Interview with Joe Alfieri

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and I think that experience had a great influence on my writing. The area that I grew up in, a largely Italian American neighborhood, was, shall we say, filled with colorful characters. It was the cast of characters from any crime story. I also had an early interest in politics. So to me the gangsters-- and the political figures-- that I write about are very real people, I can hear their dialog, their speech patterns, and see what they look like and see what they do. Intrigue, political or criminal (is there a difference?) are very real to me.
When did you first start writing?
It seems that I've always been writing. I recently came across a file box with some old writing, so old that it was done on a typewriter, if any of you can remember what they were. It was a Smith Corona portable that I used, and I remember buying it when I was about 14 or 15 with the money that I made from delivering dentures to dentists.
In the box I found the start of a political novel, and several essays and short stories from over a span of twenty years or more. I know that I started writing stories at least in middle school, though I don't seem to have any of those around. They probably went away with my baseball cards.
What's the story behind your latest book?
I'm glad you asked. I've always been fascinated with the way history can turn on a single event, and that's the premise for my series, Kingfish Ascendant. For example, what if JFK didn't go to Dallas? How would things have been different. What if FDR hadn't been elected? Would the depression have continued?
Well in my research I discovered that in February of 1933, before he was sworn in as president, FDR was shot at while in Miami by a man named Giuseppe Zangara. Zangara fired three shots, but missed Roosevelt and hit Anton Cermak, the mayor of Chicago, killing him. So I imagined, what if he killed FDR instead, how would that effect America and history? That's what Kingfish Ascendant is about, and Book One, The Rise of Huey Long, is about the assassination and the events afterward.
Few people know that in February of 1933, the 20th Amendment, which defines the line of succession if a President-elect dies before being sworn in, had not yet been enacted. It had been approved by the necessary two thirds of the states, but could not take effect until after the next Congress was sworn in, in 1933, so it had no effect on the election in 1932. So there was no clear answer as to who would become president. There was a very strong argument that the House would have to elect the president, which had happened before, in close elections.
Remember also that in 1933 America was in the midst of the Great Depression, and there was a great deal of unrest, from violent strikes to actual rebellion on farms in the Midwest. Electing FDR created a temporary halt to the unrest, but if he were gone, it's likely that the unrest would not only start again but grow more dangerous.
Add into that mix, the very ambitious and dictatorial aspirations of Huey Long, then senator and previously governor of Louisiana, and I think you've got an interesting story. At least I hope so.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I like the immediacy of the medium. I'm impatient and impulsive, and Smashwords allows me to act quickly. I also like the idea of being involved in the production, since I have a background in typesetting and graphic arts.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Well it's a joy and at the same time something very scary, and that is seeing how the story and characters develop as I write. I like the idea of creating worlds, scenarios, and characters. But sometimes when I finish writing and read what I've done, I see characters that have just appeared, as if from nowhere. They seem to have a life of there own, telling me not only who they are, but what they look like and how they speak. There is one in Kingfish Ascendant, a columnist named J. Stinson Knowles, like that. He just appeared on the page, fully formed, and when I was writing dialogue I swear there was a voice saying "he doesn't speak like that." So I made the edit-- since I always listen to what the voices say.
What are you working on next?
I'm working on completing the trilogy of Kingfish Ascendant. The last book is about halfway there, so I'l get that done next, and then fill in with the middle book.
I'm also developing a crime story, which hopefully could grow into a novel. There's also a very personal memoir, for which I'm gathering material.
Who are your favorite authors?
Well in this genre, of alternate history, Harry Turtledove and S.M. Stirling are favorites. It was Turtledove's Civil War series that got me hooked. Stirling's Peshewar Lancers was also very influential. Recently I read Philip Dick's The Man in the High Tower,and liked that a lot. As for others, Lawrence Block is a particular favorite, especially the Matthew Scudder novels. Scudder's a fabulous character, and I'm interested in seeing how he makes the transition to screen with Liam Neeson in the role. I'm also a fan of Michael Connelly, and of course Elmore Leonard. Others? Herman Wouk, Tom Clancy, Parker, Jeff Shaara, Vince Flynn, Richard Condon.
What is your writing process?
Well I'm not a planner. I have a general idea of where I'm headed, and hopefully as I write the characters let me get there. Sometimes they don't.
I'm a sporadic writer, in that when I write it is all consuming, and I can write long into the night, until the next morning sometimes. Then do it again, several days in a row. But there are times when I go for long stretches without writing.
How do you approach cover design?
I wanted to use the cover to tell a bit of the story, so I included photos of Huey Long, FDR, and some of what went on around D.C in the twenties and thirties during the depression. And I wanted a big and bold image of Long, something that was like him, and I found photos of a statue of him, with fist in the air. I think it's very dramatic and represents his character well, a brash in your face personality.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Perhaps not the first, but a very early one, was about a boy who goes shopping with his mother for new shoes. What he doesn't know, is that his mother is going to steal the shoes, since she can't afford to buy them. There's build up of anticipation, with them getting excited with window shopping, meeting neighbors and telling them about the new shoes they're out to get. And there is I hope an undercurrent of fear and guilt in the mom, knowing what she;s going to do.
It's a slice of life, but a depressing one.
What do you read for pleasure?
I read crime novels, again Lawrence Block, Michael Connelly, etc. But I'll just as soon pick up a biography like Isaacson's Benjamin Franklin, or something historical, like Catton's Civil War books. I read what catches my fancy, and I try to keep it varied. And, for my own education -- and of course pleasure -- I try to go back to the classics now and then. I just finished Steinbeck's Cannery Row.
I'll read darn near anything, and there just aren't enough hours in the day, darn it.
Published 2013-09-02.
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Books by This Author

Kingfish Ascendant Book One: The Rise of Huey Long
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 60,130. Language: English. Published: September 2, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Historical » USA, Fiction » Fantasy » Historical
Before his inauguration, Franklin Delano Roosevelt is assassinated in Miami. On a train to Washington D.C., Sen. Huey Long devises a plan to take FDR’s place. Turmoil erupts when he claims to be the true heir to FDR, challenging the political establishment. The army is called out as violence spreads. Will the nation survive the chaos, or turn to the fiery populist from Louisiana as a savior?