Mel Weiser was miserable, roaming the deck of his aircraft carrier with dried vomit on the corners of his mouth, hoping to find one spot where the ocean didn’t roll as much.
The 17-year-old was beginning to think he might have made a mistake begging his father to let him join the Navy and fight in World War II.
“I couldn’t find a place for myself,” Weiser said. “One of my friends said to me, ‘Get up in your bunk. I’ll get you a book from the ship library, and maybe that’ll take your mind off this.’
“So he got me a book and it was about the conquest of Mexico, it was called ‘Don Pedro.’ And it just captured me. I put it down on my chest, and I remember I said, ‘If I could ever write like this, I would have a happy life.’”
That moment gave Weiser the answer for what he wanted to do with his life.
And he’s still doing it, even as a 98-year-old author living in Sun Lakes.
He just published his sixth book, “The Crown of Sammuramat.” It’s an adventure novel that seems like it would make a good action film. The good and bad guys believe the crown has special powers and they are all trying to get it before the others.
After conquering seasickness and leaving the Navy, Weiser returned to New York and pursued becoming a teacher. He spent most of his life teaching, and working in theater. He headed his own theater company and even directed a production on Broadway.
Eventually, he got tired of snow and moved to Arizona.
He kept working his way up the teaching ranks until he retired as a professor at Glendale Community College, where he spent 17 years.
“The Crown of Sammuramat” may be his latest published novel, but it’s not a new story. It was sitting on Weiser’s shelves collecting dusts for years.
“After I finished it, I was still really ..., I was finished with it, I put it away and that was the end of it,” Weiser said. Years later he came across it and said he took a second look.
“‘What is that thing all about? What was it? I forget my own book. Let me look at it.’ So I looked at it, and I said, ‘it has potential, but it’s much too long.’ I wound up chopping out between 10 and 15,000 words.
“I just kept chopping and chopping, and got it tighter and tighter and tighter. And I kept working on it and I said to myself, ‘this is a special one. I’ve got it.’”
One of Weiser’s other books is a biography of actor Nick Nolte, called “Caught in the Act.” Nolte was a member of Weiser’s theater company before he became famous in the TV miniseries, “Rich Man, Poor Man,” and a host of box office hits such as “Prince of Tides” and “The Hulk.”
Theater companies have played an important role in Weiser’s life, including in helping him meet his second wife. Joni Brown-Walders. had her own theater company and they kept running into each other at productions.
“Eventually, we took the hint,” Weiser said.
The two worked together on a play, ‘A Tiny Piece of Land.’ After staging the play in Oregon, Los Angeles and Toronto, it was scheduled to open Off-Broadway.
However, the producer died before it opened. And Weiser and Browne-Walder were unable to raise the funds needed themselves for the show to go on.
“It was absolutely heartbreaking,” Browne-Walder said. “I felt like ..., it was like a death.”
Turns out the rolling seas of his youth helped Weiser find the direction he wanted to take his life. And even at 98, he’s not slowing down: He’s currently working on his next novel, ‘The Great Man.’
Mel Weiser books
The Trespasser; Within the Web; Nick Nolte: Caught in the Act; On 174th Street: The World of Willie Mittleman; Viva Pucini!; and The Crown of Sammuramat are available on Amazon.