Author Interview: Merle Temple
Merle Temple, a native of Tupelo, MS. received a BPA and a Master’s of Criminal Justice at Ole Miss. The first Captain in the MS. Bureau of Narcotics in the 1970s, he was Class President of the New England Institute of Management and a graduate of the DEA Academy in Washington during the early days of President Nixon’s first drug wars.
Held hostage while working undercover, he later met men hired by organized crime to kill him in a standoff near Memphis, and was involved in a gun battle with drug dealers in a heroin deal gone sour. He was an Internal Affairs investigator of a plan to corrupt the MBN.
Merle is the author of the novel, A Ghostly Shade of Pale, inspired by experiences in the MS. Bureau of Narcotics, and is writing the sequel, A Rented World, based on events in the Bell System and politics. His ministry, Prisoners of the Lord, planted Christian movie nights at three prison sites where thousands of men were exposed to Christ.
Dee Waite: Merle, thank you for coming and welcome to the blog. I absolutely loved the video of you speaking to a group about your life. Amazing you are still alive! I urge our audience to check this video out.
Merle Temple: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Dee Waite: Okay, so let’s just jump right in. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Merle Temple: If you want readers to find and read your books, you must promote them. Many authors are shy by nature and don’t like the marketing side, but I never meet a stranger. My life and my writing are enriched by all the great people I meet on the road. I speak, give interviews, sign books, and constantly mine for new venues for the book. I try to always stay outside the box.
Dee Waite: Yes, marketing is a huge part of the business. I’m not sure authors who choose to self publish really give it the weight it deserves. How did you choose the genre you write in?
Merle Temple: My faith drives my writing, but there are many threads in my novels. I write about what I know, and try to weave eternal messages into intriguing stories, warning readers of the dangers of this rented world we live in.
Dee Waite: Where do you get your ideas?
Merle Temple: In forums, they ask authors this question, and some will say that they have vivid imaginations. Others say they meditate a lot, and I say that I just remember. All of my books are drawn from my experiences, the three or four lives in one that I’ve lived—the good, the bad, and the tragic.
Dee Waite: And in the life you’ve led, that is quite a barrel to draw from, I’m sure. Do you work with an outline, or just write?
Merle Temple: I have a beginning and end in mind, a loose outline, and I constantly jot down certain ideas or memories that come to mind, so I won’t forget them. When I grew up in the country, we had an old artesian well near us for hikers. To get that pump to bring up that cold, clear water, you had to prime it with some water left by the person before you. I use those notes to prime the pump for my writing and hopefully to leave “some water,” some inspiration for those who might need to drink from the same well one day in their own books.
Dee Waite: I’m like you; I use a loose outline of sorts. Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
Merle Temple: Since it was set in the 70s, some thought it was dated. They thought stories about the first drug wars had been told, but my book was a first hand, behind the scenes view that had not been explored. It was so much more than a tale of the drug wars.
Others thought it was pretty good but needed neon. I asked how they defined neon. They answered by returning some of my writing dusted with profanity. They wanted graphic sex. They even asked me to add vampires because they are so formula driven and like to copy what was hot yesterday. They also suggested that I might not mention God because I might offend someone. I asked, “Let’s see if I understand: profanity good, sex good, vampires good, but God—not good? No, I can’t do any of that.”
Dee Waite: I love that. I’m glad you didn’t compromise your values. If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel, or getting it published, that you would change?
Merle Temple: Sure, but it takes time to master the often treacherous book world. I wish that I had formed my own publishing company earlier, found a distributor which is much more important than the publisher, and set out on my own. If you have to argue with your publisher or anyone else for that matter, it drains you of the energy required to write and to stay on task.
Dee Waite: How do you market your work?
Merle Temple: Networking and more networking makes the world go around. Knocking on doors and knocking again until they answer and let you in. Persistence, hard work, or being relentless, as one grocery chain exec described me when they finally let me in. I give many interviews, make many speeches, and use social media to put my books before a variety of readers. I form alliances and go to book clubs, libraries, schools, civic clubs, and any place where I might encounter people who still love to read.
I love bookstore managers and drop in on them in person or by email to establish relationships. We donate books to decision makers in universities and churches, and friend people on Facebook and other social media outlets to give them the opportunity to watch us and to read the posts and tags we get from readers. You have to create synergy in the midst of it all where there is constantly something breaking here or there. It is often a contact or action that you had almost forgotten from tours or visits long ago.
The contact with Jim Clemente at Criminal Minds in Hollywood was one of those examples of reaching out, doing something others thought futile. He read A Ghostly Shade of Pale and called us to Hollywood where we signed for the cast of Criminal Minds, Major Crimes, interviewed on Media Mayhem in Beverly Hills and on KKLA in Los Angles, and had dinner with the producers of Saving Pvt. Ryan.
