Writing Prehistoric Fiction with Bonnye Matthews


Glacier Bay Alaska

Glacier Bay Alaska

Today I’m happy to have Bonnye Matthews as my guest.  Bonnye is an award-winning author of prehistoric fiction concerning early man. Ki’ti’s Story, 75,000 BC received Alaska Professional Communicators’ first place for fiction,  and second place for fiction from the National Federation for Press Women in 2013.  Manak-na’s Story, 75000 BC also received Alaska Professional Communicators’ first place for fiction in 2014.  Bonnye lives in Alaska, and can be found at http://www.booksbybonnye.com, on Facebook and Twitter @Bonnye Matthews. She is also a member of the Goodreads group Prehistoric Fiction Writers and Readers Campfire.

What is the general premise of your books, Bonnye?
There are three: the first, people inhabited the Americas long before Clovis; the second, various attributes of the human

Bonnye Matthews

Bonnye Matthews

may have evolved, but human intelligence has remained at the same level, just applied to different environmental situations and growing upon the foundation each group has managed to build and keep; the third, since I carry 2.9% Neanderthal DNA and 4% Denisovan their “viable young” continue on in me. These humans don’t meet the definition for separate species because their mating produced viable young—so, then, are we not all the same species? I don’t see a we—they, I see an us.
Why are you interested in the time period of 50,000 BC to 75,000 BC?
Well, it’s not that specific time frame as much as it seemed a convenient starting place. I began with Mt. Toba’s eruption, and I wanted to show an interaction among Neanderthals, Cro-magnons, and Homo erectus. Denisovans enter in Book Two. I’m stretching it, but it’s remotely possible. Certainly, it can’t be disproved. There is, also, a lot of data on the area I chose for the first book (southern China). My first three books fall into the 50,000-75,000 BC timeframe, but currently

Ki'ti's Story

Ki’ti’s Story

I’m working at the 35,000 BC level. Some day I may go backwards in time from that, because I think it would be a fascinating exploration. Book Five, however, will be an Atlantic crossing in the 20,000+ BC timeframe.
My interest developed because of my reaction to a History professor’s telling me that “the powers that be” would disapprove of my comments regarding the Clovis Barrier. Did those powers research? Do they reason? What power do they have that they can force study into a narrow groove? Well, that did it. I decided to continue my research. I pursued it for five years. Eventually, I decided to write, but I wasn’t credentialed for non-fiction. It had been done by experts. I could, however, write novels and reach an entirely different set of readers. The “powers that be” have no power over a novelist. The niche at that time for a systematic series on the pre-Clovis peopling of the Americas was vacant. I dived in.
If you met a Neanderthal in your imagination today, what would you ask her?
I’d want to know: what her name is and what it means; what her greatest hope/fear is; living in her world, what’s the most important thing to know; what does she most enjoy/dislike in life; how does she survive life’s tough times; what’s the funniest thing she’s seen in life; how did they keep sinew flexible once they used it for sewing. That last one’s driving me crazy. I haven’t found anyone here who knows. I have visions of a grease strip along seams.
How did you research early humans?
I did a research paper in a history class. My pursuit was “Who Were the First Alaskans?” That should have led me to the

Manak-nas' Story

Manak-nas’ Story

first Americans, because people in the USA are taught that the first Alaskans are the first Americans. Well, my research quickly showed that to be highly doubtful. I kept going. I enjoy prehistoric fiction, because it’s fiction. In my research I kept running into fantasy that academics called fact. I got angry sometimes—well, maybe more frequently than sometimes. For example, Tim Flannery wrote a book called The Eternal Frontier. When I got to the part about Berelekh in northeastern Siberia, I pulled out a map. He says, “People settled on the shore of the Arctic Ocean at Berelekh.” Huh? Berelekh is more than 50 miles from the Arctic Ocean. How does he define shore? He says, “There they hunted mammoth; more than 7,000 bones from these great beasts have been found near their campsite.” I researched. I sought and found the material on the campsite. The bones are UPRIVER from the campsite. Prehistoric people are not going to foul their water supply! Flannery calls it a “kill site” assuming people did the killing. There is no consideration that the prehistoric people might have been gathering bone for tools and fires and ivory for art carving. Reading the translated Russian, the campsite and the flood kill were not concurrent in time. I threw the book across the room. In my opinion the book was trash. It was pretending that fiction was fact. People would buy it and believe it, and it was pure trash. That’s how I research.

