A bride is murdered an hour before she walks down the aisle, and everyone is a suspect in COLD FEET, by Karen Pullen. It may sound like a typical mystery, but it’s not. The narrator is a female wanna-be detective who is a guest at the wedding, but Stella Lavender is not just any female; she is an undercover drug buyer for the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. Her job may be exciting, but it doesn’t excite her, so helping solve this murder might help her escape the dirty drug underworld. Even detective work is no picnic for Stella, though, as it involves teaming up with the ex who dumped her and a dismissive boss. Things get more complicated when she discovers the beautiful bride was a transsexual, and Stella’s cover as a drug buyer is about to be blown by her grandmother, who’s unwittingly dating a drug lord. All of Stella’s ambitions (and her grandmother) may meet their demise when Stella is kidnapped by a 300+ pound female ex-marine who’s drugged her for turning in her boyfriend.
I can’t imagine all the work involved with writing a good mystery, so I asked Karen. Enjoy!
Q. I don’t want to create a spoiler, but when you began this novel, did you know who did it? Did the killer – or the portrait of the killer – change?
A. When I first conceived of the crime – the murder of a bride – I knew the killer would be someone affected by something the bride had done in the past. I brainstormed several scenarios before reaching the one in COLD FEET. So I knew the motive for murder, but yes, the killer evolved as I wrote the scenes he or she (I don’t want to narrow it down!) is in. I think it’s important in a mystery that the bad guys think they are decent human beings.
Q. The narrator, Stella Lavender, isn’t altogether comfortable, to put it mildly, in her role as an undercover drug agent. How did you research her job?
A. Pure serendipity. I saw an article in the Raleigh paper about a woman who had just retired from 30 years in the SBI, most of them as an undercover drug agent. I took a deep breath and called her up. She was gracious and helpful, even reading a draft and letting me know where Stella would be fired if caught doing some of her shenanigans!
Q. Stella is a believable character. She is determined, lusty, analytical, nurturing, and ballsy, yet she sometimes gets in her own way. What parts of her personality does she get from you?
A. I like to think I made her up completely but in truth we are similar, especially if I were 26 and a narc! Though she is braver. I guess “determined” fits me, as one/has/to be determined to get a first novel published. And “analytical” – I was an engineer for 20 years. That helps when writing a mystery; so many elements have to work together. Don’t laugh but I even created a spreadsheet of scenes, timeline, & characters to get them in the right order and understand what might be missing.
Q. It wasn’t until I finished the book that I recalled you run a Bed & Breakfast, which is where the murder takes place. Some of the more comical bits in the book involve the animosity between two businesses. I have to ask, is the competition between B&B’s that fierce?
A. Not where I live, but I understand Asheville is cut-throat!
Q. I imagine, as a mystery writer, you’re a fan of Elmore Leonard. I think your prose has a similar descriptive balance, wit, and pace. How has his work influenced you?
A. Pardon me while I recover from my faint at being mentioned in the same breath as EL! I own, at last count, nineteen of his books, an entire shelf in my bookcase, so I’m sure his work has been an influence. I guess what I try to emulate is how every word reflects his characters. And his prose is so tight. My favorite writing rule of his: “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”
Q. One of your main characters is a transsexual, which you write about with great sensitivity. Where did she come from?
A. My mother was a psychologist who sometimes worked with children with gender dysmorphia and their parents. Imagine growing up, knowing your gender was opposite that assigned to you by parents, teachers, your culture, dealing with ridicule and shaming. My transsexual character is both toughened and fearful – an interesting combination, I hope, that drives her decisions.
Q. What are you working on now?
A. A draft of the next Stella Lavender book is finished and I’m revising. I would LOVE to have this off my desk in the next month.
Karen Pullen left a perfectly good job at an engineering consulting firm to make her fortune – (er, maybe not) – as an innkeeper and a fiction writer. Her B&B has been open for 12 years, and her fiction has been published in Every Day Fiction, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and Spinetingler. She has an MFA from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine on beautiful Casco Bay. It’s the only low-residency MFA with a Popular Fiction track – a cool program (and cold in the winter…)! She lives in the very small town of Pittsboro NC with her husband, her father and four spoiled cats. You can connect with Karen on Facebook.