by Karen E. Rigley
Beth, we appreciate you joining our MMC interviews. I am enchanted by the title of your new mystery,To Hell in a Hand Basket. Very clever.
Mystery Most Cozy is celebrating their tenth anniversary. What is your favorite thing about the group: reader interaction, fan support, being able to connect with fellow authors or what and why?
My favorite thing about the group is reader interaction, both because I can connect with readers interested in my own series and because I can gather information on great mysteries I want to read myself.
When and how did you discover the Mystery Most Cozy group?
I discovered the Mystery Most Cozy group when it was a yahoogroup, not yet a Facebook group, and I think I joined in January of 2008.
How did you know you were meant to write?
I am a voracious reader as well as a writer, and I still try to read at least a book a week. 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.
What fascinates you about mysteries and what inspired you to write mysteries?
I’ve had a lifelong interest in solving puzzles—Sudoku, jigsaw, crossword, manipulative, you name it. I’ve applied that interest to software algorithms, understanding what makes a person tick, and 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.
What intrigues you about writing a series?
I’m intrigued by how my characters grow and change over time and how the events in each book influence their personalities, relationships and outlook on life. This is especially true for my two series protagonists, gift basket designer Claire Hanover and whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. Writing two series also challenges me to come up with new and interesting situations to drop each protagonist in, situations that will test them by challenging their fears and weaknesses, while at the same time allowing them to use their strengths to solve problems.
What is the most challenging facet of writing for you?
The amount of non-writing work involved! There’s the contracting process, research, promotion, networking and all of the other ancillary activities that are part of having a writing career, but that take precious time away from the writing itself. Promotion is something that is ongoing, and which ramps up around the time of each release. I try to focus on the writing and editing I need to get done each week first, then work on promotion later in the day or later in the week after I’ve finished the writing I need to do to meet my deadlines. I have to be very organized and give myself weekly goals to stay on track.
What do you enjoy reading?
Some of my favorite mystery authors are western and/or outdoor-oriented writers who I’ve gotten to know at conferences and through their wonderful books. Examples include William Kent Krueger, Dana Stabenow, Craig Johnson, Kathy Brandt, C.J Box, Christine Goff, and Margaret Coel. All of the books by these authors have a strong sense of place, and the authors obviously love those places. Their books also have very realistic characters who face both the challenges presented by their outdoor environments as well as the challenge of solving whodunnit.
How much of a story do you have in mind when you begin a new book?
If you’ve heard of the distinction between “plotters” and “pantsers” (those who write by the seat of their pants), as a former software engineer, I’m squarely on the plotting side. I profile my characters and prepare a detailed scene outline before I start writing. For each scene, along with describing what the characters in the scene do, I describe what’s happening “off-camera” to other important characters (particularly the killer) not in the scene. I also list the date, day of the week, and time of day of each scene. As I write the book, I add the scene’s page numbers to the outline to help me find scenes later.
Each book has a directory of its own on my computer with files for the scene outline, character profiles, interviews with experts, research notes, the current manuscript, discarded bits that I don’t want to throw away yet, backups of older versions, the acknowledgements page, change requests from the editor, etc., etc. Then there’s the cardboard magazine file holder stuffed full of paper research materials.
What advice would you offer a beginning writer?
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.
What do you enjoy most about being an author & what drives you crazy?
I enjoy the process of developing characters, plotting out a story, researching the elements I need, cranking out the rough draft, then molding the book into a final polished product through editing. At first, it was a challenge I set for myself—to publish a book. Now, I’m hooked, not only on the creative process, but on the public accolades I receive. 🙂 Being a writer to me means crafting stories that entertain readers, allowing them to escape from their day-to-day lives and have some fun. Bringing pleasure to others is a great pleasure to me. As for what drives me crazy, see my answer to the question about the most challenging facet of writing.
Do you like a touch of romance woven into your mysteries? Do you add it into your own stories?
I try to weave at least three subplots into each book that interact with the main plot of figuring out whodunnit. One subplot is usually some issue in the protagonist’s life that is a thorn in her side, another is usually a political/environmental/social issue, and another is usually a romantic subplot. So yes, I do like a touch of romance in my mysteries, though all the “plumbing details,” as I like to call them, remain behind closed doors.
What are your favorite “writing” clothes?
Sweats! And not because I’m sweating out the words, just because they’re comfy. 🙂
As author you create magic offering readers an escape into your story. As you write how deeply do you submerge into your own characters, setting and plot? Do you dream any of your scenes?
I like to say that scene ideas creep up on me in the middle of the night and say “Boo!” This is why I keep paper and pen by my bed when I sleep. Seriously, though, I think sufficient sleep is very important to those working in the creative arts, because that’s when the subconscious brain goes to work solving plot issues and coming up with new ideas. And when I’m writing the rough draft of a mystery novel, I’m very deeply submerged. Thats why I don’t play music when I write, because I have to be able to hear what the characters are saying to each other in my head.
Why did you choose cozy rather than thrillers, intrigue or true crime?
Because I don’t like what I call the “icky stuff,” which includes rape, torture, child abuse, gore and gratuitous violence. So, I don’t write that stuff, either, though I do explore adult-oriented themes in my novels. I read true crime, but I prefer telling my own stories rather than researching and telling about a factual case.
Tell us about your newest mystery:
My next release on November 8th is a re-release in trade paperback and ebook of To Hell in a Handbasket, the second book in my Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series, that was released in hardcover in 2009. Here’s the blurb and a couple of review quotes:
An icy demise snowballs in book 2 of this Agatha Award-nominated series. Gift basket designer Claire Hanover is reluctantly enjoying a spring ski vacation with her family in Breckenridge, Colorado, when a bloodcurdling scream cuts the frigid air. Claire is appalled to find the sister of her daughter’s boyfriend dead on the slopes. Others assume the girl’s death was an accident, but Claire notices another pair of ski tracks veering dangerously into the victim’s path. To protect her daughter as incriminating clues surface, Claire unravels a chilling conspiracy.
“Groundwater’s second leaves the bunny slope behind, offering some genuine black-diamond thrills.”
— Kirkus Review, April 1, 2009
“Tightly plotted and very current, the story manages to keep you on the edge of your seat.”
— Gayle Surrette, Gumshoe Review, May 1, 2009
What would you like to say to your readers & fans?
I love chatting with readers in person at my signings, on social networks or via email. You can email me at my website or befriend me on Facebook or Goodreads. I will do Skype or speakerphone visits to book clubs who want to discuss my books, if you don’t live near me. I’ve also participated in on-line chats about my books. Please don’t be shy about contacting me, and if you haven’t read one of my books, I hope you’ll give them a try!
Where can we find out more about you and your books?
My website is: http://bethgroundwater.com/
My blog is: http://bethgroundwater.blogspot.com/
My Facebook page is: http://www.facebook.com/beth.groundwater
My Goodreads page is: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/471598.Beth_Groundwater
Visit Mystery Most Cozy to find out how to enter the drawing for one of her mysteries.
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