Today, for the Literary Exhibitionist exclusive interview, I’m speaking with Kaye George, a novelist and MTW_2017 participant who lives in Knoxville, TN. Her newest book is Death on the Trek, an alternate prehistory mystery.
I asked her to summarize the plot, since this is a genre that is new to me:
The Neanderthal tribe of Enga Dancing Flower must trek south to flee the approaching glacier, but the distance is long and the food is scarce. When a venerable elder drowns crossing a flooded river, Enga suspects that it was not an accident, and that a murderer travels with them.
Sounds great. Tell me something that the blurb doesn’t reveal:
This is the second in my People of the Wind series. I’ve used North America for the setting of the books, although Neanderthals were unlikely to have ever lived there. I did that because I love the mega-fauna in North America of 30,000 years ago. The mega-fauna didn’t disappear until about 10,000 years ago, but the Neanderthals, as a recognizable separate people, were gone about 28,000 years ago. My goal in
writing this series is to let everyone who doesn’t already know that recent discoveries have drastically changed old perceptions of these people, at the same time as providing an entertaining read and a mystery puzzle.
What was your favorite or most surprising comment/review about the book? Why?
My favorite comment is one that several people have made (including a couple of agents who didn’t take on the project because they said they didn’t know how to sell it), that my books are better than Jean Auel’s. How could I not like that?
If given a chance, which author (living or dead) would you like to meet?
One I would like to know would be Charles Dickens, if I could only pick one.
If your book was made into a movie, who would you cast as which characters?
That’s a tough question! Neanderthals are physically different from modern man, so a lot of movie magic would have to happen, to make them look wider and stronger. Maybe Ben Affleck could play Tog Flint Shaper, so I could meet him. For the same reason, I’d like Abigail Spencer from the TV show, “Timeless,” to play Enga Dancing Flower. On second thought, I’ll have her co-star, Matt Lanter or Tog. Enga has flaming red hair and Tog is dark-eyed, but that shouldn’t be a problem for Hollywood.
What other jobs have you held (even what you’re doing currently):
I’ve done tons of different things, but my second favorite job (writing is my first) was being a contract computer programmer. I told one of my bosses that, at that time with kids still in the house, my favorite thing to do after they all got off to school was to sit and have a second cup of tea and work crossword puzzles in the paper. And there I was, I told her, having tea and working gigantic puzzles, and being paid for it.
What gave you the idea to write this book?
The incredible new discoveries about Neanderthals. Some of them have been because of the sequencing of a genome belonging to one and some have been because of new excavations. As I delved into the research for this project, I found out that almost every theory and every interpretation of new discoveries are argued from at least two angles. This gives me the freedom to pick the theory that suits my purposes. The discovery of flowers with a body has been said to mean that they their dead with ceremony. This also infers some organized spiritual beliefs. I chose for them to bury only the tribe leaders like this, and for them to be developing spiritual beliefs over the span of several books.
What percent Neanderthal are your own genes, if I might be so bold as to ask?
I’m 2.9 percent according to the 23 And Me test. Everyone who has European ancestry is between 1 and 4 percent Neanderthal, the result of interbreeding long. long ago. I love the thought that I carry them around with me.
Wow, that begs the question as to whether or not you were offended by the old Geico Cavemen commercials, but I digress.
Are you traditionally published or self-published and why?
Yes. I self-publish one series, have two series published by small presses, and was lucky enough to land a series with Berkley Prime Crime (Penguin Random House). Why? I guess it just happened that way. My self-published series was with a small press, but I was unhappy there, so I took it back after one book and put out two more myself. The two small press series were queried and didn’t find agents, but
found homes with Barking Rain Press and Untreed Reads. I’m very happy with both of them. I’m grateful to all three of my publishers for getting my books out there.
What former author training/writing have you had, if any?
I did take fiction writing courses at Northwestern University, eons ago when I attended there. I graduated with a major in Russian Studies, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. More recently, when I decided to write full time, I’ve taken online courses from Margie Lawson, Mary Buckham, as well as many others through the Guppies Chapter of Sisters in Crime. I’ve also attended, in person, weekend workshops with Mary Buckham and with Donald Maass.
Do you belong to any writer’s groups? Which ones and how have they helped you?
