Monday, October 29, 2012

Liz's Lair: Meet Bestselling Mystery Author, Beth Groundwater

Please give a rousing M & M welcome to Beth Groundwater, my fellow INKER (as in Midnight Ink authors) who is here to tell us all about her new book and how she did the research for it. Check out  To Hell in a Handbasket. So, without further ado, take it away, Beth.

Researching How Colorado Sheriff Offices Work

Like most mystery authors I know, I try very hard to portray the workings of the law professionals in my books as accurately as possible. That means educating myself about how the sheriff’s offices work in each of the real Colorado counties where my books are set. I started with the setting for my first mystery, A Real Basket Case, which takes place in Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs is in El Paso County, and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office holds a Citizen’s Academy twice a year.

I attended the fall class of 2004 with four fellow mystery writers. After the first class, the rest of the students allocated the front row to us since we asked the strangest and most varied questions, mostly about how to get away with various types of murder. Even the instructors appreciated our lively interest! The twelve-week program gave an excellent overview of the entire Sheriff's Office. Topics included:

- Organizational Structure
- Firearms Safety and Education, including demonstration of officers’ weapons
- Use of Force and the standards for escalation from non-deadly to deadly force
- Emergency Services, including the Wildland Fire and Search & Rescue teams
- Internal Affairs
- Vice and Narcotics, including methamphetamine labs
- Tour of the Communication Center, which also handles emergency dispatch
- Crime Scene Investigations
- Officer Safety
- Traffic & DUI Enforcement
- Victim Assistance Programs
- Tours of the City Jail and County Criminal Justice Center
- Ride-Along with a Patrol Officer

The ride-along was a fascinating and sometimes nail-biting opportunity to see what I’d learned in the classroom put to real use. I rode with a patrol officer during his 4pm – midnight shift and observed traffic stops, a domestic violence response, an alcohol check of a noisy teen party, a high-speed lights-on response to a reported bar brawl, and much more. I also listened on the radio to other officers responding to calls ranging from cows on the road to a foot chase and use of a Taser on a theft suspect.

If your local sheriff’s office or police department offers a citizen’s academy, I highly recommend it to everyone. It gives you a much fuller appreciation of what these officers do. You may even end up volunteering for one of their victim assistance or other volunteer programs, as I’ve known fellow academy classmates to do.

For To Hell in a Handbasket, which is set in Summit County, Colorado, I made an appointment with the Undersheriff of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office. I came armed with a list of questions about how their operations may differ from those of the larger El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. Since Summit County is less populous and the Sheriff’s Office is much smaller, they do not have an in-house laboratory and rely on the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to process a lot of the evidence they collect. They also cooperate and share work a lot more with the sheriff’s offices of neighboring counties and the police departments of incorporated cities in the county. I show that cooperation in To Hell in a Handbasket.

The visit to the Summit County Sheriff’s Office turned out to be a lot of fun both for me, including watching a strapping young officer pirouette while modeling his uniform, and for the personnel there, because a visit from a real-live author was a welcome diversion in their day. I also interviewed a detective in the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office for my RM Outdoor Adventures series, and I found that office to be similarly open and cooperative.

My interviewees appreciate that I educate myself as thoroughly as possible on the basics first, prepare a list of questions beforehand, and promise to take no more than an hour of their time. Most wind up offering to answer further questions by email or phone. The Undersheriff of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office even read a couple of chapters of To Hell in a Handbasket to assure that while the events were far-fetched, the portrayal of the Sheriff’s Office’s response was accurate. While I’ve read books about law enforcement, including The Making of a Detective and True Blue, nothing beats talking to the real McCoys!

I’d be happy to answer questions about researching local sheriff’s offices. Would you like to share any interesting experiences you’ve had with your local county sheriff’s office or police department? If you comment or ask a question here, you will be entered into a contest for a free autographed copy of the trade paperback edition of To Hell in a Handbasket. I also hope you’ll visit my website,  and sign up for my email newsletter there.

An icy demise snowballs in book 2 of this Agatha Award-nominated series. 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.

"Groundwater's second leaves the bunny slope behind, offering some genuine black-diamond thrills."
-- Kirkus Review, April 1, 2009

"Tightly plotted and very current, the story manages to keep you on the edge of your seat."
-- Gayle Surrette, Gumshoe Review, May 1, 2009

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) and the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner (Deadly Currents, an Amazon bestseller, and Wicked Eddies). The third books in both series will appear in 2013. Beth enjoys Colorado's many outdoor activities, including skiing and whitewater rafting, and loves talking to book clubs. Please visit her website


Nancy said...

Great interview.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks, Nancy, for your comment, and thanks, Liz, for having me on as a guest!

Beth Lillis said...

What a neat chance you had to get a real view of what the police officers deal with. Great interview

Kari Lee Townsend said...

Awesome interview! Your books sound like so much fun. Must check them out :-)

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks, Beth and Kari! I've found law enforcement personnel to be a great bunch, always willing to educate and inform a truly interested person.

marja said...

Great post, and you just proved that research can actually be fun, as well as interesing.
Marja McGraw

Barbie Jo Mahoney said...

The books sound like fun! I think even if I did some groundwork beforehand, I would be totally intimidated in an actual police station! Now the citizens academy I'd love! Thanks for sharing your research Beth!

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks, Marja and Barbie Jo, for your comments. I did have a lot of fun researching and writing TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET, and I hope my readers have fun reading it, too!

Anita Clenney said...

Hi Beth, first of all, I LOVE the title of the book. Very catchy. The interview was great. I wish I knew more about my sheriff's office. I do have a friend who works there, so you can bet when I have specific questions, I'll have to bombard her.

Liz Lipperman said...

Beth, just wanted to thank you for being our guest today with your great story. Unfortunately, a lot of our East Coast readers were a little preoccupied today!! Hope you'll come back again.