Betty Webb -
The Llama of Death
April 21, 2013
About the Author
Mystery writer Betty Webb was originally from Hamilton, Alabama, but she has been a resident of Scottsdale, Arizona since 1982. Webb was a journalist before becoming a full time author. Her journalism career ranged from feature articles to hard news stories, and allowed her to meet and interact with an array of people. The harsh desert climate and some of her early news pieces gave her inspiration to write her Lena Jones Mystery Series. Laced within the pages of her novels are hints of Webb’s extensive background and personal hobbies. Webb is heavily involved in genealogy and actively searches for traces in her family line. She has experience as a folk singer, go-go dancer, cotton picker and solo backpacker, but she currently works as a creative writing teacher at Phoenix College, and she often volunteers at the Phoenix Zoo. It is there, within the confines of the monkey cage, she found inspiration for her second series, the Gunn Zoo Mysteries.
About this Book
In The Llama of Death, Alejandro, the Gunn Zoo llama appears to have stomped Reverend Victor Emerson to death at a Monterrey Bay-area Renaissance Fair. A closer look by zookeeper, Theodora “Teddy” Bently, reveals that the reverend actually died due to being shot in the back with a crossbow dart. Further investigation unveils that the reverend is not a reverend at all, but in fact an escaped convict. Every marriage Victor performed for the last twenty years is null and void, which means Teddy’s mother, Caro would have to return all the money she received as settlements from two previous marriages. It just might be enough for materialistic Caro to justify murdering someone, but having Victor kill your father would certainly give one reason to commit murder as well. That is why the child of the man Victor murdered years back is also placed under suspicion. At one point in the story even Teddy is placed under arrest. This crime, combined with the everyday chaos of a zoo makes finding the killer a true mystery.
Extended Interview Videos
Betty Webb’s Website
Betty Webb’s Blog
NARRATOR: And now an Eight original production.
Narrator: Books & Co., is made possible by the Virginia G. piper center for creative writing. Serving writers and readers in the Phoenix metropolitan area, the state of Arizona, and the world.
ALBERTO RIOS: Welcome to books and company. I am Alberto Rios, your host. And we're joined today by Betty Webb, who is talking about her latest book, "The Llama of Death."
BETTY WEBB: Very scary.
ALBERTO RIOS: Very scary, published by poison pen press. Welcome, Betty.
BETTY WEBB: Thanks for having me here.
ALBERTO RIOS: I love the title, "The Llama of Death."
BETTY WEBB: Every time I come up with a title I start to laugh. The title does not make me laugh I move onto another animal.
ALBERTO RIOS: Fair enough, fair enough. I don't know where to start, obviously, this is a, a progressive book. It's a detective book, where something happens, so we're not going to give any plot details away, but there is a lot to talk about.
BETTY WEBB: Yes.
ALBERTO RIOS: And one of my favorite things is your entry. You give us, as readers, entry into a number of closed groups. Closed societies, starting with renaissance festival stuff.
BETTY WEBB: Yes, yes. I am absolutely addicted to renaissance fairs. I just adore them. I go to the one that we have out in Apache Junction every single year. I take notebooks, I take cameras. I take pictures of the King's privies. I take pictures of the, of the luscious maidens and knights. I just love them. And I follow around the people and I try to mimic the renaissance speech. As you will notice in my book "The Llama of Death" because the Llama goes to a renaissance fair. And well, actually, the Llama doesn't go all by himself to the renaissance fair. He goes with the zookeeper, who takes care him. And the Llama's name is Alejandro. I thought of that name when I was listening to a Lady Gaga song. True story. True story.
ALBERTO RIOS: Well, Teddy, as she becomes known, becomes the protagonist in the story. And all sorts of things happen with her, and obviously, Alejandro, an integral part of this. This renaissance festival stuff, though, what got you started? Why are you so obsessed with it, and when you go, are you one of the, as you said, luscious maidens?
BETTY WEBB: No. That's really odd because as you know, I'm a volunteer for the Phoenix zoo. And I do dress up there, both in my zoo outfit, and then on Halloween I dress up as the Zombie. But for some reason I have never dressed up as a winch for the renaissance festival. I will have to do that now. But, what, what fascinates me is that, that, as a writer, you know, we all have these little fetishes around our computers. Where we write. One of my fetishes is a stuffed William Shakespeare. Not life-sized. He's this big, and he sits on my shelf and stares down at me while I am writing. So, they usually but not always will have a Shakespeare character at the renaissance fair. This past year I didn't see one. But, I did see another favorite of mine, a guy named dead Bob.
ALBERTO RIOS: Right, right.
