me give you an example of the kind of digging I do. I read a small item about musical instruments made out of mammoth bones found in Eastern Europe and dating to the Upper Paleolithic, but I could not find any in-depth information about them. Finally, I made a research trip to Europe which included the Soviet Union, the Ukraine, and managed to find a copy of Bibikov's book describing his research that led to the discovery that the decorated mammoth bones were musical instruments. Unfortunately, the book was written in Russian.
I bought it, along with a record of a jam session by Russian musicians played on those old mammoth bones. When I returned, I paid for a complete translation of the book. It was a fascinating piece of archaeological detective work, and I included much of that information in the third book, The Mammoth Hunters.
(The Mammoth Hunters was published five years ago, and I have been trying ever since to give that translation away to some university or academic press to publish so the information would be available to researchers here. It would require obtaining permissions, I believe, and copies of the many photographs, but I am still willing to donate the translation.)
In a recently released publication, 'Save the Past for the Future: Actions for the '90s,' which is the Final Report from the Taos Working Conference on Preventing Archaeological Looting and Vandalism, published by the Society for American Archaeology (1990), in the Summary of Major Findings, it was stated:
'Americans need - indeed, deserve - to know about their heritage and the history and prehistory of the nation. Professional archaeologists in government, private practice and academia must be more accessible and forthcoming to the public (see Lerner, Milanich, and Bense this volume for discussions of archaeology and public education). Archaeologists must explain clearly and concisely (1) why archaeology is important, (2) what public benefit is derived from archaeological activities and (3) how looting and vandalism damage that public benefit. These messages must be expressed with a unified voice and articulated in a compelling manner to all Americans.'
It is a vested interest of the archeologist to have the cooperation of the public - your jobs may depend on it - and at least for as long as I choose to write fiction about prehistory, so does mine. Therefore, I'd like to tell you a little about some of the difficulties I had finding archaeological information - besides having to go to Russia....before glasnost! - to give you some insight into what it is like to come to this subject cold, without the usual university background.
Some archaeologist/scientific specialists make information very difficult for the ordinary intelligent person to understand. If the scientist wants the cooperation of the public, it is the responsibility of the scientist to communicate, in ways that are understandable.
They must not only express their wishes and needs clearly to obtain funding, but to gain enthusiastic support they need to convey the fascination, the excitement, the pure fun of discovery. They need to involve adult members of the general public in putting together the pieces of the puzzle of who our ancestors were and how they lived, and they need to encourage children so they will grow up wanting to know more.
Archaeologists and anthropologists who work in this country need to make it clear that it is not just Indian history. It is all of humanity's history (see Knudson this volume for a discussion of archaeology and the public trust). People of European heritage, for example, tend to forget that their ancestors didn't spring full blown from agricultural or urban cultures, complete with writing and monumental architecture. Their ancestors also spent their first several million years as foragers, gatherers and hunters. Studying about the lives of any ancient people gives insight into understanding ourselves better.
But that requires helping people to understand that ancient people who lived in what is today Russia, or France, or Israel, or Africa, or Asia, or America were the same as we are. They had hopes and dreams, they loved and hated, knew compassion and jealousy, bravery and fear, ambition and loss of hope. They were brave and daring and very human.
I've tried to do it by telling stories, the way people have been doing since the beginning of time to remember and understand the legends, oral histories, and necessary lessons of survival. Though that isn't quite how I started. I began with an idea for a short story about a young woman living in prehistoric times, but when I tried to write it, I discovered I didn't know what I was writing about.
I thought I would do a little research, and discovered an exciting world full of real people that I hadn't known existed, and that no one else seemed to know about either. It made me a little angry. Why didn't I know it? Why don't most people know it? It was all there, in the non-fiction scientific material. Then I realized why. It was not written in a way that was accessible to people, and that was when I decided I was going to tell it in a way that was. In a story, but for all my enthusiasm, it was not easy to research.
I started with Encyclopedia Britannica, and went from there to the library. What I found was scientific jargon: Pebble culture Mousterian, Aurignacian, Clovis, microblade, burin, in situ, Rangifer tarandus, Chenopodium albus, Betula nana, Salix, Picea, Pinus, Pleistocene, Paleolithic. I know what those mean now because I was determined to learn, but when I started, I didn't understand a word. I still don't know if I pronounce them correctly, because in many cases, I have not heard the words spoken, I have only read them. I had to expand my vocabulary a great deal, in effect, learn a whole new language, your language, before I could make sense out of the information in libraries and journals so I could write my stories.
Should that be necessary to find out something about prehistory? Probably yes, in my case, because I needed to know as much as possible in order to create an entire prehistoric world for my fictional characters to inhabit. But I don't think it should be true for most people if all they want is a little more understanding.
How many textbooks giving an overview of history begin by condensing 'prehistory,' - the five billion years from the Big Bang to the discovery of writing - into the first one or two chapters, with a page or two on the Ice Age, and the remainder of the book devoted to the five thousand years since then? No wonder the Creationist's claims about six thousand years being the total length of time from the beginning, when God created everything, until now are believed by so many people. We have learned that fully modern humans have been around for at least a hundred thousand years, but the last five thousand are given the most attention.
Part of the problem is the result of the very dedication and years of study that are necessary to become a trained archeologist. In the closed environment of speaking about archaeology only to teachers, colleagues, and students, it becomes easy to forget that not every one understands the specialized language that invariably becomes a part of any field of study. It is true that scientific words may be more precise, but only when talking with a peer; only if the meaning is clearly understood by both the one who is speaking, and the ones being addressed.
In science, there is a tendency for many to speak in long-winded specialized words when addressing the public. And in the written material, it is almost as though there is a competition to see who can write the longest sentences and use the longest words. I recall hearing a young man speaking about 'mastication of deciduous dentition.' It took me a few moments before I realized that what he meant was 'chewing with baby teeth.' I sometimes think scientists are required to take a class entitled 'Obfuscating English.'
Unfortunately, the media doesn't help the situation. Few reporters take the time to decipher the language of science, and many are scientifically illiterate. And with electronic media, they want 'news bites' of exciting events. For example, they prefer to publicize something like the macho 'first of the big game hunters' theory to account for the extinction of Ice Age animals because it sounds more exciting, more bloody and terrible, more newsy, and it's a simplistic definition. It conveys another message. It says, in effect, not only 'we're so bad,' but it implies, 'we're so powerful.' It's easier than explaining alternative theories that are more complex but more logical.
