Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Mystery Lover's Gift Basket Recipe for Halloween Giving

Just in time for Halloween, I thought I'd share with my blog readers my gift basket designer character's (Claire Hanover) recipe for a mystery lover's gift basket.

Recipe for a Mystery Lover's Gift Basket

Color scheme: black, red, and either white or gray

Container: black-painted basket, bucket or box, with a lid or handle sticking up, from which you hang fake spider webbing

Stuffing: dried Spanish moss or red-dyed tissue paper, shreds, or wood shavings

- Mystery books such as those in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer series: A Real Basket Case, To Hell in a Handbasket, A Basket of Trouble
- CD of eerie music such as Mystery Movie Scores or Mystery Sound Effects
- Pocket-sized mystery party game or travel Clue game
- Movie DVD: Clue, Mousetrap, an Alfred Hitchcock or Sherlock Holmes movie, or a movie collection (such as Mystery Classics: 50 Movie Pack)
- Chocolate or bubble gum coins or other mystery-related chocolate shapes such as blood drops, knives, or guns (Chocolate Pen is a sample vendor)
- And a selection from the following list:
     -- Magnifying glass
     -- Pair of play handcuffs and/or sheriff's badge
     -- Rubber knife
     -- Glasses, nose, mustache disguise
     -- Spy Gear toys from Wild Planet
     -- Skull-shaped/logo item(s): tea-light candle holder, squeeze ball, notepad, drinking cup (see Oriental Trading's Halloween collection)
     -- Bottle of stage blood from a costume or makeup supply store, or make your own (see How To)

Do you have any more ideas for creative ingredients to add to a Mystery Lover's Gift Basket?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Book Giveaway Contest!

To celebrate the impending release of A Basket of Trouble, the third book in my Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series, I am hosting a Goodreads giveaway contest that begins today and ends on November 8th, the book's release date, to award a copy to each of two lucky winners. For my blog readers who are Goodreads members, I hope you will enter the contest and add the book to your to-read lists there.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Exploring Colorado

Anyone who knows me knows that I love my home state of Colorado and I love setting my books in scenic locations within the state. Above is a photo of the Garden of the Gods park in Colorado Springs, which is featured in both the first and third mysteries in my Claire Hanover gift basket designer series, A Real Basket Case and A Basket of Trouble.

I encourage anyone who hasn't yet visited Colorado to do so, at the first opportunity! To whet your appetite, I'm going to share some vacation planning links below.

Colorado Ghost Towns

Colorado Creative Districts for the Arts (Including Salida, where Mandy Tanner, my whitewater river ranger sleuth lives. Her latest adventure is Fatal Descent, the third book in my RM Outdoor Adventures series.)

Top Places to Fish in Colorado 

Colorado Wineries and Scenic and Historic Byways

And if those don't whet your traveling appetite, take a look at this list of articles about traveling in Colorado!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Interviewing Characters to Get to Know Them

I'm over at Inkspot today, the blog for Midnight Ink authors, talking about how I used the tool of first-person interviews to get to know the characters in my books. Please check it out and let me know what you think about the article there.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Stretching the Boundaries of a Cozy Mystery

Sex. Violence. Profanity. Agatha Christie might be rolling in her grave (or secretly chuckling) as the modern world shoulders its way into the cozy mystery genre.

Cozy mysteries are also referred to as traditional mysteries. The Malice Domestic conference defines a traditional mystery—books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie—as mysteries which contain no explicit sex or excessive gore or violence; and usually (but are not limited to) featuring an amateur detective, a confined setting, and characters who know one another.

The term cozy mysteries came from the tea cozy, a cloth cover for a teapot which insulates the tea, keeping it warm while it sits on the table next to a reader ensconced in an easy chair reading a traditional mystery. Jessica Fletcher, the heroine of the television series, Murder, She Wrote, typified the type of amateur sleuth found in a cozy mystery. For a more lengthy description of the cozy mystery genre, along with a list of authors, go HERE.

