1. What can you tell our readers about your new novel To Hell in a Handbasket?
To Hell in a Handbasket was actually first published in 2009 in hardcover by Five Star Publishing, primarily for the library market, and garnered good reviews from Kirkus Review, Gumshoe Review, and others then. It is being re-released by Midnight Ink in trade paperback and ebook in November, and I hope to gain many new readers for the Claire Hanover mystery series as a result.
In the book, gift basket designer Claire Hanover is reluctantly enjoying a spring ski vacation with her family in Breckenridge, Colorado, when a bloodcurdling scream cuts the frigid air. Claire is appalled to find the sister of her daughter’s boyfriend dead on the slopes. Others assume the girl’s death was an accident, but Claire notices another pair of ski tracks veering dangerously into the victim’s path. To protect her daughter as incriminating clues surface, Claire unravels a chilling conspiracy.
2. This is the sequel to A Real Basket Case, so can you tell us a little bit about this?
In the first book in the series, feeling neglected by her workaholic husband, forty-something gift basket designer Claire Hanover joins an aerobics class at the urging of her best friend Ellen. Divorced and bitterly unhappy, Ellen and most of the other women in the class add a little vicarious excitement to their lives by flirting with the handsome instructor, Enrique. In a moment of weakness, Claire agrees to let the charming Enrique come to her house to give her a massage. She realizes she has made a deadly mistake when Enrique is shot and killed in her bedroom and her husband Roger is arrested for the murder.
3. Where did your inspiration for Clare Hanover come from?
I started with my own experiences when building the character of Claire, then shaped her into her own person. Like Claire, I’m middle-aged, lived in Colorado Springs for many years before moving to Breckenridge, and have two children, though hers are older than mine, with the sexes reversed. Unlike her, however, my marriage is very happy. And Claire is a lot braver than I am, sticking her nose in where it doesn’t belong—and could get cut off! I like to think I’m smarter than her, though, because I write her out of the fixes she gets herself into.
Also, contrary to what many people think after reading the books in the series, I don’t have a gift basket business. My business is writing mystery novels, and juggling two series is a full-time job. I do create gift baskets for friends, relatives and charity events, and fellow authors and mystery readers expect me to bring gift baskets to silent auctions at mystery conferences. I’m not as good at it as Claire is, though.
4. You have had first-hand experience in whitewater-rafting, as portrayed in Wicked Eddies and Deadly Currents, the first two books in your RM Outdoor Adventures series, however did you try out skiing to write this book?
I’ve been a downhill skier since my early twenties, and I’ve spent many happy days skiing with family and friends. I can ski any slope on the mountain, from intermediate blues to expert double-black diamonds, but I enjoy single black diamond slopes the most. I know the Breckenridge Ski Resort like the back of my hand. We had a second home here since 1992, before we moved to Breckenridge full-time last year. So, like whitewater rafting, describing the skiing scenes was second-nature to me. However, I did have to try out snowmobiling and snowshoeing, winter sports which are also featured in the book and which were new to me.
5. Tell us about your process for writing a who done it....
As a former engineer, I have a very structured writing process. I conduct research, profile my characters and prepare a detailed scene outline before I start writing. I make a list of all the clues, red herrings (false clues), and suspects and try to make sure I have at least five of each. For each scene, along with describing what the characters in the scene do, I describe what's happening “off-camera” to other important characters (particularly the killer) not in the scene. I also list the date, day of the week, and time of day of each scene. As I write the book, I add the scene's page numbers to the outline to help me find scenes later.
Each book has a directory of its own on my computer with files for the scene outline, character profiles, interviews with experts, research notes, the current manuscript, discarded bits that I don’t want to throw away yet, backups of older versions, the acknowledgements page, change requests from the editor, etc., etc. Then there’s the cardboard magazine file holder stuffed full of paper research materials.
I work toward strict deadlines, so I lay out a schedule for myself with weekly goals. That way I can turn in my manuscripts to my publisher, Midnight Ink, on time.
6. What made you want to tell this story?
The story in To Hell in a Handbasket revolves around Claire’s relationship with her daughter Judy, who is put in danger by the murder of her boyfriend’s sister. Claire wants to protect Judy and tell her what to do, and Judy resists. Claire is having a tough time letting go of her daughter in general. I wrote the rough draft of this book during the year when my own daughter transitioned from living at home to living at college during her freshman year. So I knew what Claire was going through, but I hope I handled the transition better than she did!
7. You say on your profile that your degree in Psychology has helped you with character development, was this intentional at the time or a happy coincidence now?
Actually my undergraduate degree was a double major in Computer Science and Psychology. I was interested in puzzles (jigsaw, Sudoku, crossword, etc.), algorithms to solve them, and design. I was also interested in how the human brain works and how one might simulate intelligent thought with artificially intelligent software. I have had a lifelong interest in developing solutions to convoluted puzzles, be they software algorithms, understanding what makes a person kill, or solving a mystery story's "what if?" So, no, it wasn’t a plan to earn a degree in Psychology and then apply it to mystery novel writing, but my underlying interests led me to do both. They also led me to a career in Software Engineering and Software Project Management before I retired in 1999 and began writing mystery novels.
8. You wrote your Freddie stories when you were young, so did you always aspire to be an author growing up?
I have always enjoyed writing—and reading—both as a child and an adult, but the goal of being an author developed more gradually. When I was a software engineer, and management discovered I was a rare commodity—a software engineer who could write, I wrote countless manuals, design documents, final reports, marketing proposals, and technical papers that I presented at conferences. I gradually got the itch to write for fun versus work, as I did as a child, and about a year before I retired, I started writing short stories again. Then I thought, why not try a novel? I wrote the first draft of a novel-length manuscript (which has never been published) during the first six months after I retired. I spent the next two years learning about fiction writing and revising that novel countless times before I moved on to the manuscript that turned into A Real Basket Case.
10. You were once active in two critique groups, so how much did that develop your writing?
I think critique groups of fellow motivated writers are very important, and I always recommend that beginning writers join a critique group. Being in a good critique group helps you improve your writing to the point where it becomes publishable. In my initial critique group of five brand-new fiction writers, three are now published in short stories, three in book-length fiction, and all five have won or placed in writing contests. I know I would not be published now without the help of my critique partners.
Lucy, I really enjoyed answering your questions, and I’d like to encourage your readers to visit my website (http://bethgroundwater.com) and contact me there if they are curious to learn more. Thanks for the opportunity!
Female First Lucy Walton