Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tomorrow's Guest: Joanna Campbell Slan

Tomorrow, mystery author Joanna Campbell Slan will be a guest on my blog. Joanna’s first novel in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series—Paper, Scissors, Death—was an Agatha Award finalist. She’s now writing the sixth book in that series, and her new series—The Jane Eyre Chronicles—will debut August 7, 2012, with Death of a Schoolgirl. Joanna lives on Jupiter Island, Florida.

"A delightful chance for Brontë fans to expand their acquaintance with Jane Eyre."
(Charlaine Harris, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author) 

In her guest post tomorrow, Joanna answers my interview questions, and I'm sure you'll be intrigued by what she has to say. Then, feel free to ask her some questions of your own in the comments.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Being a Friend to Your Local Library

As an adult, wherever I've lived, I have immediately joined the local library soon after moving in--and joined the Friends volunteer organization for the local library. My latest home, Summit County, is no exception. I have a Summit County Library card, and I am a member of the Friends of the Summit County Library.

Today, I am volunteering to man the Friends' used book sale booth at the Dillon Farmers' Market from 8 - 11 AM. Next month, I have volunteered to help set-up for the library's annual August book sale at the Main Branch in Frisco, Colorado. I am a firm believer in supporting and volunteering at your local library. It's often the only source of reading materials and Internet access to impoverished citizens of your local county and town.

I know as a child, the local library fed my voracious reading habit, and I gleefully participated in summer reading programs. As an adult, I check out books for my monthly book club reads, to research locations for trips, for my own reading pleasure, and to research my own mystery novels. Libraries are extraordinarily valuable community resources and deserve your support.

Are YOU a friend of your local library?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Today's Mystery Author Guest: Robert Spiller

As promised yesterday, fellow Colorado mystery author Robert Spiller is visiting my blog today. To read his bio and see his photo, please page down to yesterday's post.

The photo above is the cover for his latest March release, Radical Equations, the fourth book in his Bonnie Pinkwater math teacher series. When Bonnie Pinkwater and Wiccan friend Rhiannon Griffith find the body of Bonnie's Vice-Principal stashed in a shallow cave, they begin nosing around. What they find are homicidal motorcyclists, tyrannical dwarfs, suspicious evangelists, prostitutes, high stakes poker, and a damaged mathematician desperately needing Bonnie's help. As they draw nearer to the truth, one fact becomes glaringly apparent. Someone will do anything, even eliminate a busybody math teacher, to keep their deadly secret.

I've read this book and loved it, as I have ALL of the Bonnie Pinkwater series!

Below are Robert's answers to my interview questions. Please leave a comment for him, and if you have a question of your own for him, ask it!

1. Who or what inspired you to start writing and when did you start?

About the time my second marriage evaporated, I took off on a mountain bike to the four corners area of Colorado – I felt a need to visit the Mesa Verde Native American ruins.  I brought along five spiral notebooks to write a story that had been percolating around in my brain. On that three week ride, I wrote the first chapters of what would become The Children Of Yei, a sci-fi novel, which would win second place in the Paul Gillette Writing Contest ($50).  That novel never was published but through it and the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, I met my critique group (which included one Beth Groundwater).  Eventually, I left sci-fi and started writing mysteries.  Thus Bonnie Pinkwater my math teacher/sleuth was born.  Four books later (The Witch of Agnesi, A Calculated Demise, Irrational Numbers, Radical Equations) she still delights me.

2. How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?

A mixture of both.  I outline about half of the scenes I feel need to be there to give the bare bones of the mystery: the murders, the killer, most of the clues, the finale, and the wrap up.  Then as I’m writing these, other scenes—about thirty to thirty-five to match the initial thirty—shout at me demanding to be written.  All in all, I have about seventy scenes and three hundred pages.  My current project demanded to be written before I had more than twenty scenes outlined, but I’m having fun filling in the blanks.

3. In the age-old question of character versus plot, which one do you think is most important in a murder mystery and which one do you emphasize in your writing? Why?