Many current traditional or cozy mystery writers (myself included) have stretched the boundaries of the genre to include a bit more of the grittiness of the modern world. I'll use my own books in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series to show how we’ve expanded the genre.

Sex – The bedroom door has cracked open a bit, allowing brief glimpses of a breast or a bare bum, but long descriptions of the sex act itself, with plumbing details, are still not tolerated by readers. As an example of walking this line, an underlying subplot in To Hell in a Handbasket, the second book in the Claire Hanover gift basket design series, is Claire's daughter's propensity for appearing just when Claire and her husband decide to get amorous, stopping the action and being grossed out by what she sees.

Violence – Descriptions of the murder victim often have become more graphic, as in my upcoming November release, A Basket of Trouble, the third book in the series, where mention is made of blood, flies, a smashed nose and a leg bent at a unnatural angle. The total description is still limited to just one paragraph, though. Also, fight scenes and shoot-outs can be included in a modern cozy, but prolonged torture or on-screen rape scenes still aren’t tolerated.

Victim – While in the past, the cozy murder victim was someone who “deserved to die” (thus giving us lots of suspects with motive) and was not someone to be mourned, that's no longer always the case. For example, in To Hell in a Handbasket, the first murder victim is an innocent young woman, a friend of Claire's daughter, who still had her whole life ahead of her.

Profanity – Just as modern society has become more tolerant of some foul language, so has the cozy form. An occasional four-letter word is allowed when strong emotion demands it, but it's usually spoken by a male character or a hardened female character, and rarely by the sleuth herself. In A Real Basket Case, the first book in the series, it's usually Claire's husband, her embittered friend Ellen, or one of the criminals involved who, overcome by emotion, let slip with a brief curse.

Confined setting – Often this is interpreted to mean the setting should be a small town or village, but the important aspect here is that most of the characters know each other so when the sleuth interviews them, they divulge information about each other. This can be accomplished by giving most of the characters a common pursuit, even though the book is set in a large city. An example is the staff and clientele of the same Colorado Springs gym in A Real Basket Case.

Issues - Cozies nowadays often tackle political, environmental or ethical issues that may have only been touched upon in the past. For instance, A Basket of Trouble explores the issue of illegal immigration, from the often ignored perspective of the small business owner who tries to do the right thing.

The one feature of the cozy mystery genre that is usually not stretched is that the sleuth is an amateur. Why is this? Because if professional police forensics such as DNA analysis are used to solve the crime versus the interviewing of witnesses, the finding of clues, and deduction of motives, then the puzzle aspect of the books is lost. Then the readers don't have the enjoyment of trying to figure out who the killer is themselves.

Regardless of how the boundaries are being stretched, I will continue to be a fan of cozy mysteries in all their forms, reading them while ensconced in an easy chair next to a pot of warm tea.

Do you have any limits for what you’ll read? If you're a cozy mystery reader, what do you like best about the genre?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Ziplining Adventure

About a week ago, I went ziplining with my husband, son, and some friends at AVA's Idaho Springs, CO, location. Go HERE to find out more and sign up for your own adventure. It was a gorgeous day, the location on a cliffside among the trees and overlooking Chicago and Clear Creeks and the town was beautiful, and my companions were having a blast. Here I am starting out on one of the longer lines:

And here I'm coming in for a landing.

Below, I'm hamming it up for the photographer (my husband Neil), as I leave another platform, and below that, my brave son shows how it should really be done, with a leap into the air.

AVA guides Mike and Gail McManus made our adventure both fun and safe. I highly recommend AVA's ziplining course and Mike and Gail as guides!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Great Reviews for A BASKET OF TROUBLE!

The third book in my Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series, A Basket of Trouble, will be  released on November 8th. The reviews have already started rolling in, and I'm very pleased so far! Below are some quotes from reviews to date that I know about, along with links to where you can read the full text on-line (sometimes only available to subscribers).

