Friday, May 8, 2009

Getting Creative with Beth Groundwater

Beth Groundwater is the author of the Gift Basket Designer Mystery series featuring Claire Hanover. Beth's first book, A REAL BASKET CASE was nominated for an Agatha award in the Best First Novel category. Now Claire is back in TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET, which Kirkus Reviews claims "...leaves the bunny slope behind, offering some genuine black-diamond thrills.” So, here today, joining me on her book blog tour to share the ins and outs of her writing, is Beth Groundwater!

Q: Beth, you wrote “Freddie” stories when you were in the fifth and sixth grades, then you did an independent study in high school that enabled you to dabble in fiction and poetry. So, what made you decide to earn your college degrees in psychology and computer science?

Beth: Like many young people, I had many interests when I was a teenager and young adult. Besides writing, I was good at math and fascinated with how computers worked and the logical construction of software programs. I was also interested in how the human “computer” or brain worked, particularly left-right brain hemisphere differentiation since I am left-handed. I took courses in both subjects in college. I couldn't decide which I enjoyed more, so I double-majored.

Q: You were able to retire early and devote your time to writing. Was that always the plan or did something happen along the way to steer you in that direction?

Beth: My husband and I always had the plan to retire by the time we were 50, so we could pursue whatever interested us after that. To do this, we lived on one salary and saved the other one. The last couple of years that I worked, I started writing short stories and realized how much I enjoyed writing fiction again, so I decided to try to get some of them published after I retired. And that just snowballed!

Q: Did you always have aspirations to write mystery? What motivated you to write in this genre?

Beth: I tried a few different genres before settling on mystery. My first novel-length manuscript, which may never get published, was a futuristic romantic suspense. Though I was told my love scenes were well-done, I was never comfortable writing them. Many of my published short stories were mainstream, because that's the type of short stories I read. In 2003, I wrote a hard science fiction novella, The Epsilon Eridani Alternative, that earned an Honorable
Mention in the prestigious Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya Science Fiction Novella contest in Barcelona, Spain. It will finally be published this fall in eBook, eSerial, and paperback form by Virtual Tales. I decided that too much
research was required for science fiction. But once I wrote my first mystery novel, A Real Basket Case, I became hooked on the genre. That's because I'm a puzzle person, loving all kinds of puzzles—crossword, jigsaw, sudoku, you name it—and that's what a mystery basically is, a puzzle.
Q: You’ve said that you spend three to four months prepping a novel. What’s involved in that preparation process for you? What kind of research is involved for you in the gift basket designer mystery series?

Beth: That preparation process involves three main parts: research, character profiling, and creating a scene-by-scene outline of the plot. I research the setting, how the local police operate in that setting (since I use real locations), activities my sleuth must do in the book (such as snow-shoeing in To Hell in a Handbasket), killing methods and firearms, etc., etc. To research the gift basket business, I interviewed people who have their own gift basket businesses, toured their work areas, read trade journals, and so on.

Q: How about the writing process itself? Do you outline your plot ahead of time and then fit your characters to the events or is your writing more character driven, sometimes taking you off the beaten path?

Beth: As my answer to question 4 states, I plan out my plots ahead of time, though I do stay flexible and allow for creativity during the writing process, so scenes may change or new ones may be created. I also try to get to know my characters really well before I start writing the book, so if I put two characters in a scene together, each with a goal in mind, they start talking and acting in my head and I just transcribe the conversation. I love being in that zone when everything works. If a character balks at what I need her to do in a scene, then I step back and re-evaluate, because I may be trying to make her do something that's out of character. If so, either the scene has to change or I have to box her in so she has no other choice but to do that something anyway. I never want a character not to be true to herself or himself.
Q: Claire Hanover is your protagonist in A REAL BASKETCASE and she will be returning in TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET this month. Claire is a well-meaning wife and mother who sometimes isn’t especially clued in to the “big world.” So her life lessons end up being rather humorous. How did Claire come about? Was there an inspiration for her somewhere or was she just born from your imagination?