The question is, how do you make the more interesting complex information more clear? And how do you communicate the excitement of science and the scientific process? In addition, for some scientists the idea of communicating to the public carries with it a stigma. They are afraid of incurring the dreaded 'carlsaganism', a disease to be avoided like the plague. Unfortunately, as long as that view prevails, scientists may well defeat themselves. Yes, he may have been a little overly dramatic on occasion, but he communicated, and performed a worthwhile service.
In researching for my stories, I have been most excited and moved to learn about the humanity of ancient peoples, and to understand that savagery and violence are not what define us, or what make us human. A careful study of the archaeological record shows that humanity is defined by compassion, curiosity and by art and invention. It wasn't just being able to survive, because our early ancestors did more than that. They flourished. They obtained knowledge from their environment, and had the intelligence to apply it.
Since my stories were set in the Ice Age, I had to ask what that environment was like? Was it harsh and miserable, forcing a bare hand-to-mouth, hard scrabble existence as so many believe? But then why did people come north in the first place? Humans are tropical animals, not naturally adapted to living in a cold land; why didn't they stay south where it was warm? Were they driven out by competition of fellow human beings? Or were they intelligent and adaptive, curious explorers by nature? I think they were curious. Curiosity is a strong survival trait that makes intelligent humans want to learn about their environment, and the world around them. We still are.
That leads me to the thought I'd like to leave with you: Romance the public. Let them know that what you are doing is not only important, but fun, exciting, fascinating. Get them involved. Show them how sharp a stone tool is - nothing turned my thinking around so dramatically as the first time I made a blade out of obsidian and cut a piece of leather with it.
Write at least some of your reports in clear, understandable language. It doesn't have to be fancy, but don't leave it to the media to misinterpret your findings. Get down to the level of a kid - which may be higher than some adults - and get them involved early. Imagine a Saturday morning cartoon with accurate information! Yes, it will take your time, but it's essential that people get their information from the best source.
Romance the public. They'll love you for it.
The following is from Dennis Bernhardt. He has a tape of the talk, and kindly sent me the transcript.
I am very grateful to him and to Maryann Lareau, who transcribed it.
My sincere thanks also to AnnDee who helped with editing and formatting for the web.
'Meet the Author'
Program recorded by Dennis Bernhardt at Boston Public Library, Boston, Massachusetts, USA on January 7, 1986.
On the release of Jean Auel's third book, 'The Mammoth Hunters'
Transcribed by Maryann Lareau, December 20, 2001
I really have a very warm spot in my heart for libraries, and a very good reason: It was a library very much like this one that changed my life more than I imagined it would. I was pleased when they asked me to come here to talk to you.
The people who come here today come from a broad range of backgrounds - different levels of expertise, in education and experience - but I'm sure you all have shared one thing; you have an interest of communicating with words. An interest in reading, perhaps in writing. And I suppose as you were gathering together, and talking with each other, you were exchanging ideas, knowledge, and information.
It is with that feeling that I'm here today to share my experiences. To talk to you about writing. To tell you my story. Some writers say that they knew from the time they were six, or ten, or three, or whatever, that they knew that they wanted to write when they grew up. I was forty before I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. What I wanted to do is tell stories, to write fiction. Though I didn't know it until I started writing, and I will confess to you that there are times, even now, when I'm not entirely convinced that telling stories is what grown ups really do for a living.
How did I begin?
I'll give you a little thumbnail autobiography if I may. My grandparents, all four of them, were born in Finland, and both parents were raised on farms in northern Michigan, but they managed the problem (?) when they went there to find work. I was the second of five children. My parents were intelligent but they were working people and education was never particularly stressed in my family. My mother's goal for me was the same as that of most mothers of teenaged daughters in the nineteen fifties, get married and have children. I think that goal is still the same across the states. It sort of disturbed her when I turned out to be a bookworm; and in high school when I studied typing and shorthand, so that I could have a career as a secretary. She wasn't too sure if she wanted me to study and have a career. That was a little too advanced and independent for the nineteen fifties.
But in nineteen fifty four, right after graduation from high school, I did get married. I was eighteen years old. My husband, Ray, was nineteen and he was in the Air Force, stationed in New Mexico. It was the Korean War then. Fortunately it was over before he had to go to war, and in nineteen fifty six, when he was discharged, We decided to start over, we heeded the admonition to go West, and with one child, and expecting a second, we went to Oregon. My husband, Ray, went to school on the GI Bill. Also, (he) worked full time to support this growing family, so I helped him with his studies; typing papers, reading some books for research, and taking notes, (sometimes writing the paper).
But children do mean expenses, so I decided to put my typing and office skills to use and grateful that I had that clerical training, I went to work. Some time later, when Ray went to work for Tektronix Inc, which is an electronics firm in Eugene Oregon, I stopped working for a while. I was now going to be able to stay home and take care of the kids. My fifth was born, four days short of my twenty fifth birthday. Children are wonderful. I really wouldn't trade that experience for anything in the world, and I doubt that I could have written the book that I did without it.
But my world was rather limited in those days and after a while conversation with a two year old ceased to be enough! I got restless, and bored, I needed more intellectual stimulation. And I began by shifting my reading habits, from fiction to nonfiction. I've always been a reader. I'm an inveterate, obsessive, compulsive reader and I can't not have a book going all the time. Suddenly, instead of stories and fiction, I started to read psychology, history, and philosophy. I read Jung and Freud and The Games People Play, Will Durant's The Story of Civilization, John Candy's Mainstreams of Modern Art, and I went through Plato and Aristotle, to Nietzsche to Descarte, to Simone de Beauvoir, to Betty Friedan.
By then it was nineteen sixty four. I was twenty eight, and the times 'they were a-changin'. I was 'the generation', that Betty Friedan spoke to in The Feminine Mystique. And her book was a catalyst for me. Reading at home ceased to be enough. I wanted to be a person! I wanted to do something myself! And her book convinced me that I could be whatever I wanted to be! I decided that it was my turn to get an education. And what I decided to study was Physics.