This is going to sound false because, first of all I’m a mathematician who likes structure and I write plot-heavy cozies.  However, I firmly believe that character drives plot.  My sleuth, Bonnie Pinkwater, a feisty high school math teacher, is the driving force behind all my mathematical mysteries.  Without her personality, which is at times almost maniacal, there would be no real story. It is her sense of fairness, her fierce loyalty, and her need to have everything ‘make sense’ that gives Bonnie Pinkwater mysteries their flavor.  These are also the type of mysteries I like to read.  Certainly, it is character that brings readers back to a mystery series.  The reader grows fond of the character and wants to revisit them again and again.

4. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?

I answered this question yesterday and came back to it today only to find my answer had changed.  I suppose that means I have changed as well.  So, I think I’ll answer this bad boy in reverse.  What inspires and keeps me motivated?  I want folks to hold a novel of mine in their hands having just read the darn thing.  I want a smile on their faces.  I want a bittersweet feeling to come over them as they wish they had another chapter to read.  I want them to reach for the next Bonnie Pinkwater mystery so they can revisit East Plains, Colorado.  And in the end, I want them to write to me saying they had such a good time they can’t wait for the next Bonnie Pinkwater mystery.  In order for all of these things to happen I have to write the books; I have to put my butt to the chair and do the work.  And that, Beth, is my biggest challenge.

5. What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?

My wife and I have come up with a summer schedule which although it’s not perfect, seems to work.  Colorado mornings are just too nice to remain indoors, so we get up early and hike in the mornings. Then around ten, when the temperatures rise, I go into my man-cave and write until I’ve delivered up one thousand words (roughly 4 pages).  This time goes until four o’clock.  Any time after my thousand pages is used for promotion, blogging, my Facebook math problems, answering mail, planning classes and any number of other activities that the writing life demands.  The evenings are for my wife and me.  One thing I strive to do is to check in with her daily to let her know how my spirit is doing and to see what’s going on with her.

6. What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?

Put your butt in the chair and WRITE.  In all my years of writing, I’ve heard every excuse imaginable (a lot of them by me) for not getting the work done.  If you want to be a writer, you have to write.  Whether it be 1000 words a day (a first draft in three months) or one page a day (ten months) you have to sit down with your characters and write them to get to know them.  After a time of consistently living with your villains and heroes, they talk to you, but if you stay too long away from them they begin to fade.  Also, that filter that puts a haze between you and the details of your plot, grows thinner and thinner as you write consistently.  Soon, you’ll be writing with more clarity and be more connected to the logical demands of your story.  If you want to be a writer, then by God, write.

7. Now here’s a zinger. Tell us something about yourself that you have not revealed in another interview yet. Something as simple as your favorite TV show or food will do.

I was once a barker in a boardwalk arcade.  I would lure people over to a booth where I convinced them (usually guys trying to impress their girlfriends) to try and put two out of three softballs in a peach basket. For the most part, the balls would hit the bottom of the basket only to come flying out again. On occasion, I had to defend myself against irate boyfriends.  I did this for two summers while going to high school.  Those New Jersey boardwalk concessions were owned by gypsies and they sort of adopted me those summers.  I loved it.

8. What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?

Several projects: 

The fifth Bonnie Pinkwater mystery, Napiers Bones, which if the gods smile upon me, will be available at the end of 2012.

I am also laboring on a horror novel that gives me nightmares: a love story between two psychopaths.

9. Is there anything else you would like to tell my blog readers?

I’ve just recently taken over as webmaster of my website.  I’m very proud of it.  Please check it out.

Every Friday, I have a new math problem (solution on Monday) on my personal Facebook page.  Please come and stretch your synapses.

