Karen Pullen’s dreams were realized when she escaped the cubicle and took up fiction writing. After earning an MFA from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine, she published two traditional mystery novels, Cold Feet and Cold Heart, both with Five Star Cengage, and numerous short stories. Restless Dreams, a collection of stories, will be published by GusGus Press in September. Karen serves on the national board of Sisters in Crime, and works as an innkeeper, editor, and teacher of writing. She lives in Pittsboro, North Carolina, and blogs occasionally on her website, karenpullen.com.
What does it take to be a mystery writer?
I began writing when I worked for a systems engineering consulting company. It was a soul-sucking job doing work I can’t ever talk about, but when I arrived early and spent an hour or two working on a short story, the day was tolerable. My first stories were laughably bad. I wrote one about an adulterous duo who played a bridge game with their spouses. Channeling Raymond Chandler, the dialogue of the game (a grand slam, bid and made!) was fraught with subtext. In another story, the characters were babies. All babies, running the show. Oh, and they could fly. No one should be surprised that these stories, and others similarly nonsensical, were soundly rejected. But I kept trying, entering contests, taking workshops, learning the craft. I loved everything about it.
It takes passion.
I decided that I would try crime fiction. The great thing about crime fiction is that it’s inherently dramatic and fascinating: bad people doing evil things. My first publication, “Pen Pals,” was accepted by a now-defunct online magazine called Crime Scene Scotland. “The Years of the Wicked” featuring Stella Lavender, a Special Agent of State Bureau of Investigation, was published by Spinetingler. I wrote “SASE” for the first Sisters in Crime-Guppy anthology, Fish Tales. “Brea’s Tale,” which Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine accepted, won a Derringer in 2012. Finally I buckled down and wrote a novel starring Stella, and eventually–years, actually–Cold Feet was published.
It takes persistence.
Last week, Cold Heart, my second Stella Lavender mystery novel, was released by Five Star Cengage, fifteen months after I signed the contract, and more than five years after I started writing it.
It takes patience.
There’s one more required element.
Cold Heart will be my last mystery published by Five Star as they’re exiting the mystery business. So even though I’m working on Cold Fury, the third in the series, its prospects are murky. But it’s okay. I have to write it, because there’s a loose end to Stella Lavender’s story–mainly, what happened to her mother, Grace, 22 years ago when Stella was five years old. Grace was abducted during a gas station robbery, and disappeared without a trace. Stella and her grandmother Fern deserve answers.
Another loose end is Stella’s love life. She doesn’t have one. Wary after dumping Hogan, an SBI researcher with a weakness for online romance, she has a starry-eyed crush on Anselmo, the married detective she frequently works with. Will a few huggy-kissy dates with Sam, a high school friend back in her life as a contractor working on Fern’s dilapidated farmhouse, lead anywhere? I’m curious, and that’s the fourth element.
It takes passion, persistence, patience, and curiosity.
Notice that I didn’t mention a desire for fame and fortune. Two Fs. Someone else will have to write that post.