I belong to the above-mentioned Guppies. It’s the online chapter of Sisters in Crime, originally formed by unpublished writers to help each other get published. It’s been a great help to my writing career. I’ve served as treasurer and as president. When I’ve lived where there was a local Sisters in Crime chapter, I’ve belonged to those, too, and miss being where there is one! I also belong to the Short Mystery Fiction Society, a big help to my short story writing. I’m a member in absentia of the Austin Mystery Writers, a critique group I belonged to when we lived there.
What conferences have you attended and what value have you found in attending conferences?
Ever since my first one at least 12 years ago, I’ve attended Malice Domestic. The networking is fun and valuable. I love meeting people I’ve only previously connected with online. It’s also a great time to sit and talk with other writers, for ideas and inspiration and support. I’ve also attending a couple of Left Coast Crime conferences, and several others that have gone by the wayside. I’ve loved all of them.
Where can Readers Find You?
I’ll be participating in Mystery Thriller Week on February 15, 16, and 17. On the 15th, I’ll give away Choke, the first book in the Imogene Duckworthy humorous Texas mystery series. On the 16th, I’ll give away Eine Kleine Murder, the first in the Cressa Carraway Musical Mysteries. And on the 17th, I’ll give away Death in the Time of Ice, which is the first in the People of the Wind series.
Kaye was kind enough to share an excerpt of Death on the Trek with us:
Enga Dancing Flower watched the progress of the boy who was making his way down the hill from the Holy Cave. This was the last time he would bring the fire from the small mountain to the Paved Place for the nightly meeting in their long-time home, the last time he, or any of the tribe, would ever visit the Holy Cave. For many seasons, it had been the task of Akkal to tend both the permanent fire in the Holy Cave and the community fire in the village. When rain sometimes put out that fire, the black-haired Fire Tender diligently prepared the pit at the center of the meeting place and brought new fire down before the next meeting time.
The warm and cold times cycled, as they always did, and the most warm time was coming. The night breath of Mother Sky held only a trace of chill. The birds in the woods surrounding the village were making soft peeps while they bedded down so that they could rise up again with Sister Sun, completing that cycle, and sing at full voice.
The fire Akkal carried lit his face from below, its light throwing flickering shadows across his young features and glinting off his long dark hair and eyes. Smoke trailed after him.
The leader of the tribe, Hama, the Most High Female, had summoned them after they ate their evening meal, as usual. But this was far from the usual meeting. The meal had only been a few bites and that was not usual either. Although it took place at the normal time, soon after Sister Sun disappeared, this meeting was different. The tribe knew that this was their last time of no sun in the place most of them had lived for all their days. At new sun, they would depart. Most of the huge mammoth they had always hunted had fled.
Moons ago, before this last dark season, a group of males had journeyed far enough to see the gigantic, looming field of Great Ice. It was moving, very slowly, but the movement was toward them. The animals the Hamapa tribe depended on, which were mostly mammoth, were scattering. Some had migrated toward the ice, onto the barren, frozen land that lay before it, in its path. The tribe could not live in that place. Some animals had fled to places with more warmth. That was where they would go. This decision had been made after much discussion and pondering. The decision had not been easy, but all were satisfied that it must be so. They must depart.
Every heart was heavy, every brow worried, even though they knew it was a necessary thing they would do. Everyone, males, females, children, had spent their time packing up what they would be able to carry with them. At new sun they would depart.
Enga felt the heavy sorrow. Even though each one cloaked every thought in the darkest colors of night, their grief was heavy enough to drip through. Enga looked up, almost expecting to see a black cloud of dark thoughts above the gathering. Mother Sky looked down on them with her many twinkling eyes. Brother Moon, almost at his fullest, seemed to smile and say he would be with them on their travels. The fire pit sent out a familiar warmth and the comforting smell of smoke, as it always did. These were not enough to lift the spirits of Enga.
Hama stood. Before she was elected leader, her name had been Rho Lion Hunter because she had killed a lion by herself. She was thick of body with dark, intelligent eyes. She sent out a public thought, bathed in brightest red so that everyone could receive it in their minds.
Singer will sing a Song of Asking for our long journey so that the Spirits will be kind as we travel.
Lakala Rippling Water, the Singer, started with a Song of Blessing to Mother Sky. Her voice, usually confident and fluid, wavered with fright. When she finished, she next sent a Song of Asking into the night air. She gained strength, tilting her head upward so that her trilling notes surely reached to Mother Sky and beyond, to her child, the Most High Spirit Dakadaga. The Singer asked for safety, strength, guidance, and success in finding a new home for the tribe.