Criminal Minds has so many fans, and Clemente’s faith in me and endorsement of both books was and is huge. He called Ghostly a big crime story as literature and wrote that I was a great writer of American stories. I needed that shot of encouragement in the worst way then.
I became friends with a man who represents Morgan Freeman. That led to a dinner with Morgan and discussions about my first book. We sang songs together at the Ground Zero Blues Club, and we will take the screenplay to him for consideration. There is a role in the book that would be perfect for him.
Ravi Zacharias, the great Christian apologist (defender of the faith) of our time is someone that I admire very much, truly a staggeringly brilliant man. I spoke to his wife, Margie, and sent her A Ghostly Shade of Pale. She read it, loved it, and called me to Atlanta to meet Ravi, just as he returned from a 200 day world tour. We had a two hour private lunch and talked about many things, including Christian producers. That was a thrill for me.
If nothing comes out of some of these meetings, I am still a very blessed man to have met these people from such varied backgrounds, and these visits make for great stories for a novelist.
Dee Waite: Wow! So amazing. I wish you all the best fortune it getting your book into a movie. Criminal Minds is one of my favorite shows. So, can you tell us about your upcoming book?
Merle Temple: A Rented World was just released and it follows my journey through the unholy trinity of crime, business, and politics. It is a political thriller, a cautionary tale of the here and now vs. forever, and of faith lost and faith rediscovered. John Martino, who played Paulie in the movie, The Godfather, translated the Sicilian in the book for me. He is fluent in Sicilian. His uncle was Lucky Luciano.
The next book, The Redeemed, will be about consequences and purpose woven into crushing blankets of pain, the hard lessons of who and what never mattered and Who always will.
Dee Waite: Is there anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
Merle Temple: A Ghostly Shade of Pale is about 65% drawn from my experiences. The sequel, A Rented World, is about 90%, and The Redeemed will be about 90%. The central character in all the books, Michael, is based on me.
Dee Waite: What was your favorite part to write, and why?
Merle Temple: All the parts where I could “bring to life” characters based on friends I’ve lost and try to pay homage to them. It was especially tender to write about Pearl, my grandmother, who asked me to never forget her, as it that were possible. I kept my promise in A Ghostly Shade of Pale. People love that relationship. Many of them bring me King Leo peppermint sticks because that is what she gives Michael in the book as comfort and what she gave me in real life. She dispensed love and peppermint, which to Pearl, were one and the same.
Dee Waite: How did you come up with the title?
Merle Temple: A Ghostly Shade of Pale was inspired by the old song, A Whiter Shade of Pale. I love music and use many lyrics in the books as backdrop and flavor of the times. The villain in Ghostly suffered from albinism, so the title seemed like a good fit. Music sets my mood and often spurs me to dig deeper, to reveal more of myself, and to find perspective, my place in the greater scheme. Many of those who write lyrics are poets, and I think that I probably have the soul of a poet and identify with their pain and their seeking.
Dee Waite: What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
Merle Temple: You can’t please everyone, but I have been fortunate. I haven’t received many bad reviews, none from reviewers that I submitted the books to. One reader on Goodreads said that I couldn’t decide if I was writing a novel or a Gospel tract. In a sense, that was also a great compliment.
The letters, emails, private and public messages on social media have been overwhelming. One lady, who had lost her husband, publicly spoke of her loss and then said, “I think I am getting better. I haven’t thought of him in half an hour.” That is play on the last line in Ghostly. Then the lady said, “I just can’t get that book out of my mind.” Another lady came to my book signing in Memphis and told me that she and others had prayed for someone on a path of destruction, but no one could reach him. “Something in your book has turned his life around,” she said. We get so many of those comments that are just humbling, the kind of feedback that authors hope to hear.
Some English teachers in middle and high schools chose A Ghostly Shade of Pale to use in their classes. That was just overwhelming. I was afraid they might mark it up with red ink! A college just chose it as their contemporary novel. It is now required reading for all English students. That just means more than I can say.
Dee Waite: Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Merle Temple: Thanks, many thanks for those who’ve read the books, written reviews, and told their friends about them. Word of mouth carries us, and it is one reason that A Ghostly Shade of Pale became the all-time bestselling novel in our Barnes and Noble store for North Mississippi, West Alabama, and Southeast Tennessee.
Love or hate them, my books will remain free of those things that appeal to the more prurient interests. You won’t have to be afraid of being bludgeoned with four letter words or graphic intimacy. I won’t confuse love with abuse. Writing is a privilege. I want to use words to uplift and edify, not to appeal to the lowest common denominator in life.
Dee Waite: How do you feel books get published?
