The Mid-Winter Blog Hop is the post prior to this, just scroll down. This week we have a fantastic interview with Beth Groundwater. I recently reviewed her adventure mystery, To Hell in a Handbasket (click here.) The following information I obtained from her website. Beth obtained a college degree in Psychology (useful in character development) and Computer Science from the College of William and Mary, was a software engineer and software project manager. She also married, obtained a Masters Degree, and reared two children - until Beth and her husband met their retirement savings goals and she retirement in 1999 and began writing.
I’ve loved reading and writing ever since I learned how to do both as a child. Stories, especially about people overcoming adversity or solving problems or puzzles, have always fascinated me. As for the writing process itself, I have a love-hate relationship with it. I love the process when I’m “in the zone” and the characters are talking and interacting in my head while I try to keep up with them, typing as fast as I can. And I hate the process when I stare at a blank computer screen and nothing happens. Instead of giving up when that happens, though, I stick with it and keep staring at that screen and making false starts at typing something, anything, until the words begin to flow. What motivated me at first was the goal of publishing my first book. What motivates me now are those firm contract deadlines!
What is your routine when you're facing your next novel? Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?
For both my RM Outdoor Adventures series and my Claire Hanover gift basket designer series, the sleuth character is already well-defined, as are some supporting characters. So for each new book, I usually start with the (first) victim and an interesting way in which s/he died. Then I branch out from there to who might have wanted to kill that person, trying to come up with 5-7 possible suspects, and identifying 5-7 clues and 5-7 red herrings related to those suspects. After that, I focus on the process of how my sleuth finds clues, interviews suspects, and figures out whodunnit and what sort of dangerous and sticky predicaments I can put her in.
Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail, a strict 3 act structure etc.) before sitting down and writing?
I’m a retired software engineer and have a very organized personality, so I am an outliner. Each of my books has at least forty scenes in about 75,000 total words. Before I start writing the rough draft, I need to construct a scene-by-scene outline that contains at least thirty-two or -three scenes, so I know that I have a book’s worth of action. I describe each scene with 1-3 sentences. The rest of the scenes come to me during the writing process. Also before I start writing, I develop character profiles for the new characters introduced in that book and I do research in whatever new topics, locations, outdoor activities, etc. are introduced in that book.
Claire Hanover is in a select club of only a few middle-age women adventure-mystery main characters. What do you and Claire have in common? How are you different?
Like Claire, I used to live in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and I now live in Breckenridge, Colorado, the setting for the second book in her series. I was about Claire’s age when I started writing the series, though I’m much older than her now. Also, I have two grown children like her, though mine are older and the sexes are reversed. I am a skier like her, but I’m better at it. Also unlike her, my marriage is very happy, as evidenced by all the hard work my hubby has put into implementing my website and email newsletter. And Claire is a lot braver than I am, but I’m smarter than her. I have to construct ridiculous situations to put her in, after all, then gently steer her toward finding a way out. Also, contrary to what many people think, I don’t have a gift basket business. My business is writing mystery novels like Claire’s A Real Basket Case, To Hell in a Handbasket, and next year’s Basketful of Trouble. I do create gift baskets for friends, relatives and charity events, and fellow authors and mystery readers expect me to bring gift baskets to silent auctions at mystery conferences. I’m not as good at it as Claire is, though.
Claire is a tenacious character. What is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character(s) tell you about him/herself as you write? How do you handle minor characters like Leon and Detective Owen Silverstone?
Yes, persistence and determination, especially when a family member is threatened, is Claire’s defining characteristic. I have a character profile worksheet that I fill out for each character before I begin writing about them, and I conduct first-person interviews with some characters. Those are usually the male characters, which are harder for me to visualize than the female characters. Also, during the writing of a book, the characters will often let me know new things about them and their past. I profile even minor characters, though the profile may not be as fully fleshed out as Claire’s three-page profile.
This is a bit more Thriller or Adventure territory than the typical cozy. What attracted you to the higher octane for a mystery series?
