Saturday, March 21, 2020

Guest Blogger Betty Webb

Type M is so happy to welcome Betty Webb today to talk about something so much more pleasant than what has been going on lately - writing! And if anybody knows about writing, it's Betty. If you are a writer, where do you get your ideas? Ideas should be coming out of the woodwork these days. Betty's newest Gunn Zoo Mystery is Panda of Death. It's a wonderful story, and even looking at the cover will cheer you up.

Second Thoughts on “Write What You Know”
by Betty Webb

When I was still a full-time reporter, and at the same time was writing two vastly different mystery series, my readers often asked me, “How do you find the time to write?”

My answer was usually something on the order of “All I do is write. I don’t really have a life”

That was both true – and an evasion. I obviously have a life. I’m married, I’m a mother to two sons and a grandmother to two girls and three boys, I teach, I volunteer at the Phoenix Zoo, I have a wide circle of friends, I’m step-mom to four cats, I own a temperamental car, and my house is filled with electronic devices I don’t know how to use. Dealing with all that is a life.

All of which brings me to the other question I’m regularly asked: “Where do you get your ideas?”

When I was writing the Lena Jones Desert series (Desert Noir, Desert Redemption, etc.), the answer was almost always “From the newspaper.” And that was truth. As I teach my creative writing students, each issue of your daily newspaper has enough plot ideas in it to fill a small-town library. For instance, take a look at the typical Dear Abby column, where a letter from Sad In Wisconsin asks, “Should I divorce my husband or report him to the police for… (insert sin/crime here)?” It hardly takes a creative genius to construct a book around poor Sad In Wisconsin’s woes.

But my answer to the where-do-I-get-my-ideas question is different if we’re talking about my Gunn Zoo series. For that one, the answer to where I get my ideas would be, “From my life.” The fact that I volunteer for a zoo obviously gives me an insight to exotic animals that most people don’t have, but even a Gunn Zoo book isn’t made up of animals alone; people are always involved.

And that’s where my own particular life experiences come in. Let’s take a look at my latest book, The Panda of Death, where caring for a red panda (yes, there is such a thing) helps zookeeper Theodora “Teddy” Bentley solve a murder case. Without giving away too much, the motivations and conflicts between the human characters are almost always based on someone I personally know. For instance, my husband is a Quaker – you know, those folks who will never commit a violent act, not even in self-defense. But he’s married to a woman (me) who is descended from Scots Highlanders who settled arguments with their five-foot-long claymores. These days, it’s no longer lawful to kill someone for forgetting to buy toilet paper, but the lust for vengeance is still part of my DNA. Thus, I can write believable killers.

Here’s another example of how I use my own life in my books. In The Panda of Death, a very nasty scriptwriter on Tippy-Toe & Tinker, a children’s TV show is murdered, and the suspects include the marionette artists who work on the show. Since I’m not a big puppet fan, how did I come up with that idea? Easy. I’m a mom and grandmom, and more times than I care to remember, I’ve sat through puppet shows with my little rug rats. Ryan, my youngest, went through a period where he was obsessed with dinosaurs, and it was while buying him a toy T-Rex for his birthday that I came up with the idea of using a cast of dinosaurs for characters in a mystery novel. (Before you ask, no, the T-Rex named Tippy-Toe didn’t do it.)

My point is this: you don’t have to lead a life fraught with thrills and danger to be a writer. In fact, the more action-oriented your life is, the less likely it’ll be for you to write a book; you’d be too busy ducking and hiding. Instead, it’s the slower-paced but more convoluted life of a stay-at-home mom or dad (or librarian or dry-waller) who can more easily come up with plot ideas, and at the same time, have enough insight into the human condition to pull it off.


Betty Webb is the author of the best-selling Lena Jones mystery series (Desert Redemption, Desert Wives, etc.) and the humorous Gunn Zoo mysteries (The Panda of Death, The Otter of Death, etc.). Before beginning to write mystery novels, Betty spent 20 years as a journalist, interviewing everyone from U.S. presidents, astronauts who walked on the moon, Nobel Prize-winners, and polygamy runaways. and


Donis Casey said...

Anyone who can't come up with a great idea for a novel during this strange period isn't trying very hard! How about killing one's spouse during a quarantine? I'm thinking about how the world will have changed after this is all over.

Unknown said...

Betty, I enjoyed your post, especially about getting ideas from the newspaper. As Donis said, this pandemic will give us all a new world of experiences to write about.

Betty Webb said...

I'm beginning to notice all of Hubby's faults. I wonder if he's noticing the same things about me? (Feeling paranoid)

Rick Blechta said...


Sorry this comment is a bit late, but thank you so much for gracing our pages once again.

Stay well!