Bestselling mystery author Beth Groundwater writes the Claire Hanover gift basket designer series (A REAL BASKET CASE, a Best First Novel Agatha Award finalist, and TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET). Her just released third novel in the series, A BASKET OF TROUBLE, blends her love for the outdoors once again with murder–this time in the horse-riding community. In A BASKET OF TROUBLE when Claire Hanover saddles up for the opening event of her brother Charley’s new riding stable, the last thing she expects is a murder investigation. Kyle Mendoza, one of the stable hands, is found dead in Gunpowder’s stall. Everyone thinks the horse trampled him, until it’s discovered someone killed Kyle before dragging him into the stall. Charley’s troubles worsen with Kyle’s family suing him and a rival stable owner wrangling up his clients, so Claire decides to find the real murderer before her brother’s business is put out to pasture.
Beth also writes the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner (DEADLY CURRENTS, an Amazon #3 overall bestseller, WICKED EDDIES, finalist for the Rocky Award, and just released, FATAL DESCENT). She enjoys Colorado’s many outdoor activities, including skiing and whitewater rafting, and loves talking to book clubs. Visit her at her website.
A BASKET OF TROUBLE is the third novel in your Claire Hanover gift basket designer series. Why did you choose a horse-riding setting for your third book?
I live in Colorado because I enjoy all the outdoor activities that the state has to offer—and I enjoy including those activities in my books. My RM Outdoor Adventures series has featured whitewater rafting, climbing, and fly fishing. Previous Claire Hanover books have featured hiking, skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. It was time, I felt, to include another of my favorite Colorado-based outdoor activities in one of my books—horseback riding.
What types of research, if any, did you do for A BASKET OF TROUBLE, and if so did you find that it affected the original story you had in mind?
I’ve ridden horses recreationally over the years in Colorado, but I took a trail ride through the Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs specifically for this book. I also interviewed the manager of a Colorado Springs-based trail riding business. And, I interviewed a hippotherapist who uses horses for physical and occupational therapy and observed some of her therapy sessions. I researched catalogues of horse tack (equipment) and cowboy work wear, the meanings of the sounds that horses make, observed a farrier at work shoeing horses, and more. My hope is that because of my research, readers will be immersed in the care and riding of horses while reading A BASKET OF TROUBLE and trying to solve the puzzle of whodunit along with Claire Hanover.
Researching topic areas for my books is always a part of the book-planning process for me, which also includes developing character profiles and creating a scene-by-scene outline. As I observe activities, I develop ideas for scenes including those activities. And, as I interview and observe real people who engage in the activities that I want to include in my book, the character traits I see and the specific dialogue they use goes into my character profiles. And, the plot may evolve as I run scene ideas past my interviewees and ask if they would be possible or plausible. After my interview with an immigration lawyer, for instance, I ended up restructuring the plot of A BASKET OF TROUBLE to be more realistic in addressing immigration issues.
How did the idea for the Claire Hanover craft-oriented series strike?
When I was thinking about writing the first book in the series, A REAL BASKET CASE, craft cozy mysteries were very popular with readers, and with me. So, I wanted my potential series sleuth to be a crafter. Not being very good with my hands, I cast about for a craft that I could personally do, because I knew I would want to delve into researching the craft as much as possible. Then I realized that I already made gift baskets for friends, relatives, and charity events, and I could use that. I augmented what I already knew with knowledge gained from interviews with owners of gift basket businesses, reading trade publications and blogs aimed at gift basket businesses, reading how-to books, scanning gift basket business websites, etc.
BOOKLIST says your Claire Hanover series will appeal to “those who like cozies with a bit of spice”, but praised reviewers note your series contains more edgy mystery full of suspense rather than cozy elements. What sets your work apart from other mysteries?
I call my Claire Hanover gift basket designer series an “edgy cozy” series, because it teeters right on the edge between cozy and soft-boiled, the category within which my RM Outdoor Adventures series belongs. I think what sets the Claire Hanover series apart from other cozy mystery series is that the murder victims are not always snarky or cruel people that everyone in town hates, thus providing lots of suspects. Instead, the murder victims in my books are often young people whose lives full of promise are snuffed out, and they are mourned by their friends and relatives, even if they are not perfect people. I show the emotional grief experienced by those who knew the victim well, rather than avoid that emotion to “spare” the reader.
