Mel Odom is a prolific writer, gaining acclaim in whichever genre he choses to write. From fantasy to military, young adult to childrens, science fiction to books based on the Buffy and Angel television series and Apocalyptic novels.
His NCIS series is a favourite of mine and I am sorry to see it end but thrilled to see what he has in store in the future! You will have to keep reading to find out!
Mel has given a candid and refreshing interview which I am sure you will enjoy. We would love your comments!
If you could have chosen your own name , what would it be?
I’ve always liked the old names, the hard names. Jacob or Jake, Nicholas, Caleb, Matthew, Morgan, Travis. I also like two of my sons’ names that I hadn’t used. Chandler and Shiloh. Since I’m actually Melvin the third, it would’ve been cool to have a name of my own.
Growing up at am the country the way I did, there were always animals around. But the one I was closest to first was a German shepherd named Shane, who was named after the old Alan Ladd movie. Shane and I used to travel all over oilfield land for hours at a time. That drove my mom nuts.
Your best friend’s name in primary (elementary) school?
I really didn’t have one. People who know me now can’t believe I used to be shy, but in some ways I still am. When I’m in a large group, I tend to wander off by myself and hang close to a wall. I enjoy talking to people who come by, or I’ll camp out at a table somewhere in the middle. But back in elementary school, we moved too often for me to really make friends. And I kept myself distant because I knew I would be moving again soon. And I’ve always been a solitary person. Because of my job, I spend most of every waking hour by myself writing. When I want to relax, it’s generally with a book by myself. I still don’t have friends I hang with constantly. My wife has a lot of the same qualities and we make great companions.
Nope. Once I learned to write, though, I always had a pencil and paper. And a book. To this day, if I have to go anywhere that I may end up staying for a while, I always take a book and a notebook. If there’s electricity, I take my notebook computer.
If you were stranded on a desert island what one object would you want with you? (Besides your Bible)
What’s your favourite ice cream flavour?
Vanilla bean. Yes, I’m really that simple. If we’re talking more exotic, then butter pecan.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Taller. Licensed to drive. A chick magnet. But seriously, all I’ve ever really wanted to be in this world is a writer. I started writing as soon as I was able, and I’ve never looked back. As a writer I’ve been able to go research every job field I’ve ever been interested in and talk to people that have been doing those jobs for years. Getting to be a writer opens so many doors in the world it’s amazing. And you get to get inside everybody’s skin and imagine what it must be like to do those jobs.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Everywhere. Literally. I would love to go and see everything. Sadly, I know I’ll never get the chance to, but some of my favorite places would be to London, Tokyo, Moscow, Havana, Munich, Buenos Aries, Venice. As you can see, I could go on.
Hands down, Robert B. Parker’s EARLY AUTUMN. I read that book at least once a year, and I’ve given copies to my three oldest sons. I will pass it down to my fourth son and my grandsons as they mature enough. That book taught me so much that I know and believe in about being a father. I was estranged my own father for much of my life. We just never had anything in common. That was why I really didn’t want to be a father when I was a young man. I didn’t think I would have anything to offer. I didn’t think I would know any answers to the hard questions. As I’ve learned, the best thing you can do as a father is help the child find the right questions to ask. And that’s kind of what this book is about.
KUFFS starring Christian Slater. It shouldn’t be, but it is. I have no excuses. But it’s one of those movies that I can watch again and again and be totally lost in the brainless humor each and every time. All my kids watch it and enjoy it.
But if you’re wanting something that represents a more wholesome message, it’s THE PRINCESS BRIDE. All of my children enjoy that one as well and can quote all of the famous passages!
Heroes, Bones, Lost or The Brady Bunch?
BONES, definitely. I love being able to solve puzzles. I love the humanity of Seely Booth. I love the pure science and dedication of Temperance Brennan. These characters together are just amazing to me. I love the complexity, the dialogue, and the conflict that constantly arises between them. My wife and I watch the shows and try to figure out who did what first.
Indiana Jones. The man is in the right place at the right time. In the 1930s, the world was right to explore. So many places to go that we hadn’t been, and so much to learn. And that was back when it was easier to go through customs and get into other countries. I’m still an armchair historian and archaeologist. History is the one perspective writers really have to dig into at some point to understand people. The Old Testament is full of so much of it.
Baseball, basketball or gridiron? (I’d put cricket in there but don’t like my chances!)
