My new novel Gods of the American Wild is out now! I’ve already posted an update on how it’s going, but I thought it might be interesting to share with everyone some of the influences that got thrown into the melting pot of ideas that formed the finished novel. Without further ado, here’s that.
1. Tuck Everlasting
Tuck Everlasting is a book written by Natalie Babbitt that explores the theme of immortality being more a curse than a blessing and centers around a character, Tuck, who falls in love with a mortal woman. She begs him to make her immortal so she can be with him but, out of love, he decides he can’t curse her with the same fate that he’s been subjected to. This novel was heavily on my mind when I conceived of the character Eastwood and, in fact, there’s a scene where Rockwell visits Eastwood in the woods nearby a mystical tree that is a direct homage to an iconic moment in Natalie Babbitt’s story.
2. Greek Mythology
In a lot of ways, Greek gods were the original superhero squad. As I discussed in my post about superheroes being a form of American mythology and American polytheism, Greek myths were distributed serially as short stories or in long form epics, much like modern serial comics or long form graphic novels and literature. They’re often parables with a great deal of action. Modern comic book companies crib Greek and Norse mythology all the time, and it’s my belief that, just like Greek myths were central to Greek culture, American superheroes create a tapestry of myths central to American culture. Part of the reason I was inspired to write this novel in the first place was the realization that America is only ~250 years old and, compared to civilizations like China and Europe that are thousands of years old with mythology that’s set in stone, the cement is still wet on what Americans will, in a thousand years, look back on as their cultural backbone. I wanted to stick my hand in the cement and leave my mark.
Lots of work, especially anime, features a mysterious council, and The Council in Gods of the American Wild is certainly influenced by conspiracy theories like the Illuminati, Skull and Bones, Bilderbergers, NWO and any similar Eyes Wide Shut style secret society. However, a great deal of influence for them comes from the 1998 video game Xenogears. In Xenogears, there’s an ongoing plot point that the “Lambs” on Earth are being controlled, used and manipulated by an upperclass, the “Shepherds”, that lives in a floating city called Solaris. Solaris is run by a President who turns out to be a pawn of an ancient council that’s existed since the beginning of time. The Solaris council is named with Biblical conventions to represent that they descended from Cain of Cain & Abel fame; I chose to make The Council in my novel follow a similar thought process for naming conventions, except using American founding fathers and industry icons as the source material rather than Biblical origins.
4. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Elizabeth Sanders, AKA Wicken, takes a lot of influence from Lisbeth Salander from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. They’re similar personality types — antisocial, rebellious hackers with rough pasts who don’t trust institutions, and the homage goes beyond Wicken’s real name — Wicken has a prominent tattoo on her neck as well, though hers is of a bird defiantly sitting on top of a ‘no birds’ sign. Wicken has a number of other influences, from Serial Experiments Lain to Antifa to Batman to Amadeus Cho (pre-Hulk era), but a lot of her physical appearance and attitude is inspired by Lisbeth.
5. Minority Report
One mistake a lot of sci-fi makes, in my opinion, is they’re too optimistic about the timeline for technological advancement. Back to the Future 2 thought that we’d have flying cars by 2015 and Blade Runner 2049 supposed in the next 30 years we’d leap, seemed to me, roughly 200 years into the future. To me, Minority Report is the most accurate depiction of a sci-fi near-future, with its self-driving cars, touch screen computers and VR, but a world that is still quite recognizable. When creating the world surrounding the events of Gods of the American Wild, I had Minority Report in mind, as well future technologies on the horizon, a subject I read a lot about. AI, space travel, decentralized learning, urban farming, etc are all topics touched on in the book, but they’re modestly advanced in a way I feel is realistic to the time period of 2043.
Part of the influence for the character of Andromeda is Gattaca. Andromeda even mentions in the book that it’s her favorite movie. Two things inspired by Gattaca are central to Andromeda’s character — first, the drive that Ethan Hawke’s character in the film has to take control of a life that’s been dictated by fate; and second, the pure sense of romance attributed to outer space that Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke’s characters share.
7. Divinity 2
Apache’s powers slowly become revealed over the course of the novel. Initially, you think he’s just got superhuman strength, but in reality his power is more that he manifests the competitive advantage of animals — he can be strong like a bear, tough like a rhino, or have keen vision like a hawk. This is kind of similar to the powers given to the Hunter class in World of Warcraft, which, alongside classic D&D druids was my inspiration. However, while I was writing the novel, I played through Divinity 2 and got really into the polymorph class. I thought “Apache should be able to do this when he gets stronger!” and so, as his powers increase, he begins to manifest powers that are inspired by the polymorph spells in Divinity 2.
A major part of Apache’s character is he has a devastating past. Part of it comes from people I’ve known, but one scene in particular is inspired by the most disturbing moment in the movie Jarhead, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, where a member of the main character’s unit gets a home video from his wife on his birthday. Excited, and thinking it’s going to be a loving and special moment, he gathers the unit to watch it with him — but it turns out to be a video where she cheats on him on camera and delivers the message that their marriage is over. Apache is supposed to be someone ravaged by life, who has experienced some of the most heart-shattering moments a human being can endure, and that scene from Jarhead became the inspiration for one of the most cruel experiences Apache endured.
While the primary theme of Watchmen is ‘Who watches the Watchmen?’, what informed my novel from that was actually the character arc of Dr. Manhattan which boils down to “Do Gods care about us?” This idea is central to the themes of Gods of the American Wild, not only as it relates to Gods, but also entities higher up on the totem pole in terms of class. There’s a powerful moment toward the end of the book where Rockwell is confronting a certain character and he says something along the lines of “Why don’t you stop the war?” to which that character responds, “Do humans involve themselves in the politics of bees? No, we take their honey.” In a book where the characters each, in their own way, are on a character arc from being flawed humans to becoming Gods in the truest mythological sense, several characters deal with this concept of detachment from humanity.
10. Current Events
The novel is, itself, full of political commentary. It touches on all sorts of divisive topics we’re dealing with today such as socialism, capitalism, race, class, education, etc., and some of these issues even cause conflict between the main characters. But at its core, and even at the core of the reason I wrote the novel, is it’s a commentary on the political division in America that’s at its highest point since the Civil War. And, in my personal opinion, that level of division is a huge problem. Eastwood, himself, is a remnant of the civil war period and is a living cautionary tale, even providing that role to the other characters. The conflict of the book itself, which is a parable in many ways, is that a civil war is being engineered by manipulators who would play the population against their better angels. That it takes place in the future is a statement that cautions: this is a road we are potentially headed toward.
11. Life Experiences
More than anything in the novel, I draw from my life experiences. I don’t want to outline what is and is not taken from things I’ve experienced directly or seen others experience, but a great deal of this story is very personal to me. It has my blood, sweat and tears in it. I believe the primary usefulness of fiction is to convey experience and perspective and to inspire empathy. So, to have put so much of myself into the book, I feel like there’s a sincerity and authenticity about it that I’m very happy with.
There are a ton of other influences, too many to list, but here are some that almost made the list: Big Fish, 1984, Serial Experiments Lain, X-Men, Joseph Campbell, Highlander, Event Horizon, The Nibelungenlied, Cowboy Bebop, Crimson Viper from Street Fighter, Coheed and Cambria which was the main soundtrack while I was writing, and many more.