Zamimolo's Story

Zamimolo’s Story

I also had a run in with the “ice-free corridor.” The ice-free corridor was not derived from evidence but rather from a conjecture of W. A. Johnson at the Geological Survey of Canada in 1933. The term “ice-free corridor” was coined by Ernst Antevs in 1935. Dr. Lionel E. Jackson, Jr. of the Geological Survey of Canada, along with Canadian archaeologists, searched carefully to establish the presence of the ice-free corridor in Canada in the 1990s. They went there. They concluded, after the application of science, that there had been no ice-free passage from 21,000 to 12,000 years before the present. With science out there, people today are still writing about the “ice-free corridor.” To turn fantasy to fact is frightening. What kind of academic foundation do we have when we do that?
Another example of how I research is first I do a subject search. That leads to journals. Eventually, I do a journal search by taking a journal, such as Quaternary International or The American Journal of Physical Anthropology, or The Journal of Human Genetics, or American Antiquity, and I read the contents page of the first issue. Then on to the next issue. Anything interesting, I’d read. (A couple of times I had to sit there with my French dictionary to get through an article in French.) If an article had any contribution, I’d add it to my Bibliography. You can see why my initial research took five years. Don’t get me wrong. I love to learn. I don’t like being a student, but I will pursue a subject until I’m satisfied I have gained what I can.

Bear with salmon

Bear with salmon

What are you working on next?
My current project is Tuksook’s Story, 35,000 BC. It’s the first time in my series that the People come to Alaska. I have fallen in love with this book. The People come to the Cook Inlet area of Alaska. When they arrived in Alaska, Cook Inlet didn’t exist. This book has a fully fleshed out Introduction. I didn’t start off writing Ki’ti’s Story, 75,000 BC knowing what it was to write a novel. With each book, I learn. One thing I hesitated to do in the first three books is to bring to life the spiritual part of the lives of the individual People. Oh, it’s there. They have Wisdom and they have their stories. The reader can sense it, but I didn’t feel comfortable making it part of the story. In doing that, I cut my People short. Tuksook’s Story, 35,000 BC fills out the picture. I have finally let them come into themselves. And, I’m finding it’s fun! Why it took me so long, I don’t know. Maybe lack of courage.
What do you like best about living in Alaska?
I moved to Alaska in 2005 after wanting to be here since 1974. I stood outside my new home and looked into the clear night sky. The northern lights formed a brilliant humming and crackling white ribbon and headed directly toward me. Right before me in the sky, the ribbon split into two parts and formed an ellipse around me overhead, returning to the single ribbon as it continued on its journey. It was like a hug from the lights. Another night when the lights were out, they formed what looked like vivid green netting across the entire visible sky. That green netting pulsated like a beating heart. I’m way more than a little spiritually open. In both experiences with the lights, I lived the moments spiritually. Incomparable!
Alaska brings out my spirit and makes it dance! I’ve flown over the Harding Icefield and seen glaciers float in the Pacific once spring unleashes them. Sometimes you can see them roll over. From the sight of a sleeping whale in Prince William

Iceberg in Alaska

Iceberg in Alaska

Sound to the humpback that surfaced beside my ferry just three feet lower than my feet (fantastic, but they really stink), to the braiding rivers that make me think of land being created, to Denali—the tallest mountain in the USA, to the wealth of information on the Native culture, to our famous earthquake, to the water tours available to tourists and residents, to the little squirrel that steals my insulation to stuff in the birdhouse, to walking on a couple of glaciers and rafting a river with 4-sized holes in it—all of it makes me feel more alive than in any other place on earth.
I love the cool summers with their crystal clarity and vivid color and adore the snow’s gently smoothing out sharp shapes to curves in black and white in winter. I love moose and bald eagles in my yard. I carry on conversations with ravens in my trees, even though we speak two different languages. They are birds like no other! The downside: a bear out on the point on my creek eating a salmon—that was pushing it. I’d rather not have to carry a gun just to walk the yard.

Thanks so much for being with us today, Bonnye!



3 thoughts on “Writing Prehistoric Fiction with Bonnye Matthews

  1. Enjoyed your interview, Bonnye. I like how you take on the “powers that be.” Your Homo erectus theory is certainly interesting.

  2. Great interview, Bonnye! I applaud your energy and focus. I ran into many of the same issues with the “powers that be” and their migration scenarios. When I told an archaeologist in Guatemala about my theories, he rolled his eyes and said, “Oh, you’re a difussionist.” Yes, and proud of it.

  3. Excellent stuff! Right up my alley, since I’m writing of Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon (so far) 40,000 years ago. I’m also 2.9% Neanderthal, but no idea about Denisovan. Your theories all sound well reasoned and well thought out to me.

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