Ben Mulhern has a mind for murder.
Well, maybe not for committing it, but certainly for writing about it. Mulhern, a 2005 University of Wisconsin graduate and Madison native, recently released his debut e-book, Everybody Wants You Dead.
The Badger Herald caught up with him by telephone from his current home in Minneapolis to discuss the book and his writing process.
The novel, a homicide thriller that takes place on a college campus, delves into a question Mulhern himself was asking: “What if the world’s nicest, coolest guy found himself accused of murder?”
Based on that question, Mulhern wrote the tale of Chris Chandler, a popular Minnesota student and ladies’ man who finds himself on the run from the law. While the story is set in Minneapolis, its concept was born right here in Madison.
After attending the funeral for a close family friend, followed by a night of drinking, Mulhern crawled into bed and recalls having “one of the most vivid dreams [he] had ever had.”
“I was hiding from something, I don’t know what. It felt like I was on the run,” Mulhern said.
The dream was enough to scare him awake.
“I woke up in the middle of the night,” he said. “I just started jotting stuff down in this notebook. Just keywords like ‘wrong man’ and ‘innocent,’” and from there, he began to piece together what would become the novel.
However, it was a long journey from those first written notes until the finished product.
“I can tell you … there are sections of this book that are six, seven years old,” Mulhern said.
While this is Mulhern’s first major publication, he has been writing and submitting his work for years.
“When I was in high school, I had short stories published and I’ve had one-act plays put on that I’ve written,” he said. “I’ve always needed a creative outlet.”
That need has led to work doing restaurant reviews, blogging, working on screenplays and doing freelance journalism.
“When I first moved up here I got published in a couple of local papers, neighborhood papers,” he said.
He added he even helped blog for the Minnesota Timberwolves, but he said he felt the need to clear things up for Wisconsin sports fans: He knows where his loyalties lie when it comes to Midwest teams.
“I like all the teams except the Vikings,” he said. “I’ll never get behind the Vikings.”
Now that his book is out and he’s settled into a career as an educator, it might seem like smooth sailing and waiting for the money to roll in, but Mulhern stressed the hard work is really just beginning. Promoting his work has not been easy in a market where many authors are selling their books in a similar fashion, relying on special sales and self promotion.
“It really is a matter of finding ways … to be creative, and getting out and marketing it,” he said. “I thought with putting it out, like, ‘Oh, the hard part’s over!’”
The frustration that comes with all the work can take its toll, but Mulhern said reminding himself of the accomplishments so far make the work worth it.
“I think we all get this way, when we put so much work into something and time it’s like, ‘If this is not a success, well I’m going to be really upset,’” he said.
When it comes down to it, though, he reminds himself of one thing.
“Dude, you wrote a book! That’s amazing in and of itself! I’ve got to celebrate that I even did it,” he said.
Now that his first novel is completed and published, Mulhern is debating on what to start next. He said he has a few ideas and is looking to put out a collaborative effort with fellow writers about post-college life. But no matter what the project, he said he sees himself always writing.
“I don’t really feel like writing is ever going to stop. I’m always going to write,” he said, though he’s making sure that in his writing he stays grounded in reality.
“I have this fantasy that summer’s going to roll around and I’ll get up at 7:30 … and go to the coffee shop and write eight hours a day,” he said, adding, “and that is absolutely not going to happen.”
Whatever does happen, though, it’s obvious Everybody Wants You Dead is not the end for this writer.