The “What If?” Game; Goodwin Author, Writing Partner Explore an Alternative History
Note: This article was submitted by students in Prof. Randy Laist’s English 300 class: Jennalyn Bantang, Deneen Bouchard, Mary Brathwaite, Breonna Counsel, John Custy, Travis Samuels, Terry Schaefer, LaToya Thomas, Deana Tracey, and Randy Laist
What if the Nazis had won World War II? What if the South had won the Civil War? What if chimpanzees had evolved into super-intelligent beings and kept human beings in zoos? Welcome to the bizarre world of alternate history, where “what if” becomes “what was.” It is a world in which Brian Dixon, Assistant Professor of English at Goodwin College, and his writing partner, Adam Chamberlain, are well traveled.
In their 2009 collection of short stories, Columbia and Britannia, they weave a historical narrative that postulates a world in which the American Revolutionary War never took place.
That’s right, no Fourth of July cookouts, no “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” no Stars and Stripes, no Lady Liberty: a world in which North America is just another colonial outpost in the British Empire.
On September 23 in the Goodwin College auditorium, Dixon and Chamberlain discussed their book with a receptive crowd. The audience listened with rapt attention as the authors explained their ideas about alternate history.
Travis Samuels, one of the students attending the event, found it interesting how Dixon and Chamberlain altered history by diverging from historical events and creating a different time line.
“I was amazed to think how one minor change of events can alter the entire time line of history,” said Samuels. “It makes me wonder, What if I did something differently years ago? Where would I have been now?”
Dixon, an American obsessed with British culture, has taught college English for over 10 years, since he received his Ph.D. from the University of Rhode Island. Through social networks such as Skype and Facebook, he came into contact with Adam Chamberlain, an Englishman who enjoys country music, and who now resides in London. Chamberlain has earned his degrees in psychology and criminology. Their unique friendship was the starting-point for the imaginative journey that grew into Columbia and Britannia.
Their vision of alternate history is one in which familiar events combine with bizarre twists. For example, in Columbia and Britannia, the first astronaut landed on the moon in 1996. Fenway Cricket Grounds became the target of a terrorist attack in 2001. A man named John Kennedy assassinated Queen Elizabeth II in 1962. These points in their story exemplify the manner in which Columbia and Britannia blends familiar historical benchmarks with surprising divergences and ironies that rewrite history in unforeseen and startling ways.
As the book signing concluded, there was an opportunity for a question and answer session with Dixon and Chamberlain. Both men were asked where they get their inspiration to write. Even as accomplished writers, they both agreed that they draw their inspiration from peer review and collaboration.
The process of collecting the stories in Columbia and Britannia required the author-editors to work closely with a team of writers who selected what kind of story they wanted to tell and cooperated with Dixon and Chamberlain to make sure that all of the details in all of the stories corresponded.
The manner in which Dixon and Chamberlain worked with one another and with their contributing authors to tell their story illustrates the value of teamwork in developing a writing project. The audience came away with a valuable lesson in how important collaboration is to the writing process.