Born in Chicago in 1936, Jean Marie Untinen married Ray Bernard Auel after high school, raised five children, and attended college at night while working for an electronics firm in Portland, Oregon. Shortly after earning her MBA in 1976, she was inspired by a story idea so powerful it effectively consumed her for the next few years. In a single creative burst, she conceived a sweeping epic set in prehistoric Europe and featuring a unique heroine: a young Cro-Magnon woman named Ayla, raised as a misfit in a society of inhospitable Neandertals. Auel quit her job, immersed herself in research, and began writing nearly nonstop.
At first, Auel imagined she had the makings of a single book. But when she completed her first draft (more than 450,000 words!), she realized that the story fell naturally into six parts, each one demanding a novel all its own. She worked feverishly on the first installment, revising parts of it as many as 20 and 30 times. Published in 1980, The Clan of the Cave Bear became an instant bestseller, marking the start of the thrilling, totally original Ice Age saga, Earth's Children.
The series owes much of its appeal to Auel's feminist protagonist Ayla, a preternaturally resourceful woman with all the skills and abilities of men but without their warlike qualities. She is the first to ride a horse, tame a wolf, and make fire from flint; she understands the healing power of herbs; and, as the novels progress, she develops mystical, even shamanic powers. Readers were understandably intrigued.
Although Auel writes speculative fiction, she receives high marks for historical accuracy. In the interest of creating an authentic Ice Age setting, her research has led her in interesting, unpredictable directions. She has read extensively, traveled to archeological sites around the world, and learned through various sources how to knapp flint, tan hides, construct snow caves, and prepare medicinal herbs. What emerges in her writing is a precise evocation of time and place that provides a realistic and enthralling backdrop to Ayla's adventures.
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Jean's last name is pronounced like "owl."
Before becoming a bestselling novelist, Jean worked as a clerk, a circuit board designer, a credit manager, and a technical writer.
Jean's extensive research into Ice Age Europe has taken her to prehistoric sites in France, Austria, Czechoslovakia, the Ukraine, the Soviet Union, Hungary, and Germany.
When Jean first gazed at the Paleolithic paintings on the walls of Altamira's caves, she was so moved she began to cry.
Jean's advice to aspiring writers of historical fiction: "Write what you love to learn about."
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