Friday, March 18, 2011

PPW Member Interview: Beth Groundwater

Beth Groundwater writes the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series (A Real Basket Case, nominated for the 2007 Best First Novel Agatha Award, and To Hell in a Handbasket, released in May, 2009). She also writes the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures mystery series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. The first, Deadly Currents, was released March 8th. Beth lives in Colorado and enjoys its many outdoor activities, including skiing, hiking, and whitewater rafting. She loves talking to book clubs, too, and not just for the gossip and wine!

Beth is running a contest for a free copy of Deadly Currents for people who comment on her virtual book tour. Please post your comments on Beth’s  post about this interview at her blog to enter:

  1. Tell us about your new book.
Deadly Currents is the first book in my new RM (Rocky Mountain) Outdoor Adventures mystery series starring 27-year-old whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. It is set in Salida, Colorado and Mandy works for the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA), which is headquartered in town. The Arkansas River is the heart and soul of Salida. It fuels the small town's economy and thrums in Mandy Tanner's blood.

When a whitewater rafting accident occurs, Mandy deftly executes a rescue, but a man dies anyway. But it wasn't the river rapids that killed him, it was murder. Tom King was a rich land developer with bitter business rivals, who cheated on his wife, refused to support his kayak-obsessed son, and infuriated environmentalists. Mandy cooperates with the local sheriff's department to solve the case.  But little does she know how greatly the case will affect those she loves, including her beloved Uncle Bill—the respected owner of an outfitting business, out of whose raft Tom King fell. She goes on an emotionally turbulent quest for the truth—and ends up in dangerous waters.

I'm somewhat of a “river rat” myself. I canoed whitewater rivers back east in the 1980s, and I currently enjoy rafting down Colorado's whitewater rivers. I'm thrilled to be able to share this exciting sport with mystery readers and maybe even encourage a few to try it themselves.

2. How much do you research before writing?

In two words, a lot! While developing a scene-by-scene outline, I list all the things I need to find out about the setting, the activities and occupations of the characters, the legalities of the case and how it might be investigated, and any other nit-picking facts that I'll need to get right in the book. For Deadly Currents, I started my research by interviewing a friend who is a whitewater rafting guide on the upper Arkansas River. She gave me names of further contacts, who I interviewed—a rafting outfitter company owner, river rangers, and other rafting guides.

Also, I observed one day of a three-day swiftwater rescue training classes that seasonal river rangers take, took photos, and read through all the class materials. I read the rules and regulations, minutes of meetings, and everything else I could find on the AHRA website. I read books and websites about the history, geology, and flora and fauna of the Arkansas River valley and the towns within it. I researched the catalogs of whitewater equipment vendors, and I collected accident and disaster stories from friends who had gone whitewater rafting.

I visited Salida and took photos of all the buildings, inside and out, and specific river rapids that I wanted to use in the book. I interviewed the principal investigator of the Chaffee County Sheriff's Office to see how they do things differently from my own larger county's sheriff's office, whose Citizen's Academy I'd already attended. And, I attended the FIBArk (First in Boating on the Arkansas) whitewater rafting festival a few times, which occurs in the background of Deadly Currents while Mandy does her sleuthing.

3. Your current book is part of a series. How far ahead did you plot series events at the beginning?

I don't plot series events ahead at all. I bet that surprises you! I feel that while I'm working on a book, I should hold nothing back and throw every trial and tribulation I can think of at the protagonist. In other words, I should write that book like it's the last one I'll ever write. Then when I'm done, I might set up something in the last chapter about what could be coming over the horizon in the protagonist's life, because by then, I have some ideas.

One thing I do try to do is make sure my protagonist has enough important people in her life and enough interests and pursuits that I have a rich source of material to work with to create new stories and murder cases.

4. This is not your first novel. Could share with those of us still pursuing publication what you've learned along the way?

Networking with other writers is one of the most important things you can do for your writing career. I present workshops at writing conferences and write articles on how to network and why you must do it. I met my first editor and both my first and current literary agents through networking with other writers. And when the acquisition editor at Midnight Ink asked some of their existing mystery authors about me, they vouched for me.
You need to read widely in your chosen genre, to see what kind of writing and stories are being published. Also, being in a critique group helps you improve your writing to the point where it becomes publishable. In my initial critique group of five brand-new fiction writers, three are now published in short stories, three in book-length fiction, and all five have won or placed in writing contests.
Lastly, in this business, persistence is almost more important than talent. With persistence, you can learn the craft, the structure of story and how to bring characters to life. And, you’ll hang in there and keep on submitting and revising your manuscripts while the rejections pile up. I’ve seen many talented writers give up too soon. It is very difficult for most of us to get published. You have to give yourself at least five to seven years to get that first book contract and be willing to accumulate hundreds of rejection letters in your career. As Winston Churchill said, "Never, never, never give in!"

5. You actively attend conferences and events. Any secrets to balancing writing, promoting, and life in general?

For me, family always comes first. Then comes my health and what I need to do to maintain it—exercise, sufficient sleep and downtime, eating right, etc. Writing comes after that, and it is a full-time pursuit for me. I don't have the problem of balancing it with a day-job that many writers have. Also, my children are grown and living away from home, so I don't have child-rearing duties. That means I can spend a lot more time networking and promoting than many other writers can. You do what you can do, and you constantly re-prioritize. The most important thing to fit into your writing life is writing. If I'm writing a rough draft, I have to hit that daily word count goal before I let myself go on-line.

Because I'm now on an ambitious (for me) book-every-8-months contract schedule, I've ramped back some on the conferences, events and on-line promotion activities. For instance, last year, since I didn't have a release, I attended writers conferences instead of mystery fan conferences. This year, it will be the other way around.

6. What's next for you as a writer?

I've turned in the second book in the RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series, titled Wicked Eddies, to my editor. The next step is to review the copy-edited manuscript. I've drafted the third book in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series and am editing that, running chapters through my critique group. I'm developing ideas for the third RM Outdoor Adventures mystery and will begin research and planning for it soon. And, of course, I'm busy promoting Deadly Currents. There's never a dull moment in the Groundwater household!

Writing from the Peak readers can check out Beth Groundwater’s website ( ) and blog ( ) to learn more about Beth and her books.

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