Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Splashing Into Some Deadly Research

I've pre-scheduled my post for today, but I won't be able to respond to comments until tonight or tomorrow. Why's that, you might ask? I'll be getting my ass (and every other part of my body, most likely) soaking wet on a multi-day whitewater rafting trip down Cataract Canyon in Utah. Sure, I love whitewater rafting, which is why I chose to base one of my mystery series, the RM Outdoor Adventure mystery series, on the sport. But this trip isn't just for fun, though I'm sure I'll have a blast! It's to conduct research for book three in the series, that will be titled Cataract Canyon.

The book concept is that my part-time whitewater river ranger, Mandy Tanner, and her lover, Rob Juarez, who own an adventure outfitting company together, will take a dozen clients down the end-to-end Meander (flatwater) and Cataract (whitewater) canyons of the Colorado River for a five-day trip. Also coming with them will be two of their river guides, Gonzo and Kendra, and a new character, a rock climbing guide. They'll be taking the trip in October, a time of year when very few people are on the river.

These canyons are some of the most remote in in the United States, with minimal cell phone access (or none, I hope!). And, there are only three little-used hiking trails in and out of the canyons between the put-in at the Potash boat ramp and the take out at the Hite Marina on Lake Powell about a hundred miles later. Those trails, after hours of hiking, lead only to off-road 4x4 dirt roads that are also little used, especially in the off-season.

Starting to get the picture? This is going to be a locked-room mystery, where the "room" is a remote canyon.

I plan to start off the action with the murderer killing one of the clients and sabotaging Mandy and Rob's satellite phone so they can't call out for help. Their only logical course of action will be to continue downstream while keeping an eye peeled for hikers or other boats (which won't appear) while they try to figure out who among their group is the killer--and whether s/he will strike again. Eek!

My husband and I are taking this trip in late September, as the rafting and hiking season is winding down, and very few outfitters are still running trips this late. We're going with Tag-a-Long Expeditions, who have been wonderful and very helpful so far. We won't be as cut-off from civilization as I intend to make Mandy and Rob's group. Since our group will be so small, however, I'll be able to pick the rafting guide's brain all I want and request him or her to stop at beaches, campsites and trail heads that I want to take photos of and notes about. I plan to finish the trip with all of the raw material I need to make Mandy Tanner's third adventure not only a murderous one, but realistic, too. Wish me luck!

If you're a writer, what is an interesting/dangerous research experience you've gone through to make your fiction realistic? If you're a reader, how much realism do you expect in a fictional mystery, and do you enjoy mysteries that take place in risky outdoor settings or activities?


Charmaine Clancy said...

Wow you're really brave!
Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

Robin Allen said...

Sounds like nonstop excitement, Beth. The most dangerous research I've ever done is reading The Big Bug Book about foodborne illnesses. Pretty scary stuff.

Darrell James said...

Looks like my kind of fun, Beth! Good luck with the research.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks, Charmaine, Robin, and Darrell, for your comments! My husband and I got off the river last night and are now cleaned up and ready to do some sight-seeing in the Moab, Utah area. The trip was absolutely amazing--the red, sheer cliffs scenery, the stars at night, the camaraderie of the guides and our fellow rafters, and the roller coaster rides on whitewater standing waves, some of which crashed over our heads. Wow! I'll post photos and a detailed description on my personal blog ( once I have time to sit down and sift through the photos.