Another thing that sets both of my series apart from most other cozy and soft-boiled series is that they take place in real locations in the state of Colorado and include outdoor activities in those locations. I love my state, and I love showcasing its positive aspects and spectacular scenery in my books. So, instead of creating an imaginary small town with cozy shops and cute restaurants, I use real cities and towns, such as Colorado Springs, Breckenridge, Salida, and Buena Vista, which usually aren’t very cute or cozy. Many still have those raw edges of the wild, wild west, which makes their locale—and the residents that live in them—that much more interesting to me, and to my readers, too, I hope!
How hot is that “bit of spice” in A BASKET OF TROUBLE? And is it more of a challenge for you to write love scenes or thrilling action scenes?
Love scenes are definitely more of a challenge for me to write than thrilling action scenes! That’s why all the sex that is mentioned in my books occurs behind closed doors. The characters might begin kissing and nuzzling, shed a shirt, and suggest taking the next step, but when they do, they kick the bedroom door shut and I leave it up to the reader’s imagination to fill in the rest.
Most of the “spice” that occurs in A BASKET OF TROUBLE occurs in the areas of violence, action, and foul language. I still limit all of those to tolerable amounts, though, so for instance, I only take one paragraph to describe a dead body. Also, I try to limit the curse words to less than twenty per book, and they’re usually tamer four-letter words that are only expressed by male characters during highly emotional moments.
You describe your main character, Claire Hanover, as an I Love Lucy type of person. Why did you decide to make her a bit of a bumbling, amateur sleuth?
Because, realistically, how professional a sleuth could a gift basket designer be? I always aim for realism and accuracy in my books, and it would be out of Claire’s character for her to be knowledgeable about techniques for investigating murders. However, all of the murders in the books in Claire’s series threaten those she loves—her husband in the first book, her daughter in the second, and her brother in the third. Claire is fierce about protecting those she loves, which is her motivation for sticking her nose in places it doesn’t belong. That said, if she learns something useful about investigations in one book, she doesn’t unlearn it before the next case comes up. She grows and changes over time through the series.
How has Claire Hanover changed from Book 1 (A REAL BASKET CASE) to Book 3 (A BASKET OF TROUBLE) in the series?
In each book, Claire has had a relationship issue to resolve with the family member who is threatened by the murder. In A REAL BASKET CASE, her husband Roger is accused of the murder and he accuses her of infidelity. So, their marriage is threatened, and Claire and Roger must work on putting it back together. That work is still on-going in the second and third book, but with each one, they draw closer together. In TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET, it’s Claire’s relationship with her daughter Judy that is threatened as she tries to overprotect Judy from the killer looking for her, and Judy says, “Back off, Mom!” Claire has to learn to let go of her college-aged daughter and let her make her own mistakes.
Now, in the third book, it’s Claire’s relationship with her brother that is at stake, as an old sibling rivalry issue raise its ugly head when Charley’s business is threatened. Claire learns, grows and changes as she faces each of these issues in the books, and she also learns how to cooperate better with the local police and to be a better sleuth herself.
Why did you choose to write in the mystery genre? Have any authors or events in your life influenced your choice to write mysteries?
I read widely in many genres, and I didn’t choose to write in the mystery genre at first. I tried my hand at writing a futuristic romantic suspense novel-length manuscript (that has never been published), mainstream short stories that have been published, and a hard science fiction novella that has been published. But when I wrote my first mystery manuscript (which became A REAL BASKET CASE), I knew I’d found my genre. It was a comfortable fit, like a well-worn slipper. I’m a puzzle person, who enjoys working on puzzles, and that’s essentially what a mystery novel is.
You also write the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures mystery series starring a whitewater river ranger. How do you manage writing back and forth from one series to another and do they influence the writing of each other?
