Friday, October 24, 2014

A Conversation with Mystery Author Betty Webb

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Betty Webb
with Betty Webb

We are delighted to welcome author Betty Webb to Omnimystery News today.

Betty's eighth mystery to feature Arizona-based private investigator Lena Jones is Desert Rage (Poisoned Pen Press; October 2014 hardcover, trade paperback, audiobook and ebook formats) and we recently had the chance to talk with her about the series.

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Omnimystery News: Tell us a little more about Lena Jones.

Betty Webb
Photo provided courtesy of
Betty Webb

Betty Webb: Oddly enough, the character of Lena Jones came to me in a dream, and that dream was so realistic, it seemed she was alive. Lena has been the daughter I never had for 14 years now, and like me, she has been growing and changing. But since she'd been raised in a dozen foster homes (some of them very cruel), she has a long list of demons — which I, fortunately, do not have. I've been fascinated and honored to watch Lena work her way through them to live a life of honor and service.

OMN: Into which mystery genre would you place the books of this series?

BW: The Lena Jones books are hard-boiled. Given her background — shot in the head at the age of four, abandoned to die on the street, etc. — they would have to be.

OMN: Tell us something about Desert Rage that isn't mentioned in the publisher's synopsis.

BW: The subject of Arizona's history of capital punishment never entered my mind until halfway through the book, then lightening struck. Then capital punishment (and the many forms thereof) became such a big part of the plot, it almost took over the book. But I don't mind, because it made the book deeper.

OMN: How much of your own personal experience have you included in the books of this series?

BW: Lena Jones has become my conscience. This is going to sound sappy, but whenever I find myself in a situation where I can't seem to decide which path I should take, I ask myself, "What would Lena do?" And the answer always is: pick the courageous route.

OMN: Describe your writing process for us.

BW: I completely outline my book before starting to write. I outline each chapter all the way through, what action takes place in that chapter, what character appears in that chapter, where the chapter takes place, and so on. The outline is so detailed that all it needs is a little filling in to become the finished book. Sadly, though, I always throw away my outline sometime during chapter 3, because my characters refuse to do what I tell them to do. This has happened with all 12 of my mysteries (this includes the Gunn Zoo mysteries), and although writing an outline now seems like a total waste of time, I love outlining so much I still continue to do it!

OMN: How do you go about researching the plot points of your stories? Have you come across any particularly challenging or exciting topics?

BW: As a journalist of more than 20 years, I'm used to research and love it. My most challenging research was in 2000, when I traveled up to polygamy "prophet" Warren Jeffs' compound. Very, very scary. Those people are cultists and they are heavily armed. My most fun research was a two-week trip to Iceland to write The Puffin of Death, which will be out next fall. So, yes, I do a lot of first-hand work, but I also consult experts. For my new Desert Rage, which is about two 14-year-old kids who have confessed to a horrendous torture-murder, I consulted an attorney who specializes in juvenile law, the Scottsdale Police Department, and a fire marshall — among many, many other experts.

OMN: Tell us about the setting for this series.

BW: Most of the Lena Jones mysteries are set in or near Scottsdale, Arizona, where I live. I name real people, real business, and real places. However, when my plot concerns a particularly sensitive subject, I create a fictional town outside of Scottsdale. For instance, for Desert Cut, which centered around female genital mutilation, I created a fictional town. And for Desert Wind, which was about the cancer clusters created by Nevada's A-bomb testing, I created another fictional town.

OMN: You mentioned traveling to Iceland to research a book. Where else have you been … or may be planning to go?

BW: I have a trip to Paris coming up. Yes, it's expensive, but I'll save money on food since I won't be able to afford it!

OMN: What are some of your outside interests?

BW: I love to get out in the desert with my telescope and look at the stars. I also volunteer for the Phoenix Zoo, which is how I came up with the idea of my Gunn Zoo mysteries (in which no animal is ever harmed). And although I was raised on a cotton farm and spent my younger years picking cotton, I grew up to love opera and theater, and buy season tickets for both. Oh, and once in a blue moon I paint.

OMN: What is the best advice — and harshest criticism — you've received as an author?

BW: The best advice I ever received came from David Morrell (one of the nicest guys in the world), who said, "To be a writer, you have to want it more than anything else in your life. It's that demanding." The harshest criticism always comes from my editor, the sainted Barbara Peters, who sometimes makes me re-write a certain passage; and she's always right.

