Friday, September 12, 2008

Interview with author Beth Groundwater

By author of the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series, Marta Stephens 2008

MS: Beth, thanks so much for agreeing to stop by MURDER BY 4 and allowing our readers to see a glimpse into your writing life. Let’s start with you. You’re an award winning author. What steps have brought you to where you are today in your writing.

BG: It’s been a long slog since I started writing fiction seriously in 1999, starting with short stories and moving into my first novel-length manuscript. I’ve published eight short stories since then, but it took me seven years to reach the point where I signed my first novel publishing contract. My first novel-length manuscript was my training ground, as I applied what I learned about story structure and characterization from writing conferences and books to multiple rewrites. I finally realized I had to put that manuscript away and start on something new, which became A REAL BASKET CASE. I consider myself lucky that I only had to stash one unsold manuscript under the bed before my second one sold. There are many fiction authors who learned the craft on multiple unsold manuscripts. And that’s something the new writer needs to be prepared to do, to realize when it’s time to put away that first project that you poured so many hours into, acknowledging how much you learned from it, and start something new.

MS: For those who are not familiar with your work, what genre
do you write and who do you hope to reach?

BG: I experimented with a number of genres before hitting upon mystery and realizing it was for me. That first manuscript was a futuristic romantic suspense, many of my short stories are mainstream, and I also wrote a hard science fiction novella. When I wrote A REAL BASKET CASE, I knew I’d found my genre. I’m a puzzle-freak (crossword, Sudoku, jigsaw, you name it) and mysteries are all about creating and solving puzzles.

MS: Your second book in your Claire Hanover gift basket series, will be released in May 2009. What can you tell us about this new book?

BG: The book is titled TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET and takes place a couple of months after the events in A REAL BASKET CASE. Colorado Springs gift basket designer Claire Hanover takes a spring ski vacation in Breckenridge, Colorado, with her family. The vacation goes to hell in a handbasket when the sister of her daughter’s boyfriend is killed on the ski slope. Others think an out-of-control snowboarder slammed into her, but just before the ski patrol arrived, Claire saw another pair of ski tracks that veered into the young woman’s. Claire passes her findings on to an initially skeptical sheriff’s detective. Confusing clues point to alternative scenarios for the young woman’s death—which was definitely no accident—and put Claire’s daughter, Judy, in the path of danger. As the spiral of intrigue winds tighter and other deaths occur, Claire must draw on inner reserves of strength to conquer not only the conspiracy but also the winter elements, and like a mother bear, she must fiercely protect her independent-minded cub from harm.
MS: What can you share about the characters in your next book? Who are they, are they based on anyone in particular, and why do you think they will appeal to your readers?

Three characters from A REAL BASKET CASE make a return appearance in TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET, Claire and her husband Roger and one of my favorite characters, drug boss Leon, who helped Claire solve the mystery in A REAL BASKET CASE and does so again in the second book. And, the reader will meet Claire’s daughter Judy for the first time and experience the friction between Claire and her daughter. Judy is ready to leave the nest and Claire isn’t ready to let her go. Detective Silverstone of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office has a very different personality from Colorado Springs police detective Wilson in the first book, and winds up in a cooperative versus adversarial relationship with Claire.

I don’t base any of my characters on real people, though I may pick and choose and mix up characteristics or behaviors of people I know while developing my characters. By the time that I’ve finished defining my characters with character profiles and have recorded their conversations and actions while they interact in scenes in my head, they’ve become real people to me. Their actions, words, and thoughts are based on who they are versus anything someone in my life would do or say or think. I think what makes my characters appeal to readers is that they aren’t just there to solve the mystery, they wrestle with their own frailties and problems in their lives.

MS: What would you say your greatest challenge has been as a writer?

BG: To not give up in the face of relentless rejection! I have literally hundreds of rejection letters from agents and editors on my short stories and novel-length manuscripts stashed in my files. But, if I hadn’t persisted and kept on submitting, I never would have become published. To keep my spirits up through the process, I networked with other writers who were going through the same thing. It’s important for aspiring authors to realize that rejection letters aren’t personal and that all writers get them during all phases of their careers. They’re something you have to accept and, if you’re given feedback, to learn from.

