Meow, today my guest is author Claire Booth!
Claire Booth spent more than a decade as a daily newspaper reporter, much of it covering crimes so convoluted and strange they seemed more like fiction than reality. Eventually, she had enough of the real world and decided to write novels instead. Her Sheriff Hank Worth mystery series takes place in Branson, Missouri, where small-town Ozark politics and big-city country music tourism clash in, yes, strange and convoluted ways.
R: Welcome Claire! Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became interested in writing.
Thanks ROCCO! I’ve always loved to write. I started journalism in high school and decided I wanted to do that as a career. I got to write every day, meet new people every day, and learn something new every day. It was the best job in the world. And it was great preparation for being a novelist. I got very good at observing my surroundings and putting that into words. I also got very good at meeting writing deadlines! I don’t work in journalism much anymore, but all of those skills are still really valuable. I love turning them into works of fiction.
R: Tell us about the Branson mysteries. How did the idea for that come about?
Branson, Missouri is not a big place – only about 11,000 people live there – yet it gets millions of visitors a year. It is in a very proudly rural area in the Ozark Mountains. And I wondered what would happen if someone got dropped in from the outside and was suddenly put in charge of an entire law enforcement department. So that’s what I did to my main character, Hank Worth. He comes in and has to figure out all sorts of small-town politics and then on top of that, solve a murder.
A tourist showboat called The Branson Beauty crashes on a nearby lake and the body of a popular former high school student is found on board. A showboat actually did crash on a lake near Branson several years ago, but there was never any murder. That was my writer brain asking “what if . . .”
R: You are a former crime reporter. What’s the most significant story you ever covered?
The story that had the most impact on me was a quintuple murder case in the California Bay Area. A man who had worked as a stockbroker got it into his head that he was a prophet of God and had been chosen to usher in Christ’s Second Coming. But, in order to do this, he said he needed a lot of money. So he and two of his followers hatched a plan to kidnap a retired couple who had been his stockbroker clients, extort their life savings, and then kill them. They did this, then killed an innocent young woman whom the “prophet” had been dating, as well as the woman’s mother and a friend who was with her at the time. So, five people died and many other people’s lives were devastated, all because this man wanted a lot of money, and he wanted people to follow him unquestioningly. It was horrific and complicated and it took authorities years to unravel and prosecute the whole thing.
R: Do you have an “how I got my agent” story you’d like to share? How did you feel when you got the call your first novel had sold?
My “how I got my agent” story is a bit different from most people’s. My first book was a nonfiction true crime book, The False Prophet: Conspiracy, Extortion and Murder in the Name of God (about the story I refer to in the previous question). Unlike with fiction, where you need to have the novel completed, you don’t need to have the book done beforehand with nonfiction. You have to do a lengthy and very specific book proposal, though. And that’s what prospective agents want to see along with your query letter. So I sent out query letters and proposals and was very, very fortunate to get one of the best agents in the business, Jim McCarthy. He represented my true crime book, and I’ve been with him ever since. We tried unsuccessfully to sell another true crime book, but that was when the market (and the whole economy) fell off a cliff. So that’s when I turned to fiction. When Jim told me The Branson Beauty had sold, I had to sit down. Literally, my knees buckled. Then there was a lot of delighted dancing around the house.
R: What’s a must have for you when you are writing? What aids the creative process?
I don’t need anything, really. When I was a reporter, I got used to writing anywhere and everywhere, on whatever was available. So I can still do that. But I do love it if I can have a cup of tea.
R: If you had access to a time machine, which historical moment would you travel to and why?
I would love to go back to Britain during the “Golden Age.” It’s the time period between World War I and World War II when authors like Agatha Christie and Margery Allingham were doing their best work. I’d love to experience the world that led to so many great mysteries being written!
R: If a movie were to be made of one of your books, which one would you want it to be and who would you pick for the lead roles?
This was such a hard question! I didn’t write my three Branson Beauty main characters with any actors in mind, so I really had to wrack my brain to come up with ones who would be good fits. I think for my main character, Hank Worth, I would choose Mark Ruffalo. For his chief deputy, Sheila, I would love Octavia Spencer. And for his other deputy, Sam, a perfect fit would be Logan Lerman from the Percy Jackson movies and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
R: What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?
I was detained by San Francisco police during the protests of the Iraq invasion in 2003. I was covering the story for the Contra Costa Times newspaper, and following a big group of anarchists who started vandalizing property and police cars (I’ll point out here that the protests were otherwise primarily peaceful). The police barricaded the entire group and detained everybody. They let me go when they figured out I was only reporting on the actions (the notebook, press pass, and somewhat dorky clothing helped), not participating in them.
R: What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?
I hope my readers get to learn about a different part of the country, and I very, very much hope that they fall in love with Hank and Sheila and Sam and enjoy the story.
R: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m a pantser. I just start writing and see where it takes me.
R: Where can we find out more about you and your work?
Another Man’s Ground, the second Hank Worth mystery, comes out this July. For more about it, and about me, you can visit my website, www.clairebooth.com. Send me an email through my contact page. I’d love to hear from Rocco’s readers! And every once in a while, you can also see me on the Investigation Discovery channel if they rebroadcast one of the true crime shows about the False Prophet case.
R: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Write every day. Even if you think it isn’t any good, keep at it. Even if you don’t have time, carve out ten minutes during a work break. Every little bit will help you become a better writer.
Just for Fun:
Night or Day? Day
Dog or Cat? (answer carefully) Can I say both?
Beach or Pool? Beach
Steak or salad? Salad
Favorite Drink? Moscow Mule
Favorite Book? A thesaurus
Favorite TV Series? Justified
Favorite Movie? The Hunt for Red October
Favorite Actor? Benedict Cumberbatch
Favorite Actress? Can I say two? Kate Winslet and Taraji P. Henson (have you seen Hidden Figures?!)
Dirty Martini or Pina Colada? Dirty Martini
Hawaii or Alaska? Right now I’m cold, so I’ll say Hawaii!
Finish this sentence: If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be Agatha Christie.
If I had just one wish, it would be world peace.
If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be no one! I’m very lucky to be me.
Claire will give away 1 copy of The Branson Beauty to a Rocco commenter.
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Winner will be chosen at random using random.org. Don’t forget to mention all you’ve done in your comment. Good luck! Contest ends midnight Feb. 24! US entries only.