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Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Conversation with Psychologist/Author, Warren Bull, about His Short Story Collection, Murder Manhattan Style

Warren Bull spent his childhood in Rock Island, Illinois, which is along the Mississippi river. Many years earlier, Abraham Lincoln tried a case in the city and argued for the rights of railroads to build bridges across the river.
Warren attended Knox College, where one of the Lincoln – Douglas debates took place, and the University of Illinois. His graduate training was at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and what is now Alliant University in Fresno, California.
He was first licensed as a psychologist in 1983. He has worked for agencies and in private practice. He has worked with people of all ages as a therapist and as an administrator. Warren is currently licensed in three states and has two national credentials.
Warren Bull is the award-winning author of more than thirty short stories as well as memoirs, essays and a novel, Abraham Lincoln for the Defense, published by PublishAmerica, 2003 and Smashwords, 2010.  His collection of short stories, Murder Manhattan Style, was published by Ninth Month Publishing, Co., in 2010.  In addition, he has published in the anthologies Strange Mysteries, 3, 2, and 1 Whortleberry Press; Medium of Murder, Red Coyote Press, 2008; Fish Tales: The Guppy Anthology Wildside Press, 2011; Great Mystery and Suspense Magazine; Mouth Full of Bullets, and The Back Alley, on; Mysterical-E and Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine among others.  He is a psychologist in his “day job.” He comes from a functional family and is a fierce competitor at trivia games.

Tell us about the genre of your work.
Most of my work falls in mystery/suspense short story category. I also write “literary” short stories, essays, memoirs and mystery novels. My latest publication is a collection of mystery short stories set in Manhattan, Kansas or Manhattan, New York.
Why did you choose this genre?
Since 2003 I have had one novel published and between thirty and forty short stories published. As my wife is fond of saying, “Do the math.”  I have completed a Young Adult novel, and a second novel about Abraham Lincoln, which have generated enough interest among agents that I have been asked to send the entire manuscript a couple of times.  Each time I got a polite “No thanks” in response. From a publisher’s point of view, the investment in a novel is much greater than in one short story in a magazine or anthology. Part of the cost of publishing a novel is the cost of not publishing novels that were not selected.  The chances of getting a short story published are much greater than chances of getting a novel published.  If I had stuck to only writing novels, I would have only one publication. In addition, I really like short stories. Moreover, I really like getting published.
What are some of your books, stories that have been published?

Abraham Lincoln for the Defense was my first novel published.  It was based on an actual murder child trial that so intrigued Lincoln that he was still writing about it five years later. Resolution of the case solved one mystery, but it created a greater question that remains unanswered to this day. The novel introduces the reader to Lincoln while he is a young attorney developing into the man who will become the great emancipator.  Lincoln’s writings about the case were so essential to the novel that I regard him as my co-author. The print version is out or print, but it is available at
Murder Manhattan Style, ISBN 13:987-0-9822271-3-8 is a collection of fifteen short stories recommended by Nancy Pickard, New York Times Bestselling author who said, “Warren Bull is a short story master, and this collection shows him at his best with quick stories told in crisp, clear prose. There’s variety, drama, history, humor, pathos, compassion and even Shakespeare here, along with surprising and satisfying endings to every story.” Earl Staggs, Derringer Award winning author said, “Murder Manhattan Style by master mystery writer Warren Bull is a collage of well-written stories as different as their settings, ranging form the Manhattan in Kansas to the town of the same name in New York. Wherever and whenever these well-drawn characters play out their stories, their more to savor than what they do and say.  Underlying each engaging tale is a glimpse of what is going on in their minds. It takes a practicing psychologist to relate that element so sharply.  Highly recommended. Available at
Sniplits short stories by Warren Bull are available at

How do you come up with the names of places and characters in your books?

Actually, it was not until I looked over a number of published stories that I realized I had used the same locations and some of the same characters for several stories.  Manhattan, Kansas came from a short story contest at the Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave set in Manhattan. A requirement for the contest was to use the local setting. I became emotionally involved with a fictional family living in “Bleeding Kansas” before the Civil War.  The story I wrote was called "Beecher’s Bibles.”  