BETTY WEBB: And bed, Bob. I love him. He's a ventriloquist Buddy, and he's operated by a peasant. A peasant with a cupboard face, and I go to Bob's show, and I love dead Bob so much that I wrote to him and asked him if I could use him as a character in my renaissance book, and he said go for it, so we'll see how dead Bob likes it. The renaissance fairs, as you know, it's not exactly the most accurate portrayal of renaissance times ever.
ALBERTO RIOS: Starting with the language.
BETTY WEBB: Starting with the language. Everybody says certain things, I'm not sure how often they said first and down, but every other word is that. The closed society is, is -- you have people who, who work the circuit of renaissance fairs, they will go from one fair to another taking their shtick as we call it with them. And they have learned how to do the, the so-called renaissance speech. And they will have some sort of booth. You have people who sell amazingly Gothic swords, swords that would probably never kill anyone other than the wielder of the sword. And you have, you have wonderful places like tea and crumpets, very renaissance, of course.
ALBERTO RIOS: Of course.
BETTY WEBB: They are just so bizarre and so funny, and so wrong. And I love things that are just a bit wrong. And, and there is mother gooses there, she's one of my favorite. A live goose. You can hug the goose, and she will stretch her neck out over you and just give you a little hug.
ALBERTO RIOS: Wow. You have a Llama and now the goose?
BETTY WEBB: Yeah. The goose, the Llama, and the dead Bob, and Henry VIII. This is Henry VIII who gets murdered. The time it's somebody murdering him, not he's murdering somebody else. He gets murdered at the renaissance fair. He is found dead in the, in the Llama's enclosure. Alejandro does not like that. And as the book progress, I can go --
ALBERTO RIOS: This is what starts us off.
BETTY WEBB: This is what starts you off. I am giving nothing away when I say King Henry VIII is killed immediately. But, we learn about the man who was playing the part of Henry VIII, and he turns out to have -- well, first of all runs wedding chapel. And those of us who have gotten married in Las Vegas, it's a little Kirk of the tether or whatever. It's one of those. Plays the fat Elvis minister when he marries people, and that's, that's what he is in his so-called real life. But then, there was a life before he became the fat Elvis minister. And so, there are layers upon layers upon layers, all that get uncovered, at the renaissance fair.
ALBERTO RIOS: All right.
ALBERTO RIOS: And we'll come back to that because, you mentioned Shakespeare looking down on you, and the whole thing unravels at the end in a very Shakespearean manner.
BETTY WEBB: It’s a lot of fun.
BETTY WEBB: It's a lot of fun.
BETTY WEBB: I had a great time because, I must have been one of the only kids in the world who, who loved Shakespeare. When I was 12, I used to read Shakespearean plays. Not the sonnet so much but the plays, and under my covers at home, you know, everybody else was reading superman and wonder woman comics, I was reading Shakespeare, and I didn't know why, and now I know why. Because, because many years later, I was going to use a phony Shakespeare in the book, so I had so much fun recalling all of these crazy things, Shakespeare said, and he had a comment for all occasions.
ALBERTO RIOS: He certainly did.
BETTY WEBB: Oh, yeah.
ALBERTO RIOS: Yeah.
ALBERTO RIOS: And you also, going from the renaissance fair, just for a moment, these are contiguous, and you also talk about boat culture, the live-a-boarders.
BETTY WEBB: Yes. My zookeeper, Theadora lives on a houseboat, and -- Mary, Mary the houseboat, yeah. Something like that. Merrily we roll along. And there is a whole different way looking at life and of dealing with the everyday moments of life when you live on a houseboat. And I did live on one for a summer.
ALBERTO RIOS: This was my question.
BETTY WEBB: Right.
BETTY WEBB: And friend of mine was going to Europe you, and she a houseboat in Santa Barbara harbor. She was afraid to leave her houseboat alone, along with the cat, and I said, I will, I will -- this is for you, I will feed the cat. I will dust the houseboat. So, for, for, I guess, it was three months ago, I lived on that houseboat in Santa Barbara harbor, and wonderful, wonderful, but, there are problems when you live on a houseboat. There is mildew. It's very example, everything you have is going to rot. Just take that for granted. So, you will be visiting the Salvation Army used clothing store frequently, and there is also the necessity life. For instance, there are chemical toilets. I won't say any more about that. But --
ALBERTO RIOS: Communal showers.
BETTY WEBB: And communal showers and communal Laundromats and, and it's a very different way of, of looking at life. And, and the, the camaraderie of the people who live at the harbors on their boat, is just wonderful. It is just amazing, and it is the most common thing in the world to wake up in the morning, open up the hatch, and be staring a Pelican right from the face. It's, or an otter, an otter has crawled up on the boat or heaven forbid a harbor seal. Big, mean --
ALBERTO RIOS: Oh, ok.