Well you know, when I went to Kindergarten I wanted to play with the blocks and the trains, the teacher made me play with the dolls. I see this happening still. I see my grandchildren, I now have five grown children, eight biological grandchildren, one step grandchild, and one on the way, but its the same thing, you know, they give cars to boys, right! And they take them around the floor, and they push them. And you know they're getting an understanding of acceleration. Right there at that gut level. And when you throw a ball you're getting that sense of what momentum means. And when you play with blocks and Tinker-Toys you're understanding spatial awareness. Well, I didn't think about that then. What I thought was 'I understand words - reading is easy - I can put one word after an other and make a sentence - if I'm going to go to school I want to learn something I don't know. And I don't know how things work'. I defined Physics as the science of 'how things work'. I also knew by then, that to do a job, you need the proper tools. To chop vegetables, its nice to have a sharp 'French Chef' knife.
For physics, you need math. And I planned to start at the bottom with beginning algebra. I was married at eighteen, and my education to that time was just graduating from high school. The trouble was that the expenses of a large family just don't decrease when your children get older. And we wanted more than the bare necessities. When my oldest daughter was going to school and taking violin lessons and developed an aptitude for music, it would be nice to be able to pay for violin lessons for her. My husband told me about a job in the billing department at the company he was working for as a keypunch operator, and I had keypunch training. I was experienced, and I applied and I got the job.
But then what about my dream of going to school? Well, I had found appropriate day care for the younger children, and began working full time and enrolled in night school classes in algebra. That set a pattern for the next eleven or twelve years. Algebra wasn't easy in the beginning. I'd been away from school for a long time and I had to learn good study habits and self-discipline. But I was determined! and after a while I got the hang of it and it became fun, sort of like solving puzzles. And after working at Tektronix for a while, I began to notice something else! Technical jobs paid about twice as much as clerical jobs, even with no experience necessary. I'd five kids. And if I was going to work eight hours a day, it seemed reasonable to earn as much as I could while I was doing it, so I applied for a job within the company as a circuit board designer trainee. The job really didn't require math, but after algebra, and trigonometry and a little analytical geometry, I was being more confident of my technical skills. Some people were rather hesitant about hiring that little secretary down the hall, but they tried to be very objective in their hiring, it was based on testing, both aptitude and some hands-on attempts at designing circuit boards, and I past all their tests with the highest scores. They didn't have any choice. Maybe some of that analytical geometry did help!
The job turned out to be puzzle solving games that were so much fun I almost felt guilty excepting a pay check. And I kept seeking more and more complex projects and kept on taking night classes. Analytical geometry, calculus, differential equations, physics, electronics, some russian. I took other courses too, not all so heavy. I like to cook. I suppose in those days a lot of my creative energies were expressed in cooking, and I took wine tasting classes so that I could learn what wines would go with what foods. I had taken some art courses and learned that I didn't have quite enough talent to be really good at it, but I did learn to appreciate art and I discovered poetry.
After about seven years the fun of circuit board design began to pale a little and I'd come to realize that one does not become a physicist taking one or two night classes in math or science a term. Almost by accident after writing a small instruction manual for a circuit board design, I began to do some technical writing at work - instruction manuals for customers and the use of oscilloscopes, sort of translating engineering language into english.
But that wasn't really satisfying - insert power supply, check the input beam, adjust the amplitude - and the changing times had brought new awareness to women about the possibilities in management. I began to cast my eyes on the upper echelons. I heard about a program that was offered by the University of Portland, and I thought I'd look into it. If one could pass The National Admission Test for Graduate Study In Business, (this is the one area one must take, whether you have a Bachelors degree or not), and if you could score substantially high enough, that was what was required if you already had a bachelors degree, and if you could get letters of recommendation and so on and so forth, you would be considered for admission into a Masters Program of Business Administration, even without a masters. I decided to try. After all, I had succeeded before by taking tests to show that I could do it, and if I could solve a triple integration in spherical coordinates in calculus, I ought to be able to understand economics and accounting. My husband also applied at that time and we were both admitted.
Recently I was surprised to learn that nearly fifty percent of business school students are women. When I started I was the second woman in that business program, and I was also the only woman in my classes. I got that MBA In nineteen seventy six. That's ten years ago, a short time for that much change. In the mean time I had gone to management training programs in Tektronix and worked myself into the position of credit manager. I was one of five who was responsible for this international corporation's entire multi-million dollar accounts receivable. I was on my way on up the corporate ladder.
So how did I get from an MBA credit manager to writing best selling novels about the Ice Age? Block figures! It really began with discontent. Circuit board design was fun at times! Credit Management wasn't fun. It was really just sort of an on going, every day thing. Actually it was too much like housework. There's that same kind of a process. There's that on-going tension, you know, when you're running a house you've got to worry about the kids, and are they going to go to the birthday party and are they going to get mud on their dress, and they have a dentist appointment and you've got to get them there, or you've got a theme paper to type for somebody because it's late and they want to impress the teacher, or you've to make a prom dress for a daughter, or you've got an employee who's got a sick kid, or the reports don't come in on time, or you've got to have an emergency meeting because - it's the same on going process.
Eventually that discontent led me to a decision, this was in November of nineteen seventy six, about six months after I got my MBA, quit my job at Tektronix, and to look for some other new, exciting, wonderful job! But what? Should I work for someone else? Should I go into business for myself? What ever I did, it seemed logical to look for something in business. After all, I worked very hard to get that MBA. The trouble is - I wasn't trying very hard. I would scan the newspapers, and send out resumes, only I'd forget to put the cover letter in, that's a good way not to be considered. We had two sons in high school and three daughters in college and we'd made some financial commitments to them, and they'd worked pretty hard doing summer work, vacations, and they'd gotten grants and loans, and scholarships; and there's always that gap in between and we felt that it was important for them to get a college education and so we had made a commitment and they were counting on the help from their folks.
I felt that I really needed to be working, but I was vacillating and I wasn't sure why. As I said, I was never one of those people who said, 'some day I'm going to write a book'. I didn't know I wanted to write a book. I didn't even know I could write a book. I never took a class in creative writing, or even in anthropology or archaeology. But, sometime early in nineteen seventy seven, late at night, an idea for a story came into my mind. I don't know where it came from, But it was a story of a girl who was living with people who were different. Less advanced. I knew I was thinking prehistory. But they were looking at her as though she was different. I thought that was an interesting twist. I wondered - could I write that story? I could try! It would be something to fill up the time until I found that great wonderful job! Little did I know.
