Henry Melton just keeps winning awards. The announcement came out recently that he has won the Golden Duck for Middle Grades in Science Fiction for last year's Lighter than Air. Congratulations, Henry.
Benj-O: To begin with, can you give us a thumb-nail sketch about yourself? Who is Henry Melton, what makes you tick?
HM: Since elementary school, I can remember being fascinated with rockets and gadgets, I cobbled together my own gunpowder (from the formula in Jules Verne's novels) wired up electronic musical instruments, and when I worked as a TV and Radio Engineer, I was always tinkering with some new gadget for the DJ's. Then software happened and for twenty some years I did the same thing, only with 1's and 0's. Throughout my life, I've been inspired by science fiction, and it's only natural that I'd tinker together some of that as well.
Benj-O: How did you start writing? Was it a whim, or what?
HM: I told stories to the neighbor kids, but in school, I wrote a few little things that today would be called flash fiction–a few hundred words at best. But then one day, our biology teacher gave us a loosely worded assignment, "Tell the story of a tree." It was during the poly-water mystery, and with a grin, I set out to write my assignment as a science fiction story, with the main character an intelligent water drop. It worked. The biology stuff was the background 'scenery' of the story and the 'passing of the torch' plotline was good enough from a character viewpoint as well. Mr. Branch loved it as well. He read the paper aloud in class and gave me an 'A'. I turned around and turned in the same paper as an English composition assignment and got another 'A' for the same work. I think that from then on I was hooked.
Benj-O: There is often a perceived formula in fiction today. Do you follow a formula as you write?
HM: It's hard to answer. I know that over the years I've learned what works for me, so I do follow the same development process from one book to the next, but it's certainly not the formula I've seen described for certain classes of fiction. Learned craftsmanship, yes. Formula, no.
But certain words of wisdom do apply, and can be expressed as simple rules. Just like spelling and grammar, don't break the rules unless you understand them.
Benj-O: What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
HM: Write. Write a lot. I've been writing for decades now, and while some of the earlier stuff worked, the vast bulk of it didn't, and I'd never have been able to learn the difference without writing it all. You'll need to learn the mechanics of writing, the craftwork skills of it all, and you'll need to develop your voice. When I had the opportunity to lecture at the
Benj-O: You often hear writers talking about how much they read in preparation for a writing project. What kinds of sources do you find helpful when researching for a book?
HM: I am inspired by place. I've traveled a lot and frequently I'll discover a location, often a small town, that speaks to me. While I'm there, I'll talk to the people, take photos, and listen to the sounds. Maybe six months later, I'll start a story located there, and of course, I'll find my initial research lacking. I'll google like mad, and take advantage of every internet resource out there. And then, if I'm lucky, I'll get to make a second visit after the first draft, and I'll get to walk Schuyler Street and see what the church bell looks like from the sidewalk and notice the cannon on the courthouse lawn. Knowing what things really look like is invaluable to me. I'm writing these scenes that play out in my head and with real details, whether they show up in the text or not, the characters are more vivid.
Benj-O: Your writing style is very readable. Are there any authors that have influenced that style?
HM: That's hard to tell. When I was learning what I liked, I was too young to pay attention to style. I know I liked the Heinlein books I found in the school library, the Sturgeon stories I discovered later, and the no-limits adventures of Murray Leinster (Will F. Jenkins).
Benj-O: I know that you have chosen the route of self-publishing through Wire Rim Books. How did you decide on this route for getting your books in print? Is there any advice you might give to someone considering self-publishing?
HM: It was the gray hair. I'd been trying to get my novels published for a long, long, long, long time. I'd been following the rules and listening to the advice of my elders. I sat in the back of the 'How to Get Published' panel discussions at the science fiction conventions. But the publishing landscape changed. The old wisdom had become dated. Here's the new wisdom. You can get yourself published, for a minimum of up-front cost. You just are not likely to sell your books to anyone beyond your circle of family and friends without a life-changing dedication to self-promotion, and a good book.
Benj-O: So many in the publishing world are prejudiced against the self-published authors, have you encountered any resistance to your books because of this choice?
HM: As a self-publisher, I have to say that the majority of self-published books are not readable. It's harsh, but it's the truth. I have total sympathy for the reviewers who reject all self-published books sight unseen, but it does make it very hard to get high profile reviews when you have faith in your book and no one will look at it. I would love to get on a library recommended list, but the rules for those lists require reviews from certain standard publications, and those places have barriers up against the flood of self-published titles. It's a no-win situation, unless you can find a back door review or win a contest or something like that.
Benj-O: Again, congratulations on your awards. Can you give us an idea of what it is like to receive acclaim from the industry?
HM: On a personal level, it is deeply comforting to know that other people can see good things in your books. Every self-published author believes in his book, so how can you be sure you're not just fooling yourself? Faith in yourself is critical to make sure you keep writing and keep working to improve yourself, but that faith doesn't prove your words are good. The approval of friends and family, while nice, isn't enough either. You have to rely on third party recommendations to let people know that there's something here that will be worth their while. Word of mouth referrals, Amazon reviews, and the lightning strike of a contest win are immensely valuable. There is nothing more satisfying than having total strangers applauding your work.
Benj-O: What’s next from Henry Melton? What can we expect to see in the future?
HM: I wrote novels for many years before I decided to start Wire Rim Books, and I have three working in the queue right now. When they come out is more of a marketing decision than a technical one. If the cover art comes through in a timely manner, the next title will be Golden Girl, a time travel story. The reality-bending, Follow that Mouse is likely to also come out this year, but whether it's a fantasy or Jungian Science Fiction is something I'm still undecided on. After that, probably it will be Pixie Dust, a physics-based science fiction/ mystery with superhero subplots. Eventually, I'll want to tap into the large number of short stories (published in the magazines) and novels (unpublished) that take place in my Terraforming Project time line. But that's still a couple of years away.
Thanks again, Henry. Keep on writing, and entering those contests.