At its core, good storytelling is about observation. And, as you may observe, you’ve never heard of me.
So, I have a confession to make right from the get-go. I write Thrillers. There, I said it. Got it out in the open right here in front of the children, horses, and this esteemed cadre of Western writers. I did, however, cut my writing teeth on Westerns, and I’m certain I’ll pen some more in the future. But time and the people writing the checks have conspired against me in that regard—so, I’ll write what they want, for the near term at least.
That said, writing is writing and characters are characters, no matter the genre.
I believe all good storytelling springs from our ability to observe and remember the things that happen around us—the funny, almost poetic way the waitress reads back your order, a particular turn of a phrase the farrier makes when he’s bent double under the weight of your spoiled, persnickety horse, or that minuscule twitch your wife does with her eyebrow when she catches you bringing home the second new gun in a week. Good writers latch onto those precious bits of life, seeing them for the gold they are—and put them to good use later.
Years ago, as a young deputy marshal in east Texas, I stopped by a friend’s ranch while I was out serving papers. He was an older gentleman, half crippled, and needed help with his tractor, so it wasn’t long before I was flat on my back in the dirt, pulling at a piece of cheater pipe on the end of a wrench, trying to loosen the oil plug. Who knows how long it had been since he’d changed the oil and the drain plug felt welded into place. As crippled as he was, my old friend was still spry enough to stoop down and pour on plenty of advice. Of course he asked me if I was turning it the right direction. Then, as I grunted away without so much as budging the blasted thing, he said these magic words:
“Son, you’re strainin’ like a puppy passin’ a peach pit.”
The drain plug stayed put, but I scuttled out from beneath the tractor and dug out my little black notebook to write down this precious phrase before it slipped away—and later found the perfect spot for it in one of my Mark Henry Westerns. I think we only sold a few thousand copies. I remember because the royalties were enough to buy a new refrigerator and my child bride thought that I’d “arrived” as an honest to goodness writer. Good times….
I am fortunate to have had the observation and research opportunity of spending a career in law enforcement, first as a city police officer and the last twenty-two as a deputy US marshal. I’ve seen bloody murders, been in hellacious fights, and met some fascinating characters on both sides of the law. It has given me the opportunity to hunt, capture, and later, haul some mighty mean outlaws across the lower 48 states and Alaska. All of this has made it easier for me to see firsthand the conflict that I believe makes a compelling story. Through it all, I’ve tried to keep good notes.
So, without committing myself to any one particular thing, I’ll be writing a thought or two here each month about those experiences—tracking outlaws and whatnot—and how I’ve applied them to my stories, Western and otherwise. Now that I’m writing full-time I’ll be updating the blog on my website as well, once in a while at least—so head on over there for a visit too.