PEOPLE OF THE STONE SAGA: What was attempted and what was achieved?
It has been just over a year since the final installment of The People of the Stone saga, Children of the Circle, was completed and published. As the author who has spent six years of most of his waking hours devoted to this evolving project, I feel comfortable at last in assessing both my own motives and my interpretations of what was attempted and achieved in this ambitious undertaking along with the expectations I have for others who choose to pick up and invest their valuable time in one of these books. It is also a good time to answer some of the many questions others have posed about what they have read as well as addressing some of the critiques as to what the unusual formatting of these books and stories has been.
When I began with THE STONE BREAKERS over seven years ago, I had no idea that a six part series dealing with the complete time span of prehistoric North America would evolve. Somewhere during the writing of the sequel to the first novel, VOICES UPON THE WIND, it became apparent that the possibility of extending this project into exploring that past from a new anthropological perspective in the guise of a relatively untried genre of fiction, which I choose to call the anthropological novel, revealed itself. A lifetime of work in many aspects of native American anthropology, archeology, art, technology, etc. gave me a unique perspective and body of information with which to work. It was only necessary to determine which major time periods and the important cultural events and concepts I wished to focus on individually with each new novel. It soon became apparent that a well-apportioned (time-wise) strategy of six novels would allow me to cover nearly 12,000 years of prehistory, ending with the arrival of the first Europeans to North America. The main connection between these stories would be geography and the setting of the novels along the great river system of the central U.S., where much of my direct archeological and personal experiences lay. A seminal moment in the development of this project came when shortly after completing the first novel, set at the end of the Ice Age, I was flying across the country on my way to Vancouver and looked down across the endless landscape of the western U.S. It dawned upon me at that time that movement across such an expanse by slow-moving stone age peoples could only have been achieved by maximizing the unique river system our great continent offers. My own experiences in archeology, primarily in the Ohio Valley, only reinforced this awareness that the rivers provided the key to unlock the many mysteries of North American Prehistory.
The main character in all the books is truly the river that forms the central focus of each individual story that is being told. Our archeology tells us this is so, and the subsequent history of our nation only confirms it. In attempting to combine both my early literary background and my professional life as an anthropologist and primitive technologist and artisan, I had come to the conclusion that the novel was both the best genre to get my thirty plus years of accumulated information to the widest possible public as well as the method that would provide me with the most satisfaction. As a writer, two truths quickly establish themselves in the mind of anyone hoping to be successful at any level. The first of these is to always write on subjects that you know something about. Young writers often come up short here. The second--and the one many writers seem to often ignore--is that as a serious writer you must personally enjoy the stories and people you are creating and writing about. Adding the breath of life to a fictional character is an experience that cannot be described but has to be experienced. Imbuing that character with the capability to exist in a past time about which you have spent a lifetime gathering information can be most rewarding as well as challenging. I can honestly say that in six years of writing these books I never once encountered the infamous "writer's block" syndrome, nor did I ever feel that there was any doubt as to the quality of the information I was conveying. Criticisms of the manner of that conveyance may be valid at times, and every writer likes to think that with each new book or project his or her actual writing skills improve. No doubt, as have many others before me, the first feeling at the end of such a lengthy writing project is that as a writer you would immediately like to go back to the beginning and start all over to improve what you did first with what you have learned since. However, circumstances being what they are I would still not make a single plot, setting, or character change to what has been written. The stories will stand on their own merit, and in the future any editing will be purely stylistic and technical where indicated. I can only say that I am proud of being able to include the information in my books that can appeal to every level of readership, from the interested professional to the casual reader of historical or narrative fiction--whatever their individual input into the reading of these novels provides for them.
COMMON QUESTIONS OFTEN ASKED ABOUT THE PEOPLE OF THE STONE BOOKS
With all that being said, it is time to address some of the general and specific questions that have arisen in the years since this project began in the hopes that both previous readers as well as prospective new ones may be encouraged to enjoy one or more of these stories at some level of interest that appeals to them.
1. There are six books in this saga. Do I need to start at the beginning and read each one in order to get the most out of my reading?
With the exception of the second book, which devotes the first chapter to revealing the subsequent life and events of characters and situations from the first novel, as well as introducing characters central to the new novel, each novel is a free-standing story often spaced by generations or several thousand years since the previous book. There are subtle connections embedded for readers of previous books to root out and discover, but these are by no means critical to the separate enjoyment of each individual book. Even the second story quickly introduces new characters and plot lines independent of the first novel.
2. Why is there a several page Preface to each story? This is not common in a novel and must it be read to enjoy the book?
In developing what was, to me at least, a fairly unique genre called the anthropological novel, I decided to reveal to the reader in advance the central themes and concepts to be explored in each individual story. For example, in the third book, RED EARTH SKY, the beginnings of settled villages, tribalization, kinship rules, law forming, and other basic cultural concepts were to be woven into a more basic framework of a love triangle and murder mystery fictional story within which these important ideas could be espoused and revealed at the same time the reader is being entertained with a more familiar type of story. The prefaces also allow the writer to detail the setting, the time period, and certain technological revelations that would only serve to bog down the story later on. While I feel the information and explanations included in the individual prefaces is important and would certainly recommend their reading when beginning one of the novels, they are not essential to understanding or enjoying the basic story being told in each book. I also tried to include new elements and story types with each new novel. Readers of the fourth novel, A DARK WINGED SHADOW, will notice the basic elements of the "spy novel" genre somewhat as well as the inclusion of an Epilogue for the first and only time in the books to expand the important role the characters and plot played in subsequent "real" events in the well-documented locale chosen. A site specific map is also provided at the beginning of this story for the only time in the series because of the legitimacy and archeological relevance of the information making up much of the plot and character development.
