The Writing Process Blog Hop

Thank you, Jessica Knauss, editor, translator, and author of Seven Nobel Knights, Providence stories, and other works, for inviting me to participate in this blog hop about the writing process.

What are you working on?

I’m currently getting A Meeting of Clans, the third book in the Misfits and Heroes series, ready for publication. In this book, members of the two original settlements – one on the southern coast and one on the northern coast of what is now southern Mexico – meet for the first time.  The book, like the others in the series, is set about 14,000 years ago.

Editing and polishing are the little known step-children of the writing process, but they’re important.  With this book, I was lucky to have the help of a professional proofreader who not only spotted wording and spelling errors but also marked problems with consistency and pace with margin notes like “Wow, this action comes out of the blue,” or “You’ve been going over this argument for four pages now,” or “This character died fifty pages ago.  Did you mean her sister?”  Very helpful.

How does your work differ from others of its genre? 

Since the Misfits and Heroes stories are set 14,000 years ago, they fall into the Prehistoric Fiction category, but since nothing is really pre-history, I suppose they’re speculative historical fiction with elements of fantasy.  Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear, Valley of Horses, and other books are also set during the Ice Age, but they take place in Europe and tell very different stories.

Why do you write what you do?

I want to show early explorers in the Americas as complicated, flawed, yet ultimately heroic people.  While 12,000 BC seems like a long time ago, it’s really not, in terms of human history.  Archaeological finds in Blombos Cave, South Africa, show humans making pierced, dyed jewelry out of shells and mixing red ochre, fat, and ground limestone to make a red paste probably used for body decoration 80,000 years ago. Blombos Cave jewelry (See photo)

The fabulous cave paintings in northern Spain and southern France were created 32,000 – 40,000 years ago. (Photo)

Lascaux horse with dots

The first mathematical tally stick, the Lebombo bone, is at least 35,000 years old (South Africa/Swaziland). (Photo)

Lebombo bone

Open water navigators

It’s now clear that our distant relatives crossed open ocean into Australia at least 50,000 years ago, into Okinawa, Japan 32,000 years ago, and into Flores Island, Indonesia, at least 80,000 years ago.

Migration into the New World

In the Misfits and Heroes books, groups of explorers come from West Africa across the Atlantic and from what is now Indonesia across the Pacific.  They meet in the third book, A Meeting of Clans.  In the fourth book (not yet written), a small group from the north of Spain will join them.  All of these explorers cross the sea to reach the New World.

While I don’t doubt that some people walked across the Bering Land Bridge to the New World, the theory that everyone came to the Americas by that route doesn’t fit the evidence.  The earliest settlements in the Americas are in coastal South America (southern Chile and northeastern Brazil).  The oldest settlements in North America are on the east coast (South Carolina and Virginia).  If everyone came through Alaska, why aren’t the oldest sites lined up along that route?  The coastal settlements seem to indicate access by water, not land.

We sorely underestimate the abilities of ancient people, partly out of an ingrained sense of superiority.  One person asked me if people were even talking 14,000 years ago.  Well, they organized hunting parties and trade routes, built villages and boats, navigated rivers and open water, learned game patterns and plant characteristics, preserved food, even painted images on walls and carved series of notches into bones.  It’s hard to imagine any of these being possible without an accurate and sophisticated communication system.

Actually, the ancient peoples had far more abundant natural resources than we do.  All they had to do was learn to work together to harvest them.

Pedra Furada deer

Rock art deer from Pedra Furada in northeastern Brazil, first occupied over 40,000 years ago (photo)

How does your writing process work?

Like Jessica, I like a routine.  I work in the same place and listen to the same pieces of music all the way through the writing of a book.

I also talk to myself as I write (as long as no one else is around).  I just say what I want to write and my fingers type the words.  When I taught composition, I encouraged students to try this technique.  Interestingly, some tried it with their children who were struggling with writing.  They started by having the child talk about something while they wrote the words down, then moved to having the child talk into a tape recorder, play it back, and write down the words.  In the last stage, the children learned to slow down their speech and speed up their writing so they could write (or type) their words as they spoke them. The technique worked very well, even for children with learning difficulties.

It also helps with proofreading.  Try it. If people give you strange looks when they hear you mumbling over your papers, tell them it’s “speech-directed writing.”  That sounds more impressive than talking to yourself.

Look for Emma Right’s post in the blog hop on her blog, Books for Young Adults, www.emmaright.com on March 17, and check back with Jessica Knauss to read about her thoughts on the writing process at her blog at http://jessicaknauss.blogspot.com   And cheers to all the writers out there!

Sources and interesting reading:

“Ancient Humans Crossed Ocean Barrier?” Popular Archaeology Magazine, http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/09012013

Bednarik, R.G. “Replicating the first known sea travel by humans: the Lower Pleistocene crossing of Lombok Strait, Human Evolution (journal) 16, 229 – 242 (2001)

Bellwood, Peter.  “Special Report: Ancient Seafarers,” Archaeology Magazine March/April 1997, http://archive.archaeology.org/9703/etc/specialreport.html

Mayell, Hillary. “Early Humans May have Crossed Sea to Leave Africa” National Geographic News, 13, May, 2005 http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/pf/s9713086.html

Pringle, Heather. “Did Humans Colonize the World by Boat?” Discover Magazine, June, 2008, http://discovermagazine.com/2008/jun/20

Than,Ker. “World’s Oldest Cave Art Found – Made by Neanderthals?” National Geographic News, June, 2012, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/06/120614

“Very ancient mariners: Early human ancestors were more advanced than first thought and sailed the high seas,” The Daily Mail (UK) 19 August 2011, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2027619

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