I created Mark Dalton: Owner/ Operator, but the truth is the character so many truckers enjoy reading about each month would never have been born if not for a suggestion made by a sympathetic - and da...
I created Mark Dalton: Owner/ Operator, but the truth is the character so many truckers enjoy reading about each month would never have been born if not for a suggestion made by a sympathetic – and dare I say, brilliant – editor at Truck News magazine.
The year was 1998 and I had been a full-time freelance writer for some six years, struggling to make a living selling novels and short stories to anyone who would buy one. In October of that year my first short story collection, Death Drives a Semi was published. The book contained 20 stories, three of which – including the title story – had something to do with trucks, trucking or highway driving.
With the book out in stores I began looking for places to promote it. I don’t recall where I first saw a copy of Truck News but my discovery seemed almost surreal. Considering the book’s title, I figured I could at least get a mention of it somewhere in the magazine. So I started looking for a mailing address – and here’s where destiny seemed to take over – only to realize that I had worked with the magazine’s editor at the time, John G. Smith, at a small-town daily newspaper several years before.
I called John up and we talked. He told me to send him a press release and a copy of the book and he’d see what he could do. So I sent him the book. We talked again and he suggested that he might be able to reprint a couple of the trucking stories in Truck News magazine. This was fantastic news for a freelance writer. After all, getting paid for a story that you wrote years before is like getting pennies from heaven.
Unfortunatley, there was a catch.
Once John read the stories, he realized that Death Drives a Semi is a book of horror stories and the trucks and the people driving them in the trucking stories end up doing BAD things, like careening off the road and killing all kinds of innocent people.
But John G. Smith was undaunted. One of the things he liked about the stories was the amount of trucking detail in them. John felt that if I could write new stories, but make them “trucking industry positive,” (those were his exact words) then maybe he’d be interested in publishing them on a regular basis in the magazine. Now, the offer of a regular paycheck to a freelance writer is like your first kiss and Christmas morning all rolled into one, so of course I immediately agreed to do it without having any idea about how I might pull it off.
But I got to thinking about how the stories could work.
Obviously I needed an interesting character who couldn’t keep his nose out of other people’s business, so a former private investigator turned trucker seemed a natural choice. (I even developed a back story about how Mark was investigating a divorce case and ended up videotaping his own wife in a motel room with another woman. That prompted him to sell everything he owned, buy a truck and set out on the road. It’s a history that has only been alluded to over the years, but will be fully explained if and when a full book of Dalton stories is ever published.) I also didn’t want the stories to go on and on, so I made sure that they all followed a four-chapter arc, with each chapter ending on a sort of cliffhanger while still building up to the climax that came in the final chapter.
The first installment of Mark Dalton: Owner/Operator was published in the June 1999 issue of Truck News.
Over the years, Mark has been very clever and every once in a while, really dumb. His relationship with his dispatcher Bud has developed on its own into a kind of in-joke that begins most stories like a welcome mat to regular readers. The stories themselves have bounced between the genres of adventure, mystery and terror, and sometimes they’re just plain old stories about trucks and trucking. Not all of the stories have been gems, but I’ve done my best to make them all entertaining.
When I began writing about Mark Dalton, I expected every new story I wrote to by the last one published in the magazine.
But I don’t think that anymore.
This issue marks the beginning of the 24th Mark Dalton story. Judging by the feedback I’ve received from the readers I’ve met at truck shows across the country – the ones who say the Dalton story is the first thing they look for when they get a new issue – I can’t help but feel that the stories are both appreciated and enjoyed. A writer couldn’t ask for anything more from his readers.