Friday, February 8, 2013

Off the Beaten Track: Plan B, er, B&B



Our guest today is Karen Pullen. Karen left a perfectly good job at an engineering consulting firm to make her fortune (um, maybe not) as an innkeeper and a fiction writer. Her B&B opened 12 years ago, and her stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and Spinetingler. Her story, “Brea’s Tale,” won a 2012 Derringer Award from the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Her first mystery novel, Cold Feet, was released by Five Star Cengage on January 16. She lives in Pittsboro, NC.

Unlike the wonderful travel posts to Novel Adventurers, this one is a post about staying put. Because you don’t go anywhere when you own a bed & breakfast. 

Frequently guests at my inn tell me it’s always been their dream to own a B&B. They love decorating, cooking, gardening, hosting. They fantasize about leaving their soul-sucking jobs, saying adieu to commutes and cubicles, re-claiming their lives. My story is similar.

I’d been working for an engineering consulting firm for 16 years, ever since finishing my PhD at the University of Missouri. The company produced reports. Analyses, estimates, plans, projections, studies. It was a good company, and the good paycheck was quite necessary for a family of seven. By 1998 my work had migrated from technical to managerial. I had three job titles, teams of people complaining reporting to me, authority, and responsibility.

But I was a roundish peg in a squarish hole. I had layers of security clearances but couldn’t remember my safe combination or who was allowed to know what. Oops, was that a secret? I avoided ruthless, abrasive people—not a good idea when you’re supposed to work with them. I dreaded management training programs, outsourced (because my management didn’t want to be bothered) time-wasters.

I was increasingly restless, feeling that I wanted to do something else while I was still relatively young. Something very different, more real and tangible, with unscheduled days, time to write creatively, time for myself. The kind of gauzy fantasies you get on day four of a week-long meeting. When my youngest daughter graduated from college, I decided to make a change. I quit my job, and we moved to Chatham County in North Carolina where my oldest daughter lived.

I de-compressed. Took a tile-making class, a writing class, started a garden, sewed, played with my baby grandson. A year later, I was ready for a project.

The idea of a bed & breakfast popped up on my radar. We took a weekend seminar and I, ever the weenie, brought home a spreadsheet model that I tinkered with to understand the financials. I started looking for a charming old house in need of cosmetic touch-ups and maybe a couple of bathrooms. What I found were falling-down farmhouses so far out in the country my guests would never find us, especially at night after driving an hour from the airport. (Hey, I still get lost around here.)  Then the Poole house came on the market. A block from the main street, town water and sewer. Perfect location, a good size. I bought it.

The Poole house became Rosemary House B&B after a nine-month renovation. We hired a contractor to install lots of plumbing with an overall bathroom total of six full and two half. He put in central heat & air and all new electrical and plumbing. My friends and I covered every wall with 100 gallons of paint. I furnished it partly new (mattresses), partly old (everything else). I sewed window treatments, built a website, ordered sheets & towels. The double-hung windows were a mess: cracked glass, painted shut, broken cords. My husband removed and fixed every one. Whew! Just writing this makes me tired. 

We opened in November of 2000, over 12 years ago. Since then, Rosemary House has provided B&B to thousands of visitors to Pittsboro. Many guests have become good friends who return often. (One or two, not so much, as I wrote about here.)

At the same time, some of my energies went towards writing. I took continuing ed writing classes, joined a writing group, enrolled in the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine. (Low residency, in a gorgeous stone mansion on Casco Bay, two years of intense writing.) I’ve had a few stories published, helped start a writing program at the local community college, and recently started a Sisters in Crime chapter in Raleigh. Many many words later, my first mystery novel, Cold Feet, was published by Five Star Cengage on January 16. It’s all good!

Is Cold Feet a B&B mystery? Several scenes, including the murder, take place in a B&B. There’s innkeeper rivalry and sabotage. It’s what I know, after all! (Um, not the murder or sabotage part.)

How about you? What are your cubicle dreams?

You can learn more about Karen at her website http://www.karenpullen.com/

16 comments:

  1. Thanks for the opportunity to share my story. I love reading this blog, written by interesting people visiting fascinating places!

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    1. Karen, we're pleased to have you. I think your courage to take the step to follow your dream is remarkable. I wish you continued success.

      And, in the name of full disclosure, I must tell everyone that I've stayed at the Rosemary House B&B, and it's delightful.

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  2. I've yet to see Rosemary House, or to read COLD FEET, but both are on my list of things to do in the near future. Wishing Karen as much success with her writing as she's enjoyed with the B&B.

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    1. Thank you Carolyn. Stop by the B&B any time and we'll give you a tour!

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  3. Fabulous story, Karen. I'm off to order the book now. Congratulations on your publication and on your courage to switch courses in your life. I'm also a cubicle rat but I'm one year into my three-year plan to ditch the day job and write fiction full time. Hope I make it! And when I next to go to North Carolina, I know where I'm staying.

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    1. Edith from what I know of you, you have perseverance and will succeed. Please do plan a visit so we can talk books and Five Star!

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  4. Sounds like a lot of work, Karen, and since we are starting to renovate our 30 year old kitchen and bathrooms, I'm feeling fatigued already. Glad you made the move. I worked for a consulting firm in my younger days and was so glad when I quit. Good luck with the book. I read it and enjoyed it.

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    1. E.B., thanks for the comment. New kitchen and bath - you'll enjoy the results if not the process!

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  5. Karen, I'm so excited about your debut novel. I've ordered COLD FEET, and I'm anxiously awaiting its arrival. Hope you sell a ton of books!

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    1. Thanks, Linda. I ordered SOME ENCHANTED MURDER & it should be on its way to me soon.! Such a coincidence that we found the same publisher, the same year. May great success be yours too!

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  6. Karen, I was on the edge of my seat reading this piece and was thrilled to see it had a happy ending. Or, I should say, a happy new beginning. You're obviously an awesome writer so I know your second new career will be successful to. And yes, I have similar cubicle dreams but without the guts and gusto you have. Kudos to you---you're an inspiration.

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  7. Supriya, you will get there with great acclaim. Your novels sound amazing - international suspense is in great demand these days. Thanks for the support!

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  8. Your home looks lovely. And congratulations on the new book!

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    1. Barb, thank you for the nice comment. I am still pinching myself to make sure it's real.

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  9. Karen, what an idyllic setting you have for your B&B. Your guests must have a hard time leaving. :) Looking forward to reading your book!

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  10. Fabulous story, Karen. I'm off to order the book now.

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