News - A Novel Retirement, A Life of Adventure

A Novel Retirement, A Life of Adventure

A Novel Retirement, A Life of Adventure

Since his retirement in 2003, Mel Starr ’64 has seen so much adventure, it’s a wonder he can catch his breath from one harrowing experience to the next.

First, he discovered a young woman’s remains in a cesspit, and then he found a corpse in a hedge. Its throat was torn out and its head nearly severed, yet no blood sullied the site. Then there were the 22 priceless books stolen, one turning up in the hands of a poor scholar who tried to sell it and ended up dead in a river.     

Adventure comes to Starr through the exploits of his characters in his best-selling medieval mysteries. And, with more stories to tell, there is no sign the adventures will soon let up.   

Starr may be the most published author of fiction to graduate from Greenville College. His series about surgeon-sleuth Hugh de Singleton set in the 1300s has sold nearly 200,000 copies in print and e-book versions since its release in 2008.

Slow Go at the Start

The success is a triumph for the man who postponed fully developing the stories he imagined until after retirement. Starr taught middle and high school history for nearly 40 years before embarking on his adventure as a novelist. The success also represents a lesson in persistence. About 60 agents and publishers rejected the first book of his series, The Unquiet Bones, before British publisher Lion Hudson agreed to take the project on.

Unquiet Bones by Mel Starr“It turns out that this is a typical number of rejections for first novels, which finally find a publisher,” says Starr. “Fewer than two percent of fiction manuscripts sent to publishers ever get into print. Publishers do not want to take a risk on unknown authors.”

"Unknown” no longer applies to Starr now, however. His popular books have been published in Germany, The Czech Republic, Turkey, Poland and the Netherlands. Book six, Rest Not in Peace, was released last autumn, and the U.S. release of book seven, The Abbot’s Agreement, is scheduled for October. Starr’s books have proven a good fit for the Lion Fiction imprint, which aims to attract religious and secular readers with strong narration, credible characters and context that “creates an imaginative awareness of spiritual truths” without preaching.

Patience as a (Writing) Virtue

The instant nature of today’s e-books belies the patient process Starr follows to create a story. While promises customers they can begin reading A Corpse at St Andrew's Chapel on their Kindles in under a minute, Starr pens each manuscript in longhand. “I am a poor typist,” he admits.

Keyboard skills aside, he is in good company when it comes to putting pen to paper. Pulitzer Prize-winner Jhumpa Lahiri and best selling authors Amy Tan and Tom Wolfe have all written manuscripts out by hand. The process makes immense sense to longhand devotee and acclaimed novelist Joyce Carol Oates, who explained in an interview with Salon, “Writing is not simply the way in which we record thoughts; it is a process, a consequence of thinking, planning, dreaming.”

The process can take years, though – eight years for Amy Tan to produce The Valley of Amazement and 30 years for Oates to complete The Accursed. In that context, it’s not surprising to learn that Starr’s character Hugh de Singleton evolved over 35 years.

Perks of Fame

These days, Starr nurtures his dreams by scrawling manuscripts from an overstuffed loveseat in his Michigan home. A nearby shelf holds medieval resource books. Though he doesn’t write every day, he will spend three to five hours at a time once the ideas come.

When asked about pleasant surprises he has encountered on his journey as an author, Starr mentions neither the overwhelming success of his books nor the creative process as it unfolds in this quiet place.

“Probably the most pleasant surprise was reconnecting with a GC roommate whom I had not seen in 50 years,” says Starr. Frank Tidaback read about Starr’s first novel in GC’s alumni magazine The RECORD and sent Starr an email. The treasured surprise serves as a reminder that adventure holds unknown outcomes even for the armchair novelist who is “in” on the planning and execution of the thrill.

Visit to learn more about Starr’s books.

This story was published on July 01, 2014

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