Scottsdale author Betty Webb signs “The Llama of Death” Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013, from 2-3:30 p.m. at The Poisoned Pen Bookstore, 4014 N. Goldwater Blvd. in Scottsdale, Ariz. The book is the third in Webb’s Gunn Zoo mystery series, following “The Anteater of Death” and “The Koala of Death.”
“The Llama of Death” provides the reader with a humorous behind-the-scenes look at modern zoos, along with a taste of Renaissance Faire life. When zookeeper Theodora “Teddy” Bentley takes Alejandro, the Gunn Zoo llama, to a Monterey area Renaissance Faire, she finds the still-warm body of the Reverend Victor Emerson—definitely not part of her plan. As she investigates, she encounters Renaissance Faire actors and stuntmen, squabbling boat liveaboards, girl gang members and assorted animals.
Webb is also the author of the acclaimed Lena Jones mystery series, which includes seven books so far, the latest of which is “Desert Wind.” She recently agreed to answer a few questions regarding “The Lama of Death” and her writing career.
Q. You’ve been known for your Lena Jones mystery series. How did you get started writing the Gunn Zoo mystery series, which is quite different?
A. I was volunteering at the Phoenix Zoo and one day saw our giant anteater playing “Chase” with her baby. I said to another volunteer, “Oh, someone should write a book about those anteaters! They’re such interesting animals.” The volunteer gave me a strange look and said, “You’re a writer—why don’t you do it?” So I did. As it turned out, writing my zoo books (the series began with “The Anteater of Death”) was a relaxing respite from the more strenuous Lena Jones books.
Q. “The Llama of Death” is the third book in the zoo series. Tell me a little bit about it. How is it different from the others?
A. First of all, it’s set at a Renaissance Faire, which I patterned after the Apache Junction Renaissance Faire, which I’m addicted to. And secondly, it’s hilariously “highbrow,” because one of the characters keeps quoting Shakespeare to make a point. And thirdly, a real, live person is featured in it—Ded Bob, one of the funniest Renaissance Faire acts I’ve ever seen. Ded Bob (yes, that’s the way he spells it) gave me permission to use his glorious, skeletal self (he’s a ventriloquist’s dummy in the shape of a skeleton). I am so honored.
Q. A lot of writers are going the self-published route. You chose to go with a traditional publisher, Poisoned Pen Press. What made you make that choice, and how has it worked out for you?
A. To be quite frank, I prefer to let a publisher do most of the work—edit the copy, get the cover designed, print the thing (and put it on Kindle and all the other gizmos, etc.), send out advance review copies to the media and libraries, etc. Of course, I still do a great deal of marketing myself, but I’d have to do three times as much if I acted as my own publisher—and I’d rather spend that time writing books. I’ve been doing a book a year for some time now, and plan to even step up the pace—as long as I have the excellent Poisoned Pen Press in my corner. They’re tops!
Q. What’s next in your writing career?
A. Next up will be “Desert Regret,” another Lena Jones mystery. While doing research on a totally different subject, I stumbled across something that isn’t a crime, but is a fascinating and growing social phenomenon. It’s vastly underreported here in the U.S., but for some reason, is very much talked and written about in Great Britain. Same situation, different countries, but the “reserved” Brits are far more open about it than we are. So much for stereotypes.
Q. Is there anything you would like to add?
A. Just that writing the zoo books (which are very, very funny) is more fun than anything else I can do with my clothes on.
Like the zookeeper protagonist of the Gunn Zoo series, Webb once lived on a boat. She currently volunteers at the Phoenix Zoo, teaches writing workshops at Arizona State University and is a member of numerous writing groups, including the National Association of Press Women, Mystery Writers of America, Desert Sleuths, Arizona Press Women, and the Scottsdale Society of Women Writers.
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