Check out my blog.  Because historical mathematicians are featured in the Bonnie Pinkwater mysteries, I have begun putting little mini-histories in my blog.  So far I have covered Hypatia, Mary Sommerville, Sonya Covelevsky, Emilie Brueil, and Marie Agnesi.  If you are at all interested in these fascinating women, give it a look see.  I also just wrote a piece on the recent Waldo Canyon wildfire. And lastly, please feel free to contact me at rspiller2004@yahoo.com

Thanks, Robert! Now, who has a comment or question for him? 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tomorrow's Guest: Robert Spiller

Tomorrow's guest is a good friend of mine and an excellent mystery author--Robert Spiller. Robert is the author of the Bonnie Pinkwater mystery series: The Witch of Agnesi, A Calculated Demise, Irrational Numbers, and Radical Equations. His math teacher/sleuth uses Mathematics and her knowledge of historic mathematicians to solve murders in the mythical small Colorado town of East Plains.  Robert is working on the fifth Bonnie book, Napier's Bones.  He lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with his wonderful wife Barbara (an excellent massage therapist).  His three children and four grandchildren all live within shouting distance. After thirty five years in the classroom, Robert retired from teaching mathematics this year to write full time.

In his guest post tomorrow, Robert Spiller answers my interview questions, and I'm sure you'll be intrigued by what he has to say. Then, feel free to ask him some questions of your own in the comments.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Being in the Inside Crowd

Today I'm over at Inkspot, the blog for Midnight Ink authors, talking about being in the inside crowd. I hope you'll read my post there and leave me a comment!

Friday, July 20, 2012

July 25th is Colorado River Day

I want to let everyone know that next Wednesday, July 25th, is Colorado River Day (as in the river of that name), with events scheduled in communities that use Colorado River water. To find out more, and to see if there's an event near you, go HERE. The theme of Colorado River Day is "On the Colorado River, we're in the same boat: it's time to prioritize water conservation." There are events in Denver, Grand Junction, Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego, and more. At the website I gave you, you can also educate yourself about the mismatch between water demands on the Colorado River and the supply, and there's a petition to lawmakers that you can sign. Help keep this river flowing!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Hike Above Hoosier Pass

Two weeks ago, I went on a hike above Hoosier Pass in Colorado with the Women with Altitude group. I took a few photos with my cell phone, and I thought I'd share them with my blog readers. The views were spectacular from the top, of small mountain lakes, mining ruins, Montgomery Reservoir, and the peaks surrounding us. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Today's Mystery Author Guest: Terri L. Austin

As promised yesterday, fellow mystery author Terri L. Austin is visiting my blog today. To read her bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post.

The photo above is the cover for Terri's first published mystery novel, Diners Dives and Dead Ends, which is being released today. Yes, today! As a struggling waitress and part-time college student, Rose Strickland’s life is stalled in the slow lane. But when her close friend, Axton, disappears, Rose suddenly finds herself serving up more than hot coffee and flapjacks. Now she’s hashing it out with sexy bad guys and scrambling to find clues in a race to save Axton before his time runs out.

With her anime-loving bestie, her septuagenarian boss, and pair of IT wise men along for the ride, Rose discovers political corruption, illegal gambling, and shady corporations. She’s gone from zero to sixty and quickly learns when you’re speeding down the fast lane, it’s easy to crash and burn.

Sounds like a lot of fun to me!

Below are Terri's answers to my interview questions. Please leave a comment for her, and if you have a question of your own for her, ask it!

1. Who or what inspired you to start writing and when did you start?

 First of all, thanks for having me, Beth.  And hello to all your readers.

I always wanted to write.  I would jot down little stories or ideas and even attempted a couple of manuscripts.  Then someone told me about NaNoWriMo and it clicked.  I was determined to write and edit a mystery novel.  And Diners, Dives and Dead Ends is the result!

2. What tools and process do you use to “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?

I figure it out as I go along.  Usually by the end of the first draft, I have a handle on the characters and what they’re about.  I don’t outline beforehand.  That takes the fun out of it for me.  I’m more a by the seat of my pants type of gal.

3. In the age-old question of character versus plot, which one do you think is most important in a murder mystery and which one do you emphasize in your writing? Why?

Definitely character.  Since I’m writing about an amateur sleuth, Rose Strickland, it’s all about how Rose finds clues and navigates through her world.  If I were writing procedural, then plot would probably come out on top.

4. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?

When you’re trying to get your work out there, you face rejection.  It’s hard, but it’s not personal.  You have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep on working.  I have daily and weekly goals that help keep me focused.  My advice—just keep writing.

5. What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?

Well, my kiddos just moved out of the house, so I’m not on mom duty anymore.  And yes, I celebrated with margaritas.  I usually work 8-10 hour days.  My husband works from home as well, so we meet up for breakfast and coffee breaks.

6. What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?

Write.  Every day.  Even if it’s only a few hundred words, get in the habit of doing it every day.  And don’t think you’re going to be perfect, because you aren’t.  Don’t go back and rewrite the first chapter a million times, just keep moving forward.  Like a shark.  A big writing shark.

7. Now here’s a zinger. Tell us something about yourself that you have not revealed in another interview yet. Something as simple as your favorite TV show or food will do.

My favorite TV show of all time is La Femme Nikita.  The original one, with Peta Wilson and Roy Dupuis.  Can’t get enough of it.

8. What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?

I’m working on the next Rose Strickland mystery.  There’s much ado in Huntingford and more mysteries for Rose to solve.

9. Is there anything else you would like to tell my blog readers?

Warning:  Diners, Dives and Dead Ends is a traditional mystery that contains quirky humor, off-the-wall characters, and a dash of spicy language.  Be prepared for fun read.

If your book club is interested in Diners, Dives and Dead Ends, I’m available to talk with you and there are questions in the back of the book.  Contact me at my website. Also, I’m having a drawing at the end of my blog tour.  Leave a comment with your email address along the way, and I’ll enter you to win one of three copies of my book.  Continental US only.  You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. Thank you, Beth!

Thanks, Terri! Now, who has a comment or question for her? 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Tomorrow's Guest: Terri L. Austin

Tomorrow, mystery author Terri L. Austin will be a guest on my blog. Terri lives in Missouri with her funny, handsome husband and a high maintenance peekapoo. She’s the author of Diners, Dives & Dead Ends—a Rose Strickland Mystery that will be released tomorrow, July 17th. When she isn't writing, she enjoys eating breakfast at her local diner, watching really bad movies, and hanging out with her kids when they're home from college. Diners, Dives, & Dead Ends is her debut novel, and it was a 2011 Get Your Stiletto in the Door finalist.

"Austin’s debut kicks off her planned series by introducing a quirky, feisty heroine and a great supporting cast of characters and putting them through quite a number of interesting twists."
-- Kirkus Reviews

In her guest post tomorrow, Terri answers my interview questions, and I'm sure you'll be intrigued by what she has to say. Then, feel free to ask her some questions of your own in the comments.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Book Signing Photos

Late May and June was a busy time for me, with many book signings for my Wicked Eddies mystery release. Thankfully, I was so busy signing books and chatting with readers at most of the events that I forgot to take photos. I did get two, though. The first is of me with some close friends, mother and daughter, at the Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Colorado Springs. The second is of me with fellow Colorado author Barbara O'Neal at the Covered Treasures bookstore in Monument. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Three Days on a Jury: Day Three

Yesterday and the day before, I described the first two days of my recent wonderful (for a mystery author) experience of serving on a jury for a three-day criminal trial. I'll finish that story today by describing the last day, including jury deliberation.

Throughout the three days, I had a chance to get to know the other members of the jury, which consisted of six women and six men. There were many times during the trial when were waiting in the jury room to be called into the courtroom. Since we were not allowed to discuss the case, we talked about other things, including the Waldo Canyon fire that was in the process of destroying the homes of three of my friends in Colorado Springs. Jury members ranged from young people just out of college or still in college to retirees. Many were missing work to serve, but all seemed to take the responsibility very seriously. Many asked me what being an author was like. One of the retirees who was an avid mystery reader even ended up buying one of my mystery novels from me!

