On the surface, the plot of Merle Temple’s novel, “A Ghostly Shade of Pale,” may seem like something from an action movie, complete with mobsters and drug busts gone awry.
But Temple’s inspiration did not come from any “Lethal Weapon” movie. It came from his real life career with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics in the 1970s, the beginning of President Nixon’s war on drugs.
“At the time you had the Vietnam war, an active Ku Klux Klan, and civil unrest in general. You couldn’t understand the drug scene without understanding the unique time period that challenged America’s self- image,” he said.
God at the drug deal
Temple said the time period takes on a life of its own in the novel, and was defined by the schism between old school values and new school hedonism.
“Growing up in a very conservative culture, it was jarring to be thrust into the free love counter culture,” he said. “It was a buffet of deadly pleasures, and some lost their moral center.”
Like his novel’s protagonist, Michael Parker, Temple said even though he grew up in church, he did not actively seek Christ even in his volatile profession.
But in the direst of situations, God kept showing up.
Temple recalled being undercover in Tylertown, Miss., setting up a heroin sting, when he lost control of the situation. Sensing something amiss, the drug dealers held Temple hostage in a shotgun shack on some unknown back road, and spent the night debating what to do with Temple’s body.
“They had a pistol to my head and a shotgun to my belly,” he said. “Something releases in you when you think you’re about to die. I asked the Lord for one more sunrise.”
Temple did indeed escape and soon returned to arrest his captors.
In another instance, Temple said the Holy Spirit moved him to don a bullet proof vest before embarking on a bust. It may sound like common sense, but the vests of the time were extremely bulky and hard to conceal.
“I had my hand on the gear shift of my car and this presence just came over me, and it frightened me,” he said. “I thought it was just stress, but when it happened again, I looked up and said ‘OK, OK.’”
The set-up went wrong and turned into a full-blown gunfight, which Temple narrowly escaped.
“Even then, God was watching over me,” he said.
The right fit
Temple said since then spreading the word of Christ has become like breathing.
“The book is hard to pigeonhole because there are so many threads – crime, romance, politics – but the search for God definitely underlies everything. Christ loved me when I was unlovable,” he said.
Once Temple had his manuscript, the next step was finding an interested publisher. Temple soon found he did not see eye to eye with what publishers thought would sell. One wanted to remove the Bible verses that begin each chapter. Another wanted him to spice up his prose with profanity, known as “neon” in the publishing business.
“One even asked if there was any way I could add vampires to the mix,” he said. “I figured if no one buys it, at least I wanted something I wouldn’t be ashamed to show my mother and my high school English teacher.”
Temple soon found the right publisher right in his own backyard in Tupelo with Bethel Road Publications.
Initially, he consulted the Christian publishers for advice, but it turned out to be a “match made in heaven” to produce the book. He knew it was the right fit when the company opened each meeting with a prayer.
Once the book was finished, it received positive reception from a wide range of readers, including Jim Clemente, writer for the television crime drama “Criminal Minds.” He has committed to work with Bethel Road for the sequel to “A Ghostly Shade of Pale,” entitled “A Rented World.”
Temple said he plans to make the adventures of Michael Parker a trilogy.
“I hope readers get to the end and feel like it was worth the read and I hope they might examine their own walk with Christ,” he said. “I hope they learn it’s later than they think.”
Sara Berry, founder of Bethel Road Publications, knew she was working with something special when Temple walked through her door, but never imagined it would take off the way it did.
“When [Temple] contacted me, he wanted some advice on what direction to go in the way of publishing his book,” she said. “The more I heard about the book and his life story, the more I thought it was a great fit.”
Unlike other publishers, Berry said the story was good enough to stand on its own, without the pizazz of “neon.”
“If you have to add those things to keep readers interested, it’s probably not a good story to begin with,” she said. “The book is gritty. We thought and prayed everything through when working on it. We’re not trying to mask the tragic, evil realities of the world, but accept them, and try to see them through God’s perspective.”
The mother of six started publishing in 2002, when she began producing materials for children’s Bible studies. She officially founded Bethel Road in 2006, and also runs a separate company, Integrity Time, that generates character-building activities for kids.
Berry said she and her lean staff of five close friends and family enjoy the detail work of publishing.
“A lot of decisions have to be made, like what kind of paper, font style and size, so it’s really rewarding to get that finished product and to work with writers to make their stories complete,” she said. “I know what it’s like to have something inside dying to be written down.”
Though the company is small, Berry said it is ready to handle whatever success “A Ghostly Shade of Pale” may bring.
“We are going to stay true to who we are and what we are called to do,” she said. “We aren’t going to compromise on our values to sell more books, and I think people will respect that.”
Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal