Betty Webb is the author of the Lena Jones and the Gunn Zoo mystery series. Her most recent books are Desert Wind (from the Lena Jones series, released in January 2012) and The Lama of Death (from the Gunn Zoo series, released in January 2013).
The Lena Jones series deals with controversial issues, such as homelessness, unsafe mining practices and polygamy. She approaches her work as a journalist – which makes a lot of sense, since she’s a retired book reviewer from the East Value Tribune in Mesa, Ariz.
“I do a lot of research,” said Betty. For the Lena Jones books, “I track down people who are afflicted by the problems and interview them.”
”I drove out to Colorado City and interviewed several girls who had escaped, doctors and social workers,” said Betty. “I explained exactly how [Jeffs] was committing welfare fraud and getting millions. My book is what got the FBI involved.” Jeffs is now in Prison.
But those are pretty heavy topics. And Betty is all about finding the joy in life.
“I started the Gunn Zoo series because I needed some laughs,” she said. “Today’s zoos have become a Noah’s Arc for the animal kingdom. The Phoenix Zoo single handedly brought back the black footed ferret.” Betty says that zoos have saved many species from extinction, including pandas, giant anteaters, orangutans and mountain gorillas.
And that gets us to the title of the blog post: Life is What Happens…
“I never decided to deal with these subjects,” said Betty. “It just happened. I just wanted to write mysteries. These things inserted themselves into my books. Once they got going, I did the research. You’re never an ex-reporter.”
Here’s Betty’s advice for new writers and for those searching for joy in their lives.
- You don’t have to take a creative writing class. It can help – everyone has to do a lot of learning along the way, even Betty, who always found writing easy. Betty says that innate talent has to be developed, and people without innate talent (who have always struggled with writing) can learn how to write well.
- Join a critique group. The group should have a mix of published and unpublished writers – but be careful. Betty joined two different groups but finally started her own because those were so dysfunctional. She wrote a constitution that explained appropriate behavior, and everyone in her group adheres to it and responds well to criticism.
- Think twice about self-publishing. Some publishers and agents won’t take on writers who have ever self-published. Betty says it’s a question of rights – character rights, movie rights and more. Also, putting the effort into attracting an agent and traditional publisher will give you discipline and realistic expectations for your work.
- Build your following (today’s buzzword is platform). Traditional publishers will market your work, but Betty says you still have to do at least half of it. The Internet is invaluable – she posts on mystery-oriented lists and groups, along with her own blog and Facebook fan page. But don’t limit your efforts to the Internet. Go to writers’ conferences, and network with bookstore managers once you have a publishing contract.
- If you want to have joy, give joy. In her speaking engagements, Betty tries to show people that their life can turn on a dime, and it can turn better as long as they remain open minded and keep helping people. That help doesn’t have to be extravagant. It could be as simple as complimenting someone who is having a bad day. Betty believes people were put here on this earth to serve others and do what we can for others, including the animal kingdom.
In addition to writing and marketing her books, Betty reviews books for Mystery magazine, volunteers at the Phoenix Zoo, speaks on the topic of life happening when you had other plans, and teaches creative writing at Arizona State University.
“I don’t have as much energy as I used to,” said Betty.
Could have fooled me!