We had one of those long delays when we showed up the third morning, spending over an hour in the jury room while the judge and attorneys wrangled over motions and the wording of the jury instructions, which had to be reprinted and copied for us. Finally, we were led into the courtroom by the bailiff, and the judge apologized to us for keeping us waiting so long. We heard the prosecution's closing statement, the defense's closing statement, and the prosecution's rebuttal.

Then, the judge read the jury instructions to us as we followed along with our copies. Each of the six counts was explained, with the elements that needed to be proven to show guilt. Also, we were reminded to disregard any testimony that had been objected to and sustained. We were reminded by the judge to not use the prior victim's testimony to judge the defendant's character or to prove guilt in the current case, and to only to look for similar patterns of behavior. There were more instructions, some of which I think were related to rulings made prior to or during the case in response to motions made by the defense attorney.

We finally were dismissed to the jury room about 11:30 AM and were told by the bailiff that if we thought we would be deliberating for awhile, we could order lunch. We briefly discussed who should be foreman and chose one of the three people (including me) who had managerial experience--who happened to be in the bathroom at the time. :) We gave him the opportunity to back out, but he didn't mind taking on the responsibility. Then he led us into making our first unanimous decision--we wanted lunch brought in!

We spent a total of three hours in deliberation, discussing and voting on each charge. The only charge in which the first vote was unanimous was the marijuana possession charge, because it was so clear-cut. However, we all felt we were missing some pieces of evidence for the other charges. Where was the medical record of the victim's treatment at the emergency room that night? Where was the victim's cell phone record, which would have had the times of her text messages to her roommates from the bar, and most importantly from the bus on her way home from the bar? Where was the missing broken laptop and why wasn't it photographed that night?

Ultimately, we voted guilty on the charges of assault, theft, and marijuana possession. We voted guilty to a step-down charge of criminal mischief, choosing the charge of under $1,000 of damage versus between $1,000 and $20,000. This was because we had a clear record of the window replacement cost (under $1,000), but no idea of the computer cost or if it indeed had actually been broken. We voted innocent on the false imprisonment charge, because we felt that even though the victim's coat was stolen, there were blankets and other clothes in the house and other homes were nearby that she could have stumbled to. And, in the victim's statement to the police, she never specifically said she tried to get away during the assault and he prevented her.

We couldn't decide on one charge, disruption of telephone service, which in all likelihood was the least important one. We discussed it for well over an hour. Some people thought the cell phone could have easily been left by the drunk victim at the bar or on the bus, and since it was never found on the defendant, there was no clear case that it was stolen. Even though she said "he took my phone" to the police and her roommates, she may have assumed it was in a pocket of the coat that he took (and he may have assumed that, too).

We sent a question to the judge through the bailiff asking what would happen if we could make up our mind on five counts but were hung on one. The judge had us brought back into the courtroom to tell us that we were to try our best to reach unanimous agreement on all the charges. She read us our job description as a jury, then sent us back into the jury room to try harder. She did explain that the whole case would not be thrown out, only that one charge, and that the DA would have the option of retrying the defendant on that one charge.

After further discussion, we all agreed to remain hung on that charge, then the foreman filled out all the paperwork. We filed back into the courtroom, the foreman gave the paperwork to the bailiff, and the judge read out our decisions. Needless to say, neither the defendant nor the victim, who was in the courtroom, was happy with the outcome. But, everyone on the jury felt satisfied that we had reached a just and fair decision.

We were dismissed to the jury room while the judge set a sentencing date, then she came in to thank us for our service and hand out certificates. She also said she would try to answer any questions we had. Of course, we asked about the missing evidence we would like to have seen. She said that she had ruled that the medical record was inadmissible because the DA's office didn't get a copy from the hospital in time for the defense attorney to study it and prepare a proper defense. But, juries can't be told why they aren't seeing certain evidence. They have to make their decision just on what's presented in the trial.