I literally sat down at my kitchen table with a pencil and a yellow lined tablet and started to write. About ten pages into it I discovered something. First it was fun. I liked writing the stories, but then I'd always liked to read them, so that shouldn't have been so strange. The other thing was I didn't know anything. I didn't know what they look like. I didn't know what they wore. I didn't know where they lived. What did they eat? Did they use fire? How did they carry water? I knew how to find out though. Creative writing teachers often stress to aspiring writers that they should write about what they know. I think that its more important to know what you write about. And term research papers not only teach you about the subject you are researching, they teach you how to use a library. So I started there. And I discovered the complex, fascinating, sophisticated, icy world of our Stone Age ancestors.
It was a unique time in our prehistory, when two different kinds of humans lived together. A perfect setting, it seemed to me, for new, fresh, and exciting fiction. Why fiction? I suppose because I started with a story in mind, but also, because in the course of researching for the story, I discovered the humanity of those ancient ancestors. The views of the general public lag behind the academic community by many years in most scientific disciplines. But the gap between the commonly held view of prehistoric stone age cave man and the scientists understanding of the Upper Paleolithic Ice Age populations is even more vast than the 35 000 years that separate us. The reading absorbed me and made fire of my imagination.
There was the Neanderthal that had been buried with flowers. Flowers of plants that today have a known medicinal value. And an old man lying with one arm crippled, probably had a birth defect, arm amputated. Not broken off! Amputated. Tell me, what Neanderthal knew how to stop the bleeding of an amputated arm? Or how to treat shock? Or, who would take care of a crippled boy? Or an old man, with one arm and one eye? And why? Why did they bury their dead with obvious care and ritual? Was it compassion, love, humanity, and who was Cro-Magnon? Savage? Ape-man? No, Cro-Magnon was the first appearance on earth of ourselves! One of the skeletons found at the site called Cro-Magnon was of a man who was six foot six inches tall. He would have been handsome by any woman's standards today. He'd probably have been on the basketball team.
And what about the Cro-Magnon Negroids? The two skeletons found in Ice Age Europe, of a black middle aged woman, and a black teenaged boy? Could they have been a mother and son who were buried together? What about the sensitive, skillful paintings of our cave walks in France, the exquisite ivory carvings, the first needles. Think of a needle - yeah, it has a little shaft, it's got a point at one end, it's got a hole at the other end, you pick it up, you instantly know what it is, you know because you use them today. They were invented 35 000 years ago and the design is yet to be improved upon. What do you know when you find a needle? They were probably not running around in dirty skins thrown over one shoulder, because the other shoulder never gets cold, they were sewing clothes. It was cold! They needed to have clothes that covered them. What else does it tell you? Who was skilled enough to make a sharp pointed tool, probably out of flint, a little boring tool that could bore a tiny little hole in the end of a needle by hand? Imagine the level of skill that it would take, to make a stone tool that could do that job?
They had houses. We think of hunting gathering people as being nomadic, but the people in the Upper Paleolithic of the Ukraine, built houses, semi-subterranean permanent ones, constructed out of mammoth bones and arranged in pleasingly aesthetic patterns. For example, the lower jaw bone of the mammoth, the mandible, is a V shaped bone, quite large actually, and there's one house in particular that they found where they were stacked, one on top and then another, and another, four deep, all around this domed shaped circular dwelling. They found them collapsed in, but still in that same shape. When you look at it put together it makes sort of a zig zag pattern, except for the entrance which happens to be two tusks of mammoths, where the butt ends are in the ground, and the tops come together and are fastened together with a sleeve of bone, usually a hollowed leg bone making an arch. That's architectural design using materials at hand. There weren't very many trees on the Ukrainian steppes, so they used the bones of mammoths which were the best building constructing materials they had available.
Among the artifacts found in one of those dwellings were musical instruments with distinctive tonal qualities, made of Mammoth bones. You know these are not the remains of prehistorical savages. These were fully developed humans. No different from anyone alive today. Except for the world they lived in; it was newer, larger, rawer, colder, but one richer with life. And I could feel characters growing out of that research and coming to life. Those old fossil bones were fleshing out. I began to sense that not only was it possible to write fiction about that period, but that fiction was the only way that their story could be told. Eric Hoffer, the American philosopher, commented that 'It is the individual only that is timeless. Societies, cultures and civilizations, past and present, are often incomprehensible to outsiders. But the individual's hungers, dreams, pre-occupations and anxieties have remained unchanged.'
And I had begun to see the individuals. The medicinal flowers gave me Iza (Nezzie in transcription), the medicine woman, who first saw the orphan child and had compassion enough to pick her up and take her with them. The Neanderthal with one eye and one arm gained dignity as Creb, the holy man of great wisdom, whose willingness to accept a strange girl that was unlike his own people. A girl who was like us! Ayla grew up with the Clan of the Cave Bear, but she could not stay with them.
In The Valley of Horses, Ayla truly lived on the edge of survival. Alone, and discovered the necessities of mother's invention. In her loneliness animals became her companions, before anyone had even thought to domesticate them. I couldn't help to wonder how and why were animals first tamed? Then later Jondalar came into her life, the tall, handsome Cro-Magnon and he began teaching her the ways of her own kind. But it was not until they went to live with the Mammoth Hunters that Ayla learned the real differences and similarities between the people that raised her and the people like herself.
Ayla discovered the inventiveness of the Mamutoi, their artistic creativeness, their laughter, their songs, and their dance. But she learned that there was another side to them when she got caught in their ambitions, petty hatreds, and jealousies.I took field classes which included building a snow cave, digging for roots, brain tanning leather, (that was fun squishing the brains in the bottom of a plastic bucket; great fun!) But I'll tell you something; it was a three-day process at minimum, taking that stiff old deer hide and turning it into soft velvet buckskin. But it was an eye opening, learning experience. And I'll tell you! The first one who figured it out must have been a sheer genius. I also learned to pressure-flake a stone tool. I'm no expert at any of these things. All I did was learn enough to be able to get a sensitivity of what it would take to do it. I could not have made a tool that would bore a hole through a needle. But I wanted to feel closer to the every day life of these hunting-gathering ancestors. Not because I wanted to be an anthropologist, but because I wanted to be a good novelist.
