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Thursday, September 22, 2011


Mystery author Warren Bull is our Book Club Friday guest today. Warren is an award-winning author of more than twenty published short stories as well as memoirs, essays, one novel, and a short story collection. Visit him at his website and his blog where he posts every Friday.

Warren has offered a copy of
Murder Manhattan Style to one lucky reader who posts a comment to the blog this week. -- AP

Through the Knothole

When my brother, Dennis, was two years old, he was certain that his dreams came through a knothole in a board in the ceiling over his bed.  When I talk about writing to groups or sign books in a bookstore, inevitably someone asks where my ideas for stories come from.  I wish I had a magic knothole, but I don’t.

In my short story collection Murder Manhattan Style (Ninth Month Publishing, 2010)  I had fifteen different ideas. Some of them must have worked.

In describing Murder Manhattan Style New York Times bestselling author Nancy Pickard, wrote, “Warren Bull is a short story master, and this collection shows him at his best…” Derringer Award winner and author of Memory of a Murder, Earl Staggs wrote, “Highly recommended morsels for when you want to spice up your reading diet with variety.”

I wrote the opening story for an anthology contest sponsored by The Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave.  The requirements were that stories had to take place in or around Manhattan, Kansas and be based on local history.

For me the most exciting time in Manhattan, Kansas was during the days of “Bleeding Kansas” when pro-slavery border ruffians and anti-slavery Jayhawkers battled over whether the Kansas Territory would enter the union as a free state or a slave state.  I had done some research about the time period already but it took quite a bit more for me to get the social mores, technology and family dynamics the story required correct.

It took me nearly as long to write the first line as it took to write the rest of the story. Having an idea for a story is like having an idea about cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for fifteen.  There’s a lot of work required before anything tangible gets accomplished. Fortunately, I was one of the winners and the story was published. That was my first writing award and my first young adult story.

There’s no reason to limit a good idea to one story. Another first for me was when two members of that Manhattan Kansas family then stepped forward to tell me stories of their own.  My protagonist became a secondary character, which he readily accepted. I could build on the research I had already accomplished so I had less heavy lifting to do.  Also I knew the family wouldn’t shut up until I gave each character a turn.  

One year The Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave honored native son Damon Runyon of “Guys and Dolls” fame.  Just for fun I wrote an ad in the style of Damon Runyon, touting the conclave.  The director, Marolyn Caldwell, asked me to write a background mystery for a faux crime scene set up for the conclave. I imagined what would happen if a young man from Manhattan, Kansas ran into the sort of characters that populate a Damon Runyon story.  I knew somebody would get bamboozled — but who?  

I read a newspaper article stating that Valentine’s Day was a busy time for private detectives.  Apparently spouses and lovers hire private investigators to check out their partners’ faithfulness.  That sounded like the basis of a fun story.   To round out the set of stories, I wrote a love story in the style of Damon Runyon, featuring my wife. You can tell she’s a forgiving soul. We’re still married.

My friend and mentor, Bob Isles, now deceased, wrote a series of short stories about a private detective who is a returning World War II vet.  With his permission I borrowed the setting from his stories to introduce a new character.  It was hoot fitting my characters into another writer’s mental universe. I ended up with my favorite short story to read aloud.  Again, characters from the first story had more to say and I let them say it so they would leave me alone.  I ended up with one very dark and one very funny story.  

The next set of stories returned again to Manhattan, Kansas, this time in the present. The first story was set during a Manhattan Mystery Conclave and included characters you might have heard of, including me.  One story theme, and title too, came to me while listening to a forensic lab director at a Sisters in Crime meeting. I thought, “I could write a story about that.” And I did. Another story idea came from listening to an evening news story about a carjacking in which it was feared that a child might have been in the car that was stolen. I thought “Yes, but what if…and then if…” The story twisted and turned on its own in a most entertaining way.

At the end of the book I included three more stories that don’t happen in either Manhattan because as an author I did not want to leave them out. One was heavily influenced by my work as a psychologist and my respect for my clients. Another story was substantially altered from the original by my experience as a cancer patient.  

Thanks so much for stopping by today, Warren. Readers, if you’d like a chance to read the stories in Murder Manhattan Style, post a comment. One lucky person will win a copy of the book. -- AP


Carol-Lynn Rossel said...

When I saw the title, of course, I thought the book was about my home town, NYC. But it sounds fascinating anyhow. I'd like to read it.

Warren Bull said...

Good luck, Carol-Lynn,

About half the stories are set in NYC.

Jody said...

Already have a copy of the book so someone else that comments can have the give away. I just wanted to say I enjoyed all of the stories & would welcome more using some of the same characters/setting in or near my home town of Manhattan, KS.

Anonymous said...

They sound interesting! Thanks for the chance to possibly win them.


Carol M said...

These stories sound really good! I'd love to read them! Thank you for the giveaway!

Warren Bull said...

Anonymous, If you win, How can I get in touch with you?

Warren Bull said...

Carol, Good luck. I think you would enjoy them.

Warren Bull said...

Jody, Thanks for the endorsement.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this interesting post about the author, his writing and characters within the stories. The books sound compelling, unique and love the era as well. Ellie. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a great collection of stories, especially those in the Kansas Manhattan.

boots9k at wowway dot com

Bill_Craig said...

Very nice Warren

Warren Bull said...

Thank for the comments and for leaving contact information.

Anonymous said...

Great Blog. I look forward to reading your book once I finish the others on my "must read" list.