Thursday, January 31, 2013

Love and Death and Llamas by Betty Webb


Where do writers get their idea? As the old joke goes, sometimes they buy them at Wal-Mart. In my case, however, I get my ideas by watching real live people do real live crazy things, which is exactly how I came up with the plot of THE LLAMA OF DEATH.

I may be best known for my noir-ish Lena Jones mystery series, but I also write the humorous and cozy-ish Gunn Zoo mysteries, which means some pretty loveable animals turn out to be characters in those books. We’re talking koalas, anteaters, lemurs, giraffes, wombats, honey badgers… On second thought, maybe honey badgers aren’t all that adorable, although their mothers probably love them.


In addition to my love for llamas, I’ve always been a devoted fan of Renaissance fairs, so a couple of years ago I dragged poor Hubby to one in Apache Junction, Arizona. While checking out the fractured Renaissance-speak of peasants, knights, and fancy-dressed royalty, I happened to spy something that was, to my animal-loving soul, even funnier: the expression on a young teenager’s face as she led a llama around with a child on its back. The child looked thrilled, the llama looked peaceful, but the teenager looked like she would rather have been taking an algebra test.

The girl was wearing one of those long, fussy, tightly-laced dresses we’ve all come to associate with Renaissance fairs, and while she was leading the llama around with one hand, she was busy tugging up her low-cut bodice with the other. When I smiled at her, she scowled back. She was miserable, and like most teenagers, wanted everyone to know just how miserable she was.

With that scowl, THE LLAMA OF DEATH was born.

THE ANTEATER OF DEATH, the first book in the Gunn Zoo series, introduced Theodora “Teddy” Iona Esmeralda Bentley, a zookeeper who lives on a houseboat in at the northern edge of California’s stunning Monterey Bay and commutes to work at the zoo in a rusty pickup truck. Teddy loves animals, and is a frequent visitor to the local animal shelter, where she helps adopt out some of the less-lovely animals. Those she can’t find homes for, she keeps – such as DJ Bonz, her three-legged terrier, and Miss Priss, her one-eyed cat.

Teddy grew up rich, but after her rapscallion of a father embezzled several million dollars and fled to Costa Rica, the Feds moved in and took all her family’s assets, leaving them impoverished. Caro, Teddy’s mother, a former beauty queen, decided that the only thing left to do was to marry a series of wealthy men, then demand large settlements during the following divorces, thus restoring the Bentley family to its former financial glory. It worked, but poor Teddy sometimes feels like half the millionaires in California have at one time served as her stepfathers.

In THE LLAMA OF DEATH, the money-grubbing Caro gets her just desserts. When Teddy’s boss at the Gunn Zoo makes her take a llama named Alejandro to the Gunn Landing Renaissance Faire, the zookeeper is at first as disgusted as that real-life teenage I saw in Apache Junction. But since giving llama rides to young children helps raise money for the local no-kill animal shelter, Teddy soon makes peace with the task. However, during Teddy’s first night at the fair, the man acting the part of Henry the Eighth is found dead in Alejandro’s pen. At first the llama is suspected of trampling the man to death, but after the cause of death is discovered to be a crossbow arrow to the neck, suspicion shifts to Caro. The dead man had promised the fair’s role of Anne Boleyn to her, then reneged, whereupon the two had had a loud, public brawl. When Caro is arrested, it’s up to Teddy to track down the real killer.

Other characters in THE LLAMA OF DEATH include a nervous teenager who plays the part of the fair’s leper, a no-better-than-she-ought-to-be blonde named Bambi, a Shakespeare-spouting drama teacher, and Sssbyl, the Gunn Zoo’s escaped Mojave rattlesnake, who Tweets about her adventures while on the lam. By the way, if that tweeting snake sounds familiar, think back about the news story where a boa constrictor began tweeting after it escaped from its zoo.

Yes, newspapers are great places to get ideas, too.

The plot of THE LLAMA OF DEATH may be goofy, but the critics don’t seem to mind. Of the book, Library Journal said: “Webb’s third zoo series entry winningly melds a strong animal story with the engaging amateur sleuth tale. Set at a relaxed pace with abundant zoo filler, the title never strays into too-cute territory, instead presenting the real deal.” Publishers Weekly wrote: “Human relationships prove more taxing than animal ones in Webb’s amusing third Gunn Zoo mystery… Animal lore and human foibles spiced with a hint of evil test Teddy’s patience and crime-solving in this appealing cozy.”

After reading those reviews, I realized I owed a heart-felt Thank You note for that poor teenager at the Apache Junction Renaissance Faire, so as soon as the fair opens next month, I’ll head back.

With a Thank You note for the llama, too. 

Betty Webb is the author of the nationally best-selling Lena Jones mystery series (DESERT WIVES, DESERT NOIR, DESERT WIND, etc.) and the humorous Gunn Zoo mysteries (THE KOALA OF DEATH, THE LLAMA OF DEATH, etc.). Before beginning to write full time, Betty worked as a journalist, interviewing everyone from U.S. presidents, astronauts who walked on the moon, Nobel Prize-winners, and polygamy runaways. She has taught creative writing classes and workshops at Arizona State University and Phoenix College. Betty is a member of the National Federation of Press Women, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime. She is also a member of the National Association of Zookeepers.

