This is the second of our interviews of author’s from our fifth issue. Douglas W. Texter contributed the alternate history story AD 1929 for Alt Hist Issue 5. Read on to find out more about the story and about Doug’s career in writing.
Al Capone has a charismatic allure that attracts fiction writers. What is it about his character that attracted you to write about him?
To me Al Capone is fascinating. He was certainly brutal. He really did beat people to death. Then again, look at the leaders of some of the countries that the US supports and calls friend and you’ll see that this brutality is there as well. We turn a blind eye to foreign thugs as long as they help us. Criminals have no monopoly on physical violence. Capone also had a few other qualities that make him interesting to me. First, he was generous. He did in fact spend a summer in Lansing, Michigan, and pay for a young bride’s wedding. He helped out people during the Depression as well. In addition, he was charismatic. Walter Winchell and Damon Runyon were mesmerized by him. Finally, he was organized. What’s always struck me is the level of organization in the 1920s and 1930s, especially after the Crash. Files and taxonomy were the order of the day. In some weird way that I don’t fully understand yet, the physical organization—files, libraries, museums, etc—paved the way for the organization provided by the computer a few generations later. Government was incredibly organized. On both sides of the Atlantic, governments were consolidating power to deal with the Depression and, of course, to mobilize armies for what would become the Second World War. Criminality seemed to mimic the general modernist drive toward centralization. Capone’s organization was centralized and efficient. Today, we live in a postmodern age, when crime (think of the theatre shooting last year in Colorado) has become random and senseless, like much of the postmodern world. While Capone was a violent criminal, he made sense.
Do you think it’s possible that a person like Al Capone could have ever become President of the United States?
Most US Presidents have done brutal things during their administrations: drone strikes, fire bombings, assassinations, declarations of war, to name a few. So, from that perspective, would violence have precluded Capone? I don’t think so. Now, Capone was a criminal. Would that fact have precluded him from the Presidency? I don’t think so, ultimately. A conviction would change that, and, of course, Capone was convicted of tax evasion. But an un-convicted and charismatic criminal? I could see that kind of person becoming President very easily. Remember, I live in a country that has seen Ronald Regan, Jesse Ventura, Al Franken, Sonny Bono, and the Terminator hold high office. So much of politics in the US is about show. Capone had the resources to produce a very good show.
Can you tell us a bit about Marinetti’s attempts to work with Mussolini?
Marinetti never came to America, and as far as I know, never communicated with Capone, but I’ve been fascinated by Marinetti ever since I was introduced to Futurism when I did my MA in English at Villanova University. We were studying Great War literature and culture. Marinetti did in fact serve as the Minster of Culture under the Mussolini regime in the 1930s and 1940s. When I was thinking about creating “AD 1929,” I thought to myself that Mussolini was a lot like Al Capone. And Marinetti was always interested in the super-modern. He really did write that people would eventually grow propellers. So, it made sense to me that Marinetti might want to come to the US, which was more “up-to-date” than Europe. And then I wondered what would have happened if Marinetti had left Italy and worked for Capone. And the result is the story.
How did you get into writing?
I’ve been involved with writing and writers in one way or another since I was twenty-two. During college, I wrote some essays that were published, and I was a student worker at the University of Pennsylvania Press. After college, I was a production editor at a medical publishing house. That was very weird. I edited stuff that I couldn’t understand. Then I did my MA and wrote a lot during that time. After that, I went to the Radcliffe Publishing Course at Harvard and worked as a textbook editor. Then, I went back to school for my Ph.D. in English and wrote constantly: hundreds of pages a semester. As for fiction, when I was about thirty, I woke up one morning and said, “I should write fiction.” Then, I said, “I want to write science fiction, and I have no idea how to do it.” So, after writing a few stories, I applied to go to the Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop. I started publishing short fiction right after Clarion. I was still doing my Ph.D. as well. So, I was writing fiction, scholarly essays for publication, reviews, and articles for the Chronicle of Higher Education almost simultaneously. I like both fiction and the essay form. I also got fairly lucky in 2006 and won the Writers of the Future Competition.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I teach in a BFA in Creative Writing for the Entertainment Industry program at Full Sail University in Orlando. Essentially, I teach literature to budding screenwriters. One of the ironies is that one of my colleagues, who is Italian, loves the Futurists. I’m in the classroom a lot. I’m also an alumni admissions interviewer for my undergraduate institution, the University of Pennsylvania. I read at the Catholic Church I attend. I enjoy investing and finance and spend a fair amount of time working on my investments and reading about investing. Right now, I’m also brushing up on my editorial skills by taking some online courses through the University of California at Berkeley. Last—but certainly not least—I spend time with my family, Lynn, my fiancé, and her two boys, Michael and Joel. Lynn and I are getting married in December, and our honeymoon will be in Scotland—where I studied for a year when I was an undergraduate. We will be going to Orkney and then Edinburgh, for Hogmanay.
Are you working on any other short stories or novels at the moment and if so can you tell us a bit more about them?
I just finished a story, “Das Zombie Boot,” that I submitted to Raus! Untoten! an anthology calling for tales about zombies and Nazis. My story—a cross between Das Boot and Twenty-eight Days Later—tells the tale of what would have happened if a U-boat had been in New York Harbor in 1942 when a biological experiment went awry and created a super-virus. I’m currently working on an essay that I’m going to submit to the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts about John Birmingham’s Axis of Time trilogy, which imagines what would have happened if a US-led multinational naval task force had been sucked back in time to the Battle of Midway Island. After I finish this project, I’ll be writing an alternate history story about the American Trappist monk Thomas Merton, who died in Bangkok in 1968. In my story Merton lives and fulfills his changed destiny. After that, I have to finish up another non-fiction project about the history of medical publishing. Then, when the dust settles, I’m returning to work on the second draft of my first novel, Berlin Airlift: An Alternate History. This novel tells the tale of what would have happened if Joseph Stalin had decided to drive the Americans out of Berlin in 1948, during the airlift.
What are your ambitions as a writer?
My goal is to publish long-form alternate history. I love doing thought experiments, and I love alternate history and have since I was about eight when I saw the Star Trek episode City on the Edge of Forever and read Marvel’s “What if” comics. In the last few years, I’ve been—in several ways—surrounded by alternate-history writers. I reviewed Robert Conroy’s 1942 for Strange Horizons and got into a rather intense discussion with SM Stirling. Then in 2009, I studied at the British SF Foundation’s Master Class at the University of Liverpool and met Adam Roberts, a very formidable writer of alternate history and a genuinely wonderful person. Then I wrote about Harry Turtledove for the New York Review of Science Fiction.
I’m getting ready to make my move!