BookLife Talks with Walter Boutwell
A sponsored Q&A with the author of the Old Men and Infidels seriesThe near future offers a blank slate for Boutwell’s dystopian imagining of a fractured America. The first-time author admits the five-book series has disciplined his writing.
What is the story behind the Old Men and Infidels (OMAI) series?
During the last 20 years, I’ve worked on occasion as a doc in mission hospitals. Sadly, in rural Ghana, middle-aged white guys are about the most exciting thing you can imagine for preadolescent boys. I attracted a gaggle. I mentioned to them, one day, that both America and Ghana had been colonies of England—and that I had even witnessed Ghana’s independence. This fact was stoutly denied by the gaggle. What’s an eyewitness compared to your state-owned teacher?
I learned Ghana is getting older and younger. Since WWII, due to better medicine, nutrition, and Western intolerance to war, average Ghanaian life expectancy has gone from 45 to 67 while the average age has fallen to 22. Young countries make one kind of mistake; old countries another. I wrote the series to explore how that might play out in America.
As the first book, Outland Exile, was your debut work, has your writing process changed from that book to the third entry?I am much more rigorous with myself. I started writing OMAI in 2013, on a whim. By late 2014, I was consistently writing 500 to 1,000 words a day. My style is more immediate; I’m more succinct, and my thoughts about the OMAI world have crystallized. Nevertheless, the characters often have their way with me, the rascals.
What can readers expect from the third book?
Malila of the Scorch is the completion of my original concept: two middle-aged enemies—one a jaded 17-year-old army officer and one a sere 77-year-old man-killer—meet, try to murder each other, and then forge a bond of trust just as their world turns to ice.
Who is your ideal reader, and why?
Someone who loves words, as I do, and wonders what’s wrong with America. I have always loved words: the sounds, the cadences, and the cascades of meaning. I was raised on Burns, Frost, Masefield, Noyes, Stevenson, and Tennyson. I think it shows. Currently, we live in a nasty society. Politics is only partly to blame; we voted for them, after all. This cannot last. America has little to keep itself together. We have no racial identity, no religious commonality, and only a brief and bloody national history; we merely have great and noble ideas. If we succeed in killing America, it might come back as an OMAI. I fear to see that.
Anything you want to say about the final two books in the series?
Book four, The Silence and the Gods, is completed. It’s probably the most thoughtful of the five, delving into how drugs and faith are used and abused in society. I’m currently writing book five. In it, I hope to show a way forward.