Beth Groundwater is a mystery author who has infused her love of running whitewater rivers into her fiction. Along with another series, she writes the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures mystery series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. The first book in the series, Deadly Currents, was just released March 8th. The second book in the series, Wicked Eddies, will be released May 2012.
Beth was an avid “river rat” in the 1980s, running whitewater rivers in the eastern US in an open-boat canoe stuffed full of floatation bags. She has enjoyed reacquainting herself with that subculture and its updated boating equipment while researching the series. She lives in Colorado and enjoys many outdoor activities there, including skiing, hiking, and whitewater rafting. Beth has agreed to be interviewed here, but if you’d like more information about her and her books, please visit her website and her blog.
RR: Beth, welcome to River Ranger. It’s great being a part of your virtual book tour.
Beth: Thank you for hosting a stop on the tour.
RR: So, why a river ranger as your main character?
Beth: I discovered while writing the second book, To Hell in a Handbasket, in my other mystery series, the Claire Hanover gift basket designer series, that my love of the outdoors and outdoor activities kept creeping into my mystery writing. That book features skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobile riding in various scenes. So, I decided to develop a new series where I could indulge in that love to my heart’s content.
Given my previous enjoyment of running whitewater rivers in the eastern US in an open-boat canoe, and my current enjoyment of rafting whitewater rivers in Colorado, that sport was a natural choice. I’m still fascinated with flowing water. My husband knows that if we drive alongside a whitewater river, I’ll be leaning out the car window, reading the water, assessing if it’s deep enough to be run, and if so, what line I would take.
Also, I wanted to solve the “amateur sleuth problem” of why the main character was solving a murder versus letting the local police do the work. If Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA) river rangers like Mandy discover a dead body in or near the river while on patrol, they become part of the investigative team with the detectives in the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office retains primary responsibility for solving the case, but the river ranger provides information about the body discovery, can be asked to testify, etc.
RR: Did you volunteer on any river patrols in preparation for writing the book?
Beth: Instead of going out on actual patrol, I interviewed river rangers and I observed them in training. First, I contacted the AHRA headquarters in Salida, Colorado and arranged to take two expert river rangers out to lunch. They were Sean Shepard, River Section Supervisor of the AHRA, and Stew Pappenfort, Senior Park Ranger of the AHRA and the former holder of Sean’s job. Over Chicago-style subs at Mama D’s, a local hangout, I asked them questions about their equipment, training, activities, war stories, etc. and scribbled down their answers.
Stew graciously invited me to observe one day of the three-day swiftwater rescue training course that he teaches all incoming river rangers. I jumped at the opportunity. I chose to observe the third day, which involved the most on-water work. The on-river practice included extracting boats and rafts wrapped around rocks, rigging lines across the river to which rafts are attached for rescue or search operations, sending a tethered swimmer into the water to rescue someone, and more. I took lots of photos and peppered the rangers-in-training about how/why they got into the career field, what they like and dislike about the job, and asked for interesting war stories during the breaks.
Since that day, Stew has been my go-to expert, and he reviews the manuscripts of my Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures mysteries to make sure they’re accurate.
RR: Tell us about experiences of your own with river rangers?
Beth: Along with interviewing river rangers, I interviewed an outfitter business owner, rafting guides, and rafting enthusiasts about their experiences on the river and with river rangers. From them, I gathered tales of heroic river ranger rescues and other stories. I used one of those rescue stories in the first scene of Deadly Currents. The incident of a ranger leaping off a large boulder into an almost empty raft mid-river and then pulling in swimmers actually occurred on the Gauley River and was witnessed by a friend of mine. In my own whitewater canoeing and rafting experiences, I haven’t run across river rangers on the river itself, though they’ve always been friendly and professional at put-ins, take-outs, and in park offices. And yes, hating paperwork seems to be a universal trait of all the river rangers I’ve met!
RR: Why set your story on the Arkansas River?
Beth: Because the upper Arkansas River is my whitewater playground and the river I’m most familiar with. I’ve rafted every section except the Numbers, and many sections multiple times. The upper Arkansas River in Colorado is the most commercially rafted river in the United States, with around 60 licensed outfitters running trips on various sections. Many private boaters also ply the waters, and some of them even know what they’re doing. All those people on the river creates many story-telling opportunities, ranging from comical to tragic.
Also, the town of Salida, Colorado, where my river ranger Mandy Tanner lives, is a wonderful, funky, friendly place. It was selected as one of the top twenty small towns in the US to compete for the title of “America’s Coolest Small Town” at the Budget Travel magazine website. It’s great to have an excuse to visit Salida and “conduct research.” Lastly, the First in Boating on the Arkansas (FIBArk) festival takes place in Salida—and in Deadly Currents. The festival’s colorful races and events provide an interesting backdrop to Mandy’s efforts to find the murderer.
RR: Any favorite rivers? Good river stories or your own?
Beth: My favorite week of whitewater canoeing was a vacation I spent with my husband at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina in a clinic back in the 80s. We canoed the Nantahala, the Chattooga, the French Broad, and the Nolichucky rivers. We also took a break from canoeing one day to raft the Ocoee. What a wild roller coaster ride that was! We ate copious amounts of food, got up early to bump around the countryside for hours in a muddy, smelly van until we reached that day’s river, paddled until our arms ached, nodded off in the van on the way back, fell into bed and rose excited and eager to do it again. I’d love to do something like that again.
RR: Okay, readers, do you have a question for Beth Groundwater? She’ll be monitoring the comments today and is ready to answer them. Everyone who comments on this blog post will be entered into Beth’s virtual book tour contest for a free copy of Deadly Currents.
If you’d like to visit other stops on Beth’s virtual book tour, you can find the full blog book tour schedule on her website. To order an autographed copy of Deadly Currents, go to the website for Black Cat Books and click on Contact Us. Either call the phone number or fill out the form with your contact information.