I hadn’t talked about this for some time, what with moving back to Hot Springs, getting involved with Save the VA, starting a feature-length documentary, and working with the most awesome band in South Dakota, the novel “Once Upon A Time In Hot Springs” had been put on the back burner.
It’s still happening, and it’s become something very personal to me, and I hope it will feel very personal to anyone who’s either lived or visited Hot Springs.
Between all my other projects that have taken so much of my time, I have been continuing to do more research, which has been made much easier by the fact I actually live back in Hot Springs now! My first real outline of the novel, from beginning to end, has been completed, and working through the characters & events, it’s clear there are deeper themes in this story than in any other I’ve written before.
Firstly and foremost it’s a story about the endurability of a community; of a way of life. A town like Hot Springs has been uniquely built around healing since the Lakota first discovered the Minnekahta Valley. I have no doubts in my mind that Hot Springs will continue to be a spiritually healing place hundreds of years from now. But more than that, I take a look at the proposed closure of the VA facility in Hot Springs, as well as alternative plans to protect the community’s economy.
In the story, the antagonist is a well-intentioned businessman whose ultimate goal is to revitalize the community at any costs. Unfortunately, those costs are too high. His plans include buying the Evans Hotel & converting it back into resort hotel with a casino, booting out all its residents, as well as bringing an Old West gambling & partying culture back to Hot Springs. However, his plans also include manipulating history through his discovery of a wormhole beneath Fall River. He orders the robbing of stagecoaches that were never historically robbed; bank heists of banks that were never heisted! All in the name of creating a legendary back story for the community so that it can benefit from a colorful history in much the same way Deadwood and Tombstone have.
That false history is both compared and contrasted to the real one that the protagonists, Jesse and Jim, discover as they experience it firsthand. In going back in time to try to stop this man, they both find that the false history being created stems from a Hollywood western sensibility and yet the actual truth to much of real life history is equally or even more exciting and outlandish than anyone could possibly make up! An eccentric, self-proclaimed “Professor” who claims the Bible proves the world is flat? An attempted jailbreak on the night of a big sports event when all the police are distracted? All true.
Secondly, it’s a story about the open-endedness of life, there is no way to “fix the future.” Not everyone in the story comes out with a happy ending. Even Hot Springs itself in the story doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending. It’s a bit of a cliche with time travel stories, but as Doc Brown said best in Back to the Future Part 3 (which has actually had zero influence on this story, believe it or not) “The future’s whatever you make it; so make it a good one.” The point is that you have to be strong enough to pick yourself up when you get knocked down; you have to be willing to move on from one challenge, and onto the next.
But of course, at the same time, nothing is inevitable. As the antagonist learns, his actions in the past end up harming his own intentions but helping both the community, the protagonists, and the world at large, and even though he tries to set things “right,” nothing is certain. My interpretation of Hot Springs will, I hope, inspire people to continue fighting against those who seem to believe in that idea that corporations, businesses, and the government will have their way, no matter what.
But anyway, to sum it up, it’s still happening, it’s just going to take more time. I hope that it will be a story that everyone can enjoy & take something from, be it a childish gleefulness at the Old West-style action, quiet reflection from the themes, or enjoying recognizing important historical figures & locations from the region.