Friday, May 17, 2013


My child bride taught me early in our married life that she and I had two distinctly different ways of looking at things. Much of that had to do with the fact that I was raised in Texas and she grew up in Alberta. I’m the eldest, born when my twenty-year-old parents had been married about nine months and fifteen minutes. She’s a surprise baby that came along when her father was fifty.
She was, and is, a mystery to me.  That’s what makes things interesting.

As a fledgling patrol officer, I saw early on that people’s backstory has a lot to do with how they react in any given situation—a truth I try to carry over in my writing.  
As I’ve said before, coppers love to tell war stories. If you’d indulge me, I think this one illustrates my point…

One slow summer Sunday on midnight shift—when I was about twenty-three—I fell in behind a beater pickup truck that was going over the posted limit. It was around three in the morning—the hour when only cops, newspaper delivery folks and bad guys are out and about—so there weren’t many other vehicles on the street.
Well, this son of a gun refused to pull over—even with my cosmically powerful blue and reds flashing in his rearview mirror.  Even a yelp from my siren didn’t faze him.  He didn’t really run, he just kept the old truck steady at around forty-five in the thirty-zone.
This could not be tolerated. 
Thinking he was likely DWI, I informed dispatch of the situation. There was a long pause before the sweet dispatcher, who was having some marriage problems at the time and a little addled, came back and sheepishly asked:
“320, does that happen to be a red Ford..?”
Turned out, the guy had called in several minutes before with a medical emergency and thought I was his escort to the hospital.
He bailed out of the truck when we got to the ER, waving me up to help him. Could I please help him carry his girlfriend inside? She’d overdosed on something, he just didn’t know what.
When he opened the passenger door, the top half of a brunette slinkyed out in a naked backbend along with a bottle of Peppermint Schnapps. Lilywhite arms sprawled over her head like she was doing the ‘wave’ upside down. 
You just never know what’s going to fall out of a strange truck at three in the morning, so I said a little prayer of relief when I discovered the top half was still connected to the bottom half.
I grabbed her under her arms and gave her roughneck boyfriend the legs and nether regions—which weren’t even covered by so much as a footy sock.
Trying not to gawk, I was watching where I stepped when she woke up. She looked up at this strange copper cradling her in his arms and went the closest thing to berserk I have ever witnessed. I hung on for dear life, trying not to touch any exposed bits that would give her cause to file a complaint—while she spat and clawed and spun and did everything but vomit pea soup in my face. After about five seconds of gyration, she passed out. She woke up again when we put her on the gurney inside, and thrashed so hard, the ER doc thought she might break her own arms if he used the restraints. So, four of us held her down, for her own good, one on each arm, one on each leg, while they tried to figure out what was wrong with her.
Each time she woke up, she screamed and kicked and fought, knocking a nurse to the ground. I adjusted my grip on her shoulder so I didn’t hurt her, and she took the opportunity to twist her neck around and try to sink her teeth into my arm.  We tried to cover her with a sheet but it just slid to the floor.  I was impressed by how hard everyone worked to keep her from injuring herself.
Inside the bright lights of the ER it was easier to see what she looked like.
She was maybe twenty-five, about five-four and weighed in at around a hundred and thirty. Young and farm-girl sturdy, she might have been attractive with a shower and a little less alcohol. The soles of her feet were black from going barefoot, her knees were skinned and her fingernails were dirty. I began to imagine she’d been working in the garden while she drank the Schnapps.
What she lacked in cleanliness, she made up for with brute, crazy-woman strength. Several times, I thought she might wrench away from me, and I was in my prime. She seemed imbued with that sort of fearsome strength that allows mothers to lift tractors off trapped children.
The most striking thing about her, apart from the briar-rose tattoo, was the web of scar tissue across her chest and one side of her ribs. It looked as though she’d gone through the windshield in a bad car accident. 
If you’d asked me when I was twenty-one what I’d think about fighting a naked girl, I’d have lied and said that the notion was abhorrent. But that’s because I’d never done it before.
Turns out it really was.
Her parents came in a few minutes later. Since I was the primary officer, I handed off my post at a shoulder and elbow and went out front to what I could learn.
When the girl’s mother saw me, her knees buckled.  There was a momentary flash of fire in her eyes, and for a minute I thought she might come unglued on me too. Finally, she calmed down enough to talk.
It seems that I bore a near perfect resemblance to the girl’s ex—who had tied her to a bed and carved away at her chest with a straight razor to get his jollies…
One of the other officers poked his head out of the exam room and said the girl had calmed down and went right to sleep after I left.
Guess I have that effect on people.

