I’m about as untypical for writer of literary fiction as a coyote would be for a lap-dog in London. I’m more suited for drafting technical documents and I’ve done that. Ironically however, that which defines me as peculiar to literature may have uniquely qualified me as writer, at least for my first novel.
After high school, I worked at gasoline stations, spent four years in the military, labored at construction jobs, and taught technical courses while completing Bachelor of Science degrees in electrical engineering and business administration. I then spent a career jumping between the booms and busts of the aerospace/defense and petrochemical industries. Very little of my schooling and none of my career was associated with literature.
At odds however, an ignored facet of my character persisted throughout my quest for a practical education and across my varied industrial career. I attribute that neglected alter ego to my heritage, my family, and my environment. My parents and theirs were richly multi-ethnic, colorful, and stubbornly devoted to traditions, superstitions, faith, craftsmanship, culture and story-telling.
I was born and raised on a farm in Oklahoma, the third son of four and the seventh sibling of eight. I was operating heavy farm machinery and driving trucks by the age of twelve. By the age of sixteen I could weld metal, castrate bulls, haul oversized machinery on bobtail trucks, and accomplish repairs on almost anything mechanical or electrical. That experience and knowledge of common work allows me now to describe such characters, their notions, and their actions.
Each of my grandparents participated in the Indian Territory’s celebrated Cherokee Outlet Land Run of 1893. They were the sons and daughters of immigrants from first to twelfth-generation Americans, including Irish, German, Czech, Dutch, and English. They actively contributed to America’s fate, from the Revolutionary War, into the great Westward Expansion, and through the dramatic and traumatic events of the first half of the twentieth century.
My ancestors’ rich and colorful cultures are the wellspring from which I draw in creating the characters, plots, and story-lines of my writings. That colorful jumble of improbably mixed cultures and genetics pulses in my blood and pervades my imagination.
From an early age and far into my adulthood, I absorbed my relatives’ tales of first-hand experiences during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Those events were especially dramatic for those hapless dwellers of the southern Great Plains.
No tales written or spoken by secondary, tertiary, or other accounts, can hope to be as genuine, endearing, and compassionate as words from the lips of those involved. Indeed, much of any story is interpreted between the words, with the finesse of tone of voice, facial expression, gestures and posture, while the senses are honed keen to associate the memory with the catalysts of the storytelling surroundings, sultry heat, stinging cold, dim kerosene lantern light, the smell of tobacco smoke or oak firewood, and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee.
Those tales, and the ambiance of the telling, are my inspiration and my conditioning for writing. They were tales of the momentous events of the era, including World War I, the 1918 world-wide influenza epidemic, oil booms and busts, the decadent Roaring Twenties, the doom of the Dirty Thirties, the horrific Dust Bowl, and the Great Depression. The storylines of my first novel transpire with those monumental events providing the backdrop to the stage. The characters were derived from my impressions of my ancestors, the people they described, and my own observations of persons I met as I traveled, toured, and worked, in places grand, bizarre and repulsive, about this world.
Contrary to a common misconception of technocrats, I believe we engineers are not lacking of emotion. We simply are uncomfortable expressing or displaying it. Perhaps I differ from many of my colleagues in admitting that I harbor a great deal of strong feelings; sensitivities I try to describe and express in my writing.
I find the process of describing dramatic passages in my writing emotionally trying. But I feel a sense of relief once I’ve struggled to find and arrange words that suit my imagination. I assume the relieved feeling results from having dispelled some pent up anxiety, but it might merely be that of having completed a challenge, like solving a complex engineering problem.
What else defines me? I love to travel. Since leaving the farm at age seventeen I’ve visited all fifty of the states and a score of foreign countries, from the Aleutian Islands to Japan and from Scotland to Israel, and most areas in between. I’ve hitch-hiked from Oklahoma to California and back, managed the work crew that assembled and tested the communication center for Air Force One, decrypted Soviet electronic telemetry in the Arctic Circle, directed work forces of more than six hundred employees and managed budgets exceeding a hundred million dollars. I’ve piloted small aircraft, twice crossed the Atlantic on the QM-2, pumped gasoline in Massachusetts, harvested grain in North Dakota, and bet longshots at the Kentucky Derby. I’ve built and raced hot-rods, and driven trucks from West Virginia to upper state New York, and from the Rio Grande to the Canadian border.
I’ve ventured within inches or seconds near to death, about a dozen times, but I’ve never known surgery or hospitalization. I’ve accomplished electronics, electrical, mechanical, and architectural engineering and l designed every detail of my highly energy efficient home.
That broad knowledge, skill, and experience provide authenticity to my writing.
My hobbies include travel, photography, raising cattle and horses, automobile mechanics, gardening, home improvement, and lately, writing.
I’ve begun my next novel, not another literary fiction novel. It will be a mystery novel in a setting quite familiar to me. It will concern a mysterious murder at a remote and secretive military and intelligence services surveillance site, 1,500 miles from civilization and in the midst of an Arctic blizzard. Once again I’ll write of what I know, but no more than I’m allowed to tell.
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3 thoughts on “Meet Guest Author, H. James Melvin…”
After this article was posted, Volume II of “Tares among the Wheat” was released. The two volumes of this epic novel complete the story lines. Neither volume stands alone. The plots are not concluded with volume one and the story lines are developed too complex and too elaborately to understand volume two without having first read volume one.
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My Facebook Friends are reading this article and responding favorably with Facebook comments. I’m not sure they continue to scroll down the page, past the ads, to find this reply block. Perhaps the web-page designer should place a suggestion, immediately after the write-up, for the reader to see this Reply section at the bottom of the web-page.
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I appreciate Chris Graham for posting about me and my novel, “Tares among the Wheat.”
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