I wanted to tell good stories that have the feel of authenticity so that readers can willingly suspend their sense of disbelief. That's why any writer of fiction researches. It required some special efforts to research the Upper Paleolithic People of the Ukraine. In addition to papers, and communications from several specialists, I also went to Czechoslovakia and Kiev. Found a book there on the mammoth hunters' forms of musical instruments. I had been trying to find information on it and could not find anything on it and now I know why! It's because it wasn't here yet.
I had read a little tiny blurb in The Science Digest; and it's interesting that I have, as a matter of fact, commissioned a translation of that book and donated it to the University of Maine at Orono, with a copy of this book. They're going to make up a Center for the Study of Early Man there. And I just heard from Rob Bonixson, and he's read the material, and he's very impressed with it and he's going to see what they can do to publish it here so that it's available to the people here. Since its already translated, he might as well. But you know many characters grew out of that special research too!
The gigantilith - there are special sledge hammer sized stone axes, a huge big thing about fifteen inches long, (they call it a gigantilith or a megalith), that gave me the character that I called Talut. Talut, the great red haired bear of a head man who could wield that axe as though it were a toy to break the bones and the tusks of the woolly Mammoths when they were butchering them. And that suggested his sister, Tulie, the head woman, who was nearly his equal in size. And Talut's woman, Nezzie, who adopted the boy that reminded Ayla so much of her own son. She was suggested by figurines of the motherly women that were found throughout the region, as a matter of fact throughout Ice Age Europe. And then there had to be the one that carved ivory, Ranec (Brinan in the transcript), and he's the dark man, suggested by Agamemnon in Euripedes' play Hecuba. (Agamemnon was the king who fought Troy to make them give up Helena.)
He captivates Ayla. First with his differentness, then with his artistry and his charm. And, of course, fires Jondalar's jealousy. You know it takes more than research to write a novel. I've read fiction for as long as I can remember. I love good stories especially if they explore the nature of human nature. In particular if they pick me up and put me down some place else. I read everything, every category, old and new, character and story telling poems.
I loved fairy tales when I was growing up and I still do. I like stories of imagination, of distant places, historical fiction, science fiction, the classics. Classics are really full of historical fiction any more. Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, is a russian soap opera set in the nineteenth century. It may have been contemporary to Tolstoy; today it's historical fiction. So is Chekhov, Claude Baron, Dickens, Jack London's adventures can still keep me up until the wee hours in the morning, and so can Rudyard Kipling's.
So, I had done enough reading to know, after I read the first draft of a very long novel in six parts as I had titled as Toogan (?) and it stunk! I did not know how to write; at least not know how to write fiction! So, what I did! I went back to the library. I thought about taking a class in creative writing, but I've been taking enough classes to know that, number one, while a teacher can be wonderful to guide you and to direct you, everybody teaches themselves. You have to learn anything that you learn in any class yourself. And besides that I'd be taking a class two or three nights a week, two hours a night, and writing what some teacher wanted me to write; and I'd been working something like fourteen to sixteen hours a day, seven days a week with an obsession on this story; and I just kept up with that pace; and I got books on how to write fiction. And I got books on literature that discuss what makes good writing, and I studied them and I analyzed other novels and then I went back to rewrite.
And then I discovered another problem. I didn't have one big novel called Earth's Children in six parts; I had a series of six novels. I got about half way through the first of these six parts, and I got about a hundred thousand words, and I began to estimate how this was going to work out. I've got a million and a half words, there are no books like this that anyone would want to read. And I can remember telling my husband, that I've got six novels, and he said, 'What do you mean! You've never even written a short story, and you talk about six novels.' That's the way it worked. I tell you one thing! I'll never commit to six novels again.
Finally, once I made that decision, I rewrote the story that I called The Clan Of The Cave Bear, and rewrote it probably four complete times, and sections of it, maybe, thirty or forty times. I began to feel like I had a story. And from nineteen seventy seven to this point, which was about the end of nineteen seventy eight, it took slightly a little less than two years to have a finished novel on twenty weight bond paper, typed, finished draft, the whole thing. It was about two hundred thousand words long, and I had an outline for five more books and all I needed was a publisher.
But, you know, that had already sent me back to the library for books on how to get published. But, you know, like the research for the book, I went a step farther, and joined a writer's club, so that I could associate with people who were writers, who could teach me something. And I went to a writer's conference.
There was a literary agent at the first writers' conference that I attended in nineteen seventy seven, and she impressed me, and she was from New York. She'd come all the way to Portland, Oregon. I spoke with her briefly. She gave me her business card. Actually what I think I said was, 'I'm writing this wonderful story about cave men. Would you like to read it when I'm done?' 'Yeah, Lady. Cave men?' She was very gracious; she gave me her business card. But, somehow, when my book was finished, I decided, well! Why should I pay an agent to do this, I can get it published myself? This is ignorance speaking I'll tell you. And so I got Writers' Market out of the library, and I started sending out queries, and sample chapters, and outlines, and synopses, and getting half page rejection slips, saying 'It doesn't meet our publishing schedule right at this time.' They could have said no. It would have been easier.
Finally I decided that maybe I should eat a little humble pie and perhaps that agent did know a little more about the publishing world than I did. And I dug out her business card and I sent her a query. And that was the smartest thing I ever did. She said 'send the manuscript, it sounds interesting.' And she liked it! You get the noes. You know, you brace, you begin to send it out, and you brace, because it's not fun getting 'No'. It's not fun getting rejections! You cry a lot and then you send it out again. And you sort of brace, you say - and the letter comes, and it says, You write beautifully, and you've created this whole new world and I want my agency to represent you and you go 'Whooo!' She did more than that. You know she even had the audacity to setup an auction for a first novel by a totally, completely unknown, unpublished author, because she believed in it so much.
And in September of nineteen eighty, my first novel was published by Crown Publishers and became a best seller. And that was only the beginning. There was some concern about the second book. The second book always has some concerns. Even I worried. You always worry. You can do a first book, but can you do a second one? Its funny, I never worry about it when I'm writing it. I get too involved in the story to worry. I can't think about anything else. But afterwards, you know, when it's out of my hands that is when you worry about it.