Claire Hanover and Mandy Tanner are very different protagonists that live in very different milieu. Mandy is a 27-year-old, single whitewater river ranger who lives in the small town of Salida, Colorado. She is an outdoorswoman, loves adventure, has a boyfriend and a dog, and meets her friends for drinks and pool at the Victoria Tavern in town. Claire is a 47-year-old, married gift basket designer who lives in the large city of Colorado Springs, Colorado. She’s an indoor type of gal, has two grown children, and no pets.
They are very different from each other, as you can see from the basics. However, they both have elements of my own personality, values, and life experience in them. Claire is more like my present-day older self, though I like to say she’s braver than I am. However, I’m smarter than she is in that I can figure out how to get her out of trouble when she sticks her nose where it doesn’t belong. I was a “river rat” in my late twenties in the 1980s, running whitewater rivers back east in a canoe, so Mandy is similar to my younger self, when I was fiercely independent, like her, and feeling my way around relationships, like her. I still go whitewater rafting, though, which I don’t think Claire would ever have a desire to do!
When I am switching from one series’ world to another, I usually reread the previous book in the series that I’m switching to, to get my mind back into the other world and remember where I left the other protagonist. I try very hard not to let Claire’s and Mandy’s characters and worlds bleed into one another.
Do you tackle writing about issues in your books or is it more about entertaining your audience (and yourself)?
My primary goal is to entertain the reader. However, since I write about the Colorado outdoors and activities that take place in the outdoors, environmental issues can’t help but permeate into the lives of the characters and thus their stories. This is especially true for my RM Outdoor Adventures series, because whitewater river runners would, of course, advocate for keeping rivers undammed and free-flowing, free of pollution, and supportive of fish and other wildlife.
In A BASKET OF TROUBLE, illegal immigration becomes an issue, because stables are a primary area where illegal immigrants find work. I address the issue from a different perspective, though, I think from most, because I look at the impact on the small business owner (Charley, in this case) who tries to follow all the confusing regulations, but still runs afoul of the law. I never get on a soapbox about an issue in my books and force a point of view down a reader’s throat. Instead, I show how the issue affects different characters in the books and let readers draw their own conclusions.
What kind of marketing events are you planning on doing around the launch of A BASKET OF TROUBLE?
I’ve been very busy in the past few weeks planning promotion for the November 8th launch of A BASKET OF TROUBLE. Your readers who live in Colorado can check the Appearances page of my website to find out when I’ll be appearing near them. So far, I have six events scheduled throughout the state, and I love to chat with readers in-person!
For those who don’t live in Colorado, they can still find me on-line. On October 25th, a Goodreads giveaway for two free autographed copies of A BASKET OF TROUBLE will begin HERE. Enter by November 8th. And, if anyone is a Goodreads member, they are welcome to join my Q and A group HERE.
From Sunday, November 4th to Saturday, November 9th, I am a guest at the Barnes and Nobles on-line Mystery Book Club. On November 7th, I will be interviewed on Lisa K’s Book Reviews blog, and on Sunday, November 10th, I will visit the Murder By 4 blog. On Monday, November 11th, my protagonist Claire Hanover will guest on Dru’s Book Musings blog to talk about “A Day in the Life Of” a gift basket designer sleuth. Then on November 13th, I will visit the Savvy Authors blog.
On Saturday, November 23rd, I will appear on Suspense Radio at 11:00 AM PST, noon MST, 2:00 PM EST. Also, I’m still keeping up with my own blog and my posts every 4 weeks on the Midnight Ink authors blog, Inkspot (my November post will be on Monday, November 18th).
Bestselling mystery author Beth Groundwater writes the Claire Hanover gift basket designer series (A REAL BASKET CASE, a Best First Novel Agatha Award finalist, TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET, and in November, 2013, A BASKET OF TROUBLE) and the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner (DEADLY CURRENTS, an Amazon #3 overall bestseller, WICKED EDDIES, finalist for the Rocky Award, and just released, FATAL DESCENT). Beth enjoys Colorado’s many outdoor activities, including skiing and whitewater rafting, and loves talking to book clubs.
To learn more about Beth, please visit her website.