Later, when the attorneys from both sides came in to speak to us, we asked one of the Asst. DA's about the missing phone record. She said that those are often only kept for a month, and they hadn't gotten the request in on time. They are busy preparing for two murder trials (murder is a very rare occurrence in Summit County), and their resources are stretched thin as a result. They never know what minor cases are going to go to trial, so they often don't start investigations right away, waiting first to see if the accused will plead guilty or take a deal.

I understand that the police and members of the DA's office are people and people make mistakes, so no case is going to be perfectly open-and-shut. And this one did have some holes. However, I have no reasonable doubt that the defendant assaulted his girlfriend.

Being able to ask the judge and the attorneys any questions we wanted made the experience much more valuable for me, and I think it helped all of the jury members understand the legal process much better. I was gratified that there were no "poison personalities" on the jury and that we all respected each others' opinions and were able to discuss our views openly. This was a case of the process working!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Three Days on a Jury: Day Two

Yesterday, I began telling the story of my recent wonderful (for a mystery author) experience of serving on a jury for a criminal trial. I'll continue that story with a description of the second day of the trial today, then conclude tomorrow with the last day of the trial, including the jury deliberation. The six charges we were to decide on included: assault in the third degree, criminal mischief (vandalism), theft, disruption of telephone service, false imprisonment, and marijuana possession.

Over the course of the second day of the trial, we heard from the prosecution's remaining witnesses. These included the victim's two housemates who found her and called for police and an ambulance. Both of their stories supported the responding police officer's version of events. Also, the officers who arrested the defendant the day after the alleged assault were called to testify that they found marijuana and a pipe in his backpack. They also said the defendant claimed that the victim hit him on the head with a wine bottle and attacked him with a staple gun during the fight. And, we heard from the owner of the house how much it cost to fix the window.

One witness was a woman who had been attacked by the defendant in the past. We were instructed by the judge to not use her testimony to judge the defendant's character or to prove guilt in the current case. We were only to look for similar patterns of behavior. And the pattern was eerily similar, both in the method of attack (punching her in the face to get her on the floor and repeatedly kicking her) and taking away the means to call or go for help (in this other case, by throwing the victim's cell phone, car keys, and winter coat onto the roof of the condo complex). We were not told during the trial that the defendant served a three year prison term for this attack, but we learned that later after the trial from the judge.

The last witness was a psychologist who is an expert in domestic abuse. She testified for a very long time after her expertise was established. She did not know the details of this case, but she discussed domestic abuse cases in general. Domestic abuse can only occurs between two people who have an intimate (sexual) relationship, so does not include abuse between people who may be related or share a home, but don't have an intimate relationship.

The expert explained the cycle of domestic abuse (four stages: escalating tension, attack, honeymoon period, relative calm) that repeats over and over again. She also said that victims often recant their story because they want the abuse to end, not the relationship. And, she said that victims who are under stress and in pain right after the attack are likely telling the truth then because they've had neither the wits nor time to construct a plausible story.

Throughout the second day, the defense attorney poked away at the prosecution's case, showing where evidence was not collected (eg. the broken laptop, which disappeared later), where police records were incomplete or confusing (the amount of marijuana was recorded in grams in one place and ounces in another), etc. She also chipped away at the reliability of the witnesses, particularly the victim, and of the housemates, who later had arguments with the victim and were no longer friends of hers.

The prosecution rested their case late in the afternoon, and the defense called no witnesses. Again, the judge told us this was not required or needed. We were dismissed for the day, admonished again not to discuss or research the case, and told to report back the next morning for closing statements and deliberation.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Three Days on a Jury: Day One

Recently I had the wonderful (for a mystery author) experience of serving on a jury for a criminal trial. The three-day experience gave me an inside look at the Summit County, Colorado, criminal justice system, and at the lives and tribulations of what my mother would call "not our kind of people." I'm going to blog about my experience today and the next two days, so I can share some of what I learned with other mystery authors and with mystery readers. I hope you find my experience as interesting as I did!