Merle Temple: So many avenues are open to authors today. The stigma of self-publishing is not what it used to be. Amazon changed everything with their publishing options and eBooks. It can be tough working through agents to get to the big houses, dealing with all the doorkeepers who are notorious for the great books they rejected. There are small and medium-size publishers an author can submit their books to. They all want something that will sell, and you may asked to compromise your work. Many will just print the book, take your money, and not promote it all. If you can produce a good product, and find a quality printer and distributor, you can find yourself in all the bookstore chains and online sellers. We formed our own publishing company for Southern writers, not for profit but to find and preserve good stories.
Dee Waite: Is there a message in your novel that you hope readers will grasp?
Merle Temple: Yes, this rented world we live in is a dark and dangerous place. It is already fading away even as we speak. Don’t get turned around once with your eyes closed or your conscience muted, to paraphrase Thoreau, or you will be lost.
Dee Waite: Great message, Merle. Name one entity outside of family members, that supported you?
Merle Temple: Jim Clemente at Criminal Minds gave me that shot of confidence when I needed it.
Dee Waite: What did you learn from writing your books?
Merle Temple: I learned that all the things that happened to you in life have a purpose, especially the hard times. Out of death to self comes life eternal. To everything there is a season.
Dee Waite: Did you find writing any particular part of the book challenging as far as being emotional of psychologically stressful?
Merle Temple: Yes, there were many parts of A Rented World that were very hard to relive and write about. I changed the lyrics to the old song, “Tears on my pillow,” to “Tears on my Keyboard.”
Dee Waite: If you gave one of your characters an opportunity to speak for themselves, who would it be, and what would they say?
Merle Temple: The governor might plead, “I wasn’t such a bad man, was I?” Another would ask, ‘Why did you kill me off so soon?” Clay might just say, “I miss you, too, buddy.”
Dee Waite: What books have influenced your writing?
Merle Temple: I love the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald and some of his other books, as well. He was very descriptive in his writing, and Travis was a philosopher, commenting on the world in which he traveled. Michael, in my books, is very much the same in that sense.
I also like the End of Reason by Ravi Zacharias, Born Again by Chuck Colson, and many by Malcom Muggeridge.
Dee Waite: What is a typical day in your writing world?
Merle Temple: Making notes of great stories and anecdotes, Southern sayings, to include in my books. Off to sign books, speak, or take someone to lunch. Answering calls, giving radio and TV interviews from home, like the one on Israel National Radio. Answering inquires, scheduling events, reading mail, and signing books from our private supply for people who asked for the novels to be mailed to them. Writing a bit late at night if I am not too tired and the words are flowing.
Dee Waite: Where and when do you prefer to do your writing?
Merle Temple: I like to write late at night when the house is quiet, soft music from the era I write about is on my player, and all of the characters real and imagined from this temporal journey come to visit and whisper, “Is that all there was? Was it just for the moment we lived? Make sense of it, Merle.”
Dee Waite: Do you have a favorite quote?
Merle Temple: “I came to Him because I did not know which way to turn. I remained with Him because there is no other way I wish to turn. I came to Him longing for something I did not have. I remain with Him because I have something I will not trade. I came to Him as a stranger. I remain with Him in the most intimate of friendships. I came to Him unsure about the future. I remain with Him certain about my destiny. I came amid the thunderous cries of a culture that has 330 million deities. I remain with Him knowing that truth cannot be all-inclusive.”—Ravi Zacharias
Dee Waite: What are the most important elements of good writing? In your opinion, what tools are must-haves for writers?
Merle Temple: Your story must have heart. It must flow. It must leave something for the reader’s imagination. You can’t just force feed the reader or rob them of the creative spark in their own minds. It must say something, not just take up space. You must give up some of yourself to your readers, bare your soul. You must love descriptors, and you should always be mindful of what you are creating. For better or for worse, your words can be powerful.
Dee Waite: What motivates you to write?
Merle Temple: I love to tell stories. I love words. I love those moments when readers have that “Aha” moment that says, “I get it now. I really get it.” I love those moments when readers tell me something about my books that I didn’t know. I love the innocence in a young reader’s eyes when I think that I might have inspired a future writer who will be writing long after I’m gone. I love it when those young people bring me samples of their writing to critique. I love God.
Dee Waite: Merle, it has been an absolute pleasure getting to know a little about you. You have seen the dark side of this world and yet managed to maintain a purity of soul. You are an inspiration.
Merle Temple: Thank you, Dee Ann, it has been a pleasure.
To our audience, I hope you have enjoyed learning about Merle Temple as much as I did. Perhaps his words have inspired you in your writing, or even better, in your faith. I know he has inspired me in both.
Don’t forget to leave your comments!
You can visit Mr. Temple’s website where you can learn even more fascinating things about this extraordinary gentleman.