Monday, October 20, 2014

The Story Behind The Baker's Men by Donald Levin (Mystery / Police Procedural)

World as Muse: The Many Inspirations for The Baker’s Men
By Donald Levin

Like much of my writing, The Baker’s Men—the second Martin Preuss mystery—had its genesis in a single moment, kind of like an inspirational Big Bang. One afternoon several years ago I was driving down the street in Ferndale, Michigan, the city where I live which is also the setting of my series of mysteries. I saw a man half-walking, half-stumbling down the sidewalk with his hands on top of his head. He didn’t seem to be in distress, just sort of dazed.

And I remember thinking to myself, “Now THAT’S the beginning of a novel.”

It was ripe with the kinds of questions we want our readers to ask: Who was he? What had happened to him? Where was he going so determinedly?

I kept that image in my mind until I had the time and space to be able to sit down and actually start the book. The first book, Crimes of Love, had a similar “Aha!” moment . . . I was driving down a relatively deserted road in a suburban area at night outside Buffalo, New York, and saw one of those Caution: Deer Crossing signs. Like many of those kinds of signs, it had indentations from bullet holes. In an instant while driving I looked past the sign to see a house with lighted windows in the distance beyond it, and realized I had the main situation for a novel.

So when I sat down to start my second mystery beginning with the image of the man walking down the street, I knew I had to take the story someplace from there pretty quickly. So I went to my trusty folder of story ideas and interesting articles that I save (I’m always on the lookout for ideas for my books and poems). There I found the perfect way to continue.

I discovered an old article I had cut out from in one of the local alternative newspapers several years before. The article described a crime that took place at a small family-owned bakery in Detroit not far from where I work. Two men were shot (one was killed) and a third man escaped. The murder was never solved. The article was actually about the devastation the bakery owners suffered in the aftermath of the crime, but the overall situation caught my imagination when I first came across it.

That situation—the crime, not the owners’ response—became the inciting incident for the book that turned into The Baker’s Men. The man I had seen walking down the sidewalk morphed into the third man who escaped from the shooting at the bakery, which I now located in Ferndale. I changed most of the details about the crime (its location, the owners and their situation, the motive, and the victims) and repopulated it to suit my purposes. Then finally put my Detective Preuss on the case.

In my Acknowledgements section I made sure to thank the author of the original article. If not for that article, the book would have had a completely different plot.

But that’s not the only source of the inspiration for this novel. The other source was a tale my parents told me years before about something that happened to one of their friends. I can't say much more about it because I'll give away too much of the mystery that’s at the heart of the book . . . but like the article in the newspaper, I carried this story in my head for a long time (in this case more than twenty years) because I knew it would wind up in a novel someday. And it finally did, in The Baker’s Men.

Henry James advised novelists to be someone upon whom nothing is lost. This explanation of how one novel came together from several different sources illustrates that nicely. Unlike a worker who clocks out at the end of the day, a novelist is always either writing or thinking about writing—and the whole world is your muse.

About The Book:

Title: The Baker's Men
Author: Donald Levin
Publisher: Poison Toe Press
Publication Date: April 20, 2014
Pages: 338
ISBN: 978-0615968568
Genre: Mystery / Crime Fiction / Police Procedural
Format: Paperback, eBook, PDF

Easter, 2009. The nation is still reeling from the previous year’s financial crisis. Ferndale Police detective Martin Preuss is spending a quiet evening with his son when he’s called out to investigate a savage after-hours shooting at a bakery in his suburban Detroit community. Was it a random burglary gone bad? A cold-blooded execution linked to Detroit’s drug trade? Most frightening of all, is there a terrorist connection with the Iraqi War vets who work at the store? Struggling with these questions, frustrated by the dizzying uncertainties of the case and hindered by the treachery of his own colleagues who scheme against him, Preuss is drawn into a whirlwind of greed, violence, and revenge that spans generations across metropolitan Detroit.

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About The Author:

An award-winning fiction writer and poet, Donald Levin is the author of The Baker’s Men, the second book in the Martin Preuss mystery series; Crimes of Love, the first Martin Preuss mystery; The House of Grins, a mainstream novel; and two books of poetry, In Praise of Old Photographs and New Year’s Tangerine.

Widely published as a poet and with twenty-five years’ experience as a professional writer, he is dean of the faculty and professor of English at Marygrove College in Detroit. He lives in Ferndale, Michigan, the setting for his Martin Preuss mysteries. You can visit Donald Levin’s website at

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