For information about the Gunn Zoo books, log onto
For information about the Lena Jones books log onto,
Betty Webb
Author of THE LLAMA OF DEATH, due out Jan. 6, 2013
and DESERT WIND, starred review in Publishers Weekly,

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Paying Attention to What's Most Important

That title probably sounds a bit dumb--but there comes a time when I have to pay attention to how I'm feeling. Stress started to take over.

I can no longer do all the things I used to be able to do and not feel pressured. Because of that there are some things I'm pulling out of, and I've said "no" to some requests.

There comes a time in one's life when it is necessary to prioritize. What's most important to me right now?

Number one has to be family. My youngest son (who is not a kid) has had some serious health issues from what happened to him on the job. (He was working as a bouncer and was jumped by several men and beaten, resulting in a concussion, brain bleed, other injuries, and blood clots in his leg.) My attention has been on him--of course.

I have a new book coming out soon, and there are some things I need to do for that. Fortunately, I planned a blog tour long before the family crisis struck, and had most of the posts written. I've been working on the PSWA conference program, fortunately, that's something that can be done in bits and pieces. All the main speakers are lined up. What's left is putting people on panels as they register.

Some other jobs I had have been taken over by others, which has been greatly appreciated.

Because I have a big family, something is always going on. Usually it's wonderful events, like new babies coming into the world, grand and great grands' achievements. We have two grandsons' wedding to look forward to in the spring.

I will plod along as I always do, making lists, finishing up projects--but I will slow down and not take on anything new.

One thing I do know, is I can't do all the wonderful things people are always saying needs to be done to promote a book today. I'll do as much as I can, and that's all.

When the time comes, and Dangerous Impulses is actually available. I do hope you'll take a look at it and see if it's the kind of book you'd like to read.

Monday, January 28, 2013

License to Lie by Terry Ambrose

The story begins much like the old joke, “A guy walks into a bar…” Except, in this case, the bar is a restaurant and the guy behind the bar is a waiter or waitress who looks perfectly wholesome and trustworthy. Unfortunately, your server has a camera phone and a friend who steals credit card information.

Con artists and scammers come from all walks of life; they look just like you and me. The difference is that most people don’t want to make a living by taking advantage of others, but those other guys…well, they’re just different. That’s part of the reason I like to write about them. I have a column on that focuses on real-life scams and cons. While I love doing the investigation and writing for that column, it’s much more fun to bring characters with less-than-honorable intentions into a novel where they can really cut loose.

Let’s take another look at that opening example. What if the waiter is a young kid struggling to pay down his student loans and has a wife at home with their newborn son? When an acquaintance asks him if he’d like to make a little extra cash, he remembers the ache on his wife’s face when they talked about her going back to work; he remembers the smell of his newborn son right after a bath; and he worries about how they’ll ever put together enough cash to move out of the dump they must live in now. He jumps at the chance to make more money, even though he knows he’s doing something illegal, by rationalizing that the only ones who will really lose anything are the big banks who will hold those gigantic student loans over his head for who knows how many more years.

Our waiter is truly a character in conflict. If he accepts the chance to make some quick cash, he’ll likely travel down a very dark path before he finds his way back to the ideals he held so dear just a few years earlier. When I’m writing fiction, the characters are the ones I believe drive the story. If the character is a “normal” person who’s been driven by circumstance to the wrong side of the law, there’s so much potential to create a compelling plot driven by emotions and needs. To me, that’s what good fiction is all about—the character.

In my new novel, “License to Lie,” two characters who view the law quite differently meet and are forced to work together by circumstance. The result is that these two, both from opposite sides of the law, find themselves questioning every lesson they ever learned—including, who should they trust when they can’t trust a soul…even their own.

Here’s what two early readers said:
“License to Lie is fast and well written, almost sure to satisfy discerning readers of thrillers.” — T. Jefferson Parker, author of “The Jaguar” and “The Border Lords”.

"Fast-paced, unpredictable, and a lot of fun--no one is who they seem in this smart and twisty tale of high finance and double dealing." — Hank Phillippi Ryan, Anthony, Agatha and Macavity award-winning author

Terry Ambrose started out skip tracing and collecting money from deadbeats and quickly learned that liars come from all walks of life. He never actually stole a car, but sometimes hired big guys with tow trucks and a penchant for working in the dark to “help” when negotiations failed. 
Book Blurb:
With $5 million and their lives on the line, can a determined criminologist and a beautiful con artist learn to trust each other?   Or themselves?
Roxy Tanner lies for a living.   Skip Cosgrove uncovers the lies others tell.   Together, they have twelve hours to meet a ransom demand or her father will die.   When Roxy reveals that she has the money, Skip is sure of one thing: his way-too-attractive client is lying to him.
As events unfold, these two loners discover that for those living on the edge, trust is a luxury they can’t afford. There’s only one thing left for them to do.
Never trust a soul…even your own.

To buy: 

 From Marilyn:

I'm really impressed by the caliber of your early readers and what they had  to say. Wow! What great endorsements for your book!