I write what I like to read. I enjoy mysteries set in the West or in the outdoors, like those written by William Kent Krueger, Margaret Coel, Craig Johnson, Dana Stabenow, CJ Box, Kathy Brandt and Christine Goff. I enjoy outdoor activities myself, such as whitewater rafting, hiking, biking, skiing, and snowshoeing, so I like to feature those activities in my books. And, I have a thirst for adventure that I fulfill with travel, often overseas travel, as well as with outdoor activities. So, the tone of my two mystery series reflects my own personality and interests.
Do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?
I can’t listen to music while I write, because then I have trouble hearing my characters’ voices in my head. My preparation for a writing session comes at the end of a previous session. I read the scene description for the next scene I need to write at the end of a session and let my unconscious mind work on that scene while I sleep, eat, or exercise in between sessions. Then when I start a new writing session, I read over what I wrote during the last session to get back into the story, then begin writing again from there. Each session lasts about 2-3 hours. I always write in my basement writing office, away from outside distractions.
What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book, especially juggling two series?
I used to take about a year to write a book. But with two series going now, I’m on a contract schedule where I have to finish a book every eight months. I spend about two to three months in preparation, three to four months cranking out the rough draft and two to three months editing. When I’m writing the rough draft, I put myself on a strict schedule of at least twenty pages a week.
What in your background prepared you to write mysteries?
First of all, I read a lot of mysteries, so I could understand the structure of the genre and what the reading audience for that genre expects. Also, I took fiction writing workshops and read writing how-to books like James N. Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Mystery and Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. I went through the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office Citizen’s Academy to learn about police work and read books about police work. I interview experts in areas of knowledge that I use in my books, and I visit locations and try activities that I write about myself. Also, my undergraduate degree was a double major in computer science and psychology, so I’m now getting a chance to use the psychology part of that education.
In literature (not your own) who is your favorite mystery/suspense character?
I would have to pick William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor sleuth.
Which author has influenced or inspired you the most?
In classic literature, I would pick Jane Austen, who was an astute observer of human nature and had a biting wit. I wish I could write as funny as she did! I was also influenced a lot by Agatha Christie and for the dark side, Edgar Allan Poe.
How did you get your first break to getting published? Was it at a writer's conference or mailing a query letter?
Through networking with other writers! I think that networking with other writers is one of the most important things a writer can do for his or her writing career. I present workshops at writing conferences and write articles on how to network and why a writer must do it. In fact, I wrote an article in the September, 2008 issue of The Writer magazine on just that. I met my first editor and both my first and second literary agents through networking with other writers.
What's the one thing a reader has said that you've never forgotten and perhaps found startling?
A question that I’ve gotten more than once at signings and that always tickles me is, “Have I heard of you?” I’ve learned to answer with a straight face, “Probably,” then launch into talking about my Amazon bestseller status, my Best First Novel Agatha Award nomination, the good reviews I’ve received in Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly and more. ;-)
If your Claire Hanover mysteries were to be made into a movie, who would you cast in your top character's roles?
I love Meryl Streep, but she’s a little too old for the role, so I think I’d pick Elisabeth Shue or Helen Hunt, who are both good at playing vulnerable yet determined characters.
The third book in the series, Basketful of Trouble, comes out in November, 2013. I just turned in the edited manuscript. In the book, Claire gets involved in solving a murder that occurred at her younger brother Charley’s trail-riding stable that is impacting his business and self-confidence. Along with featuring horseback riding in the book, Claire volunteers for Charley’s wife’s hippotherapy nonprofit that uses horses for physical and occupational therapy.
Do you have a newsletter or blog for readers to stay informed of your news?
I have both, and a website, Facebook page, Amazon author page, and Goodreads page. Here are the links:
Beth’s website: http://bethgroundwater.com/ (click on “Newsletter” to subscribe to my email newsletter)
Beth’s blog: http://bethgroundwater.blogspot.com/
Beth’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/beth.groundwater
Beth’s Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Beth-Groundwater/e/B001JP40RO/
Beth’s Goodreads page: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/471598.Beth_Groundwater
THANK YOU Beth for that great interview! Your active lifestyle shows in your characters and the overall subject matter of your books. I am looking forward to the mystery featuring the hippotherapy.
Here is a video of Winter Wonderland sung by Johnny Mathis. Enjoy your holiday!