I played basketball in high school. I love playing the game. Especially when it’s with people who understand the game is about passing and zones, not about fancy dribbling and shots. But my favorite game to watch is baseball. We have a AAA team in town that my wife and I like to go watch with the kids. We can sit there for 3 hours, talk, enjoy the sun and the wind, drink cokes, and interact by occasionally catching a foul ball. It’s also my favorite sport to coach because it’s slow enough paced that I can work with each player individually.
Where’s the most interesting place you have been?
Tulum in Cozumel. These remains of the Mayan culture are hundreds of years old. You can wander around through the buildings, through the earthen walls that defended it against outsiders, and peer down the 36 foot drop into the blue-green ocean that is the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. You have to walk in nearly 2 miles to see this, and there are no signs of civilization around. It’s almost like stepping back in time. I’m sure there are other places that are much like this one, but I just haven’t seen them yet. There is also cenote, a sacrificial well, that divers have discovered goes underground for 26 miles to link up with the other sacrificial well at Chichen Itza.
Great Barrier Reef, Uluru (Ayers Rock) or Sydney Harbour Bridge?
I haven’t seen any of them, but I would love to see the Great Barrier Reef. I’ve seen it several times on television and on Discovery Channel. The underwater life there is fantastic. I haven’t ever been scuba diving, but if I ever start, that’s where I’d want to go.
What’s your most fervent prayer?
That my children stay healthy long enough to become wise. I think that maybe every parent’s most fervent prayer. The second most fervent prayer is probably, God, don’t let me kill them before that happens. J
What is your favourite Bible verse (or “one” of your favourites) and what does it mean to you?
Psalm 46:10. Be still, and know that I am God. As a firstborn son, as a person with ADHD, as a person used to suffering anxiety attacks, and as a control freak, the hardest thing I’ve ever done is step back and let God work in my life and in the lives of my children. I don’t like doing nothing, and sometimes that’s what you have to do. And when God does miracles in the lives of people, it has to be acknowledged. Not necessarily to others, because that’s witnessing. But you have to acknowledge it yourself, to recognize that something was done that you yourself could not have done. My life has gone that way so much. I have been rewarded in so many ways. And I recognize that. It sometimes still hard not to overreact when a bad thing happens, but once I realize that I can’t do anything about it, I retreat, become still, and let God work. I just have to remind myself every now and again.
Besides God, who has influenced you the most?
I think I’ve influenced myself most. I’ve made myself step back and watch. I’ve seen myself through my successes, and I’ve seen myself through my failures. You can’t really learn how to conduct your own life unless you pay attention to the way you live your life. I’ve made mistakes and learned more from those them from my successes. But you have to be willing to learn from yourself. You can’t take pride in your successes and call that learning. Digging yourself out of a hole can teach you more about what went wrong and what went right than facing no adversity. Plus, struggling teaches you more about what you have inside your heart and mind. And it will really teach you a lot about your faith.
What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?
The bravest thing I’ve ever done is let my kids go out into the world when they decided to move out. I know I didn’t have a choice, so it doesn’t really count as something I’ve done. But I stayed here, at their home, and didn’t interfere or check up on them. I worked on keeping me strong, on keeping my faith strong, so that when they needed me I would be strong. That’s the hardest work and the bravest work a parent will ever do.
What was your most embarrassing moment in High School?
There were several. I was always the target of somebody’s humor. I was good natured and gave as good as I got on the basketball court and during the interscholastic meets. But if I had to pick one, it had to be when Randy Johns and I got free on a fast-break down court with everyone trailing behind us. Under the basket, I set up and expected him to shoot. Instead, he dumped the ball off to me. By that time everyone was closing in on us. I took the shot – and missed. It was the last game of the season and we won, but I didn’t hear the end of that for weeks.
We went to a Mexican restaurant called Two Pesos and talked. We’d been talking to each other for months because my daughter had been in her second grade class. We actually got to know each other as friends for a long time before we ever went out. After dinner, we went back to her apartment and played Toejam and Earl, an early Sega video game. We still enjoy playing video games and often coach each other when we’re not playing a game with or against each other.
Ask each of your kids one thing they think is great about their Dad and share it with us, please!
I think they all agree that the greatest thing about me is that I’m always there. They also agreed that the worst thing about me is that… I’m always there.
Blood Lines is the third book in your military thriller NCIS series so comes with the requisite action and weaponry yet also multi dimensional characters and relationships, so they appeal to both men and women. Is that something you consciously do?