But The Valley Of Horses did even better than Clan did and now the third, The Mammoth Hunters is slightly more than overwhelming. I don't even know what to make of all that. You know, Norman Cousins once wrote, 'The writer's art is measured by the ability to transcend personal memory. The function of the writer is to widen the path to the subconscious, to awaken memories of the race, to refine the ability of an individual to have contact with life, to be at one with the others.' I've learned a great deal about ourselves from exploring our early beginnings, and I've gained some valuable insights. Looking at the past has given me hope for the future. Because the evidence shows that humanity is not defined by brutality and violence.
Do you know what the biggest difference between man today and the Neanderthals (Cro-Magnons in the transcript) is? It is nothing to do with how we walk, nor with the size of the brain, because the Neanderthal cranial capacity is actually larger than ours and they had a very complex society. Do you know what happened when we came on the scene? Art! We were the first people to express ourselves artistically. Wasn't that a wonderful discovery to make? And we're defined by our creative impulse. And that creative impulse not only shows much intelligence and beauty. But I have a lot of fear. When I study the art and the artifacts of those ancient ancestors I wonder if forty thousand years from mow, the record we leave behind, will it show as much intelligence, and beauty as the one left behind by Ice Age Cave Man? Thank You.
QUESTION: Have you had one editor or a series of editors? And what have they contributed to your success?
ANSWER: It's really difficult to pin point the input of an editor. My first editor, the one who fell in love with The Clan Of The Cave Bear, has since left Crown Publishers, and is now with Dell/Delacorte (Bantam Dell and Delacorte are part of the even bigger Random House group) as publisher, so for The Valley Of Horses and The Mammoth Hunters, I've had a different editor, Betty Crashderet, at Crown. One of the things of writing a book, at least it's been my experience, that editors of writers of books do not make arbitrary changes on your book. They do not say - they do not mark things in your book. Apparently that happens more so in freelance writing for magazines and newspapers and stuff, or even if you're just on the staff. Editors can just come in and change a lot of things. In writing books, mostly what happens is an editor will go through - and its another pair of eyes, it looks at your work, and they suggest, (well, I think that this doesn't fit together), or (this would be clearer if you . . .), (how about clarifying this), and then I take it back and redo those writings if I choose to.
And if I say 'no! That's the way I want it to be. I don't think that 'park' is too modern a word, and I want to use that word' Its a give and take process, and if I really have dug in my heels, and say 'no! I don't want to change that' no one's forced me to change anything. But usually the changes have been helpful, in terms of tying together loose ends, and bringing things together. And probably sort of a moral support and someone on your side, and it's good to have a good editor, but its hard to pin point, but it's good to have.
QUESTION: Do you see your books as feminist statements?
ANSWER: Let me say this: I am a feminist! There's no one who can work in the business world for very long without believing in equality for everyone. I also have to say that I have two sons as well as three daughters, and I'll guarantee you that I don't love my sons any less than I love my daughters and I want that equality for them just as well. So I want to see a world with that sense and that's my whole feeling. And any author who writes a book brings that personal experience and that personal philosophy and that personal sensitivity to anything that they write. I had absolutely no intention of writing a feminist book. I was just writing a book that said, 'This is the book I always wanted to read.' 'This is the heroine that I didn't have when I was growing up, because when I read books very often, if there were woman, or girls in them, they were kind of sitting around in the background being Heroines! Waiting for someone to come and save them! And I was always with the protagonist.
If he was out snick, snicking with a sword, I was out snick, snicking with a sword. That's the way - you tend to follow the protagonist. And then, when they got to the stage where they were writing stories of strong women, they never seemed to be women. They seemed to be carbon copies of men. There are certain biological factors in a woman's life that she absolutely has no control over. Like, given the normal course of events, and if she doesn't do anything about it, she's going to (have) babies, and if she is not going to have babies, she's going to have to actively do something to prevent (herself) from having babies, one way or another. And these are factors that are an element in any women's life. That doesn't mean that she's not going to have adventures. So, I just wanted to write an adventure story about a woman and I wanted to give that sense of history. Everybody (who) talked about cave men and what they were in a book - they were in the background and there wasn't that sense of feeling. So I wanted to write sensitive male characters, and I find that at least a third of the fan mail that I get comes from men, and they seem to be very much positive about those books too. So it's not in any way intended to be feminist, it's just intended to be a story about people.
QUESTION: How did you create your names for your characters?
ANSWER: It's really just sort of sheer imagination. Often I start with letters of the alphabet, or syllables, and I'll write ab, ac, ad, and ba, ca, and so on until they feel right. And after a while sort of a pattern will develop for each particular group of people with maybe some anomalies there might be similar endings on names. With 'The Clan Of The Cave Bear' I tried, since I had decided with the particular point of view that's primarily proposed by Professor Liebermann at Brown University, that there was some limitation in the Neanderthal's ability to communicate.
I wanted to kill the limitation so I wanted simple kinds of names. But I also wanted to be able to differentiate between at least male and female, and if you get Mary and Joanne, or Peter and John, we know if whether its a male of a female. So in my Clan, I'm going to have my males names start and end with a consonant and female names will have two syllables and start and end with vowels. And that becomes kind of an unconscious thing, so that even though you may not quite remember who that minor character is, you will usually sense if its male or female. And then I limited myself to certain letters of the alphabet, the sounds that felt that they might work out. It's just a feeling.
QUESTION: Do you know when once you have reached a certain point in your research that it's the time to let your creative energies go with a particular point in your official writing of that book?
ANSWER: It's really a feed back. Because I'm constantly researching and constantly writing. One is always feeding back on the other. In the first place I started with a story, I went to the library, and I got this great big stack of books. And I just sat down and read them. And they were everything. Time Life coffee table books, in-depth prehistorical technology, and textbooks, and I read them all from cover to cover. And as I was going through I would stop to take notes and as that was happening the story kept growing and kept expanding and kept evolving. So when I got through that first material, that sort of gave me the overview. And then I would get to a place where I would need to know more, and so I go to till I get stuck and I kind of resist it at first, I don't want to stop writing and go look up some more.