“Groundwater combines a satisfying mystery with aspects of riding life and a look at the illegal immigration issue. A good choice for fans of small-town amateur sleuths.”
   -- Booklist, Oct 1, 2013

“Groundwater’s well-crafted cozy comes complete with numerous red herrings and a picturesque setting.”
   -- Publishers Weekly, Sep 30, 2013

“This book had everything I want in a cozy mystery. It featured multidimensional characters, a twisting plot, and a location I want to visit.”
   -- Mystery Books Examiner, July 15, 2013

“The latest starring Claire (To Hell in a Handbasket, 2012, etc.) packs in more action than a typical cozy.”
   -- Kirkus Reviews, August 11, 2013

“Horse lovers and mystery fans will enjoy A BASKET OF TROUBLE.”
   -- Clare O'Beara, Fresh Fiction, October 9, 2013

“This one is not easy to figure out! Throughout the story the themes of self-esteem, personal perception and sibling rivalry are explored. Ms. Groundwater brings the social issue of immigration reform to the table through the Mexican farm hands in her story. She also introduces us to and enlightens us about the benefits of Hippotherapy and the tragedy of Alzheimer's. All of these issues and themes are seamlessly blended together in a gripping cozy mystery that you do not want to miss. Check out A BASKET OF TROUBLE!”
   -- Viki Ferrell, Fresh Fiction, October 9, 2013

“This is a very entertaining mystery with likable and engaging characters.”
   -- a 4-star review by Lis C, a Goodreads reader

Fans of the series have had a long wait for the third book to appear, four years after the second installment in Claire's adventures, To Hell in a Handbasket, came out in hardcover in 2009. The reason is because I changed publishers between the two books, and Midnight Ink wanted to republish the first two in trade paperback and ebook before bringing out the third. The long wait is almost over, and I hope everyone who reads A Basket of Trouble agrees that the wait was worth it!

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Today's Mystery Author Guest: Kathleen Ernst

As promised yesterday, fellow Midnight Ink mystery author Kathleen Ernst is visiting my blog today, with an article about her protagonist Chloe Ellefson's boyfriend. To read Kathleen's bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post. Also, Kathleen is running a contest for a free autographed copy of the latest release in her Historic Sites mystery series, Heritage of Darkness, the cover art for which appears above, or one of the other books in the series. Kathleen will select the winner tomorrow evening from among those who leave a comment today or tomorrow and will announce the name in a comment on this post.

In the book, for curator Chloe Ellefson, a family bonding trip to Decorah, Iowa, for rosemaling classes seems like a great idea—until the drive begins. Chloe’s cop friend Roelke takes her mother’s talk of romantic customs good-naturedly, but it inflates Chloe’s emotional distress higher with each passing mile. After finally reaching Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Chloe’s resolve to remain positive is squashed when she and Roelke find Petra Lekstrom’s body in one of the antique immigrant trunks. Everyone is shaken by the instructor’s murder, and when Mom volunteers to take over the beginners’ class, Chloe is put in the hot seat of motherly criticism. As she investigates, Chloe uncovers dark family secrets that could be deadly for Mom . . . and even herself.

Sounds like an exciting read to me! Below is Kathleen's article.

The Boyfriend
Kathleen Ernst

Chloe Ellefson, the protagonist of my Historic Sites mystery series, is a museum curator.  She is also thirty-two years old, single, and in the process of leaving behind an old relationship that failed in a particularly colossal way.  I knew from the start that I wanted Chloe to have a man in her life.  Enter Roelke McKenna, local cop.

I also want the series to continue indefinitely.  That means sustaining a believable relationship over a long arc.  It means letting Chloe and Roelke grow and change in each book, both singly and as a twosome.  And it means finding the right pace—not rushing things, but also not drawing things out to the point of annoyance for readers.  I want people to feel satisfied at the end of each volume, but still eager to see what comes next.  Based on mail from readers, the complicated interactions between these two is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the series.

