Today I am visiting with Beth Groundwater, award winning author of two mystery series, the Claire Hanover gift basket designer series and the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner.
Doug: Hi Beth and welcome to The Nautical Muse. I’m glad we finally got to meet in person at this year’s Puerto Vallarta Writers Conference, and I personally want to thank you for giving our attendees some very helpful seminars and workshops. I received many favorable complements about your presentations. Congratulations and a big “thank you” from the writing community in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico!
Beth: And thank you, Doug, for inviting me to be on faculty for the PVWC and for hosting my husband and me in your lovely home! I, too, am glad we finally met in person after being on-line friends for so many years. I really enjoyed the conference and talking with so many interested (and interesting!) writers. And, of course, I always enjoy visiting Puerto Vallarta!
Doug: Since this is The Nautical Muse, I’m going to concentrate on your RM Outdoor Adventures series that features whitewater river rafting. This may be a stretch from the ocean-going stuff I write about, but I don’t think so—water is water and some of the dangers are similar.
Beth: Oh, yes, the force of moving water is one of the strongest on the planet, and falling out of any boat, be it a raft in a whitewater river or a sailboat in an ocean, can be a life-threatening experience. Also, river rafting guides and whitewater river rangers need to take similar training in boating safety and basic lifesaving/rescue/first aid that ocean-going sailors do.
Doug: The second book in the series, Wicked Eddies, was released in May, 2012, and was a finalist for The Rocky Award, for the best mystery written in the western United States. That is quite an honor. Tell us about how that came about.
Beth: The Rocky Award is a fan-based award given out annually at the Left Coast Crime conference, a gathering of readers and authors of mystery fiction that takes place somewhere each year in the Western half of North America. Wicked Eddies was nominated by those slated to attend this year’s conference—readers and fellow authors, not by a review committee, and I feel very honored that so many put it on their ballots!
Doug: I know you have been writing for a long time. Tell us how you got started.
Beth: I wrote stories as a child, and I always knew that I would return to writing fiction someday, though I had to wait until I’d retired from my career as a software engineer to have the time to tackle a novel-length manuscript. That was in 1999. I continued to work on and learn from that manuscript for a few years, while publishing a few short stories, before I put it away and began work on a new one, which became A Real Basket Case, the first novel in my Claire Hanover gift basket designer series. I signed the publishing contract for that book in 2006.
Doug: Have you always written genre fiction? What do you like to write the best?
Beth: I tried writing in different genres, because I read and enjoy books in many genres. I have published mainstream short stories and a science fiction novella in addition to my mystery novels, and I have an unpublished futuristic romantic suspense manuscript. However, once I wrote my first mystery, I knew that was the genre for me. It just fit. I’ve had a lifelong interest in solving puzzles—Sudoku, jigsaw, crossword, manipulative, you name it. I’ve applied that interest to software designs in my previous career as a software engineer, to understanding what makes a person tick, and to designing (when I’m writing) and solving (when I’m reading) a mystery novel’s “what if?”
My undergraduate degree was in computer science and psychology and my master’s degree was in software engineering. I like to think that I’m putting the psychology component of my education to use in my mystery novels, especially abnormal psychology for my killers. In mystery novels, the murders are premeditated for the most part, and people need a really good reason to plan to kill someone. Also, someone who’s willing to plan to take a life is not “normal” and should have some underlying psychological pathology.
Doug: When you write mysteries, either in your RM Outdoor Adventures series or in your Claire Hanover gift basket designer series, what is more important, characters or plot?
Beth: The cop-out answer is both! I think an interesting and difficult-to-solve puzzle plot is essential in a mystery, but the readers identify with and enjoy following the characters, especially in a series. If those characters aren’t real and sympathetic, the readers will lose interest. Also, I feel that plots should provide tests for the main characters, preying on their weaknesses and pushing their emotional buttons and requiring them to use their strengths to overcome adversity. The plot, in other words, should provide a way for the main character to grow and learn something.
Beth: In the first book in the series, A Real Basket Case, a handsome young massage therapist is shot and killed while giving Claire a massage and her husband Roger is arrested for the crime after police find him holding the murder weapon. Roger at first assumes Claire was having an affair, and Claire and the police at first assume Roger shot the young man out of jealousy. None of those assumptions are true. The situation tears apart Claire’s marriage, and she has to work very hard to try to put it back together while finding out who really killed the massage therapist, so she can free Roger and prove her love to him. Claire’s strength, her persistence, is what allows her to overcome her total lack of knowledge of murder investigations.
Doug: I’ll ask the same question about your RM Outdoor Adventures series…
Beth: In the first book in that series, Deadly Currents, Mandy Tanner is a brand-new seasonal river ranger, unsure of her capability for doing the job. When a river rafter dies in her arms after she tries to rescue him, she is devastated. Then, when the case affects her beloved Uncle Bill, who raised her after her parents died, Mandy’s emotions are thrown into further turmoil. Independent-minded Mandy has to learn to ask for and accept help from others to solve what turns out to be a murder case versus a failed rescue, and all her new river ranger training is put to the test, too.