As for Manhattan, New York, one year the conclave celebrated a locally born author, Damon Runyon.  That set off a fun series of story ideas.  

My friend and mentor, Bob Iles, who is now deceased, wrote a series of stories about a detective in post-World War II Manhattan.  With his permission, I borrowed the world he created and wrote a story that began in his detective’s office.  It was great fun as well as a challenge to write, “The Wrong Man.”  As a story, it got more rejections and more editorial praise along with the rejections than anything else I have ever written.  It was first available online. Then it was accepted as an audio story on Sniplits. Now it is also in my short story collection.  It is my favorite story to read at signings and always gets a strong positive audience reaction.

What is your favorite thing about your book?
I like the opportunity to roam over time and space.  It is fun to create a tight but complete story arc in so many different setting and with so many different characters. Of course, sometimes I have the attention span of a puppy in a yard full of squirrels.
How is writing in the genre you write, different than other genre?
With a novel, every word counts and that is even more crucial with a short story.  I try to indicate character in as few words as possible by action and description.  For example in a story I’m working on now, I describe a character who talks about how terrible it is that her boss when murdered and then checks in the mirror to see that her mascara is still intact.
Why and when did you begin writing?
 I cannot remember not writing since I learned how to read.  My mother kept the spiral bound notebooks that I used to write stories in while I was in elementary school. When I was in my freshman year at college, I came home on break and was mortified to discover that she had shared everything I wrote to her with the neighbors.
What is your writing schedule?
 I write almost every day, pretty much any time of day when I have a moment free. Sometimes at night my writing brain (or muse) will wake me up or not let me sleep until I write some more. Nighttime is when the muse is most likely to want me to correct mistakes, improve the rough patches, or add necessary information.  Since I know the characters, I write about, I sometimes forget that I need to explain things to my readers.
What projects are you working on now, or plan for the future?
I am still shopping my novels and still writing short stories.  I plan to continue writing both. I took about none years to get my first novel published and I continue to write novel.  That clearly proves I do not have enough sense to know when to stop.
What kind of advice or tips to you have for someone who wants to write (especially mystery)?
Take the time to learn the craft.  Look for a good critique group or writing partner. Writing is a solitary activity and I have never met a successful writer who did not have at least one knowledgeable reader.  And, persist. Join Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.  And, persist some more. 
Are there any other comments, advice or tips that you would give to beginning writers?
As a recovering editor and writing contest judge, I strongly recommend you read and follow the directions for submissions, query letters, contests etc.  It will not guarantee publication but it will get you read.  That gives you a gigantic advantage over people who do not read and follow directions and therefore will never be read.
What do you do when you are not writing? 
I eat, sleep, do the laundry or wash dishes.  I worked as a clinical psychologist for more than twenty-five years.  After my second bone marrow transplant for multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer), I retired.
What “Made It” moments have you experienced in life?
Winning awards is a sign of success. “Beecher’s Bibles” won an award.  “A Lady of Quality,” available on Sniplits, won an award for the best short story of the year in 2006 from the Missouri Writers’ Guild.  It was featured on Sniplits for Black History Month. Another story was voted best in the anthology it was published in by readers.  Getting published, and having more than one story accepted by a single publisher definitely makes my day.  I was pleased and flattered to get positive reviews from authors I respect.  Being recognized by readers and getting compliments from them is a wonderful feeling.  I am also well aware that one publication is no guarantee there will ever be another one.  Writing is like dancing on a knife’s edge.
Learn more about Warren Bull and read his blog.
He blogs on Fridays at: 


Ellis Vidler said...

Warren, you have a fascinating story yourself. I enjoyed reading about your writing life and a little about your background. A nice interview!

Warren Bull said...

Thanks, Ellis,

I enjoy your writing too.

Pauline Alldred said...

Great interview. I learned a lot about Warren the person as well as Warren the writer.

Kaye George said...

I finally finished the short story collection and especially loved the Manhattan KS pioneer series. Very nice collection! Thanks for this interview!