Friday, January 18, 2013


             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.

Marc Cameron is a retired Chief Deputy US Marshal and 29-year law enforcement veteran. His short stories have appeared in BOYS’ LIFE Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post. He has published nine novels, six of them Westerns (several as a ghost writer and two under his pen name, Mark Henry).  His present Jericho Quinn series—NATIONAL SECURITY, ACT OF TERROR and STATE OF EMERGENCY (available in April 2013)— features an adventure motorcyclist, Air Force OSI agent and renaissance man who spends his days sorting out his life and kicking terrorist butt.   Marc lives in Alaska with his beautiful bride and BMW motorcycle.
Visit him at:


  1. I enjoyed this post, Marc--an enlightening hoot!--and look forward to more such offerings from you.

    Now, back to this basket of peaches (aka my latest oater)....


  2. You've certainly had some interesting experiences to observe and I'm looking forward to reading about more of them. Thanks for sharing, Marc.

  3. Any chance you'll be reprinting your westerns as ebooks?

  4. Great post, Marc. I've used "she had a face like a peach pit," but your image reaches much deeper.

  5. Marc, you have a bucket full of experience to fall back on.
    Very interesting!
    Looking forward to more posts.
    Jerry Guin

  6. Marc, I enjoyed reading your post and can only imagine all the things you have seen and done in such a lengthy law enforcement career. I'm looking forward to reading your post each month and learning more about your books, you and your writing techniques--and whatever else you might want to post about.

  7. I love those colorful old timers, can't believe I am one now. Had an old women tell me, many years ago that her new boy friend was, "tighter than three coats of paint on a south facing house."

  8. Great post Marc. I expect you have a large file put away for your characters...good and bad.


  9. Marc, I can't wait to read more posts from you. You've got an easy, chatty blogging "voice." This post read as though we were sitting on the front porch conversing over a tall glass of iced tea.

    I've always been sorry I didn't write down more of the things my paternal grandfather and grandmother said. Both were born and raised in the Appalachian hills of Kentucky, and they were chock-full of country wit and wisdom. Every once in awhile, though, when I pull some boneheaded stunt, I'll hear one or both of them weigh in with one of those down-home sayings that came as naturally to them as hogs to a waller.

  10. Thanks, Matt. Cool, marshaly name by the way.

    LIvia, hadn't considered getting the Westerns out as Ebooks. Thanks. I will pursue that.

    Thanks, Larry. I arrested a meth...hooker once who had, now that you mention it, a face akin to a peach pit...

    Thanks, Jerry and Cheryl and Les. I am very blessed to have so much grist for the writing mill.
    And, now that I'm an old timer, the opportunity to put it to use.

    I appreciate your comments, Kathleen. My Louisiana and Texas predecessors were all big porch-talkers.

  11. Awesome - I love picking up on those interesting bits of dialogue too. Or odd little stories you can add for humor, or effect. Great post!

  12. Marc, I really did leave a comment, but it looks like blogger ate it. Kinda like my homework. Good post, my man. See ya in Japan?