MS: Perseverance is important. I know your experience will surely help others who are just getting started. Some authors are particularly good with dialogue, description, etc. What is your strongest trait?

BG: I’ve always been good at dialogue, and conversations between characters often naturally flow out of my head. However, my strongest writing trait is what I used to think of as my weakest trait, and that is characterization. Early in my writing career, I received feedback that my characters felt two-dimensional and wooden. So, I embarked on a year-long process to learn everything I could about crafting three-dimensional characters. I took seminars, studied writing books about characterization, examined how authors defined characters in my favorite novels, and tried out different characterization techniques. That year of study was definitely worth it, because now readers of A REAL BASKET CASE tell me that their favorite aspect of my writing is how real the characters feel to them. Characterization still doesn’t come easy to me, but because I know it’s so important, I work very hard at it and am pleased to say that the results are good.

MS: Where do you go from here?

BG: I will probably continue to write books in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series for Five Star Publishing. However, because of the way they do business, their mystery series authors are on about a two-year cycle, and to keep your name in the public eye, you really need to publish at least a book a year. So, I’ve written the first mystery in a new series starring a single whitewater river ranger in her twenties living in Salida, Colorado and working on the upper Arkansas River. My agent is currently shopping that manuscript to different publishers, and I’m outlining the second book in the series. The character is very different from Claire, so I think alternating between the two series will keep my writing fresh.

MS: It’s been a pleasure, Beth. Please feel free to share anything else you’d like to discuss about you, your writing, and/or books.

BG: Being in a book club myself, I love to meet with book clubs either in person or remotely via speakerphone to discuss my books, so if any of your blog readers are interested, they should let me know via the “Contact Me” form on my website (see below). Also, if they sign up for my email newsletter, they’re automatically entered into a contest for free mystery books.
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About the author:
Beth Groundwater's debut mystery novel, A Real Basket Case, was released by Five Star to good reviews from Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and other national publications in March, 2007. It was nominated for a 2007 Best First Novel Agatha Award. To Hell in a Handbasket, the second in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series, will be released in May, 2009. Also, Beth has published eight short stories in various genres, including one in Wild Blue Yonder, Frontier Airlines' in-flight magazine, one which was translated into Farsi, and one which was performed in live theatre.Beth lives with her husband, two grown children and dog in Colorado Springs, where she defends her garden from marauding mule deer and wild rabbits and tries to avoid getting black-and-blue on Colorado’s black and blue ski slopes. She has loved to read since she was a child and savors those monthly meetings with her Book Club, and not just for the gossip and wine. Visit her website at and her blog at

About the interviewer:
Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. SILENCED CRY is available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website.

SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival & Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

Look for THE DEVIL CAN WAIT in November 2008.


Anonymous said...

This was a very interesting interview and I appreciate the author's candor. In particular, how she set aside her first book length ms to create something better...and how she worked on her characterization. Too often writers get discouraged, but like any skill, it takes a lot of work to improve and be successful.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for your comment, Christine. I KNOW how hard it is to get published in fiction, how discouraging it can be. My hope is that by describing my own long, long journey, I can encourage others to keep plugging away at. Published author friends did that with me, to keep my spirits up, so it's my turn to do the same.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hi, Beth. Sorry my post is so late! I published half of this on yesterday to help spread the word, (with a link to this site for the rest of the interview) and we actually got quite a few nice comments there. LOL. Check it out at I love your basket theme - it's dear to my heart as my mother is a basket artisan - she teaches classes and makes some gorgeous items! Mixing that with mysteries is just the icing on the cake! Thanks for guest blogging today and best of luck with your series!

Chelle Cordero said...

With your obvious talent and understanding of the book world, I am sure that your books will eventually line a shelf by themselves. Kudos on your achievements.

Anonymous said...

Very nice interview. You are an inspiration to all your fellow Five Star authors.

Jacqueline Seewald
Five Star/Gale,
Wheeler large print

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks to Aaron, Chelle and Jacqueline for your praise. You three are enough to give a woman a swelled head! And Aaron, thanks for spreading the word on Gather. I sent the word out a few other places over the weekend, so maybe you'll get some late readers--and more comments. I'll be checking!