In The Mammoth Hunters, for example, I had a scene where Ayla is off hunting with her friend Deegie, and Deegie is actually checking her traps that she set, because she wants to get some white fur for clothing that she is making, and Ayla goes along and she takes her sling with her. And there's a part where she wants to get some white fur, but she doesn't (want) to get white fox fur, she wants to get ermine. And suddenly here I am saying that this character, and I have already set up this characteristic that she learned to hunt by hunting carnivores animals when she was young, so she had better know all about these carnivores animals called ermines.
So I suddenly stop and go check six books and do a research paper as quick as possible into my machine, because I'm now on a word processor, and get as many facts as I can about background, coloration, hunting . . . and try to use that then and have it handy so that she is hunting the animal, she knows about it. I had to learn about it so that she would know about it. Then we go from there. Of course, I made great wonderful discoveries that often times add another element to the story. So, I never do all the research and now I'm done. I start with the story and it's really the story that pushes and pulls me all the way along.
QUESTION: When can we expect the next book in the series?
ANSWER: I'm going to try to get it done in two years. I'm going to try to get the next three done one every two years. I took three years for this last one because it's appreciably longer. I didn't mean for it to get that long, but it just was!
From Rachel, posted on the TE discussion board Wednesday, 21 November 2001 under the heading 'Lecture from 1986'
I was able to attend a lecture at Pacific University, Forest Grove, OR, in 1989. JA was just about to released PoP, and my lovely mother took me along to listen to this AMAZING discussion.
I remember that the room (a small class room!) was packed, standing room only! I think I was the only person that wasn't holding a copy of at least one of her books. She talked for approximately an hour about researching for the books, and unfortunately I don't remember a lot of what she said. (I was only 13!) I do remember her mentioning the Ukraine, quite a bit.
I also remember one story that really surprised me. She said she was having difficulties coming up with a name for her main character. She wanted something simple, but not too modern. 'Ayla' came to her when her and her husband were watching this special on South American Natives. They were rowing down the Amazon, chanting, 'Aaaayla, Aaaayla...' and both her and her husband shouted, 'THAT's it! AYLA!'
She also did say that when she originally wrote the outline, it would encompass 6 books. So, in case there are any skeptics, directly from JA's mouth, there will be 6!
I am hoping that she will do another lecture, especially since I live in her neck of the woods!
This is a transcript of a post by AnnDee on the Lion Camp Message Board.
Posted by AnnDee on 29th July 2001 on the Lion Camp EC Discussion Board.
On Tuesday, April 24, 1990 I went to a lecture by Jean Auel hosted by the Sacramento Archeological Society. I'm often asked about this, and I've posted about it many times, even on this board, I thought. I can't find the post, so I hope I don't bore anyone with this.
I hope anyone who has heard Jean Auel speak (in interviews, lectures, etc.), or read any interviews or other information, will add any tidbits of information. I just can't believe that I'm the only computer-literate person on the board who attended that lecture!
It's been a long time, and I've forgotten a lot. At the time, I also filtered out what I already knew, so she talked about a lot of things I don't mention. Quotes are as best I remember them. There were several hundred people in a HUGE auditorium.
Jean started out saying that people often ask her 'What is real? Well, none of it is real.' It is/was her interpretation of artifacts and digs. She had to pick the interpretation that made the most sense for her characters.
She told us of a Negroid skeleton found in the Ukraine. 'Ranec, you DO exist!'
She told us of reading about a 6' 5-3/4' man, who would have been handsome by anyone's standards, and 'I knew I had found my Jondalar.' She rounded the height up to 6' 6'.
She told us about ceramics, and used almost the same words she uses in POP to describe the first use of ceramics: for art, not for utilitarian purposes.
During Intermission, she signed books. I got my HB copy of TMH signed, and book plates for the others (which, at that time I only had in PB).
After Intermission, Jean read excerpts from POP. The parts she read were the lead-in to the mammoth mating scene, ending with the scream of one of the mammoths. And the ride through the tall grass, which led up to Ayla and Jondalar meeting with the Feathergrass Camp, ending with Ayla seeing the tents of the camp (this was obviously rearranged in the actual book, but if you read them together, you can see how the lead-in might have been written).
Then Auel took questions. To me, the outstanding questions were about Sex and Durc.
Fairly late in the question period someone asked about all the sex. Jean's body language clearly said, 'I'd hoped that one wouldn't come up this time.' She said that sex was a natural part of life, and, since she was describing everything else, to leave it out would be a cop-out. She said it was important that the readers know that the woman's pleasure was more important than the man's. That to just have them go off into the bushes would allow readers to imagine sex in terms of male gratification. Finally, she talked about how difficult it was to find terms for female genitalia that were neither clinical, nor vulgar.
Someone asked 'Will Ayla ever get Durc back?' Jean shook her head slowly and said quietly, 'No.' Then she said that maybe when she was finished with Ayla's story, she would write Durc's. The crowd went wild!
Someone else asked about Jondalar. Jean said he was definitely a part of the story, and would not be written out.
The last question was, 'Will they have a baby?' Jean said, 'You'll have to read the book.'
Then there was a reception, which cost extra money, but which my friend and I were happy to fork over when we bought our tickets. Wine was served in glasses with Jean's signature etched on them (I still have mine; sorry I didn't snag at least one more!)
I got TMH inscribed personally, and I got to talk to Jean several times during the reception.
I told her I got 'Adam and Eve' out of the books. Jean said that whatever I read into it was correct, but that Adam and Eve hadn't been her intention.
I told Jean about the inconsistency of grandma Uba not being available to dispose of Creb. Her eyes got wide, but she didn't give any kind of explanation.
I asked how tall Ayla was. Jean said she pictured Ayla as being 6' tall. I asked this because the poster described Ayla as being 5'6'. Jean said that her husband, Ray (who was there), had designed the posters. Jean is about 5' nothing, so I guess he would think that 5'6' is tall.
I overheard part of Jean's explanation of where she got the name, 'Ayla.' She said she was watching a documentary on some indigenous people and they were doing something rhythmic (later, others have said it was paddling a boat, but I didn't hear that part). To keep the beat, they chanted, 'Ayla! Ayla! Ayla!' And that's how our favorite heroine was named. It's also why I don't think we'll ever find out what Ayla's real name was.