The trial was a case of domestic abuse (the local newspaper article--if you want to read the verdict now--is HERE). About three weeks prior, I received a jury summons to show up at the Summit County Justice Center on Tuesday June 26th, at 9:30 AM. After checking in and waiting for another twenty minutes or so, those of us who responded to the summons were all ushered into a courtroom. The judge informed us that 90 people had been summoned and 37 had shown up. She was not pleased.

Then she went through a list of reasons why someone could be excused--doesn't live in the county anymore (a few college students who were still away for summer classes fit this category), taking care of a disabled person, etc. Then she said the case involved domestic abuse and asked if anyone felt they could not be impartial in such a case. A few hands went up, mostly women, and she asked those people to discuss why with her privately in her chambers. Most were excused. That left just over thirty of us in the room.

Then twenty-two names were called for people to come forward and sit in the jury box. I was thrilled when I was one of them, and I began thinking that maybe I would actually get a chance to serve. The prosecution and defense could each choose five jurors to dismiss, and the remaining twelve would serve. Next, each juror answered a standard set of questions, such as which town we lived in and for how long, if we were married or had children, our occupation and those of our spouse, children and parents, if we knew anyone in law enforcement, our hobbies, sports and interests, what we liked to read and watch on TV, and what sites we visited on the Internet. The judge usually had at least one clarification question for each juror, expounding on anything that might show a preconceived bias.

Then the prosecution (two Assistant District Attorneys working together) and defense (a paid versus court-appointed lawyer) had about a half hour each to question the jury as a whole on issues or jury members in particular about their background or views. One of the Asst. DAs knew my name and about my RM Outdoor Adventure mystery series, but he was surprised that Beth Groundwater was my real name, not a pen name. I was asked WHY I wrote mystery novels, probably to see if I had any bias for or against cops or criminals or if I had preconceived notions of justice. I answered that I had tried other genres, but that mystery felt most comfortable for me, probably because I was a puzzle person.

When one man, who had previous experience with domestic abuse, said he was very interested in serving on the jury, one of the Asst. DAs asked almost in jest if anyone else really wanted to serve. I deliberately did not raise my hand, because I did not want to appear overeager. That man was dismissed from the jury, but I was not. One interesting question we were asked by the Asst. DAs was what our reaction would be if they brought forward a witness that they were pretty sure would lie to us.  There were some "Huh?" looks from some jurors at that point, as we wondered why they would call a witness they expected to lie on the stand. We found out later!

Since we're a low-population county, quite a few people knew law enforcement personnel or members of the court system. Also, one man's sister had been a victim of domestic abuse. As I listened to these other jurors, I thought, okay that person will be dismissed over me. And that proved to be the case. The defense and prosecution had more compelling reasons to dismiss ten other jurors, and at the end of the voir dire (jury selection) process, I was still in the box!

We were sworn in, admonished not to discuss the case with each other or other people, not to do any research related to the case, and dismissed for lunch. After lunch, the trial began and the prosecution presented their opening statement. There was no opening statement from the defense, and the judge instructed us that the defense is not required to provide an opening or closing statement, or call any witnesses or present any evidence. Nor is the defendant required to testify. The onus of proof is on the prosecution (the defendant is presumed innocent before proven guilty), and the defense doesn't have to prove anything.

We heard testimony first from the police officer who arrived on the scene after 911 was called by two of the victim's housemates who came home one night in December, 2011 to find her laying in a fetal position on the sofa. The story that the victim told her roommates and the officer was that she and her boyfriend were drinking at a bar and got into an argument there. He returned to her place and waited for her while she finished her beer. When she got home, the argument began again and got physical. He punched her in the face and repeatedly kicked her, threw a skateboard through her bedroom window, broke her laptop computer, and stole her cell phone and winter coat so she could not call or go for help (the house had no land-line). The police officer had taken photos of the victim's bruised face, the broken window, etc. and these were entered as evidence.

Then, the victim got on the stand and told a completely different story. She couldn't remember what she said to the police officer, claimed that she bruised her own face by tripping and falling on the stairs, and that during the argument she threw her own laptop computer through the window. Even when pressured by the prosecutor, who repeated statements she made to the police officer and which he recorded in his report, the victim stuck with her story. When asked by the prosecution if she still loved the defendant, she said that yes, she still cared for him and wanted to be with him, but was prevented from being with him (we later found out, by court order).

