When he wasn’t covering murders, fires and council meetings, Marc Munroe Dion, 53, wrote for himself, a series of short stories and essays about his hometown of Fall River, Mass., and especially about the pleasures of smoking a pipe. That work is now a book: “Mill River Smoke: Stories and Essays.”

Even during his time as a cowboy, fixing fences on the big, empty Great Plains, Marc Munroe Dion would miss Fall River, his home for just the first year of his life.

“We moved a lot when I was a kid, but Fall River was always my hometown,” Dion said. “I was only 1 year old when I left, but we always came back on vacation. My whole family is here.

“My father spent 30 years out of Fall River, but he always thought of himself as a boy from The Flint. When he retired from work, my parents moved back here. It was home to them.”

And it was to Dion, too, who returned to Fall River 18 years ago when he began work as a reporter for The Herald News, a GateHouse Media-owned newspaper.

And when he returned, he found that the city had changed. It was better than he remembered. And as he got to know it, Fall River got better still.

So when he wasn’t covering murders, fires and council meetings, Dion, 53, wrote for himself, a series of short stories and essays about Fall River and especially about the pleasures of smoking a pipe.

That work is now a book: “Mill River Smoke: Stories and Essays.”

The essay portion of the book, which swirls around Dion’s love of pipe smoking, is mostly set in either the St. James Irish Pub or the Old Firehouse Smoke Shop two blocks away, the only places called by their own names in the book.

The short stories are mostly mysteries involving two reporters at the Mill River Standard Times: Jack Dupont, a pipe-smoking, fedora-wearing former cowboy, and Simone LaCroix, a clever, cute blonde 12 years his junior. That the description also fits Dion and his wife, Deborah Allard, also a reporter for The Herald News, is not a coincidence.

“I started writing these short stories to impress Deb,” Dion said. “It just kind of got away from me.

“But, to me, the primary character in all of the stories is Fall River. I wanted to capture the survivor’s spirit in Fall River. People here have been abandoned by two industries and their state and federal governments don’t care about them at all.

“People in Fall River work miracles just to pay the rent. They work miracles to stay employed. They don’t get credit for it.

“I wanted Fall River to get credit for being able to take it.”

But a Fall River story, Dion tells us, is a story that is both funny and sad at once. The book is full of them: Like the tale of the professional tough guy who tried to menace a mill worker. The tough guy got beaten senseless because, if you are brave enough to go to work in a mill every day, nothing will ever scare you.

“In a newsroom, we’ve all covered stories that tell you what life is like and how things happen,” Dion said. “All of the short stories are fiction, but I think I’m conveying the atmosphere here.”

But it’s not just in Fall River, he added. The whole country is dotted with places that produced a lot of wealth for a few people and were abandoned when the money flow trickled to a stop.

“There are a lot of Fall Rivers in America,” Dion said. “Whether it is Fall River, or Lowell, or Pawtucket or Augusta, Maine.

“I wanted to capture the spirit you find in these places. Plus, we are as much America as anywhere else. Why not write about it?”

And even what started as nonfiction has changed. With every story, Dion said, Jack and Simone become less like Dion and his wife.

But not entirely.

“Jack in the book is a very happy Fall River guy,” Dion said. “Jack likes the way the city looks at dusk. He likes the diners, the cops and the bars. He works here and he lives here and he likes it here.

“So do I.”

To order a copy of "Mill River Smoke," to go http://naspc.org/books.htm.

E-mail Kevin P. O’Connor at koconnor@heraldnews.com.