Author writes books because he lived themBy BUSTER WOLFE,
Merle Temple doesn’t write nonfiction books, but there’s a pretty fair bit of fact in what the Tupelo-based Christian writer has penned in his four books so far.
Temple does not have to reach out too far to pull in a good story after his life as a deputy sheriff, a Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics agent, a manager in the corporate world and a campaign chairman. His four novels include the Michael Parker series: “Deputy: Once Upon A Time in Mississippi,” “A Ghostly Shade of Pale,” “A Rented World” and “The Redeemed: A Leap of Faith.”
“My life was fodder; it was great fodder for a novelist in his old age,” said Temple, who visited the Oak Grove Public Library last week for a book signing. “People read all four of my books and ask me: No. 1, how are you still alive? No. 2, I was following this chapter in a book and you must be 150. I feel like 150 sometimes because across the sweep of the books, I was held hostage by drug dealers, almost killed, ambushed in a terrible gun battle in Columbus, thrown out in Memphis to be assassinated and had the government come after me.”
Throughout the books, Temple’s Michael Parker battles three evil kingdoms.
“What I called ‘The Unholy Trinity’ – politics, crime and business – were scarier than organized crime figures who tried to kill me because they had the full power of the government to bring against you,” he said.
Still, Temple said he writes the books as fiction.
“But it chronicles my life: the good, the bad, the ugly and the traffic,” he said. “We get letters, phone calls and emails from people all over the world, saying they never cried so hard in their life. There’s some fiction in the book, mainly for storytelling, but it is mainly drawn from my life.”
Percentage-wise, Temple’s life story has the upper hand.
“Some of the stories are 60-40 or 70-30 fact to fiction,” he said. “There are some that are 80 to 90 percent true. Sometimes, there are some positive characters that I will use, and I will combine two or three for storytelling purposes. Sometimes, some people will recognize who the real people are.”
Temple said he gets called out when someone believes they know who the character resembles.
“Alan Nunnelee, who was a Congressman who passed away from cancer, read ‘Ghostly Shade of Pale’ on a jet back to Washington,” he said about the former Tupelo statesman. “He wrote me and said, ‘I know who the governor was.’ Everybody figured him out, I think. We get a lot of that – ‘I know who this gangster was.’ ‘I know who this corrupt, tough sheriff was.’ We used to get more of that in the earlier days, but some of the new readers will say, ‘I think that was so-and-so.’”
The freshness of the characters and their stories also helps selling the plot, Temple said.
“A lot of readers say the books have a ring of truth about them because they are from actual events and the plots aren’t packaged again for the 100th time,” he said.
However, Temple said he has to be careful that he doesn’t remember the writings of his favorite author when he spins his stories.
“John D. MacDonald is my favorite writer,” he said. “He wrote a lot of great crime mysteries and commentaries. That’s where I got the running commentary that he did in the book. That’s integral to the story – not preachy – but it fills in. I love his writing; Travis McGee was his most famous character. I loved all of those Travis McGee novels and all of his other books too.
“Sometimes, I’ll see things crop up in my books and I’ll go back and read it,” he said. “I’ll say, ‘Gosh, I hope people don’t think I plagiarized it.’ I’ve probably read all of the Travis McGee books three or four times, and it is just in my head. The flow and how to paint pictures, I learned a lot of that from reading MacDonald. He could use descriptors to really suck you into a scene and make you feel the tension, see the surroundings and feel the sweat of a guy’s head and upper lip. That’s a great writer.”
Temple said reading good books is the key to writing well.
“Even now when I’m writing, I will pick up something when I’m stalled,” he said. “I’ll pick up some good writing and start reading for a while. It’s not like you are going to copy anything they are saying.
“When I was growing up, down in the bottomland behind us in the middle of nowhere down there, there was this little, short red pump and it was an Artesian well. There was always a can left there and you primed the pump with it. You would fill it back up for the next traveler. It’s like that with reading – you just prime the pump with good reading.”
A writer told Temple that he wanted to be successful, but he didn’t want to use profanity.
“He said, ‘Teach me not to,’” Temple said. “We have a lot of descriptors, and I said, ‘You know if you’re clever in the way you use all of those descriptors, you can imagine what they are saying instead of having to pass on those awful words.’ As a Christian writer, I can’t do it; I won’t do it.”