Thursday, May 31, 2012

Betty Webb is the author of the popular Lena Jones mystery series: Desert Cut, Desert Run, Desert Shadows, Desert Wives, Desert Noir and Desert Wind. She also shows her softer and more humorous side in a series set in a fictional California zoo. The first book in the Gunn Zoo series, The Anteater of Death, was released in November 2008.

Betty, you’ve received some great reviews for your latest release, Desert Wind, including a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly.Why did you decide to write about the uranium mining which led to the deaths of John Wayne, Susan Hayward and many others?
Here in Arizona the newspapers have been full of articles about people protesting the uranium mining at the Grand Canyon. One part of the Canyon is already radioactive, which I consider an outrage – and as you know, the feeling of outrage is what leads to all the Lena Jones novels (as in“Desert Wives,” where the treatment of women and children in the polygamy compounds had me frothing at the mouth). After doing some research, I realized that the uranium mining problem also connected up with the nuclear testing program in Nevada, and then –horribly enough – to the filming of “The Conqueror,” which starred John Wayne. Almost half of the film’s stars, extras (including around 150 Paiute Indians) died of cancer after they’d been exposed to concentrated nuclear fallout during one of those tests.
Tell us about your writing background and the presidents you’ve interviewed.
I wrote my first novel when I was 14. It was called “Desert Mane” and was about a horse. Although it was too amateurish to get published, it taught me that even if you only write one page a day, in a year you’ll have completed 365 pages – an entire book! Many years later I became a reporter, which I absolutely loved, and some of the stories I covered made me want to start writing novels again. Reporters uncover a lot of scandals involving the rich and powerful, and that material is simply too rich to confine to a short newspaper article.
Over the course of my newspaper career I was able to interview many powerful people: actors, rock stars, comedians, and politicians (odd, isn’t it, that I mentioned politicians right after comedians). Among the rich and famous were presidents Richard Nixon (surprisingly genial), Jimmy Carter, and once even (for a brief couple of minutes) Bill Clinton. Other big “gets”were Newt Gingrich (highly articulate), John McCain (the guy’s a hoot, a side of him most people don’t get to see), astronaut Buzz Aldrin (I was so impressed I slobbered all over him), Bob Hope, Charlton Heston (very gallant), Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Walter Cronkite, Patrick Swayze (he kissed me!), Norman Mailer (every bit as irascible as you’d think), Tony Bennett (major charmer), the great Joan Baez, and just about every rock star out there.
You’ve tackled some serious social issues in your desert series. Did the plots originate from stories you covered as a journalist?
I either covered those stories or some of my reporter friends did and I went chasing after them for more information. That was the case with “Desert Cut,”which exposed the fact that our goofy immigration policies have brought the horrific practice of female genital amputation to America. One of my friends on another paper let me know about that one, then I followed up with my own research. Same with “Desert Run.” I heard the reporter in the cubicle next to mine interview one of the prison guards at a German Prisoner of War camp that existed here in Arizona. The rest of the books emerged from my own reportage.
Do you ever worry about repercussions from local and federal authorities when you expose crimes they would prefer to keep under wraps?
Let’s put it this way – since “Desert Wind” came out, my computer keeps crashing. And my phone is making clicking noises. Call me paranoid, but…
Something similar happened to me, Betty. Soon after my book, Murder on the Interstate, was released (concerning homegrown terrorists in Arizona), my computer crashed three days in a row, for no apparent reason. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Why did you decide to write a light-hearted series about zoo animals?
I needed the comic relief. Plus, my volunteer work at the Phoenix Zoo was just too interesting not to use. The animals I feature in those books (“The Anteater of Death” and “The Koala of Death” and now “The Llama of Death,” which comes out next January) are animals I have personally known.
Which of your awards means the most to you and why?
I’ll have to go with the Silver Medal for “Desert Wives”which I received from Women Writing the West. The gifted Barbara Seranella and I both shared that one, and since I’ve always greatly respected her work (“No Human Involved,” etc), it was an honor to for one brief moment, to have my book judged equal to hers.
How do you feel about the e-book revolution? Has it helped your own book sales or simply decreased print sales?
I have mixed feelings about it. I love bookstore and libraries, and there’s little doubt that e-books are hurting them. However, I also love to see people get published; everyone has a story to tell – some just tell it better than others. As far as sales go, my hardbacks and paperbacks are still outselling my downloads, but I have noticed from recent royalty statements that sales of downloads are increasing. So we’ll have to wait and see on that.
Advice for fledgling writers.
Write. Every. Day. Creativity is a muscle – and like all muscles, use it or lose it. And whatever you do, don’t wait around for“inspiration.” Inspiration only happens when you’re already hard at work writing.
Thank you, Betty.

You can visit Betty Webb at: her website
and Her blog site and writing tips:

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Betty. I recall you doing a presentation at the library in Laughlin, Nevada, and I also recall laughing at many of the stories you told. I've read most of your books and truly enjoy them. Great interview, and it's a pleasure to learn more about you. Thanks for sharing.

    Marja McGraw