Beth: Claire is not based on any real person in my life, because she is her own person, as real to me as any of my close friends. I've come to know and love her well. I wanted her to grow and learn through the series, so she couldn't start out as a knowledgeable super-sleuth. In fact, she's a bumbling sleuth, as any amateur would be when starting out. And many of her lessons, she has to learn the hard way. Though Claire has some similarities with myself, being about the same age I was when I started writing the series, also having two children, and living in Colorado Springs, I like to say she's a lot braver than I am, getting into situations I would never venture into, but I'm smarter than she is and can figure out how to get her out of them. So yes, Claire was born from my imagination, but now she tells me who she is and how she's going to react to situations.
Q: And I have to ask because I absolutely loved his character, are we going to see Leon again?

Beth: Oh, yes indeed! Leon, the drug dealer with a soul, is a favorite character of mine, too, because he's such a fun and colorful personality. Claire has to consult with him in To Hell in a Handbasket to obtain information vital to solving the mystery in that book. What's interesting about Leon is that he sprang from my head one day fully formed and characterized, complete down to his speech patterns, so he didn't really need to be profiled like my other characters. He is definitely his own man and tries to take over every scene he's in.
Q: Travel is one of your passions and it sounds like you have been all over with your family. TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET will find Claire on the ski slopes of Colorado, which is also a pastime of your family’s. Are any of your other travels going to morph into new settings for the Hanover family?

Beth: I love using settings from my home state of Colorado in my books, so even though I've traveled many other places, I don't envision Claire and her family getting that chance anytime soon. I'm toying with Durango, Colorado as the possible setting for the next book in the series.
Q: I understand there is another possible series in the works, a series around a white water river ranger. First can you share with us exactly what a white water river ranger is? And how did this idea take seed?

Beth: I used to do a lot of whitewater canoeing back in the 1980s before I had my children, and I absolutely loved the sport. Nowadays, people use self-bailing rafts and kayaks to ride the rapids, and I still enjoy whitewater rafting, though I don't get to do it as often as I'd like. In the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area centered around Buena Vista and Salida, Colorado, there is a special breed of park ranger called a whitewater river ranger, that patrols the most commercially rafted river in the world. I thought it would be interesting to revisit the “river rat” culture of those who are addicted to the thrill of whitewater and set some murders in that beautiful and exciting part of Colorado. So, after interviewing some rafting guides and river rangers and sitting in on a day of river ranger training, the ideas started to flow. I've written the first manuscript in the series and my agent is trying to sell it now.
Q: How about Claire Hanover? What’s in the future for her after TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET?

Beth: My publisher, Five Star, tends to put their mystery series authors on a roughly two-year cycle with a book release every two years. So, my hope is to alternate writing books in the two series, producing one per year and keeping me fresh and interested in each series. Of course, there are lots of variables in the publishing industry that I have no control over, so I have to remain open to possibilities.
Q: I have to say I was rather envious when I read about your picture with Robert Crais that hangs in your work room. Are you a fan of RC’s work? Has he or anyone else been an influence on you in your writing?

Beth: That picture, which can also be found on my website is of Robert Crais handing me my first-ever certificate in a writing contest, Third Place in the mystery/suspense category of the Pikes Peak Writers contest in 2001. I've since had the opportunity to chat with him a couple of other times. I admire his work because he can both create suspenseful plots and create wonderfully three-dimensional and sympathetic characters. Along with Crais, I've been influenced by quite a few western mystery writers, such as Margaret Coel, Christine Goff, C.J. Box, Maggie Sefton, and Kathy Brandt. My favorite mystery author is Sharyn McCrumb.

Q: Alright, one final question. This is my question that I ask everyone on my blog. There is a book called Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. What would be YOUR six-word memoir?

Beth: Networked and persisted until surprise—published!

TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET is available this month from Five Star Publishers. You can learn more about Beth, her blog tour, and her novels at her website. If you comment on Beth Groundwater’s interview here today, or comment on her blog ( anytime during her May blog book tour, you will be entered into a drawing for an autographed set of both books in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series: A REAL BASKET CASE and TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET. Good luck! To see where she's going next on her blog tour, go to:

Thanks so much for stopping by and chatting with us, Beth. See ya on the slopes!

NOTE: Beth just informed me that she received a call for jury duty today. So if you leave a comment and don't receive an immedate reply, don't despair! Beth will respond, but if they keep her most of the day, she may not be able to respond until tomorrow. She WILL be here, though! :)


Molly May 8, 2009 at 6:59 AM  

GREAT interview!! I especially enjoyed where the author discussed how she develops and writes about characters.

