The Big Idea: B. L. Blanchard
B. L. BLANCHARD:
What if North America had never been colonized?
Sit with that idea for a minute, and really think about it. What do you think that world looks like? How do you think it happened?
It’s almost overwhelming, isn’t it? There are so many ways colonization could have been avoided, and so many ways the world could have turned out if it had.
I developed the plot and the characters both quickly and early in the process. It’s a murder mystery, so I started with the twist and worked my way backwards. But figuring out what the world today might look like without colonization? It consumed me.
I thought through possibilities for well over a year, before I wrote a single word of the story. I discussed it with my husband. I talked about it with my family. I did all kinds of research.
And I tied myself in knots.
Because there is no shortage of alternative histories that could have unfolded. If I ask five different people to imagine a world without colonization, and then ask me to tell them their theory of how it could have been avoided, I will get five different answers.
I used to watch a documentary series on the Discovery Channel called Seconds from Disaster. It portrayed real-life disasters, such as the Challenger and Concorde, and demonstrated through how they are never triggered by just one thing going wrong. As the series always put it, “Disasters don’t just happen, they’re a chain of critical events.” Colonization was no different. Many, many things had to go wrong for this to have been the result. Our timeline was not inevitable, and imagining how it could have been different only requires a single change, or a few slight changes, in history. The possibilities of what the world might look like now are limited only by your imagination.
I started by first trying to chronologically build out the world, starting from the 15th and 16th centuries and going forward. I was confronted with a bunch of questions. Did that mean that there had never been any contact with Europe, or had colonization been attempted but rebuffed, or there was no attempt to colonize but just trade partnerships, or… you get the idea.
And then there are the ripple effects. For example, if there are no colonies in North America, there was no trans-Atlantic slave trade. How does that impact the history of peoples in Africa and beyond? If there is no colonization in North America, do European nations have the wealth and resources or will to attempt colonization in any other part of the world? (The impact of a world without colonization on Europe is the focus of the second book in this universe.)
This book isn’t a treatise in what an alternative world without colonization might look like, so we don’t get into how and why history deviated. I leave that to the reader to decide.
Eventually, I decided that instead of trying to chronologically fill in the last 500 years, I would take a page from what I did with the plot: start with the end result and work my way from there. What did I want this world to look like?
I wanted to see a modern, 21st century, industrialized, indigenous society. I wanted a society that kept both traditional practices as well as modern technology. I wanted a skyline populated with both high-rises and wigwams, and where Native cultural practices had never been outlawed, but were widely and openly practiced.
I am blessed that I had the rich real-life history of the pre-colonial Americas to draw from. There was a massive network of trade and travel routes across from present-day Canada through to the Inca empire in Peru. That grew into a network of high-speed rail trains covering a similar territory in the book. Pre-colonial Americas were full of cities, including Cahokia near what we know as St. Louis, Tenochtitlan near what we know as Mexico City, Yax Mutal in what we know as Tikal, Guatemala, and Huayana Pichu in what we know as Machu Picchu, Peru. So I also developed Shikaakwa, in what we know as Chicago. Among other things, we also see a professional game of baaga’adowewin, the sport on which lacrosse is based; the manoomin (wild rice) harvest festival; and a judicial system based on making victims whole, not punishing offenders.
As in all stories, characters are the beating heart. So leading us through this world are characters from a variety of backgrounds that reflect the diverse lived experience of the citizens and descendants of the more than 573 federally-recognized Native American nations: some are Anishinaabe, some are not. Some are academics, some work with their hands. Some are secular, others are spiritual. Some are urban, some are rural. The world they are from governs their actions, and their actions shape their world. This is a world that will hopefully seem both familiar and new. It’s aspirational, but I also think it was very, very possible.
Welcome to the nation of Mino-Aki, the Good Land. I hope you enjoy your stay.