Archive for the ‘Big Ideas’ Tag

Interview with Henry Melton   2 comments

henry meltonToday, I am meeting with Henry Melton, who has a writing career that spans 40 years.  I discovered his book Beneath the Amarillo Plains while researching aphasia. I was so struck by his book that I tracked him down for an interview.

 

Tell us something about yourself, Henry?

Thanks for talking with me.  Before I get started, let me say that I have great memories of Fairbanks.  When my children were younger, we packed up a cab-over pickup camper and headed from Texas to Alaska, taking the Inside Passage ferry from Prince Rupert, then driving what roads we could manage on our three-week trip before heading back on the Al-Can Highway.  I’m always looking for a good excuse to go back.

 

You are welcome to visit anytime, Henry! I’m pretty sure Fairbanks has changed substantially since that visit, but there’s still plenty of rugged scenery and wildlife to capture your attention.

As for me, I was raised in Amarillo Texas and moved to the Austin area for college.  When I got my Physics degree, I stayed in the area, eventually moving to Hutto, a small community just north of Austin. My wife, Mary Ann, and I have two children, a son, Thomas, who moved to the Dallas area and a daughter, Debra, who lives a dozen miles away with her husband and 18 month-old Tobyn.  I worked many years for Motorola making in-house software, until I took a company downsizing opportunity to leave and spend full time with my writing. Mary Ann has been a nature photographer for many years now and together we have traveled far and wide — all the states, most of Canada, and bits of Europe and Africa.  She collects thousands of images and I get ideas for my stories. The past year or so, travel has been limited since we are on child-care duty assisting with Tobyn.

What are the most important things in your life?

Family is the first thing that pops into my head.  Travel has been very important.  Early on in our married life, we chose to travel now, even when we couldn’t really afford it, because there is never a guarantee that the opportunities will still be there when we’re older.  It has worked out well for us.  Science has always appealed to me.  The NASA Ranger probes were crashing on the moon when I was in elementary school, and the memories are still vivid.  I was never a top scholar, but if something interested me, I would spend all the time it took to absorb it.  I tinkered with gadgets and concocted my own chemicals as I grew up — things likely to get you investigated in today’s age.  I attempted to be a chemist until I realized colorblindness makes titration especially difficult — so I switched to physics.  I’ve never made science a profession, however.  I’m more of a science fan, daily reading abstracts of the newest research more faithfully than anything political. That’s proven one thing to me — solid scientific fact has a limited shelf life. The true reality of science has changed every ten years all my life. Maybe that’s why I’ve never gotten too involved in the science vs religion conflicts.  A conflict means bad science or bad religion, and it’ll take much longer than my lifetime to work it all out.

 green blimpsWhen did you write your first story and what was it?

First written story, or first published?  I’ve written stories since my school years, but I was only first published in my twenties.  My most memorable school story was the result of a biology class assignment.  Mr. Branch gave us the overnight homework to write “the story of a tree”.  Now I’m sure he just wanted a list of the various cell types and plant systems, but he did say “story”.  So I wrote a little tale of an intelligent water drop, created in the rain, who fell to earth and was absorbed into the root system.  There he met an older water drop who told him about all the various transport systems before transpiring out the stoma on a leaf.  It was only two or three pages, but Mr. Branch read it aloud in class and gave me an A.  I then took the paper and turned it in to English composition, and got another A for the same work.  Two A’s and recognition — I was hooked.  I knew I wanted to be a writer. My first published story was a 600 word pun published in the back of a paperback adventure series called Perry Rhodan. “The Alien Catastrophe” is rather an embarrassment and I’ve never tried to republish it.  However, being paid ten bucks pushed me to hunt for more paying markets for my short stories.

You write mainly science fiction and young adult.  Your website allows readers to check out some of your stories. I admire the way you are able to get into the heads of teenager characters. You know their tech (texting, Internet, RPG games) and their lingo. How do you accomplish that sort of intimate knowledge?

I was there on the ground floor when the Internet exploded.  My father taught me the electronics of his day and with my basic skills, I was fascinated by the computer hobbyist movement back when making your own computer meant soldering chips together on perf-board. Most of my earliest publications were articles in Byte and the other computer magazines of the time.  In fact my first book was a designer’s look at a word processor program, Clean Slate, I wrote in assembly language for the TRS-80.  If I had taken the opportunity to convert it over to the brand new IBM PC, I might have taken an entirely different career path and hobnobbed with Bill Gates.  As it was working at Motorola when the Internet happened.  I had the first website in Motorola, and a Gopher server before that, and my work was influential in moving the company to develop its network infrastructure.  If you live on the Internet, you see enough of the language to get by.  My most popular short story, at least by the fan letters, was Catacomb, and that was inspired by the Dungeon and Dragons games played at our house.

 captain's memoriesTell me about Project Saga and where does Captain’s Memories fit into it.

