“It started as a short story…”
Jean Marie Auel was born February 18, 1936, the second of five children of parents Neil and Martha Untinen. She is an American author best known for her Earth's Children® books, a series of novels set in prehistoric Europe that explores interactions of Cro-Magnon people with Neanderthals. As of 2010 her novels have sold more than 45 million copies worldwide, with nearly half that total number sold in the United States alone. The series consists of The Clan of the Cave Bear, The Valley of Horses, The Mammoth Hunters, The Plains of Passage, The Shelters of Stone, and The Land of Painted Caves.
She grew up in Chicago. Following her marriage to Ray Auel—a man she has known since they were children together in grade school, and with whom she recently celebrated a 56th wedding anniversary--the Auels relocated to Oregon. She did her undergraduate work at Portland State University, and later earned an M.B.A. from the University of Portland, while working and raising her five children.
In 1977, at the age of forty and on the cusp of changing jobs, Ms. Auel was inspired by the idea of writing a story—a short story—that was as entertaining and informative as the books she enjoyed herself. She envisioned a young woman from mankind’s earliest history, who was the archetypal stranger, living with people who are physically and psychologically different. Ms. Auel began to write, until she realized something important: She had no idea what the world she wanted to write about was like. How did early people live? What did they eat? What were their relationships like? And what kind of a woman could not only live through the challenges of this harsh world and harsher prejudices, but triumph?
Always meticulous and a voracious reader, Ms. Auel began to research. She visited the local library and came home with two armfuls of books. She immersed herself in the available historical and scientific data, learning everything she could about life more than 30,000 years ago. Her extensive, precise research became a hallmark of her work, earning her the respect of archeologists, anthropologists, and paleontologists worldwide for her subtle interpretation of facts and artifacts. “Scientists have to be objective,” she has stated, “but as an author I have to be subjective. But it is an informed subjectivity, and true to the facts we have.”
She named her heroine Ayla (pronounced with a long “A”). Ms. Auel’s short story grew into an outline for a novel … and the outline grew into a plan for six epic novels. “I told my husband I had a plan for six books,” she laughs, “and he replied I hadn’t even written one!”
But she soon finished the first of the novels, entitled The Clan of the Cave Bear, composed in a burst of creative energy in just over one year. A chance encounter with a New York-based literary agent at a local writers’ workshop further sparked her success; the much-respected Jean Naggar expressed real interest in the manuscript. Impressed with the power of her storytelling, Naggar negotiated a deal for the novel … and the rest is publishing history. The Clan of the Cave Bear was published in hardcover in 1980, and The Valley of Horses followed in 1982. Her third novel The Mammoth Hunters (1985) broke records, being the first hardcover novel with a first printing of more than one million copies. In 1990, The Plains of Passage was published, and in 2002, her fifth novel, The Shelters of Stone, debuted at #1 on bestseller lists in 16 countries. The Land of Painted Caves will be published all over the world in late March, 2011.
Ms. Auel still lives in Portland, Oregon. She holds four honorary degrees from universities, and was awarded the French government's Ministry of Culture "Officer in the Order of Arts and Letters” medal.