In the beginning, I needed to figure out a way to get from the present to the future. Not time travel, but for Perceval. I realized that something must happen, a catastrophe that causes a major response. In my mind, I called that major response “The Change.” Before The Change was the present I was writing in, after The Change would be the developing future.
What kind of catastrophe? It had to be something that could be global in scope that might begin in America and spread. I thought of disease, pestilence, nuclear bombs. I wanted people to be left, however, after the catastrophe. A tall order for a catastrophe: be something catastrophic but don’t kill anyone. I began to think about politics.
At first, I thought maybe an evil dictator would take over America, but I saw this as too easy somehow, too cliche, too comic book. But “dictator” was a good idea and in line with my thinking about a dystopic America. However, I wanted the dictator to be democratically elected, from a political party, and the kind of guy or woman who thinks their vision is really the best for the country when it’s actually oppression and fascism. From that, I realized that the dictator would need to be the major response to the catastrophe.
What was the catastrophe? What could make people insecure, powerless, bring them to their knees? If I were doing this thinking-work today, I’d probably go straight to terrorism. But even then, I don’t think it would work because terrorists want to kill as many people as they can, and that would defeat the purpose of my catastrophe, i.e. not kill but render terrified and powerless. Oh, maybe cyber-terrorism would work….
As I mulled over politics some more, the political party began to develop that would spawn the dictator. Then it finally came to me. The catastrophe would be an economic disaster of the same scope as the Great Depression which was global as well as American. I did not sketch out the details of this economic disaster, i.e. the factors that led to it. All I needed was that disaster. I called this disaster and the major response after it The Change in all my early drafts of the first novel. Eventually, I realized I no longer needed to be so explicit and proceeded with describing America as Evan, born just before The Change, knew it and what he was taught about it by Joseph Caine and Randall Quinn. In the political backstory of Perceval, during The Change, some politicians break away from the two major American political parties to form another party, the New Economic Party, and to campaign on a platform and promise to return America to economic prosperity and power and security. They win and the dictatorship of the NEP elite is born.
The economic events of the last month have sent chills down my spine. Watching the credit seizure spread internationally, the stock markets all over the world plunge, and my own retirement savings shrink, has been eerie and frightening. I would prefer that my “catastrophe” remain fiction, that my ideas that formed the backstory for Perceval remain fiction also. And that the national thinking change now from catastrophic and despairing to an understanding that this too shall pass and we will learn from it, be better for it. I hope.
Clearly, greed and trying to live beyond one’s means are not good.