3. Speaking of maps, why so few of them, and what is going on with the unusual names of the characters? Why not a pronunciation guide?
Both of these are valid critiques and ones I have heard from more than one source. As to maps, as I explain in the preface to the first novel, I chose to reveal the general locations for the first two novels to give the reader a sense of the difficulty of moving across vast ice age landscapes with little prior knowledge. The characters are often lost. and so is the reader. You must find your way together. The third novel has a fictionalized map to give relationships of the various villages involved. The fourth novel is addressed above. The fifth and sixth novels are set in actual and well-known late prehistoric (Cahokia,Ill. for example) and historic locations, and I felt maps were not essential. As to the names, I chose from the beginning to give my characters names based upon real native language roots with real meanings, often revealed as part of the character development. Indeed, for the most part I did simplify these names to where the basic guide of simple consonant/vowel syllables without accenting could be easily used. Adding dashes and apostrophes where indicated gives the reader a basic idea of where to accent, but no one should feel obligated to be bound to one pronunciation in particular. I have heard many versions of the main character's name from the first book, Makahi (try to say it as mah-kuh-hee), and whatever suits the reader's ear is fine with the characters. What I did wish to avoid is the trap of over-simplification. Names like Running Bear, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, etc. are for the most part translations of native names that do a disservice when used and have little relationship to what those names or descriptions really meant to the actual people who owned them in the first place.
4. The writer seems obsessed with animals. Why such importance placed on the "Beasts" in each of the novels?
Guilty as charged. The Beasts do dominate the people's lives, which they shared in ways we cannot possibly hope to comprehend from our modern perspective. This much is true, and the writer felt the need to convey this important relationship at every point in our past cultural development. From the end of the Ice Age forward we maintained that relationship in ever diminishing ways. Many people reading this will certainly have bought a hunting or fishing license at some point in their lives; but do they truly comprehend the interdependent role of both hunter and prey in our distant past? The books begin with a herd of mammoth being revealed as a band of individuals not unlike the people introduced as the main characters in the second chapter. This was a deliberate choice to begin to intertwine the roles of the animals with those of our ancestors from the beginning of the series. The last novel ends with the introduction (or re-introduction as it turns out) of horses into native cultures with the arrival of the Spanish and the critical changes this would bring to people's lives. In between, the role of the beasts in establishing family and kin groups, providing objects of myth-making, and as being basic sustenance is well-developed. The role of wolves and dogs as connectors between the ancient past and each new point in time was an obvious convention to employ at many points by the writer--as well as being just plain fun to write. Remember: once we were one of "the beasts", and our ancient forbears seemed to have understood this far better than do we in the modern world.
5. Why are women so prominent in these stories? I thought hunters and gatherers were mostly male-dominated societies.
Perhaps ancient societies, just as modern ones were male-dominated. However, before the advent of more modern social institutions there can be little doubt that early hunting societies were far more egalitarian and female dependent than later more sedentary ones,along with the male exclusive institutions that developed later on. We begin to see this shift in the first novel, THE STONE BREAKERS and continue to develop throughout the saga. Even then, however, the women still maintained the power of reproduction, and there is an on-going struggle for control of that power by both sexes we see still continuing today. By writing what I hope are strong female characters in each of the novels, I wanted to convey the importance of some of the basic changes we have made in our more modern societies and attitudes--changes not always to the betterment of the species or the cultures we have developed to either advance or impede those artificial, if necessary, institutions. I make no apologies for my "love" of the women in my stories, both young and old; for without them the plots of these stories in real time could never have unfolded as they often had to do to get my message across or to carry the story in a logical and believable manner.
I hope these questions have helped those readers who have read one or more of the novels of the series, or will inspire others to pick up one of the books and invest some time in the life of your important and often forgotten ancestors. Very importantly, the reader will find that there are three major themes explored time and again in each of these six books: the Constancy of Change; the Continuity with the past; and the role of the Charismatic individual in bringing about that change and/or maintaining that continuity. These three concepts, often hidden from the tools of the archeologist or prehistorian, are the glue that has always held our fragile societies together--and is something we ignore at our peril.
The author would be more than happy to discuss any more general or specific questions any reader might have. You can add your thoughts or questions directly to this blog entry by logging in to our secure log-in Comment click-on for each entry. Or you can contact the author directly through the Contact email address given on the Home Page or Log-In page to this website. GOOD READING1Previous readers of one or more of these books are strongly encouraged to scroll down to the Blog Listing: Review a Book. Log-in and add your own review to those listed. In return, the author offers a substantial discount on any future book purchase,along with a personalized autograph with the copy bought.
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