Back when I was selling short stories in college, I decided to write a longer story — a whole novel.  It was simple, short and did not sell at all.  However, some of the ideas bled over into other short stories which did sell.  After a few years, I realized I’d fleshed out a grand history of a future where we never invented faster than light travel, but we did develop tractor-pressor beams.  From my physics background I designed this new technology with some desirable features — from a storyteller’s perspective.  I defined its rules and wrote some more.  Eventually, I folded a new set of ideas in to the original story and it became Star Time which is now my best seller.  In Star Time, Betelgeuse, a nearby star, goes supernova, with enough flare to wipe out all the semiconductors on the planet.  Aliens follow this shockwave through space to take advantage of distressed populations. There were two main story branches off that root.  What if humanity took the power of the tractor beam and reshaped the Solar System to make new habitable planets?  This is one branch.  Star Time,Kingdom of the Hill Country, and In the Time of Green Blimps lead up to Captain’s Memories where many of those old original short stories are merged into the creation of the great Terraforming Project.  This branch is well outlined, including several more already written novels that will come out at a fairly fast pace.  But there is another branch of this story.  What if humanity, slaves of an alien race, is forced to develop a new culture and the psychic abilities of the original captives?  This branch is Star Time, Tales of the U’tanse, and the story I’m currently writing, Free U’tanse, with more to come.  The Project Saga is a very big story,

Explain the Small Town, Big Ideas series.

When I took the Motorola buy-out and had writing time on my hands, I decided to write a story just for fun. Emperor Dad was little bit autobiographical, as much as possible in a science fiction adventure tale.  It was set in Hutto, where I lived.  The father is a little like me.  The son is a little like my son Thomas.  I had such a good time writing it that I followed the same sort of model with the one following it,Roswell or Bust.  Choose a small town for the setting, with a high school aged character in the current time.  Add a science fiction event and then let the hero solve the problem. Each book is a stand-alone adventure, unrelated to the others. By the time I was concerned about such things as marketing my stories, I chose the Small Towns, Big Ideas as the ‘series theme’ and wrote some more.  Unfortunately, while the series is popular, it’s a little exclusive.  Breaking Anchor is like them, but Chicago isn’t a small town.  I’m just winging it.  More will be written as the inspiration comes.  Munising, Michigan inspired Lighter Than Air.  Crescent City, California inspired Extreme Makeover. The places I traveled formed the images in my head.  I hope to get to do some more traveling soon.

You won a literary award for Emperor Dad.

That was a welcome surprise, and quite surprising.  I was contacted and asked to enter the Darrell Award contest.  Someone, somewhere had discovered the book and thought it was qualified to enter the contest.  Winning was great for me.  Not only did I have the opportunity to put a “winner” decal on the book, but it convinced me to write more of these fun books.  Friends and family can tell you your book is good, but acknowledgment from people you don’t know does a lot to keep the words flowing.  Since then, I’ve won the Golden Duck award forLighter Than Air, and have gotten Indie Award finalist for both Emperor Dad and In the Time of Green Blimps.

amarillo plainsYou are a very prolific writer. You’ve come out with several novels just this year. The one that caught my eye Beneath the Plains of Amarillo is different from your normal sci fi stories. It’s a detective novel and it features the unusual detail that the hero has lost his communication skills in the accident that he is investigating. He starts out an ordinary teenager and then spends the rest of the novel struggling to understand and communicate with others, even though his intelligence has not been affected. How did you get that idea?

Even though the story is solidly a mystery, I’m not sure I’m capable of writing something that isn’t at least a little bit science fiction. I’ve mentioned that I constantly read about new scientific research, and many times I’d seen articles about the ability of the human brain to re-map itself after injuries.  I took a couple of brain science ideas and plugged them together like legos and added a lot of my personal experience and the history of Amarillo to compose the mystery.

 

 

You are known for your serial novalizations.  Project Saga for example, is at least a half-dozen books long. Any chance we’ll see more of Jeff Kale?

I have some ideas. In fact, most of the Small Town, Big Idea books have the germs of sequels just waiting in the wings.  I’d love to write more about all of these characters, however, I have several different projects running at the same time. If a sequel happens to any of them, it will because there are reader requests for them.  I do track these requests.

 

I love that you put your stories or at least portions of them up on your website. What’s your reasoning behind that?

Readers are the fuel for me to keep writing.  I also have nearly twenty books out.  If I put a book out there for free, at least some of the readers will track down the others.  It’s also the reason I spend many weekends during the year selling my books at science fiction conventions.  I could write in a vacuum and let my stories sit on my hard drive, but meeting people and hearing from people who like this character or that story idea is my real motive for staying the course.

One thing I would applaud you on is the flavor of Trixie Beldon and Hardy Boys that I read in your writing. It’s been updated to the times, but there’s a sense that this is a larger community story will go one beyond the event of any particular book. I think that’s largely missing in YA literature today. Is that a goal or just a happy byproduct?

While I love to write stories that have a beginning, middle, and end, characters have lives that have to be real, with their own unresolved issues, for the story to hold together for me.  It’s all a search for a reality in the story.  I love having real world setting for these events, because I can see them in my memory.  The characters share troubles that I have and my friends have struggled with.  If it’s real to me, then I can write it.

Henry’s website(s).

http://henrymelton.net has menus that lead to other sites, in particular;

http://henrymelton.blogspot.com has blog entries back to 1999

http://henrysstories.blogspot.com has serialized stories

https://www.youtube.com/user/henrymelton has book trailers and other videos

 

Where can we get your latest books.

You can order them from me directly if you want them signed.  Use the comment field for your requests. https://squareup.com/market/henry-melton

Libraries and schools can contact me at my email henrymelton@mac.com for discounted bulk orders.

Most online bookstores (Amazon, Books a Million, Barnes and Noble, etc.) have the books listed for sale.

Kindle and other ebook versions are available as well at the standard locations.  If not, let me know and I’ll fix the problem.

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