Saturday, December 8, 2012

Scaredy Cat

Karen Pullen (Guest Blogger)

Have you ever been truly frightened? I don’t mean anxious, worried, or upset. I mean hair-standing-on-end, adrenaline overload, heart-pounding fear. Convinced in every cell of your being that something horrific is about to happen.

Mystery novels aren’t usually scary, sleep-with-the-light-on scary. The truly scary novels, the stuff of nightmares, belong to the horror genre. Ghost Story by Peter Straub. A Simple Plan by Scott Smith. Page-turners, because the characters – who are sympathetic – make mistakes that snowball into frightful horror. Delicious reading.

But when real life is frightening, it’s not so funny. At least at first. I remember a few times in my life when I’ve been truly frightened.

Once I almost burned down a house. I was 12.
My best friend (also named Karen) and I liked to wander in the fields and woods around our town. One day we took a picnic. We built a tiny fire, toasted marshmallows on sticks, lay back to relax after our long hike. I even took off my shoes. But my shoes turned to ashes as the fire crawled across the field towards a house. I sprinted in bare feet to warn the occupants, terrified by the rapidity of the spread. The ending was happier than I deserved: the homeowners were able to put out the fire.

A night of terror. I was 16 and spending the night alone in a motel, traveling home. The night before, I’d seen the movie Psycho. All night, at random intervals, someone knocked on my motel room door. All night, I lay awake in terror, defenseless and vulnerable. Needless to say, I didn’t take a shower.

Once my husband and I decided to try back-country hiking. We loaded up our backpacks with everything we’d need for a week in the woods. Checked in at the ranger station, gave them our planned route, and received a warning about bears. Black bears are mostly harmless, but they will go after food. So the first night, after we made camp, we spent over an hour hanging our food high, a process involving branch selection, finding the right sized rock, multiple tries and a few curses until we said, “Good enough.”

We crawled into the two-man tent to sleep. I lay in my sleeping bag thinking how flimsy the tent fabric was, mere inches from my face. The forest’s night noises, how different from home. A light wind rustled the leaves. I thought I heard the scampering of a squirrel. I tried to relax. Until, right in front of my face from the other side of the tent, something growled loudly. Then growled again.

I screamed. It was a bear, right outside! About to claw through the thin fabric and eat me! I screamed so loud they probably heard me in Asheville. I screamed so loud I woke myself up. Woke my husband up. Probably woke up everyone camping in the Great Smokies National Park that night. But there was no bear. I had fallen asleep and turned over to face my husband, who was SNORING, just inches from my face.

Now you know why I’m a writer, a nice safe occupation for a coward. My only risk is rejection, a blow to my ego.

Brave readers, my mystery novel Cold Feet will not terrify you though I hope that it keeps you turning the pages to find out what happens to Stella, Fern, Bebe, Blue, and the rest of my crew. Pub date is January 16, but I’m rewarding anyone who pre-orders with a chance to win a weekend at my charming bed & breakfast in North Carolina.

How about you? When have you been really, truly, frightened?

Karen Pullen left a perfectly good job at an engineering consulting firm to make her fortune (uh, maybe not) as an innkeeper and a fiction writer. Her B&B has been open for 12 years, and her fiction is finally ready for prime time. Her first novel, a mystery called Cold Feet, will be released by Five Star Cengage in January 2013. Karen's story, "Brea's Tale," appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and won the Derringer Award for Best Long Story in 2012. Her website and blog are at


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Welcome to Poe's Deadly Daughters, Karen, and congratulations on your upcoming novel!

Karen said...

It's great to be here! Many thanks for including me as a "Deadly Daughter"!

cmgren said...

Karen, that is why I will never see Psycho. I like to take showers. Have a great day.

Kaye George said...

Once, I knew I was going to die. It was an oddly peaceful feeling. There was nothing I could do and I just stopped trying and let go. I've used that feeling in my writing and I'm sue I'll use it again.

I do remember, as a teenager, hearing a shot outside my window. I don't think I had ever heard a real shot before, outside TV and movies, and I remember sitting up in bed and trying to scream. My throat wouldn't work! Low, froggie noises were all that came out! Which was even more terrifying.

Turns out the neighbor, a recreational hunter and fisher, had been chasing a peeping tom and had fired a shot into the air to scare him.

It's all material!

Karen said...

Cheryl, you are smart. I think the worst of it was the music, this stabbing violin screech.

Kaye, I like "froggie noises" - can I borrow?

Kaye George said...

Sure. I think I've described it as "croaking" or "hoarse" or something. No one will know! I'm sure this doesn't happen to everyone, but my vocal chords were just paralyzed. It was weird, but I laugh when I think back on it.

Leslie Budewitz said...

That first night out in the woods, every squirrel is a grizzly, every chipmunk a mountain lion!

Jodi Lea Stewart said...

I really enjoyed this post, Karen. I have had those frozen-blood moments, but they're a bit lengthy for this format! Guess I'll have to use them in upcoming novels! I agree with Kaye George that all our life experiences are "material."

Jake said...

Now that is some cover. Always enjoy a good shower with the door locked. No nutters welcome while cleansing.

marja said...

Your bear story really brightened my day. I can't see a thing without my glasses, and one time I was in the tub when I saw a snake slithering down off the laundry hamper. I was just about to scream when I realized it was the belt I'd taken off sliding to the floor. Terrific post! I think many people really do want to be frightened. : )
Marja McGraw

Margaret Miller said...

Loved your post Karen - my camping story involved wild brumbies stomping, snorting, markingterritory right outside the tent. Fortunately we don't have bears in Australia (Koalas don't count).

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