Mel Mathews sits in his grandmother’s house in his hometown, which he bought. Mathews is a novelist with a handful of books under his belt. Born and raised in the Central San Joaquin Valley, he has lived in Florence, Italy for the past several years. Photo by Mark Crosse / The Fresno Bee

Dream Inspires a New Life
Former Tractor Salesman Writes Novels, Lives in Italy.
By Mary Lou Aguirre / The Fresno Bee – 10/20/06

HANFORD — If there’s room on bookstore shelves for the musings of lawyers-turned-authors and comedians-turned-authors, there ought to be room for a tractor salesman-turned-writer.

Eight years ago, Mel Mathews left the financial security of a well-paid salesman for John Deere tractors to pursue a career that came to him literally in a dream.

Mathews had told a friend about a dream he had. The friend thought the dream would make a good novel. The result was his first book, LeRoi, which was published last year.

“I was foolish enough to believe him,” Mathews says.

Mathews has since followed up his debut novel with two more novels: Menopause Man, published in June and SamSara, published in September.

The Hanford native, who was living in Monterey at the time, recalls he “officially” began writing on Halloween 1999.

“I have been in love a time or two, but when I started writing, I felt a euphoria,” Mathews, 45, says. “Today, I’m afraid not to write. I need to do it for my soul.”

He describes his novels as “psychological dramas.” His protagonist is Malcolm Clay, a character so much like Mathews that it’s hard to distinguish fact from fiction.

“He’s a tractor salesman stumbling through the world,” he says. “He asks: What does it mean to be a man? To be human? How does he fit in?”

Mathews, who is an avid reader of Albert Camus, Thomas Mann and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, has studied the unconscious mind writings of Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung.

“Jung believed the collective unconscious is characterized by ‘archetypes,’ ‘instinctual patterns of behavior and perception,’ which can be traced in dreams and myths,” according to the Web site mythosandlogos.com.

The character of Malcolm Clay, Mathews says, is looking for transcendent love.

“I think we are all searching for an authentic life,” he says. “It’s part of the human condition.”

For years, Mathews was satisfied with being a tractor salesman in Fresno.

“I’d built up rapport and trust with clients who respected me,” he says. “I was caught up with that identity. It took me over.”

Despite a divorce at 33, Mathews felt “things were too easy” in his life.

“I wanted to feel life again,” he says. I wanted to struggle again.”

Mathews turned to writing full time.

“I’ve always read and, a lot of times, I thought, ‘I could write that.'”

A Jungian seminar on creativity in Sedona, Ariz., lead to another seminar on Mary Magdalene in Florence, Italy. He made new friendships there that continue today. In 2002, he had the opportunity to rent an apartment in Florence. He took it.

“It was exciting,” he says. “It forced me upon myself. I had to turn inward.”

The Hanford High graduate, class of 1979, who never had ventured farther than Santa Cruz, San Diego and the Central Coast, now lives a romanticized writers life: sitting in Italian cafes in such places as Paris and Florence, drinking strong coffees and writing ideas on the backs of menus.

Mathews’ novels come from both his dreams and the journals he keeps about his dreams. He transcribes handwritten passages on his laptop computer. He is a self-taught writer, which he says is typical for him.

“I’m a little bit of a rebel,” he says. “I have never written an outline. The editing process is very laborsome.”

Mathews, who owns a home in Hanford, returns periodically. While here, he will promote his books and do book-signings, including one at Borders Express at the Hanford Mall 2-6 p.m. Nov. 25, and another 3-6 p.m. Dec. 16 at Borders in Visalia. Go to his Web site for details: www.melmathews.com

He doesn’t like “labels” and feels more comfortable with “being a writer” than author.

“and just because I misspell words and have lousy grammatical habits,” he says, “doesn’t mean I can’t tell a good tale.”