Chloe and Roelke spend most of the first book in the series, Old World Murder, getting to know each other.  He’s interested; she’s wary.  They seem to have nothing in common.  She’s made mistakes in the past.  She doesn’t want to make any more.  He comes up with a pretty cool plan to help her move forward.

Fast forward to the fourth (and brand new!) book, Heritage of Darkness.  Chloe and her mom travel to Decorah, Iowa, to take concurrent painting classes at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.  When Roelke sees that a woodcarving class is being held at the same time, he signs up and comes along.  Chloe and Mom have a sometimes-prickly relationship, and he’s pretty sure he can help smooth out the tension.

Things don’t go as planned, of course.  Mom takes a shine to Roelke, which is great!  But when she bombards him with hints about traditional courtship and marriage customs, Chloe is mortified.

Then there’s the whole problem of how Chloe should introduce him to her mother’s friends.  Here’s how Roelke handles the conversation:

“Listen,” Chloe said, “this will probably sound stupid, but I need to ask you something.  How do you want me to introduce you to people?  What should I call you?”

“How about your boyfriend?  That works for me.”  It worked quite well, actually.

“That would make me feel like we’re in junior high.”

He considered.  “Is there some historical term you’d like?”

“Beau?  Suitor?  Gentleman caller?”

OK, that idea wasn’t as clever as he’d hoped.  “Those would make me feel like we’re living in some PBS show.”  And if one of his friends ever heard Chloe refer to him as her “gentleman caller,” he’d never live it down.

Despite the awkward moments, it was time for Roelke and Chloe’s relationship to make a real step forward.  By the end of Heritage of Darkness, it does.  (Right after they manage to prevent a killer from striking again.  This is a murder mystery, after all.)

While launching Heritage of Darkness into the world I’m also feverishly working on the fifth Chloe Ellefson mystery, so I’ve been giving this topic renewed thought.  How can Chloe and Roelke keep growing?  What new challenges will they, and their relationship, face?  I’ve still got a lot of ideas about that.  In real life, even the strongest partnerships require attention and care.

What do you think about relationships in long-running series?  Do you have a favorite fictional couple?  Do you look for peaceful equilibrium, or ever-evolving growth?  It’s a topic most mystery authors confront, and I’d love to hear your thoughts!  Leave a comment, and you’ll be entered in a drawing for your choice of Chloe Ellefson mysteries:  Old World Murder, The Heirloom Murders, The Light Keeper’s Legacy, or Heritage of Darkness.

Thanks, Kathleen! Now, who has an answer, comment or question for Kathleen Ernst? Good luck in the contest!

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Tomorrow's Guest: Kathleen Ernst

Tomorrow, fellow Midnight Ink mystery author Kathleen Ernst will guest on my blog. She writes about The Boyfriend of Chloe Ellefson, the protagonist in her Historic Sites mystery series. Also, Kathleen will run a contest for an autographed copy of the fourth release in her Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mystery series, Heritage of Darkness, or one of the other books in the series. She will choose the winner from among those who leave a comment.

Heritage of Darkness is Kathleen’s twenty-sixth published book. In addition to the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites series, she has written many books for American Girl, including seven books about the newest historical character, Caroline Abbott. The latest is a Caroline mystery, Traitor In The Shadows.  Several of her titles for young readers have been finalists for Edgar or Agatha awards. Kathleen lives in Wisconsin, but loves to travel to new locales for research!  Visit her at her website, her blog, or her Facebook page.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Seven Kayak Facts You Didn't Know

I sometimes come across really fascinating articles in the paddling community that I think may be of interest to the readers of my RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series (Deadly Currents, Wicked Eddies, Fatal Descent). Here's a very cool one:


Friday, October 04, 2013

A Contest Winner!

