I had the opportunity to interview writer Michael J. Tucker this month about his new novel, Summer Haze. Mike is the author of two critically acclaimed novels, Aquarius Falling and Capricorn’s Collapse, the poetry collection Your Voice Spoke To My Ear, and the memoir A Disrupted Life. His short stories include the Amazon best-selling short story series, Katie Savage.
Tucker’s newest work, Summer Haze, is a coming-of-age novel about three gifted musicians who all overcome childhoods of verbal, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse but eventually bond as a band of singer songwriters . They play in dive bars throughout the South and casinos along the Gulf Coast, navigating the challenges of friendship, rivalry, success, and, eventually, loss.
TZ: This book is dedicated “to those performers who left us before their time.” And the very fact that you wrote this novel suggests that you feel deeply connected to young musicians and to musicians in general. Are you a musician yourself?
MT: I’m not a musician, but I am a lover of music, and not limited to any one genre. My taste is broad enough to cover from Classical to Country, Pop to Jazz. I was there for the birth of Rock and Roll, dancing to Bill Haley and His Comets “Rock Around the Clock,” and Elvis singing, “Heartbreak Hotel.”
Four years later I would be mourning the sudden death of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and JP, The Big Bopper, Richardson. A day that Don McLean elegantly referred to as, “the day the music died.” Early deaths of musicians is not limited Rock. Country lost Hank Williams and Patsy Cline while they were at the peak of their careers.
As fans we suffer more than just the loss of our favorite performer, we selfishly know we will never hear their next great hit.
The Dedication also serves to foreshadow the journey of the characters in Summer Haze. With their success, they also deal with the same risks that face real-life artists.
TZ: You’ve included some intriguing song lyrics throughout the novel, some by Micki Fuhrman and some that the two of you wrote together. What made you decide to include them, and how much did you build your narrative around them?
MT: The three major characters, Aria, Chip, and Digger, are performers and songwriters, so I had to show the songwriting process. Micki is an immensely talented artist. At age fifteen she was a regular performer on “Louisiana Hayride” and has appeared as a guest performer on “The Grand Ole Opry.” I approached her with the idea of using some of her songs for the novel, and she graciously agreed, with the provision that we team up to write some songs together. That became a valuable learning experience for me and was extremely useful in accurately showing the song writing process the characters would engage in.
The seven songs that I selected from Micki’s songbook served as writing prompts. Scenes were built around the title or lyric and then used to show the creative give and take between the songwriters to create a song. The opposite occurred on songs where Micki and I collaborated. The scene served as the prompt for the lyrics. In the story both songs are credited to Aria, and was a creative response to something that happened to her.
TZ: All three of your protagonists grew up with abusive fathers and other serious challenges that ultimately draw them to music and each other. What’s the relationship between these childhood stories and the kind of music they end up creating? And what’s your take on the common trope that you need to suffer to create art?
MT: I do not accept “the common trope that you need to suffer to create art,” and that was not the message that I wanted to deliver.
Summer Haze is a journey story. Aria and Digger have heavy anchors holding them back. They had to sever those anchors and never look back. Chip had to leave people who love him to find out what he can really become. The message is you can overcome your past and be your own success story.
TZ: In the second part of the book, which is where all three characters finally get together, you switch from a third-person omniscient voice to the individual first-person voices of each of the three protagonists. Why did you make that choice?
MT: The characters are children in the first part, and that really dictated a third-person omniscient point of view. In part two they are young adults. There was going to be friction and conflict among the three characters. In real life people often don’t communicate what they are thinking. The best and least confusing way to show their different thoughts is in a first person point of view.
First person is also a more intimate look at a character. I wanted the reader to care deeply for all three of them, and intimacy will accomplish that.
“In real life people often don’t communicate what they are thinking. The best and least confusing way to show their different thoughts is in a first person point of view. ” — Author Michael J. Tucker
MT: While those specific references were regarding my first two novels, Aquarius Falling and Capricorn’s Collapse, they could also apply to Summer Haze. The commonality is the theme, aspiration. Wolfe’s Charlotte seeks social status and makes bad decisions to acquire it. The aspiration for Salinger’s Holden Caulfield is more vague, but can be found in his use of a metaphor, the “gold ring” on the carousel. My protagonist in Aquarius and Capricorn is Tom Delaney, his aspiration is wealth, and like Charlotte, he makes bad decisions to attain it. Aria, Chip, and Digger seek the gold ring of fame.
TZ: Did you have any literary influencers or models for Summer Haze in particular?
MT: Kim Gordon’s Girl in a Band: A Memoir, was very important for me in my research. I knew I was going to be writing in the voice of Aria and I had to know what it was like to be the only girl in an all male band. Gordon’s work was useful in showing how conflicts and romance can affect the band’s camaraderie and performance.
TZ: What’s up next for you writing-wise?
MT: The first short story I ever wrote was supernatural with a demonic character making an appearance. I’m returning to that genre and plan to publish a collection of supernatural short stories in 2020.