Meet Karen McCullough
Karen McCullough is the author of more than a dozen published novels and novellas, which range across the mystery, paranormal, fantasy and romantic suspense genres. A former computer programmer who made a career change into being an editor with an international trade publishing company for many years, she now runs her own web design business. Awards she’s won include an Eppie Award for fantasy, and she’s also been a four-time Eppie finalist, and a finalist in the Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards and a semi-finalist in the Writers of the Future contest. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres. She lives in Greensboro, NC, with her husband of many years.
I was delighted when Karen agreed to tell us a little about herself and her books. So, grab a cup of tea (or whatever your beverage of choice may be) and settle in to meet a nice person who also happens to be a fine writer.
When did you first know you were going to write professionally?
I was actually writing professionally quite a while before I sold my first story. I kind of slid sideways into writing fiction. I was a programmer by trade for fifteen years, but I burned out on it. (You know you’re burned out when you start dreaming lines of COBOL code.) I moved into writing software documentation, and then into writing software reviews and articles about computers, software etc. for a couple of computer magazines and then into more general interest pieces. Finally one day my husband suggested I write down some of those fantastical stories I had rolling around in my head. The rest is history – and a lot of hard work, rejections, tears, persistence, and finally a bit of success.
Anyone who’s been writing for a while will understand about the hard work and appreciate the value persistence. I doubt, though, that many of us have dreamed of lines of COBOL code.
What part of writing do you find most satisfying?
The two most satisfying words I ever write are: “The End.”
What part do you find most difficult?
It seems like there’s always a point in a novel, usually around 2/3 to 3/4 of the way through, where I start to feel like the whole thing is useless, pointless, hopelessly ridiculous drivel that no one would ever want to read. I have to fight my way through that feeling, continuing to write just on the faith that at least if it isn’t perfect, I’ll be able to fix it. On the other hand, the most difficult part might be all the promoting you have to do once the book is out…
Amen to that! What comes first for you? Characters? Story? Setting?
They come to me all at once as a package deal. My books are generally born when one idea rubs up against another and creates sparks. The very first time I attended a trade show, when I was an associate editor at a trade publication, I realized it would make a great setting for a mystery story, or even a series of them. It had all the right ingredients: limited time and space; a cast of characters who knew each other, and were friends, rival, enemies, and sometimes lovers; and very high stakes. At the same time the character of Heather McNeill, assistant to the director, was born. She was based very loosely on a staff member I met at a site that hosts many trade shows. The woman was a great listener and had that gift of being someone people confided in all the time. Couple that with considerable curiosity and intelligence and I realized it would make her a good person to be the staff troubleshooter, which would lead to being the one who had an inside track to solving the mysteries as well.
I love the idea of two ideas rubbing together and creating sparks. Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere. Everything I read, hear, see, experience and seek out goes into the giant mixer in my brain that churns ideas around and spits them back out as a story.
So … your writing brain never sleeps. Do you do a lot of research?
Quite a bit. It depends on what I need to know, but I want to try to get everything as accurate as possible. When I write mysteries, in particular, I want to get my law enforcement facts straight. I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking to police officers and I did a Citizens’ Police Academy a few years ago. I frequent blogs of law enforcement officers, especially Lee Lofland’s very helpful Graveyard Shift blog (http://www.leelofland.com/wordpress/) as well as reading books and attending seminars on law enforcement techniques. For my trade show settings, I’m mostly drawing on my own experiences at various shows, but I’ve also tried to talk to some people managing them. I’ve generally had to simplify how things work in show management, since to get it right would make the cast too big and the procedures far too complicated for a good story.
The Blurb for A GIFT FOR MURDER:
For fifty-one weeks of the year, Heather McNeil loves her job as assistant to the director of the Washington, D.C. Commerce & Market Show Center. But the Gifts and Home Decorations trade show, the biggest show of the year at the center, is a week-long nightmare. This year’s version is being worse than usual. Misplaced shipments, feuding exhibitors, and malfunctioning popcorn machines are all in a day’s work. Finding the body of a murdered executive dumped in a trash bin during the show isn’t. The discovery tips throws Heather’s life—personal and professional—into havoc.
The police suspect the victim’s wife killed him, but Heather doesn’t believe it. She’s gottenglimmers of an entirely different scenario and possible motive. Questioning exhibitors about the crime doesn’t make her popular with them or with her employers, but if she doesn’t identify the murderer before the show ends, the culprit will remain free to kill again.
Her only help comes from an exhibitor with ulterior motives and the Market Center’s attractive new security officer, Scott Brandon. Despite opposition from some of the exhibitors, her employers, and the police, Heather seeks to expose the killer before the show ends. To solve the mystery, she will havehas to risk what’s most important to her and be prepared to fight for answers, her job, and possibly her life.
Sounds great. What other projects are in the works?
I’m working on the sequel to A GIFT FOR MURDER right now. It’s tentatively titled WIRED FOR MURDER and it’s close to finished. I will also have a romantic suspense novel titled, THE DETECTIVE’S DILEMMA, which will be released by Kensington’s Lyrical Press imprint in ebook and print on November 3. Here’s the quick blurb for it:
Her fingerprints are on the gun, but Sarah swears she’s innocent.
Although Sarah Anne Martin admits to pulling the trigger, she swears someone forced her to kill her lover. Homicide detective Jay Christianson is skeptical, but enough ambiguous evidence exists to make her story plausible. If he gives her enough freedom, she’ll either incriminate herself or draw out the real killers. But, having been burned before, Jay doesn’t trust his own protective instincts…and his growing attraction to Sarah only complicates matters.
With desire burning between them, their relationship could ultimately be doomed since Sarah will be arrested for murder if Jay can’t find the real killer.
NOTE: Karen has already agreed to come back in November and tell us about THE DETECTIVE’S DILEMMA.
Do you have a schedule for writing or do you squeeze it in when you can?
I tend to be a “binge writer.” I don’t write every day because my day job and family obligations often get in the way of it, and I’m not the kind of writer who can work in a few paragraphs here and there. I need to be able to sink into my world and get into the right groove before I can write, so I try to grab blocks of time when I can.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
You mean other than time spent at the day job, I presume? I spend time with family and friends, work in the garden, watch sports on TV, crochet, and sometimes mess around with computer games.
Pantster or plotter?
Pantser, mostly. I generally start a story with a pretty good idea how the first couple of chapters will go and a basic idea of how it ends. Everything else in the middle is pretty hazy, though it clears up as I push my way through the story. If I get really stuck, I take a notepad and pen and start writing down lists of things that could happen, bits of dialogue, whatever strikes me about the story. A day or two of that and I’m usually ready to start writing again.
What refreshes you creatively?
Travel probably most of all. Time spent in the garden is usually good for my creativity as well.
You’re obviously a very busy person. Thanks for taking time to visit with us. Good luck with A GIFT FOR MURDER.
Birth of a Novel readers, if you’d like to learn more about Karen, you can visit one of these sites: