So it might come as no surprise that after years of producing news and information for others, it’s about time he wrote something purely for himself. The 66-year-old has hit his stride as a first-time author of the Civil War-era spy thriller “Pale Blue Light.” The historical-fiction novel explores the possibility that one of the most popular figures of the war — Confederate Gen. Thomas Jackson, better known as “Stonewall” — was assassinated.
Published by New South, the book itself has been a long time coming, says Tucker, who wrote the first draft in the early ’90s. It was years before he found a publisher willing to take a chance on his unique point of view.
“I thought writing the book was the hard part. It’s not — it’s getting somebody to read the thing,” reflects Tucker, who is already at work on a second book. Writing is something that comes naturally to him — even if his technical skills are lacking.
“I think everybody’s got a book in them,” says Tucker, but particularly people who have spent their lifetime writing. “I’ve been writing for a living pretty much my whole life, and I still can’t type worth a hoot.”
Tucker, who now resides in Montgomery with his wife and son, recently spoke with The Star to explain the origins of his assassination theory, Stonewall Jackson fascination with lemons and why, in the midst of his fourth career, Tucker says he’s just getting started.
Q: The book explores the Civil War from an angle of excitement, mystery and a bit of history-tampering. Where did you get the inspiration?
A: I don’t know when I became a student of the war. I’ve never been a history kind of person.
I came across a very small but real possibility that Stonewall Jackson may have been assassinated rather than wounded by my favorite oxymoron, “friendly fire.”
I take it as reality in my book that Jackson was assassinated. My protagonist deduces that it was an assassination, goes after the perpetrators.
I felt like I knew Jackson to the point where I could represent him as he was. I intended to give people a living, breathing, human Stonewall Jackson. It’s actually a journalistic narrative, where I invent conversations for Jackson with my protagonist. It is historically accurate. It touches on his home life a little bit — he was a professor at VMI (Virginia Military Institute) — and then it takes you through every battle.
Q:In your research, what facts did you uncover about Stonewall Jackson that surprised you?
A: Jackson was quirky. Jackson was a genius. He was a tactical genius to Robert E. Lee’s strategic genius. The two men never lost a battle when they fought in tandem.
He believed his internal organs were out of balance. You’ll see paintings of him riding with his left hand in the air. People thought he was praying, but he actually thought riding with his left hand in the air balanced his internal organs.
Also, he ate lemons indiscriminately. He thought the acidic properties of the lemon aided his digestive juices.
He believed in his heart that if he inadvertently ate pepper it made his left leg go numb.
Q:Why the name “Pale Blue Light”?
A: That’s actually a nickname for Stonewall Jackson. Jackson had pale blue eyes, and when the adrenaline would begin to flow, his eyes would start to glisten and sparkle, and the observers said it was almost like a pale blue light came out of his eyes. And in fact a poem was found on the dead body of a Confederate private, and he talks about the “old blue light,” so it was a well-known nickname within the ranks of the Army.
Q:To promote the book’s paperback release, you took a 2,000-mile road trip that took you through North Carolina to a re-enactment in Virginia. How did it go?
A: It was exhausting. The Wednesday before I was supposed to depart on Monday, I woke up with pneumonia. Rather than leave on Monday, I left on Tuesday, drove to Mount Pisgah, N.C., took the Blue Ridge Parkway to Skyline Drive, and I would drop down off the parkway to Asheville, to Hendersonville, Luray — all the places where Jackson trod. The Shenandoah Valley was Jackson’s playground, so to speak. That’s where he earned all his honors.
Q: How did you make it?
A: I took a lesson from Jackson. Stonewall Jackson was one of the most, if not the most, determined men who ever lived. I’ve got a plaque on my wall that says “You can be whatever you resolve to be.” That was Jackson’s maxim, and he proved it over and over again. And also I wanted to get on the road. I wanted to go out and visit newspapers. I stayed on the road, I dropped my press kit off at newspapers.
I had already sent my press kit to the managing editor of the Fredericksburg Freelance Star, and so I went to see him. His name’s Phil Jenkins. He said, “You’ve come to the right place. The Fredericksburg Freelance Star is the only newspaper in the universe that treats the Civil War as a current event.”
Q:How did it feel to finally be published, and what is next for you?
A: About a month ago I finished the first draft of my second novel.
This one just kind of flew out of my fingers. It took me so long to get the first one published … but it validated me … and the critical acclaim it’s received — knock on wood — made me know I could do it. I always wanted to write a private eye thriller, so I did. It’s set in modern-day New Orleans.
And people have been after me to write a sequel for “Pale Blue Light.” I have the rudiments in my head — I know how it’s going to start, I know how it’s going to end, and I’ve got a pretty good idea of the middle.
Here’s what I’ve discovered. I love writing novels. I’m 66, and so long as I can pull myself up to the keyboard, I’m going to continue writing novels.
MEET THE AUTHOR
WHAT: Book signing with Skip Tucker, author of “Pale Blue Light”
WHEN: Tuesday, May 21, at 3 p.m.
WHERE: Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County