I realize that both sexes need to be served in a story. Guys like guns, and women like emotions. However, over the years I’ve discovered that this isn’t necessarily so. This is simply the stereotypical image that a lot of people like to buy into, and to give off. I’ve met plenty of guys who like strong emotions, and I’ve also met a lot of women who are into serious hardware and technology. I think our definition of men and women is changing, or at least needs some refinement. If you look on the cooking shows, there are a lot of male chefs featured. If you watch the home designing shows, there are a lot of women wielding saws and swinging hammers. I think that most people who like to read also like to be educated. But they don’t necessarily want a male education or a female education, they want to be educated about things they are interested in. Men are getting more interested in things around the house, and women are getting more interested in areas that were predominantly male 20 and 30 years ago. I don’t think I consciously pick different parts of the book for one sex or the other. But I do take both sexes into account when a plan the problems the book’s heroes will face. Again, though, I think that’s me acknowledging the emerging duality of a lot of the readers.
Describe each of your main characters with one word
Shel – loyal
Tyrel – hurt
Will – responsible
Maggie – contained
Nita – (now) open
Remy – fragile
Estrella – uncertain
There is a very emotive subplot being the difficult relationship between Shel and his father, Tyrel. Could you share about that please?
I’ve written several stories that deal with father/son issues. I can’t help myself. That’s an unresolved issue in my life that I’ve been kicking around for several years. My father and I weren’t close. He was emotionally distant. I didn’t find out until after his death that he had been abused by his parents, and the years he spent in Korea during the war didn’t help. I was the oldest son and I spent a lot of time with him working at the family service station. But he was too closed off to get to know. He and my mom had a lot of problems, and I used to lay awake in bed listen to them argue. I never really knew what it was about. Maybe it was the typical arguments husbands and wives seem to have, but when I was a kid they always seem to be earth-shaking. My father stepped away from us when I was 19. He took a job out of town and we rarely saw him. When I was 25, he vanished for seven years, then reappeared with a new family in tow. He met his first grandson when my son was seven years old. I saw him again three times before he died in 1999. So a part of me, I’m afraid, is going to be forever lost because I never understood him. As I’ve had kids of my own who’ve grown into young men, I’ve understood more of the pressures he must’ve been undergoing, but I still don’t have the answers I need. Shell and Tyrel’s story is just another attempt by me to rectify that confusion.
Will we ever get to read Remy’s story?
I wish you could. It’s a really neat one involving his grandmother and brother. However, Tyndale seems to be happy with the three I’ve written. We are trying to get another military-based series together at the moment, so hopefully I’ll be back in action soon.
In addition to writing, you also teach forensics, crime scene investigation, etc ~ how did that come about?
I actually got to be something of an armchair while working on my novels. If you’re a writer, and you take your craft seriously, you never stop getting education. There are people out there, if you ask politely enough and recognize them as specialist in their fields, who will train you and give you special insights into their fields that take years to acquire. Before you approach them, you need to read into that field to build yourself something of a language and some kind of history to have with them so that they don’t have to explain EVERYTHING to you. They prefer an interested amateur, not a blank slate. Over the years I’ve learned to go to any one and ask them questions if I need answers. Some of those fields of study turned out to be forensics, crime scene investigation, profiling, cold case investigation, and other police work. Students in my writing classes asked me to teach classes just about police work. So I want to one of the resources I had, a 30 year veteran in the local police department who had been one of the first investigators in the Medical Examiner’s office to fume a fingerprint from a dead body. Scott Singer and I team taught those classes, and we ended up getting students outside of the writing interest as the well. He was surprised at how much I knew, and he even asked me why I bothered to ask him to help with the class. I told him it was because he got to wear the pistol and cuffs to class. Scott was also a public information officer, SWAT member, on the Hostage Rescue Team, and a certified underwater crime scene investigator. In the military, he was a PJ, a parajumper, one of the guys in Vietnam who went in after wounded American soldiers and brought them out, sometimes from behind enemy lines.
You write prolifically in various genres – do you have a favourite?
Not really. I enjoy all kinds of stories. The best ones are always about people who face problems. Problems define people. A book’s genre defines the kinds of problems those people will encounter. At least, that’s how I look at it.
What is in your writing pipeline?
I’ve got a few fantasy novels, some adventure novels, and hopefully a new military series to do with Tyndale. In the meantime, I’m constantly working on ideas and characters that capture my attention.
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