Doug: What kind of writing schedule do you keep?
Beth: Writing is my full-time occupation, and I work at all aspects of the job (drafting, editing, research, promotion, etc.) at least 40 hours a week. When I’m writing a rough draft manuscript is when I put myself on the strictest schedule: two writing sessions a day of around 3 hours each, with a goal of turning out 5 pages per day or 20 pages a week.
Doug: Have you always written fiction?
Beth: In my first career as a software engineer, I wrote a LOT of technical nonfiction. When management found out I was a rare commodity, a software engineer who could write, I was assigned many writing projects—design documents, users manuals, proposals, technical papers, etc. And, I still write a lot of nonfiction, such as blog posts and magazine articles, to promote my books. Fiction is my first love, though, starting with stories I wrote in elementary school.
Doug: What was the first book you published and how does it differ from what you are writing now?
Beth: The first book I published was A Real Basket Case, the first book in my Claire Hanover gift basket designer series. I’m still writing mysteries, but my hope is that with each one I write, I get better at it!
Doug: How much of YOU is in your character(s)?
Beth: I have elements of both Claire Hanover and Mandy Tanner in my background. I used to live in Colorado Springs, the setting for the first and third book in the series, and I now live in Breckenridge, Colorado, the setting for the second book, To Hell in a Handbasket. When I wrote A Real Basket Case, I was about Claire’s age, though I’m older than her now. I don’t have a gift basket business, but I create them for family and friends and charity auctions. As for the RM Outdoor Adventures series, I’ve been a “river rat” for many years myself. I took PE classes in canoeing and kayaking in college and continued paddling whitewater rivers back east while I worked in the Northern Virginia area. After moving to Colorado, I began rafting the rivers in my new home state, particularly the upper Arkansas River, which Mandy Tanner patrols for her job. And, I’ve enjoyed attending the FIBArk (First in Boating on the Arkansas) whitewater festival for many years, which is featured in the first book of the series, Deadly Currents. So, both series are based on my personal experiences and interests.
Beth: In Fatal Descent, Mandy puts on her other hat, as a whitewater rafting guide and trip leader. Also, it takes her to a different river from the other two books, which are set on the Arkansas River in Colorado. Fatal Descent takes place in the remote Meander and Cataract Canyons on the Colorado River in Utah, and it features rock climbing as well as whitewater rafting. When one of the clients on the multi-day trip is killed, Mandy and her other guides find themselves stuck on the river with a sabotaged radio and an unknown killer in their group, and they must solve the mystery before the killer strikes again.
Doug: Okay, what’s next? Have you got any other writing projects you would like to tell us about?
Beth: My next book release will be A Basket of Trouble, the third in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer series, that will come out in November. In it, Claire comes to the rescue of her brother, who has a trail-riding business in Colorado Springs, where a stable hand is murdered.
Doug: Tell us something about Beth Groundwater that we won’t find on your website, that other readers and writers might find interesting.
Beth: I’m a huge fan of The Amazing Race TV show, mostly because I love to travel and I’m fascinated by the locations the competitors are sent to. My family even sent in an application video for the family version of the show that was filmed a few years ago. Needless to say, we weren’t selected, but we had fun making the video together.
Doug: What advice would you give to other people who are thinking of writing and publishing?
Beth: I have four pieces of advice for aspiring authors. 1) Join a critique group and listen very closely to what other writers are telling you about your work. If you need to go back and study some aspect of the craft, do it. I spent a year focusing on my weak spot, character development, and now readers tell me that’s what they like best about my writing. 2) Set measurable goals, make out a weekly plan for how to meet those goals and report to someone weekly on your progress. 3) Remember that your words are not golden and that your critique partners and editors have the same goal you do—to improve your writing until it’s publishable. Be willing to change anything to make a story work. 4) Network, network, network! I met my first editor and both my first and second literary agents through networking with other writers. I continue to make contacts with librarians, booksellers, media personnel and others the same way.
Doug: Any parting thoughts?
Beth: I write about real Colorado locations, and research is a very important part of my work. River ranger/guide Mandy Tanner lives in Salida, a real Colorado town, and every rapid I describe on the Arkansas and Colorado Rivers in her books is real. I also heavily researched swiftwater rescue techniques and what river rangers do to make sure I knew that topic area. I did the same for fly-fishing and fly-fishing tournaments, which are featured in Wicked Eddies, and my husband and I took the same multi-day trip down the Colorado River that is featured in Fatal Descent. Stew Pappenfort, the Head Ranger for the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, John Knight, the Director of the America Cup Fly Fishing Tournament, and Dave Pitzer, boatman for Tag-A-Long Expeditions on the Colorado River, have been my go-to experts for the three books (so far) in the RM Outdoor Adventures series.
Doug: I just started reading Wicked Eddies and I am really enjoying it. I look forward to more adventures of whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner.
For more information on Beth Groundwater please visit her website: http://bethgroundwater.com/Home.html
And blog: http://bethgroundwater.blogspot.com/
And Goodreads page: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/471598.Beth_Groundwater