As Kathy and Mike Gear walk into the Chamberlin Inn in Cody, two things stand out.
First, Kathy is stunning – a wide, quick smile, sparkling eyes and long, straight hair with striking streaks of white. You instantly feel at ease with Kathy.
Mike, with his bushy gray beard, a Native amulet hanging around his collar and his forthright manner has an intensity about him. And it’s instantly apparent that he is deeply in love with his partner of more than forty years.
“She showed up at a Wyoming Association of Professional Archaeologists meeting in Laramie, and she just walked in the door and was like, radiant. I mean, just look at her,” Mike told Cowboy State daily, smiling at Kathy while recalling the first time he laid eyes on her. “The woman only has one small fault, which is a low bar when it comes to men.
“I mean, 41, 42 years (of marriage) and she hasn’t left? I don’t know what that says. It’s worrisome, though.”
When the anthropologist (Mike) and archaeologist (Kathy) met that day in 1981, they began a love story and partnership that has evolved into a literary juggernaut.
With more than 60 novels and scores of published scientific articles between them (most co-authored), the Cody-based writers are remarkably prolific, crossing genres and creating entire worlds into which thousands of readers have found themselves drawn to again and again.
The ‘People’ Series
Fans of the prehistoric fiction genre will immediately recognize the Gears for their 29-book “People” series, which began with “People of the Wolf” in 1990 (their first New York Times bestseller) and continued through the most recent adventure, “People of Cahokia: Lightning Shell,” which was released last year.
The series explores ancient civilizations from prehistoric North America, each book generally beginning with a prologue set in modern times with the discovery of ancient artifacts. The narrative then focuses on a set of characters related to those artifacts.
“If our publisher, Tom Doherty at Tor-Forge, had had his way, we would have written nothing but prehistory,” said Mike.
But their imaginations are far too active to stay within just one genre. The Gears have written thrillers, mysteries, romances, science fiction and Westerns, with no limits on their storytelling.
Exploring New Frontiers
Kathy and Mike say most of their novels have a common theme: exploring new frontiers.
“We actually started writing Westerns, classic Western novels, and science fiction,” Kathy said.
“Both are frontier fiction, when you really think about it,” Mike explained.
And their early work was set in Wyoming, as is their most recent series, which they’ve titled “The Wyoming Chronicles.”
“This is our love letter to the Bighorn Basin,” said Mike.
The plot of the apocalyptic thriller is almost too plausible – malware infects a few banks, which leads to the collapse of the international banking system. World war ensues, and the only safe place is the Mountain West. But bad elements vie for power, and only a handful of frightened people with anthropological knowledge and experience in Wyoming’s backcountry stand between innocent victims and small-minded people with evil intentions.
“The entire Wyoming Chronicles series is all about what is the best bad choice that you make, and then how do you live with it?” said Mike.
Because the novel is set in the Bighorn Basin, a Wyoming reader could easily finish the book and be immediately compelled to begin preparing themselves for the collapse of Western civilization.
“What are the two most important things you can have when the world collapses? It’s not gold. It’s ammunition and firearms and food,” said Kathy. “Because whatever you have to eat, you’re gonna have to protect it. And you’re gonna have to protect your family.”
But part of the magic behind the Gears’ novels, is that there is always an element of fact (no matter how frightening) ingrained into the plot of each book.
“When I published (‘Maze Master,’ Kathy’s 2018 novel about a global pandemic), I got fan letters from the top geneticists in the world saying, ‘This is going to happen,’” Kathy said. “And I said, ‘I know it’s going to happen.’”
From Mike’s first book “Long Ride Home” to their most recent collaboration, “The Wyoming Chronicles,” Kathy and Mike said that every piece of written material that leaves their home is co-authored, despite that the books may have only one of them listed on the cover.
“Mike and I always end up adding a sentence or a paragraph or rewriting something in the other person’s work,” said Kathy. “So I mean, really, truly, they are all to one degree or another co-authored.”
But that doesn’t mean they write in the same room, Kathy added.
“Mike listens to classical music when he writes,” she said. “That would drive me crazy.”
Although their educational backgrounds are slightly different, their passions coincide with their writing, which they’ve committed to for 10-12 hours a day for the last 35 years.
“What you do is you pick the story, the historical facts, and then you pull it all together so that you can create that world vividly,” said Kathy. “And then you just live in it until you’re done.”
While their fiction novels are what make the Gears stand out in the commercial world, the couple proudly expound on what has been a three-decade love affair … with bison.
“They’ve been considered sacred by so many people for thousands of years,” Kathy said of the large bovines. “We really needed to understand what they are genetically. And there’s a huge movement to save bison, and there has been for 150 years, thank goodness.”
The Gears’ 30 years raising bison at their Red Canyon Ranch in Thermopolis turned out to be a treasure trove of material for scientific journals, and helped the couple win numerous “producer of the year” awards from national and state bison associations.
Kathy’s most prized accolade is a special award from the Western Bison Association for “dedicated service to the bison industry” in 2012.
“They’re amazing animals, and their genetics are critical,” said Kathy. “So we’ve done a lot of publications in that field.”
But beyond bison genetics, Mike and Kathy contribute regularly to history and archaeology publications, a by-product of their research for the more than 60 fiction tales they’ve created together.
“When you’re exploring a novel, you’re pulling together information that nobody’s pulled together before so that you can write the novel about it,” said Kathy.
Between them, the list of local, national and international awards is beyond impressive.
Both have been honored for their work on various stages in the literary and the scientific worlds. Kathy and Mike each have been inducted into the Western Writers Hall of Fame, an honor Mike says is his most prized.
“She’s one Hall of Fame ahead of me,” Mike laughed, with a nod to his wife’s other honors.
Most recently, Kathy was presented with the 2023 Spur Award for Best Short Fiction of the year for her short story “No Quarter,” published in her Rebel Hearts Anthology. The story is set during the siege of the Alamo, from the perspective of black slaves who were present during the battle.
“There were 20 to 24 slaves inside the Alamo when the siege occurred, and no one has ever written from their perspective,” said Kathy. “And it was totally different than everyone else in the Alamo, because in Mexico, slavery was illegal, and they knew that if Santa Ana won, they’d be free. And they knew if Texas won, they’d be slaves.”
Their awards also cross genres. Kathy’s thriller “Maze Master” won the International Book Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 2019; Mike’s “Unreconciled” won the same award in 2021.
The couple moved to Cody three years ago, after selling their beloved bison ranch to a fellow producer.
“The hardest part was finding a place for our 32,000 books,” said Kathy.
And they do miss life on the ranch, Mike said, noting that old habits die hard.
“A semi goes by with hay, and we’re looking at the quality, then remember we don’t need that,” said Mike. “You go by and you see a fence down …”
“… and your response is to get out and fix it now before the animals get out,” Kathy finished.
The Gears recently published the third book in their Wyoming Chronicle series, “The Eagle Has Fallen,” and are plotting out book four, which they expect to be released next February.
But they make time for travel, often going back to where it all began – the high plains and abandoned spaces of the Wyoming wilderness.
“The best trip in the world for us is to just head out into the middle of nowhere, sleep in the back of the truck and cook our food over a Coleman stove,” said Mike.