I went home that afternoon thinking, well THAT was interesting! I had many, many unanswered questions from the conflicting accounts of what happened.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Buzy as a Bustling Bee

You won't be seeing much of me on-line this month because I'll be as busy as a bustling bee in July. I thought I was busy in June promoting the May release of book two in my RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series, Wicked Eddies, But now I have two major projects related to my Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series due by the end of the month!

The first is to incorporate feedback from my agent on the third book in the series, that I'm calling Basketful of Troubles, and to do one final editing polish before turning in the manuscript to the Acquisition Editor at my publisher, Midnight Ink. The second is to proof the galley for their re-release in trade paperback and ebook of book two in the series, To Hell in A Handbasket, before it gets sent to the printer for publication in November.

To force myself to focus on these projects, I've turned off my Yahoogroups, and I'm vowing not to read email, check Facebook, or otherwise get on-line until after I've done a good day's work on them (unless I have a blog guest to promote). Please chew me out if you see me on-line in the morning! If you need me, contact me directly at my website. Otherwise, please wish me luck!

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Happy Independence Day!!

Here's a big shout out to all of my readers who are fellow citizens of the United States of America. Happy Independence Day! I hope this July 4th finds you happy, healthy, and safe and among friends and family in a celebratory mood. I'm looking forward to a typical small-town celebration in Breckenridge, Colorado: a morning parade that includes lots of kids on decorated bikes, an airshow by a stunt pilot, brats on the BBQ with friends for lunch, a concert on the lawn, and more. Between the festivities, I'll be taking a moment of silence to thank our brave servicemen and women who keep our country safe.

One thing I won't be doing is watching a fireworks show. That's because we are under a stage 2 fire ban here in Summit County due to the continuing high danger of wildfires. That means no open fires and no fireworks, not even sparklers. More fires is the last thing Colorado needs! I will be celebrating, however, that the Waldo Canyon fire, which threatened so many friends' homes and destroyed a few, seems to be mostly under control now. Praise God! And praise the USA!

Monday, July 02, 2012

Saving Guatemala's Wild Rivers

Last Friday, my husband and I saw a beautiful, moving, and adventuresome film at the Colorado Mountain College auditorium in Breckenridge. Titled Rios Guatemala, it chronicles an expedition down some beautiful and exciting whitewater rivers in Guatemala. It also shows the brave diplomacy that had to come into play when angry Mayan villagers detained paddlers they mistook for hydroelectric engineers. The expedition had to convince the Mayans that they had the same goals--to preserve and protect the rivers.

The film was made to bring attention to the danger threatening these Guatemalan rivers, due to proposed dam and mine development, and to the need for developing a sustaining ecotourism industry in the area. Ecotourism would offer an alternative to exploitation of these wild and pristine rivers and provide a source of income to the indigenous Mayan people. The film is being shown in the United States to attract attention and funding to a brand new foundation, the Rios Guatemala Foundation.

After viewing the film, I was ready to go to Guatemala! What a beautiful country, and what an amazing trip it would be to paddle down those roaring rivers. To see previews of the film on YouTube, go HERE and HERE.

To find out more about the Rios Guatemala Foundation and its mission to provide for the enjoyment, preservation and restoration of wild rivers in Guatemala, go HERE. You can see and hear the director, Guatamalan native Max Baldetty, talk about their vision at the website. You can read a mouth-watering description of their planned "Highlands to the Sea" fundraising expeditions on the Rios Lanquin and Cahabon, named by Paddler Magazine as one of the twelve best jungle river trips in the world. And you can gather a group of whitewater paddling friends and contact the foundation to schedule your own trip of a lifetime. You can feel good about it, too, because twenty percent of the trip sales go directly to the RIOS Guatemala Foundation and the preservation and restoration of river ecosystems in Guatemala.