I put out an email newsletter sporadically when I have news to report. The good reviews for my November release, A Basket of Trouble, have been rolling in, so I'll be sending out a new issue soon. If you want to subscribe, go HERE.

Every time the number of subscribers to my email newsletter increases by another 100, I randomly draw the name of a winner in my email newsletter contest. I've chosen 31 winners so far! Each winner receives an autographed copy of one of my books and 1 or 2 books by other mystery authors. If you want to enter this contest with great odds of winning, all you have to do is subscribe.

My latest winner is Camille from Longmont, Colorado. Congratulations, Camille!

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Today's Mystery Author Guest: Sheila Webster Boneham

As promised yesterday, fellow Midnight Ink mystery author Sheila Webster Boneham is visiting my blog today, with answers to my interview questions. To read her bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post. Also, Sheila is running a contest for either a free autographed copy of her latest release, The Money Bird, or a Kindle ebook copy, the cover art for which appears above. Sheila will select the winner tomorrow evening from among those who leave a comment today or tomorrow and will announce the name in a comment on this post.

In the book, for Janet MacPhail, photographing retrievers in training is the perfect way to spend an evening. But a photo session at Twisted Lake takes a peculiar turn as Drake, her friend Tom’s Labrador, fetches a blood-soaked bag holding an exotic feather and a torn one-hundred-dollar bill.
When one of her photography students turns up dead at the lake, Janet investigates a secretive retreat center with help from Australian Shepherd Jay and her quirky neighbor Goldie. Between dog-training classes, photo assignments, and romantic interludes with Tom, Janet is determined to get to the bottom of things before another victim’s wings are clipped for good.

Sounds like a very interesting read to me! Below are Sheila's answers to my interview questions.

1. Your Animals in Focus series obviously involves animals. Are these animal-as-sleuth stories, or something else?

The animals in my books behave like real animal. They are essential characters in that they are companions to Janet MacPhail, my accidental amateur sleuth, and to other people in the books. Janet’s Australian Shepherd, Jay, and her orange tabby cat, Leo, are members of her family, just as my dogs and cats have always been part of my family. So the animals in the books do bring clues to light and play essential roles in the plots, but only because Janet is smart enough to make connections. In The Money Bird, for instance, black Lab Drake retrieves a bag that turns out to be an essential bit of evidence, but he didn’t know that. It smelled interesting, so he brought it to his master, as any self-respecting Labrador Retriever would!

I’ve been involved with animals, particularly dogs, for many years in a variety of roles—rescuer, competitor, shelter volunteer, breeder, obedience instructor, and author of seventeen books about dogs and cats. I feel very strongly that many of the problems people have with their pets, problems that too often lose pets their homes, are partly because some people think of animals as funny little people. So I strive to make the animals in my mysteries realistic, complex, loving and loveable, messy…. Just like the ones who live in my house!

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

When I started writing fiction, I tried creating elaborate background files on my characters, but I discovered pretty quickly that they didn’t work for me. I’d put a lot of time in on them, then forget the details or find that what I created in what amounted to a vacuum didn’t work in the story. So I stopped.

I do much better when I let myself get to know my characters as we get to know other people—bit by bit and in context. As the story unfolds, characters act and react, and slowly reveal themselves and their backstories. I record what they say and do, and I have a spreadsheet that helps me keep track of everyone, especially the series characters who come back book after book.

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

I begin with a sense of where the story is going, who is involved, and what’s at stake. I don’t outline, but I do use a spreadsheet (yes, another spreadsheet!) to plan and then track where the crucial plot turns need to occur to keep things moving. In the first book in the series, Drop Dead on Recall, I did more plotting than I have done since, and I set out knowing who the villain was. I finished the book and put it down for a couple of weeks. Then I woke up one morning and said, “No! That’s not right. She didn’t do it!” So I rewrote most of the book. With The Money Bird, I began with a setting and my characters, and I knew that the plot involved wildlife trafficking. I had no idea when I started who would be killed, or why, or who done it. I just followed along, and the characters did what they needed to do. For me, waiting to see what’s going to happen is half the fun of writing fiction!

