Friday, October 23, 2015

Former narcotics agent begins third chapter

Merle & Judy with actor Shemar Moore
  • Who: Merle Sheppard, author of “Ghostly Shade of Pale”
  • Where and When: Sundog Books in Seaside 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, and Hidden Lantern Bookstore in Rosemary Beach 2-6 p.m. Saturday
  • Details: and

SEASIDE — Merle Temple, at age 67, has begun a new career as a novelist — a third career, after retiring from the law enforcement and communications. He has worked for the FBI, the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, and BellSouth. Now, he’s a successful author.

I caught up to him by telephone this week as he relaxed in Destin with his wife, Judy. They had been out birding, and he had recently spoken to a class at a Destin elementary school. He mused upon his new life and how it reflected in those youngsters, just starting their lives.

“These books have opened up a whole new world for us in our retirement years,” he said. “I didn’t know if anyone other than friends and loved ones would want to read them. ... I am so grateful that I lived long enough and survived so much tragedy to know who and what never mattered, and Who always will.”

His debut novel, “A Ghostly Shade of Pale” introduced the character of Michael Parker, which is based on Merle. Parker leaves Ole Miss in the early 1970s to enter America’s “War on Drugs.” He is kidnapped by heroin dealers and held hostage while working solo undercover. Later, he’s ambushed near Memphis by contract killers hired by the Dixie Mafia. When he becomes a captain, he and his men are ambushed in a heroin deal near Columbus by a sniper.

“Only the dramatic intervention of God saves the lives of agents that day,” Merle said, adding, “All these things and more really happened.”

Merle, originally from Tupelo, Miss., claims to have crossed paths with many of the iconic figures of the 20th century, including Margaret Thatcher, Charlton Heston, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, J. Edgar Hoover, Newt Gingrich, Dennis Hastert, and countless other senators, congressmen, governors and celebrities.

“I pull the curtain back to allow people to see Washington as it really is, and it is not a pretty sight — where everyone and everything is for sale,” he said.

The second book in the trilogy, “A Rented Love,” follows Parker into the corporate world and high-level politics. There, he finds that the organized crime figures who tried to kill him are choir boys compared to the political criminals he encounters in what Merle calls “the unholy trinity of crime, politics and business.”

Merle is currently at work on the final book in the trilogy, “The Redeemed,” in which Parker — a would-be dragonslayer — pays the price for his crusades and for opposing the power brokers. The treachery runs all the way to the White House, Merle hints.

 “So many I have known in politics love only power and money, but beyond that, so many of them refuse to surrender power even in old age and infirmity,” Merle said. “They made a Faustian deal to rule in hell on earth, rather than to serve eternally in heaven. They equate retirement with death, and they are terrified to stand before their maker. They know what they’ve done, and they know that the road is running out.”

The novels are being considered for adaptation into TV series by various Hollywood producers, which took Merle and Judy to the West Coast for meetings. They watched the filming of “Criminal Minds,” signed books for actors Joe Mantegna and Shemar Moore. The series writer-producer Jim Clemente is pitching “Ghostly” for Merle.

“I have written all my life in the public and private sector — speeches, technical papers,” he said. “People told me, ‘you have a gift of writing,’ but I found out fiction is difficult. It’s tricky to speak in other voices. It has so many threads in it, it’s so complex. It has been a real learning process.”

Merle also believes that what he writes and how he presents it is important. His work, placed in the public eye, is equivalent to the epitaph on his tombstone, he said, in that it’s how he will be remembered.

“My novels, written as fiction but drawn from my life, have no profanity or graphic intimacy,” he said. “They are written as literature to endure, and people love them for that reason. ... People are hungry right now for that, even if they’re gritty books, but behind it is a message that’s uplifting.”

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