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Interview: George Tucker on "Circle"

George Tucker–author of "Circle," which appears in our May 2008 issue–said in an interview that the story is about a Seminole shaman who’s hired to exorcise a downtown Miami construction site. "There are three threads that intersected to form this story: Native American mysticism, the Miami Circle, and the Miami housing bubble," Tucker said in an interview.

Tucker has been fascinated by Native American mysticism for as long as he can remember.  "The first book I ever bought, while on a field trip to a natural history museum in northern Arkansas, was The Indian How Book by Arthur C. Parker. I reread [it] until the spine cracked and pages started to fall out — every page thrilled me," Tucker said. "I’ve written several stories featuring Native American protagonists.  Billy Black is the first of these characters to appear in print."

The second thread is the Miami Circle archaeological find, Tucker said. "I’m a paleophile, pure and simple. I love the idea of finding a mysterious ritual site (in my mind an ancient, haunted place, where sacrifices had their throats cut while worshipers chanted praises to dark gods) in the middle of a thriving glass-and-steel metropolis.  I’m infatuated by the thought that the ancient, dark and bloody past lurks under the foundations of our buildings and in our genes — and from time to time leaps out and takes us by the throat.  Even though ‘Circle’ is a light-hearted story it touches on these themes," Tucker said. "By the way, the developer who owned the lot the Miami Circle was found on wanted desperately to move it — and Mayor Joe Carollo (aka Loco Joe) agreed, citing a $1.1 million loss in annual property taxes if the condo didn’t go up as planned.  In my imagination, people like Joe Carollo decided that Baghdad’s Ministry of Oil should be heavily guarded in April of 2003 while looters took ancient and irreplaceable works of art from the National Museum."

The last ingredient was the Miami housing boom. "I spent the last six years working in advertising and marketing.  Several condominium projects were among our clients.  I was completely unfamiliar with condo marketing and was amazed to discover that most sales were made based on nothing more than a handful of artist’s renderings of what the finished project might look like, a stick-figure floor plan, and a portfolio of promises — usually printed on very nice paper," Tucker said. "(This is called ‘preconstruction’ to the uninitiated.)  Understand — people laid down real cash, in the tens-of-thousands range, on the strength of the contracted architect and the developer’s reputation.  I couldn’t believe this was happening.  In addition, everyone in South Florida was either a realtor, or a mortgage broker, or worked construction or interior design or landscaping or in some other way supported this industry.  I couldn’t help but see that the emperor had no clothes.  The center could not hold.  Now Miami has a 2-year housing backlog and the condo client I worked for is being sued by unhappy buyers and another client I worked for, a mortgage lender, is facing HUD inquiries for its lending practices.  All this is somewhat interesting but here’s what hurts: the construction workers are out of work. Skilled and unskilled labor is no longer in demand.  Swaths of the Everglades, of the beachfront, were paved to erect faceless slabs of mirrored glass that no one wants to live in.  The destruction can’t be reversed. There had to be a happy ending somewhere in all this, but I couldn’t find it.  So I wrote my own."

The protagonist of the story, Billy Black, is the grandson of a Seminole shaman who raised him in the South Florida wilderness and trained him in mysticism and ritual magic. "Billy spent two years studying anthropology and psychology at Miami Dade Community College before giving up on indoor pursuits and joining the Navy," Tucker said. "He trained as a medic and spent nineteen months on the USS Blue Ridge, enjoying the Yokosuka nightlife, but got involved in a brawl and spent a few weeks in the brig before being dishonorably discharged.  He returned to South Florida where he was unable to find work as anything other than a slightly skilled laborer.  Soon thereafter, his grandfather passed away and Billy buried him deep in the Everglades." 

When writing the story, Tucker found he wanted to pack in all his South Florida experiences — from university life to advertising and marketing to the weather.  "I wrote pages and pages of turgid descriptions of skylines, bulldozed forests, the brown line of smog that hangs over I-95 on summer mornings, you get the picture," he said. "The story was like a Medieval painting you see in a museum — a tiny canvas burdened with a heavy, overwrought gilded frame.  I had to cut away all the excess setting and description to make the story stand on its own." 

Tucker said his coworkers have a kind of bemused interest that he not only writes fiction, but has been published in a magazine that anyone can buy at a bookstore.  "They don’t know whether or not to take me seriously," he said. "I like that they can’t decide whether or not to take me seriously."

Tucker is currently working on his second novel, which is about a werewolf problem in Yakutsk that’s threatening to derail the development of SiberiaLand, Asia’s first native theme park. He’s also working on a number of short stories, which he said are about "an apprentice knifemaker, a chupacabra hunter, a race of subhumans who dwell in Ozark caves, a marketing executive who revives a failing natural history museum, and a Lovecraftian alternate-history Civil War story."

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