Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Interview with Bill Mueller - Part I


W. E. "Bill" Mueller was born at a very early age (allow him to steal that line). Faulkner and Hemingway were still writing. Einstein, Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Babe Ruth were still alive. During high school he worked Saturdays in the Editorial Department of the St.Louis Post-Dispatch, where the Book Editor and Culture writer were also housed. One Saturday, the assistant Book Editor, Howard Derrickson, asked if he liked football. Before he could answer, Bill was handed a biography of Red Grange, the Illinois Galloping Ghost, and asked to write a 100-word book review. During his high school years he reviewed books for the Post-Dispatch. Also, in those days, visitors to the P-D's Editorial department included Walter Lippmann, Marquis Childs and other prominent writers/journalists.

Bill wanted to be a writer, too. He attended St. John's University (Minn.) where he moved through the ranks of the school newspaper and was named Editor in his senior year. Upon graduation, he joined the newsroom of the P-D for a brief period before serving in the Army. He found the reporter did not fit his writing style and found a job in advertising shortly before he married. He spent his career in advertising--writing copy, news releases, company histories, sales catalogs, etc. When he retired, he decided to try fiction. On December 8 of this year, he will be 74. Too late for a Pulitzer or Nobel or National Book Award, but he'll take the accolades his contemporaries throw his way and be grateful.

Here is part one of my interview with him:

DV: I love short stories and mysteries, especially when they are well written and have an intriguing voice. Your short story collection Peaches and Cream is both. What was your inspiration for the collection, and why do you write short stories rather than novels?

WEM: The "inspiration" was the mere fact that I had a 'collection' of stories that were not published individually, but had pleased certain folk or won certain awards, and I thought might make a decent book of stories, disparate as they are. When I retired, I spent the first two years on a novel, at least half that time in research. I loved the title (The Midnight Snowman) and the plot (which I'll keep secret), but found that I had let my research carry me away and it fluffed the book needlessly. I also had written two short stories which had been praised (guardedly) and decided to move in the short story direction.

DV: Please tell us about some of the stories in the Peaches and Cream collection. What's your favorite story or the story you've received the most response to?

WEB: My favorite story is the last story in the collection: From My Ozark Warehouse. It is very personal. Half true, half fiction, but all of it from the heart. The story or stories that most people enjoy are those involving Zach Bannister, the P.I. I have invented. His stories received notice from Harry Levins in the Post-Dispatch, and from anyone who's read the collection. I am working on more Zach Bannister stories and hope to make them a single collection.

DV: Please tell us about the characters in your stories. Are they based on real folks, totally fictional creations, or a little bit of both? And --- which, if any, character in your collection is most like you?

WEM: The characters are fictional, totally. I believe, however, that characters should be stretched beyond what they might normally be. For example, in "Midnight Bob" the 'bad guy' dumps trash in a river. Now I'm sure that the idiots who really do this are normal looking people, not evil looking or twisted as I make Midnight Bob. Character development is important, and a lot of what I read by my contemporaries does not address the need for a physical differentiation or a different voice for characters. The only character close to being me is the boy in From My Ozark Warehouse.

DV: The settings for your stories are varied. How do you choose the settings?

WEM: I think the story and the characters determine the setting. Settings are easy (or I should say, less difficult) to create these days with Google maps, etc. that can take you to a site or location. The setting should match the theme and feel of your story. I think of a story first, then put it in a setting.

Stay tuned for Part II of my interview with Bill.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading Bill's responses. Especially intriguing was his belief that he got carried away in the research for "The Midnight Snowman." It makes me wonder if he could somehow recycle/utilize the research material in writing a new short story...

    Please tell Bill: He does not look like he's knocking on the door of 74. He looks maaarvelous!


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