I have looked for her books in my local area but have been unable to find them. If I don't win her May contest :) --- I will definitely have to order them online. They sound just wonderful.

housemouse88 May 8, 2009 at 8:18 AM  

Loved the interview. I've not had the opportunity to read her works. They do sound fascinating. Hope jury duty goes well. Have a great day.

Norma May 8, 2009 at 10:02 AM  

Sounds like you and hubby are enjoying your life - just like you planned. Love this peek into it.

Debbie May 8, 2009 at 12:19 PM  

Fabulous interview! I have to say I was so excited to read that Leon will be back--loved him!It's nice to read that the author plots out her novel, however, leaving room for the character to drive the scene. I love this author's work.

Book Bird Dog May 8, 2009 at 3:54 PM  

I like the 6-word summary of Beth's career as a writer. It gives me hope!

Charlotte Phillips May 8, 2009 at 4:10 PM  

Networked and persisted until surprise—published! - Love it!

Beth Groundwater May 8, 2009 at 4:10 PM  

I'm baaack! Turns out I spent a couple of hours sitting in the jury lounge after they called the first group out. Those of us who were left were kept around "just in case" they had problems with enough of the other jurors that they had to call some more in. I was actually hoping I could sit in on a one or two day trial and learn something from it, but darn, they let me go. After grocery shopping and eating lunch, I came back here to hang out with you all.

First, let me address what Molly said about not being able to find my books on local store shelves. That's going to be the case for any author published by a small or medium-sized press who isn't on the bestseller lists. Stores don't put our books on display, but they should always be willing to order them for customers. So, just give your favorite local bookstore the name of my books (A Real Basket Case, To Hell in a Handbasket) and my name (Beth Groundwater), and they should be able to get copies for you. You can also buy them online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble:

Jane Kennedy Sutton May 8, 2009 at 5:08 PM  

I thought this was a great interview with interesting questions and replies. Wish the stores would get the hint that people also like to read books that aren't published by major houses!

Jane Kennedy Sutton

Jen May 8, 2009 at 5:34 PM  

Hi everyone! So glad that you've dropped by and had a chance to chat a bit with Beth. Also happy to hear you enjoyed the interview. Interesting folks make for interesting interviews!

I also would like to pop in on the bookstore topic. I'm getting ready to add a regular link to my sidebar for Mystery Lovers Bookshop. It's a nice little shop just outside of Pittsburgh. Every time I've dealt with them for some book request, they've gone out of their way to make it a great experience. AND, if you order at least $10 online with them, you get free shipping. If you want it immediately, that costs extra, but your general delivery will be free. They are a specialty mystery store and they really have a fantastic selection if you have the chance to visit, but they will order ANYTHING for you, doesn't matter the genre. Great indie to support. I highly recommend them.

Again, thanks for stopping and saying "hi" to Beth. Hope to see you again soon!

Beth Groundwater May 8, 2009 at 6:09 PM  

Like Jen, I'm a huge fan of the Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakton, PA. Every spring after the Malice Domestic conference they hold a huge mystery signing festival with up to 50 authors. People line up hours ahead to buy bags and bags of autographed books. I went to my first one in 2007 to sign copies of A Real Basket Case and I'm looking forward to attending in 2010 with copies of To Hell in a Handbasket. I didn't know about their free shipping deal, and that's great!

Linda Suzane May 8, 2009 at 7:43 PM  

Interesting interview.You and your husband are very disciplined to have retire early. But that also shows in having a complete outline of your book to work from.

Jen I like the 6 word memoir. I'll have to think about my own 6 word memoir.

Linda Suzane

Lesa May 8, 2009 at 11:22 PM  

Great interview, Jen & Beth! I'm always interested in the answer to Jen's final question - in six words or less. I'm always so tempted to steal it. Thanks for a terrific interview.


donnas May 9, 2009 at 1:56 AM  

Great interview. Thank you for taking the time to share this info about yourself, books and writing.

Sheila Deeth May 9, 2009 at 2:26 PM  

I loved this interview! Thanks. Fills in all the gaps in that six-word memoir beautifully.

Karin Huxman - Romance Author May 10, 2009 at 2:28 PM  

Great interview, Beth!

Looneybin4me May 10, 2009 at 5:25 PM  

Jen, I envy the time that you get to spend reading and interacting with such interesting people as Beth
Groundwater....I am so jealous.
Miss you...

le0pard13 May 10, 2009 at 8:12 PM  

I agree with everyone. Great interview, Jen.

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