We got home at about 3:00 a.m. and had to go to work that morning.
I have a program of 'An Evening With Jean Auel' (complete with wine spots). Commentary says:
Jean M. Auel
Jean Auel did not begin to write fiction until three of her children were in college and two were in high school. She had just earned a Masters in Business Administration, and quit a job which she had held for twelve years. With time on her hands, she began to put in story form an idea about a young girl in prehistoric times. Her research began at her local library but quickly spread to courses in plant identification and hands-on experiences in tool making, leather working and cordage making. Along the way she discovered the humanity of our ancient ancestors. She says,
'I read about the Neanderthal who had been buried with flowers - flowers of plants that today have known medicinal values. And the old man, blind in one eye, crippled, arm amputated - not broken off, amputated. I asked myself the question, 'What Neanderthal knew how to stop the bleeding of an amptated arm?' Why did they bury their dead with obvious care and ritual?'
Later research took her to France to see the Lascaux cave paintings and on to Austria, Czechoslovakia and the USSR. This was a private research trip with David Abrams, Director of the Sacramento Archeological Society, and Diane Kelly, Art Historian. On this tour, Mrs. Auel studied the art and artifacts of ancient peoples - ivory, stone and antler carvings, tools and inventions, musical instruments and dwellings.
Her characters also grew out of the research. While scientists doing prehistoric research have differing interpretations of the archeological evidence, the novelist has to settle on one approach that seems to make the most sense for her characters.
Her newest book in the series Earth's Children will be published in the fall. In the fourth of six books, 'The Plains of Passage', Ayla and Jondalar move westward from the home of the mammoth hunters toward Jondalar's home in the land of the Zelandonii (France).
I wonder why her eyes went wide when you asked her about the inconsistency. Was it that she didn't like it, or she hadn't realized it?
I think she hadn't realized it.
AnnDee had emailed Daniel, another regular poster at Lion Camp some time earlier with another version of the evening with Jean Auel. Daniel very kindly found it and posted it on the Lion Camp website.
It was a two-hour talk, with a reception afterwards. I'll add '...Or Words To That Effect' when I can't remember exactly what was said; I'll use ' ' when I'm pretty sure of the wording. When I think of this experience, I think of our favorite author as Jean.
Jean Auel gave a lecture to the Sacramento Archaeological Society just before POP was published. A friend, whose daughter is/was a member, invited several of us to attend. I was the only one able to go.
Jean started the talk by saying that she is often asked, 'How much is REAL? Well, none of it is REAL.' She went on to say that the books are her interpretation of facts or artifacts, and should not be read as FACT. I filtered out some of the talk because I had read or heard it elsewhere (I had already heard two radio interviews, seen one on TV, and read at least one other). Some of the new information was about the pottery. Jean said almost exactly what she says in POP about pottery being the first material humans changed for their use, and the first pottery being art, not utilitarian. She told about reading about finding the skeleton of a tall man, 'handsome by anyone's standards', and knowing she had found Jondalar. Jean also told about the recent discovery of the skeleton of a Negroid man on the steppes of the USSR. 'Ranec, you DO exist!' She also spoke about the troubles with the movie, which had just been resolved (the troubles). Someone high in production had wanted to make Broud the hero - last member of a noble dying race and all that. (Or words to that effect) She said she had liked all the actors.
Short break. Then Jean read two passages from POP. The first ending with the mammoth scream, the second another description of Ice Age flora that I can't find right now. Then Jean took questions from the floor. Three questions stand out: 'Will she ever get Durc back?' Jean shook her head and quietly said, 'No.' Then someone asked about the sex in the books. Jean said she could have glossed over the sex, but that it was to gloss over that daily activity, when she detailed so many other daily activities. (Remember, nothing was hidden from children, and we, the readers, are children in this. - my interpretation.) The second reason, was that to have left Pleasures to the imagination, would have allowed the reader to imagine male-centered sex (as so much sex is portrayed today), when she wanted her readers to understand that sex isn't just fun: it's a religious experience for Jondalar - he is not just having sex, but is honoring the Mother, and part of honoring Her is to give Pleasure to his partner. (Or words to that effect) Jean also talked about the difficulty of finding words for genitalia (what a great name for a Losadunai!). She wanted something between clinical terminology and slang. There are a lot of derogatory terms for a woman's sex organs, and she didn't want to use them. The final question was, 'Will they have a baby?' (in POP). Jean smiled and said we would have to read the book.
Short break, then Jean signed books. I didn't know she would also sign books at the reception, so I got my hardback TMH signed, and got book plates for the others, because I knew before I went that I would be buying all the books in hardback (these are the only books I buy new in hardback. I can't wait for the library to process their copy, and now there's a waiting list for new Jean Auel books.) Then the reception. People milled about, as they do at theses things, but I think everyone there got a chance to talk with Jean. I asked about Ayla's height: a poster for the event described Ayla as 5'6'. Jean said she thought of Ayla as 6' (which is what I had thought), but that her husband, Ray, had designed the posters (Jean is petite, so her husband might consider 5'6' tall). I asked about an analogy to Adam and Eve. Jean said it was not her intent (Or words to that effect), but that anything I read into the stories was valid. Finally, I asked about Creb's grandmother being alive when he was born, thus available to dispose of the deformed infant. She seemed surprised, and said she hadn't thought about that before (Or words to that effect). Someone else asked about Ayla's name, and Jean told about hearing a group chanting, 'Ayla, ayla, ayla!' I was milling about at the time, so I didn't catch all of it, but I read another posting from someone else who had heard her speak, and they described the chant story in more detail. Someone else asked about where Jean had learned about using stale urine to whiten leather. Jean said she had read it in one of the books she used for research, but couldn't recall the book right then. (I'd love to have a copy of her bibliography.) Someone else asked about the Red Feet. Jean said she had made up that part.
After a while, my friend and I took our signed wineglasses and drove home, arriving about 3:00 a.m. We had to go to work at 8:00. It was absolutely worth it. I'd go again in a minute. I'd love to hear from others who have heard Jean speak. My memory isn't up to Clan standards, nor even Archie Goodwin's, so you could refresh my memory, fill in things I didn't catch, and tantalize everyone else!
Jean Auel Fan site
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