The episode drove home to me that everyone has a backstory—often unknown to us—and that backstory colors everything they do. I have no doubt that if that young woman would have had a weapon in that situation I would have had to shoot her or risk getting shot myself.

When I write, I try to keep in mind that POV isn’t just whose voice happens to be telling the story. It’s the stuff that can add mystery to a marriage or make a terrified woman want to kill the guy who’s trying to save her life. 

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 now)— 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.

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  1. Nothing like an evil twin! I feel sorry for the girl, but you must have been pretty shocked, too. As for POV, I got a good lesson when I married a city boy. They're definitely different.

    One of the best POV lessons in writing came from him, actually. I couldn't figure out how to clue my hero in that the villain was in town. My husband couldn't figure out why I was even groaning about it. He pointed out that the guy's horse was there, and informed me that every man where he works knows what everyone in the building drives, so it's only reasonable that 1800s men would know who rode what horse, and if there was a strange horse in town. (Not bad for a city boy, eh?)

    That's when I started thinking in a character's world view, and then good things started happening with my career.

  2. Fascinating stuff, Marc. As always. I'm really enjoying STATE OF EMERGENCY, by the way. You do write splendid.

  3. Marc, this post of yours is another keeper. Sometimes in creative writing classes when I'm trying to teach POV in this regard, it's amazing to me that something that I understand can be so hard to get across to others. This is the perfect way to show it. Very interesting, and I can only imagine what your thoughts must have been when you learned who she thought you were. Thanks again for another great post!

  4. Wonderful post. I can so relate with your story, not as a police officer, but juvenile corrections. The back story can make all the difference and yours illustrates that point beautifully and vividly. Doris

  5. I can really relate to the story you told having worked as an RN in the ER for 17 years. You really get the backstory on so many lives, some really sad and others quite disgusting.
    I like what you had to say about POV being more than just the voice, but a voice with a history.
    Excellent article.

  6. Thanks guys. I appreciate the kind words.

  7. Read your state of emergency, Marc. Nice setup. And now, going into the next one, we have Kim and Charlie (??), and maybe Aleksandra going full out for Jericho. Fun and games. Yeah.

    I am and was curious, however, about the nuclear waste cleanup operation at the hospitals, because that's a major problem here in Japan. They're scraping off topsoil and storing it under tarps in various places designated as hot material grounds, but a "permanent" solution has yet to arrive.

  8. Thank,Charlie-
    Yeah, when I started the series, I thought Jericho would have a different female sidekick in each book. Megan Mahoney in the first, and so on--but, always pining for his ex, he wasn't going end up with any of them. Then Veronica "Ronnie" Garca came along in Act of Terror and... well, she's too good a character to let off that easy. You already know about Aleksandra...
    I met a waitress named Ayako Shimizu at a Motsu restaurant on that last trip to Japan. She was in her late sixties and extremely flirtatious through the whole meal--kept coming over to personally dish out my food, etc. Quinn's sidekick in Japan for book #4 is named Ayako.
    I suppose I do gloss over the nuclear waste cleanup. But then, Quinn doesn't generally look back at the carnage behind him for too long.
    I did talk with several people about the problems Japan is having when I was over there. My interpreter's bother in law lost his life during the tsunami so that was a frequent topic of discussion.
    I think the most priceless thing about the trip were the dozens of backstories I was able to hear and see.

  9. Like to trade backstories with you some day. Though I'm not a cop, I've been a journalist of sorts for more years than I care to count and have watched lots of things go down.

  10. that would be great. I'd love to hear about your experiences. Hope to be in Japan again this winter to visit the grand babies and do more research. We'll have to make a point of it.

  11. I love back stories. Heck, I love stories period.

    I grew up on stories about WWII from my nana, mum and aunt. They were evacuated from London but their village was surrounded by airfields. When I was twelve, I had the opportunity to talk to a man who lived in Berlin during allied bombing and subsequent fall of the city.

    We were on a field trip to City Hall in Toronto. One of our assignments was to survey people in the square to find out where they came from.

    I never got beyond that one gentleman. Being a good storyteller even then, I managed to talk my way out of a failing mark by sharing what I learned.

  12. WOW. What a great story, Marc!

  13. You are right, Alison. My old boss always reminded us that we (as law enforcement officers) were in the 'people business'. So many stories out there.

    Thanks, Meg.