Walking in the Texas Hill Country you find many things. Sitting on my desk as I write this are two ancient stone knives. When I found them I assumed they were 200 years old and from the period right before European settlers came en-masse. After sharing them with experts, I was stunned to learn that in the palm of my hand was a life-sustaining possession of an Archaic-Era human who stood right where I was standing 6,000 years ago.
To say the least, this transports you, gets you thinking about time, place and change. Perhaps more specifically for me, what changes and what never does. We know the past, we experience the present, and we assume the future is a straight line of progress. What if it isn’t?
Look at the recurring cycles of nature, enduring human nature, politics and society. We’re up, we’re down and our future might be more like our past than we expect. Although we’re obsessed with technology and materialism and see ourselves as better than those who came before us, perhaps no advancement can outpace the human nature from which it was born and we, as a whole, are Icarus.
These are ideas I wanted to explore and then imagine a potential future in the New West series.
The year is 2083. The global population has been decimated by the final flu. The United States – not united for a long time – is no more. New lines have been drawn. Five divided nations stand. The story begins in one nation, the New West, which is much like the Old West. The heart of the wild Comanche empire, turned thriving Texas Hill Country, turned desolate and violent and ruthless once more.
This potential future is populated by survivors, people just like you and me, with our same traditions, same geography, and similar fears and desires. In creating this future world I relied on the present and the past in the forms of nature, human nature, history and first hand experience.
Nature. The Texas Hill Country, an area of certain beauty which, I am certain, was a Garden of Eden to the earliest human settlers who came some 8,000 years ago. There is no substitute for immersing yourself in it, learning the birds and insects, plants and trees, types of rocks and how they formed and what they're good for, tracking deer and pigs, hunting with a bow, sitting in trees for hours until you can tell birds apart by the distinct sounds their wings make as they push through the air.
Human Nature. Freud told us that we are driven by and that our will to live is fueled by what he called the Pleasure Principle, known also as the "Will to Pleasure.” He said humans will do anything to avoid pain and find pleasure. Conversely, Nietzsche told us that obtaining power and dominating others is our driving life force. He called it a “Will to Power.” Frankl countered both in saying that it was a drive to find meaning in life that leads to the most enduring existence, “A Will to Meaning.”
History. The setting of the New West is a world without technology and little law, endless space and few people, most of whom are struggling to survive. That description could be applied to the Hill Country of Texas in the 1850’s so I dove into historical accounts of what life was like. Many historical news articles and books as varied as Three Years Among the Comanches: The Narrative of Nelson Lee, Texas Ranger, Captured: A True Story of Abduction on the Texas Frontier, and the epic Empire of the Summer Moon informed both broad strokes and details of the Hill Country while Colin Woodard's American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America was my jumping off point for forming the five nations that once comprised the United States. I say jumping off point because Woodard's investigation of what got us to where we are today – beliefs, norms, rivalries – is just the beginning of understanding our great country. If you are interested in these subjects, I cannot recommend these books strongly enough.
First Hand Experience. Nothing can replace being in the places you write about. Every setting in Hill Country is based on a real one, and I have been to every one of them – hiking, hunting, studying, learning and loading up the truck for road trips. The road trips might have been the most fun part and now, as I am working on the next installment in the New West series, we're traveling this great country and visiting every setting of the story from East Texas to New Orleans to Angola Prison to the Mountains of Colorado and then back east.
Thank you for reading this far. I wanted to explain the thinking and curiosity behind New West so it was clear that this fiction was not made up of whole cloth. The natural world of the New West is much like the old west. The people and the decisions they make are much like people we know. The societal pressures and culture are informed by our own – in its present form and the past from which it evolved. All told by the imagination of someone who's been there, kinda.
In the end, if Sheriff John Newman, the Colonel and Caroline do live in a future without technology in the natural wilds of the Hill Country, this is exactly how it might go.