spent his childhood in Rock Island, Illinois, before attending Knox
College and the University of North Carolina. He’s been licensed as a
psychologist since 1983. Warren is an award-winning author of more than
twenty published short stories as well as memoirs, essays and a novel, Abraham Lincoln for the Defense.
with Warren Bull
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Warren Bull: The
earliest was published in 2004; the latest in 2010. The time it
took to write each story varied from about two weeks (with a deadline
looming) to three years. I had the idea for A Lady of Quality
long before I had developed my writing skills well enough to pull it
off. Fortunately I had the narrator’s voice firmly in my mind. She kept
me plugging away until the story was told the way she intended.
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
at all. It was only after I had them all written that it occurred to me
there was a theme worth pursuing. I had a publisher in mind. After she
turned me down, I discovered that a long-time writing friend of mine
had opened a small press. She accepted the book.
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
theme that had been sitting quietly, waiting for me to notice it was
the number of stories I had set in Manhattan, Kansas and that other
Manhattan, back east in New York.
Manhattan, Kansas was the
setting of the late lamented Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave, which
was very supportive to my development as a writer. I wrote a story for
a short story contest set in pre-Civil War Kansas, got so interested in
the family I was writing about that I ended up completing several
stories about them. Three begin the book. One year the conclave
celebrated the 125th anniversary of Damon Runyon’s birth in Manhattan,
Kansas. I wrote three stories about that time period. A friend of mine,
Bob Iles, had an ongoing P.I. character who worked in post- World War
II Manhattan. With his permission, I borrowed the character’s office
for the setting of a short story, which turned out so well that I still
read it aloud at signing and conferences. Not to be redundant but I
came up with two more tales in that time and place. I had one story set
at the conclave itself. Two other contemporary mystery short stories
were easy to slide over to Manhattan, Kansas.
Then I added two more stories from wildly different settings just because I liked them.
does the word "story"
mean to you?
People have been asking me that recently. I’ve been trying to come up
with the fewest possible elements that make up a story. My current
model is: A story needs a story arc, that is, a beginning a middle and
an end. It needs at least one compelling character. A final requirement
is what Nancy Pickard refers to as an epiphany, i.e., someone needs to
change emotionally during the story.
Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?
Of course if that’s all a
story has, it may be really weak, but I think it would qualify as a
story. Lose any one element and it becomes something less.
Sometimes. In some stories I write the narrator is talking to a
specific person or persons in a particular setting for a definite
reason. I do not mention that in the story itself. In other stories the
narrator is talking to himself/herself, reliving events. In yet other
stories I have no particular reader in mind.
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection,
anything at all?
I would like to know in detail what worked for the reader and what did
not work or what was not clear. Since I know the characters so well
that I can tell if they have holes in the toes of their stockings, I
sometimes forget that others do not have the characters talking to them
in their heads as I do.
it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
WB: It feels wonderful, vindicating. Writing is such a slow career that I savor successes when they happen.
What are you working on now?
WB: I have a couple of novels completed that I haven’t found a home for. I
have ideas for short stories floating around in the junk drawer of my
unconscious. I look forward to finding out who will pop up and demand
my attention next.
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
WB: Most recently I read Gaze
by Susan Ferguson, Ninth Month Press, 2010. She is an amazing writer of
contemporary fiction, who sweeps you up into her stories and has
masterful command of language.
I recently re-read Guys and Dolls: The Stories of Damon Runyon,
edited by Sheldon Abend, Barnes & Noble, 1997. Runyon invented his
own subgenre of American fiction. He goes in and out of fashion but he
has a unique voice. Besides the musical, there must be half a dozen
movies based on his short stories.
Not long ago I read The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence,
a collection of stories by Dorothy M. Johnson, Riverbend Publishing,
2005. She writes so vividly of the time and place that reading
her work you almost taste the dust in your throat and feel the glare of
the sun in your eyes. Two iconic Western movies were made from her work.