The Childersburg resident just released “Conceivable Lies,” a novel that tells the tale of young love, unplanned pregnancy, a love triangle and the lasting effects of deceit, all set at Auburn University in the mid-1960s.
“I wanted to tell people about the Auburn that I knew 40 or 50 years ago,” he said, fondly recalling the quaint, clean, conservative college town that never saw a protest about Vietnam or the other political upheavals of the 1960s.
“The pride you took in being an Auburn man or woman was very significant,” he said, recalling wearing his “rat cap” during his freshman year in 1964 and running in the traditional pajama race on the Thursday before the Georgia Tech football game.
All the freshman and sophomore men were required to be in the Reserve Officers Training Corps. “It was expected and we did it. Nobody objected,” he said.
And he recalled Auburn President Harry Philpott sitting under a tree on campus on mild days, encouraging students who wanted to ask questions of the top administrator to do so.
“It was very different then. It had the morals of a small town in the Deep South,” he said. “There were no single mothers or deadbeat dads – not in the middle-class South.”
It’s against that backdrop that the scandal of “Conceivable Lies” begins. Chad Mercer is in love with fellow Auburn student Diane, but finds himself entwined with Kat, a girlfriend from his hometown who attends the University of Alabama. He’s forced to make important life decisions without the maturity to do so. He’s trying to do the right thing, but are his decisions based on truth, or conceivable lies?
“Auburn was such a pristine, beautiful place,” Melton said. “They were going to build a Jack’s across from the library, and that was the only outcry I heard down there. Not the war, not President Johnson’s policies. Only a fast food restaurant and the paper wrappers it would produce. It was such a source of pride that it was such a clean campus.”
Melton said the restaurant developers publicly agreed to keep trash from blowing onto campus to quell the discontent.
“The Auburn I knew was different from the one my children knew,” he said.
“What I’ve tried to do with my book is to paint that era in Auburn so that people who love Auburn can see that snippet of time when I was there. We do it by trailing these three people.”
He’s written a second book involving the same characters in a different but related story, and he plans to write a third.
Each will show life in Auburn through the eyes of people from different socioeconomic positions. Middle-class people feature prominently in “Conceivable Lies;” wealthier people from the same fictitious hometown are featured in the second book, and the third will involve people struggling to meet their expenses just to stay in school.
“I did it that way because we all can relate to these scenarios,” he said.
Melton said he got to know a cross-section of the student body while he was on campus from working as the desk manager at the student union.
“There were differences, but still we were all the same. We had the same love for Auburn,” he said.
After college, Melton was one of the first white teachers to work at Westside High School in Talladega, where he taught history and driver education for one year. He then went to work in Louisville, Ky., for Belknap Corp. After a few years, he was transferred to Tuscaloosa, where he helped the company’s dealers get re-inventoried and set back up after a spate of tornadoes in the early 1970s.
He earned his master’s degree from the University of Alabama, and wound up buying first one furniture store, then two more, and starting Melton Rentals.
Melton’s family stayed in Tuscaloosa for about 10 years, then he bought his family’s farm in Childersburg when his son started attending the Helen Keller School of Alabama in Talladega in the 1980s. He sold the Tuscaloosa stores, then opened furniture stores in Childersburg and Ashland, which he kept until 2000.
Though he’s mostly retired and spends his days writing, he still stays active in business through his Melton Marketing Group, which provides services to the furniture industry.
His family always enjoyed travel, and spent part of each year in Campeche, Mexico, for several years, Melton said.
He and his wife, Eve, are active members of First Presbyterian Church in Sylacauga. He has three grown children, Matt, Marc and Maggie.