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Allan Hancock professor brings in tough life issues with break-out novel 'Red Tide'

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Growing up is hard. It’s even harder when you and your best friend witness a murder during your final years of high school in Southern California. 

Red Tide, the breakout novel of Allan Hancock College Professor and Arroyo Grande resident Mark James Miller, was published in September and takes the reader on a journey through surfing buddies Pete and Tom. Their lives are changed forever when they venture into an abandoned power plant one fateful night in 1968 and witness a murder.

A GNARLY ONSLAUGHT OF PROBLEMS :  Miller’s debut novel, 'Red Tide,' explores two teens facing incredibly tough issues like murder, incest, rape, and drugs. - PHOTO COURTESEY OF MARK JAMES MILLER
  • PHOTO COURTESEY OF MARK JAMES MILLER
  • A GNARLY ONSLAUGHT OF PROBLEMS : Miller’s debut novel, 'Red Tide,' explores two teens facing incredibly tough issues like murder, incest, rape, and drugs.

Their lives are soon spiraling out of control as they seek to forget what happened by using surfing, drugs, sex, and alcohol.

In an attempt to run away from their problems, Pete and Tom embark on a journey that will take them from their small town of Seal Beach all the way to Cabo San Lucas at the end of the Baja Peninsula. New Times sat down with Miller to discuss Red Tide.

New Times: Why did you decide to write a book?

Mark James Miller: I’ve always wanted to write something autobiographical. I’ve always written for magazines, newspapers, my union, and so forth. A few years ago I got the idea of Red Tide and tying it together with a murder and how the two protagonists deal with it. 

NT: Why did you set the book in Southern California [Seal Beach, Long Beach] and Mexico?

MJM: Well I grew up there, in Seal Beach. And I’ve been to Baja, and I liked the idea of the two heroes taking a trip to Mexico to try and escape their problems, but realizing that they have to come home and face the truth no matter what. 

NT: What’s your writing process like?

MJM: I get up and write every morning for several hours. It took me about five years to write Red Tide.

NT: Would you say that Pete, the main character and narrator, is an antihero?

MJM: I’d say that he’s someone who has to face great difficulties and is trying to overcome those the best he can. 

NT: Pete reminds me of The Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield in that he’s really bothered by a lot of things happening around him, he seems to know right from wrong, but he can’t always bring himself to do the right thing.

MJM: I’ve heard that before. 

YOU CAN RUN, BUT YOU CAN’T HIDE:  After being privy to a murder in their hometown of Seal Beach, best friends Pete and Tom literally try to run away from their problems by going on a surfing trip to Mexico in the novel 'Red Tide.' - IMAGE COURTESEY OF MARK JAMES MILLER
  • IMAGE COURTESEY OF MARK JAMES MILLER
  • YOU CAN RUN, BUT YOU CAN’T HIDE: After being privy to a murder in their hometown of Seal Beach, best friends Pete and Tom literally try to run away from their problems by going on a surfing trip to Mexico in the novel 'Red Tide.'

NT: What’s your favorite thing about living in San Luis Obispo County?

MJM: I love living here. I’ve been living here since 1991. I was traveling overseas, and I kind of landed here on the Central Coast. I love being near the beach. 

NT: The book explores some really dark themes like murder, abuse, rape, and incest. Why did you want to focus on those themes? 

MJM: The murder idea, again, was to hold the whole thing together. And the rest of it was about people having to grow up and deal with some very unpleasant things in their lives. 

NT: Tell me a little bit about the friendship between the two main characters, Pete and Tom.

MJM: They’re good friends, although Pete is kind of jealous of Tom because Tom is better looking than he is, a better surfer than he is, the girls like Tom better. So Pete is envious of him, but he also looks up to him in many ways too. And Tom is more of a devil-may-care kind of person and not as introspective as Pete is, but they have a strong bond. 

NT: Whom would you recommend this book to?

MJM: I’d like younger people to read it [college age and older] so they can know what other people have gone through. 

NT: What are a few of your favorite books?

- GET YOUR COPY:  'Red Tide' is available through the publisher, Black Rose Writing; Amazon; and Barnes and Noble. -
  • GET YOUR COPY: 'Red Tide' is available through the publisher, Black Rose Writing; Amazon; and Barnes and Noble.

MJM: I like the classics. Probably my all time favorite would be Tolstoy’s War and Peace, followed by The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. One of my all time favorites that I did try to model Red Tide after as far as the narrative style goes is All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren. 

NT: Do you have any other books in the works?

MJM: I’ve always wanted to write historical fiction, so I’m working on a historical novel called The White Cockade, about the early days of the American Revolution. A cockade was a cloth flower that some of the men wore that symbolized revolution. It was also a popular song at that time. It’s probably a couple years away from completion.

Send your murder mystery clues to Ryah Cooley at rcooley@newtimesslo.com.

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