4. 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?

I think character is always primary regardless of genre. Plot is intriguing, but what really matters is not the events and other elements in a story, but how the characters respond to them. We know this in our own lives. Put two people into the same situation, the same series of events, and they will not have the same experience, nor do the same things, nor tell the same story later. So characters make the plot work.

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

The biggest challenge for me is deciding what to work on. I always have way more ideas than time to work on them. As for motivation, I’ve never NOT been motivated to write and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing something. Even as a kid I wrote all the time. I’ve gone through short periods when I just needed to take a break, and I’ve changed direction with my career more than once, but I can’t really imagine not writing, not working on something.

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

I write almost every day, and have done so for many years. When I was teaching at universities and working as an editor, I carved out writing time in the evenings and weekends. Now I write every morning for 3-5 hours, depending on circumstances and the stage of the project, and I often write in the afternoon or evening as well. Every once in a while I take a break, but I find that if I go more than 4 or 5 days without writing, I get itchy.

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

- Read, read, read. Read in your chosen genre(s), and read widely outside your chosen genre(s). Read mostly works that speak to you, that you enjoy. Occasionally read something you don’t like, and read it critically, as a writer, to figure out why it doesn’t work, at least for you.

- Write, write, write. Put your writing sessions in your weekly calendar as you would anything else that matters to you. Show up.

- Go to readings and other book and author events when possible, even if you aren’t very interested in the topic. You will still learn something, even if it’s how not to present yourself when your own time comes.

- Writing is by nature a solitary venture, but there is also a community of writers and readers out there for inspiration and support. Join that community, and give more than you ask for.

- Stay in the world—travel, play, learn new things, volunteer, do things!—so that you have something to write about.

8. 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’m ridiculously terrified of heights and falling, and my fear has gotten worse over the past few years. It’s really pretty embarrassing at times. I’ve been known to get down and crawl on trails when I’m hiking. But I still go out.

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

As usual, I have several dogs in the grooming area! First, I’m finishing up the third Animals in Focus mystery, which is scheduled for September 2014. I can’t tell you much about it at present, but Leo, the protagcat, would like you to know that dogs aren’t the only ones who have their days in this series. I’m also working on a stand-alone environmental suspense novel, and some literary nonfiction and a few poems. I love working in different forms—it keeps them all fresher.

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

If you would like to learn more about me and my work, or follow my journey, you can find me at my website, my Facebook page, or my blogs – for writers and readers and for animal-related stuff.

I enjoy visiting book clubs as well as groups for writers, animal fanciers, and more. I am also available to teach workshops and speak at conferences. Although I currently live in North Carolina, I travel a lot, so if you’re interested, please ask! I just might be headed your way.

Thanks, Sheila! Now, who has a comment or question for Sheila Webster Boneham? Good luck in the contest!

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Tomorrow's Guest: Sheila Webster Boneham

Tomorrow, fellow Midnight Ink mystery author Sheila Webster Boneham will guest on my blog. She answers my interview questions, and I'm sure you'll be intrigued by what she has to say. Also, Sheila will run a contest for either an autographed copy of the second release in her Animals in Focus mystery series, The Money Bird, or a Kindle ebook copy. She will choose the winner from among those who leave a comment.

Sheila Webster Boneham is the author of 17 nonfiction books, six of which have won major awards from the Dog Writers Association of America and the Cat Writers Association. She is also the author of Drop Dead on Recall, the first in the Animals in Focus Mystery series. For the past two decades Boneham has been showing her Australian Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers in various canine sports. She has also bred top-winning Aussies and founded rescue groups for Aussies and Labs. Boneham holds a doctorate in folklore and MFA in creative writing and resides in Wilmington, N.C., with her husband Roger, Lily, their yellow Lab, and Sunny, their Golden Retriever.