History began to interest him long before he was in graduate school, but it was there he began to focus on local Waco history. After high school at Crawford, Texas, Turner attended McLennan Community College (MCC) and earned his associate degree at MCC in 2002. From there, he went to Mary-Hardin Baylor University where he earned bachelor’s degrees in history and political science. When he wrote assigned essays, Turner would choose topics that tied into local history because it was easy and inexpensive to research. If he had a two-hour lunch break, he could just cross the street to the local archive at Baylor University, pull the sources he needed, get them copied and still have time for lunch.
“ A lot of the smarter academics do much of their research on the same topic for each class so if they need to write a thesis or a dissertation, they already have all this information written down,” he said. “And I thought, ‘You know, I’m going to do that, too, and see where it goes.’”
This led to the idea and the creation of a book on the social history of Waco. Students’ academic essays and thesis’ often just set on a shelf after completion, and Turner said he began to think maybe the public might enjoy them.
After Turner earned his master’s degree in American history from Baylor, he continued on to earn another master’s in environmental science. Soon after that he began teaching at MCC.
At MCC, Turner discovered most of his students were not familiar with Waco history. In a class of 30 students, he said maybe only one that had even heard about Camp MacArthur or the lynchings in Waco, so he gave a few lectures on those topics.
“I thought, there really needs to be a book that we could assign and that’s where my original idea came back to me. Why don’t I just stick all these essays together that I wrote in graduate school and add in a little text?” said Turner.
He next talked with TSTC Publishing Publisher Mark Long about his idea. Turner had some help writing this book from colleagues who wrote four of the chapters. Turner co-wrote Chapter 7 with his wife, Andrea.
Different from most local histories, Lust, Violence, Religion is not the happy-ending book that many might expect it to be. It is a scholarly look at Waco’s social history.
“It’s realistic,” he said. “A lot of local histories are done by amateurs, and there’s nothing wrong with that but a lot of times amateurs romanticize eras.” Turner said.
As for those who claim Waco has a dark history, Turner says Waco is no different than other Texas towns.
“If something happened of some significance, it happened here, too. When the war came, it came on swift wings, and progressivism, the double paradox of religion and large amounts of vice going at the same time, that would have occurred all over Texas.” Turner explained.
One topic many people may notice missing from Lust, Violence, Religion is a chapter on the Branch Davidians. For something that is so associated with Waco, many may expect it to be in there.
“That didn’t even happen in Waco.” Turner said, “Anyone who’s from Waco will tell you that. Everything that is in Lust, Violence, Religion, all the things in the chapters were rooted in Waco. It happened near a little town out in Texas, but you never hear that it happened in Elk. Whenever I travel and people ask about Waco, that’s the first thing I get asked about, the Branch Davidians. I intentionally did not want to discuss that because first off, there’s been enough done on that already, and Waco has a lot more history to it than the violence that ensued from the decisions of David Koresh. I think there are other stories that need to be told because that one has been told plenty of times.” Turner said.
For the most part, Turner said he is content with what he included in the book but there are always a few stories he thinks, “Oh, that would have been good in there.”
Aside from his writing, Turner teaches environmental science at MCC and writes simply because he enjoys it. Turner also plays music and recently has taken up running in his free time. Since his family has lived in the Waco area for seven generations, some of the pictures in the book are actually from his family’s collection.
Turner already is working on a new Waco history book, Cotton Bales, Goatmen, Witches: Myths, Legends, and Strange Stories from McClennan County. It is an academic book researching myths and legends of Waco and explaining their origins.
Turner’s book is slated for a Sept. 1 release. It is being presold at Amazon.com and will be available at all major retailers and distributors after the release date.