OMN: Complete this sentence for us: "If you write crime fiction, you have …".

BW: If you write crime fiction, you have a very dark side which, in your personal life, you are careful to keep hidden.

OMN: Was Desert Rage your working title for the book? And how involved are you with cover design?

BW: I had originally titled it Desert Regret, but Barbara Peters put her foot down on that and said that since there was so much rage in the book (especially that horrific mass killing) that it needed to be called Desert Rage.

I have a background in graphic design (25 years in Los Angeles and Madison Avenue ad agencies), so I always furnish a layout of my covers, which include a PhotoShopped photograph taken by my husband, a talented photographer. The designer at Poisoned Pen Press puts the finishing touches on it.

OMN: What kind of feedback have you received from readers?

BW: I love it when they write me to tell me how much they love my books. I love it a lot less when they write me to point out a typo.

OMN: Supppose the Lena Jones mysteries were to be adapted for television or film. Who do you see playing the part?

BW: Angelina Jolie (with a blond wig) would play Lena Jones. No doubt about it. Beauty and guts.

OMN: What kinds of books did you read when you were young?

BW: I was reading by the age of four, and even though I lived on an isolated farm, the bookmobile came by once a week. By the time I was in school, I'd read just about everything on the bookmobile, so I started on the school library, and then the town library. I read EVERYTHING, but was particularly fond of the adventure series by Enid Blyton.

OMN: What do you read now for pleasure?

BW: I still read EVERYTHING. But I'm partially prone to mysteries, literary fiction, and character-driven sci-fi (for instance, I love the new apocalyptic novels).

Specifically, I will read anything by Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Peter Robinson, Nevada Barr, and Canadian mystery writer Emily St. John Mandel, whose new apocalyptic novel, "Station Eleven," has been short-listed for a major literary award. In it, a troupe of Shakespearian actors travel from town to town and perform to what's left of humanity in a disease-decimated world. Read it.

OMN: What's next for you?

BW: I'm completing another Gunn Zoo mystery, The Puffin of Death, set in Iceland. As soon as that's done, I'll start on Desert Revenge. Yep, another Lena Jones mystery.

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As a journalist and literary critic for more than 20 years, Betty Webb — a resident of Scottsdale, Arizona — has interviewed U. S. presidents, Nobel prize-winners, astronauts who've walked on the moon, polygamy runaways, the homeless, and the hopeless. Now retired from journalism to write full time, she also contributes the Small Press column for Mystery Scene magazine and teaches creative writing at Phoenix College.

In her writing, Betty makes liberal use of her own varied background. She earned her way through art school by working as a folk singer but eventually gave up singing to concentrate on her art career. At various times she has picked cotton, raised chickens which laid blue eggs (Speckled Hamburgs), worked in a zoo, been a go-go dancer and horse breeder, taught Sunday School, founded a literary magazine, helped rebuild a long-abandoned 120-year-old farm house, and back-packed the Highlands of Scotland alone.

For more information about the author, please visit her website at BettyWebb-Mystery.com and her author page on Goodreads, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Desert Rage by Betty Webb

Desert Rage
Betty Webb
A Lena Jones Mystery

Ferociously ambitious U.S. Senatorial candidate Juliana Thorsson has been keeping a secret.

The horrific slaughter of a prominent doctor, his wife, and their ten-year-old son inside their Scottsdale home brings Thorsson to Private Investigator Lena Jones. The slain family's 14-year-old, Alison, and her boyfriend, Kyle, have confessed to the murders. Thorsson wants to hire Lena to discover if Alison is telling the truth, but before accepting the job, Lena demands to know why a rising political star wants to involve herself with the fate of a girl she's never met.

Desperate for Lena's help, Thorsson reveals her explosive secret — that Alison is the candidate's biological daughter, a fact she's kept hidden for years. But that's not all. Thorsson then confides something even more unusual than a mere hidden pregnancy, something that could ruin her political plans forever.

Suspecting that Alison's parents had secrets of their own that could have led to the murders, Lena finally accepts Thorsson's assignment. But interviewing those who knew the family well soon puts Lena — now a strong defender of the two teens — in danger of her life.

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Lance Wright owns and manages Omnimystery, a Family of Mystery Websites, which had its origin as Hidden Staircase Mystery Books in 1986. As the scope of the business expanded, first into book reviews — Mysterious Reviews — and later into information for and reviews of mystery and suspense television and film, all sites were consolidated under the Omnimystery brand in 2006.

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