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Pros and Cons of Collaboration and Quirks in Writing

Returning from one of his geological explorations, my husband announced that he had discovered a gigantic silver deposit in the Altiplano of Bolivia, but there was one problem. An indigenous village was sitting right on top of the deposit and would have to be moved in order to build a mine.

The Gift of El Tio grew out of an argument between my husband and me. Like the entire country, we were polarized. I, the liberal, declared it immoral to destroy a culture in order to build a mine; my husband, the conservative, retorted that it was immoral not to give an impoverished community a chance to escape poverty by providing jobs. I was the one who demanded that if the town were to be moved, my husband and I would have to live in the community and document the outcome. Fortunately, my husband agreed and we are still happily married – and both changed through our experiences in Bolivia.

Having such different viewpoints, it was natural to structure our book in alternating chapters – my voice, then my husband’s. Readers tell us they enjoy hearing each of us “speak.”

As we spent time with the villagers, our individual interests led us to documenting different aspects of our experience. Interestingly enough, Larry became involved with the cosmology of the villagers: their creation myths, gods and goblins, and rituals. As a natural storyteller, he was captivated by legends and prophesies told to us as we huddled around the fire, imagining a thousand pair of eyes staring at us from the black mouths of caves and crevices. The children captured my attention. I recount playing bingo, singing the Hokey Pokey, and attempting to teach English in a school with dirt floors, barren adobe walls and no books. Both of us kept our focus on the impact of the changes on the villagers when their town was destroyed and they moved to a “modern” one.

As for writing skills, Larry is visual, a painter, and he paints the scenes in his writing. His style is descriptive and poetic. He’s imaginative and humorous, and can describe an incident with color. I am sensitive to how the world feels physically and emotionally, so my writing captures what it’s like to live at 14,000 feet above sea level in dry desert, and how I felt watching children die before they reach five years. I am also more adept at structure so I was able to incorporate Larry’s unusual tales and work on plot, giving our story form. It reads like a suspenseful novel.

It was fortunate that we had different writing gifts so that collaborating was not too difficult. However, there was a time or two when my husband revised some of my writing without my permission, and I was almost ready to let him tell the whole story – almost!

Larry - I confess I felt some of Karen's earlier writing needed some "enhancements," but after a few nights on the couch I realized I should have first asked her permission to make changes. As the years went by, her writing grew to be superb, and I eagerly sought her advice. We would rent a cabin overlooking the Pacific coast and spend many romantic days writing together. We have 31 chapters in The Gift of El Tio and thus had 31 mini-honeymoons! Who says writing must be solitary?

Watch the book video:

About the Authors:
Larry Buchanan earned his PhD in Economic Geology in 1979 and taught university-level geology for several years, but his love of the field led him to gold and silver prospecting in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. In 2006, he won the coveted Thayer Lindsley Award for the San Cristobal silver discovery. Dr. Buchanan has published a dozen scientific works and is a sought-after speaker at international conferences and college campuses.

Karen Gans earned her Master s degree in Early Childhood Development and has thirty-five years of experience as an educator, counselor, and consultant. She taught English in the Quechua village while the couple lived in Bolivia. Ms. Gans and her husband have four children and two grandchildren and reside in Ashland, Oregon.

The Gift of El Tio's web site:
The Gift of El Tio's blog:

Larry, a world-renowned geologist, discovers an enormous deposit of silver beneath a remote Quechua village in Bolivia and unwittingly fulfills a 400-year-old prophecy that promised a life of wealth for the villagers. Karen, a specialist in child development, is deeply disturbed by the prospect of displacing the people in order to open a mine. She challenges Larry to leave the comforts of home and move to the village in order to bear witness to the massive change his discovery will spark. Thus begins the couple's life-changing, ten-year journey into the Quechua community, their evolution from outsiders to trusted friends. Then part two of the ancient prophecy is disclosed to them, and they are shocked by the truth of its predictions: alienation, despair, even cannibalism.


Tribute Books said…
Judy, thanks for featuring Larry and Karen today. They are one fascinating couple, and gotta love how their book was born out of argument, right? Classic!