How a Boy from Queens Ended Up Writing a Historical Novel About Detroit by Warren Berger

Posted by on Mar 24, 2014 in 20th Century US, Featured Book, Historical Research | Comments Off on How a Boy from Queens Ended Up Writing a Historical Novel About Detroit by Warren Berger

Purples-185x280aAfter many years writing feature articles for national publications such as The New York Times, The L.A. Times, and Wired, as well as several nonfiction books for Penguin, Random House, and other publishers, a few years ago I plunged into writing my first novel. I hope it’s as fun to read as it was to write.

The story first came to my attention in 2001. I initially wrote it up as a screenplay, but after early interest from a film producer fell through, I decided that the material was so rich that it cried out to be a novel. Turns out writing a novel is a MUCH more intense endeavor than a screenplay. The book went through several revisions, including a recasting of the story into first-person voice upon the suggestion of an editor I worked with. It got stronger with each rewrite, to the point that I was very happy with it and my agent took it around to the New York publishing houses. An editor at a top publisher compared The Purples to Billy Bathgate, but in the end the book didn’t get picked up by publishers, primarily it seemed for marketing reasons. Apparently, “men aren’t reading stories like this anymore.” Obviously, I beg to differ.

Where I Got the Idea for a Book Set in the 1920s

The idea for THE PURPLES came out of a long-ago family connection to the infamous Purple Gang, a wild group of Jewish rumrunners who ruled Detroit during Prohibition. (My connection is to the man who took them down—he was my wife’s grandfather, and is a main character in the story.) I was intrigued by this gang: Why purple? Where did they come from? And why did they disappear so completely? With some facts and a lot of imagination, I chronicle the gang’s swift rise and fall through the voice of their smart, cynical, and slightly self-delusional leader, Joe Bernstein. I also manage to sneak in quite a bit of social commentary about the repressive effects of the Prohibition era and the controversial actions of Henry Ford.

My Writing Routine

I needed to get a good grasp of Detroit in its 1920s heyday and I made several visits to Detroit, but of course saw only the mere remnants of what once was dubbed “the Paris of the West.” The river and Canada are still there, however, and it was fun seeing the old piers and imagining all the hidden coves and caves of the bootleggers. I also did a lot of armchair research on the period and the people, and found that The Detroit News and the Detroit Public Library have wonderful archives. The writing was an every day, multi-year project, but I did regular article-writing jobs in between writing the novel, and even co-authored several nonfiction books.

Who Is This Book For?

THE PURPLES is fast-paced with great characters and situations—it’s designed to be pure entertainment. Looking at my Amazon reviews, I see that people are pleasantly surprised by the humor laced throughout the rather suspenseful story. Readers will also learn about Detroit in its heyday and the disastrous effects of intolerance. Bad things were done to Joe Bernstein, the main character, which in turn led to some bad actions on his part.

 Warren Berger, March 23, 2014

Warren Berger is currently promoting his latest nonfiction book, A MORE BEAUTIFUL QUESTION, published in March 2014 by Bloomsbury. While it doesn’t contain any exciting gun shootouts, it does have hundreds of inspiring anecdotes about the power of questioning to spark breakthrough ideas and change in your business and your life.

From March 24 through March 30, THE PURPLES is available as a “Kindle Countdown deal. It starts that Monday at $.99 and gradually edges up to full price of $4.95 by the 30th.  In conjunction with this promotion, the author is giving away a limited number of copies of the audiobook version, if you are interested,  email the author for details at