BETTY WEBB: Ok. Sea lions in the harbor, not good.
ALBERTO RIOS: Which leads us to the next close culture, which is the zoo culture.
BETTY WEBB: Yes. I decided to volunteer for the Phoenix zoo. I have always loved animals. I was raised on a farm. And even though my career --
ALBERTO RIOS: Where were you raised?
BETTY WEBB: I was raised both in the, in the boot heel of Missouri on a cotton farm, and Alabama, north, Northwestern Alabama.
ALBERTO RIOS: Ok.
BETTY WEBB: A little town called Hamilton, Alabama, which my great, great grandfather settled in the, in the early 1800s. And we had animals. And, and once I grew up, and moved to the cities to pursue my career, couldn't have as many, so the first thing that I thought of when I retired was, was I'm going to volunteer at the Phoenix zoo, and that's when I learned about the zoo culture. To me, zookeepers were very, very -- they were just so elegant, and they were, you know, you have all those, the TV programs.
ALBERTO RIOS: Right.
BETTY WEBB: With, with the zookeepers. They will come on there with the animals and there, they are holding them, and I thought that's going to be wonderful, I will get to play with the animals.
ALBERTO RIOS: No.
BETTY WEBB: No.
BETTY WEBB: And you do not touch the animals in the zoo. Never. I worked in monkey village where it was my job to say, do not touch the animals. So, touch it.
ALBERTO RIOS: You worked in monkey village.
BETTY WEBB: Monkey village.
ALBERTO RIOS: Monkey village.
BETTY WEBB: And I think that the Phoenix zoo was only --
ALBERTO RIOS: Which shows up in the book?
BETTY WEBB: That's correct.
ALBERTO RIOS: Ok.
BETTY WEBB: But I changed the name. I call it monkey mania, and I don't want the people at the zoo to get mad of me and never let me come down there again, and by the way, that is also, when I first started these books, I was going to have, action take place at the Phoenix zoo, and once I killed my third person in one book, I thought, you know, that's not going to work out. And that's when I decided in that, that those books would be set in a harbor in, in California. But, the, the zoo culture, the zookeepers are absolutely -- first, they are very highly educated. The very least that they have is a masters, is, is a, a bachelor's degree, and most have masters, and one of the sciences, usually zoology. One of the people -- one of the zookeepers, who was my favorite, was a gal who, who would have big, a big gal, a big, tall, muscular gal, and for every animal, she took personal care of, she would have a tattoo on her body. And, and to watch her walk around the zoo is fun. You will see a lion moving on one leg and a Tiger on one leg. It's great.
ALBERTO RIOS: I would like to take a moment to reintroduce ourselves. This is Books & Co., I am your host, Alberto Rios. We're talking today with Betty Webb. She's talking about her latest book, "The Llama of Death".
BETTY WEBB: Vicious animals.
ALBERTO RIOS: Vicious animals. We should talk a bit about Llamas because Alejandro. I had no idea that they had, you know, the kind of feelings that you impute to the animals.
BETTY WEBB: Well, and I didn't know that much about Llamas either when I first started writing the book about I was fortunate in discovering there is an Arizona Llama rescue out in Gilbert, Arizona. And so, I drove down there, and I talked to the, to Dave, and Alicia, who run the Llama rescue, and they gave me so much information about Llama. The reason a Llama rescue is needed is because plain people, they find out how, how peaceful Llamas are. They say oh, I want one, and they have a patio instead of a large lot. And so, they buy themselves a Llama. By someone who really should not be selling the llama, look to them, and after a while, they get bored with the Llama, and they stop taking care of the Llama. That's the point where the Arizona Llama rescue people will come in and talk to the owners, see if they can work something out, but many times, these Llamas do wind up at the rescue facility. So --
ALBERTO RIOS: Alejandro is a good case in point.
BETTY WEBB: Alejandro was, was bought by someone as a young Llama, and the owner, who a wee bit of a drinking problem, did not take care of Alejandro the way that he should have been taken care. So, Alejandro was rescued, and then wound up at the gun zoo, and that's where my, my Theadora Teddy, the zookeeper works. And he's wonderful, a wonderful animal, but due to his background, he has an aversion to adults. He adores children. This is another odd thing about Llamas. They like small creatures. In some countries, naturally in some farms, sheep farms, they will bring in a Llama to be a herd guard, a herd guard because if there is a wolf attack or a coyote attack, the Llama is large enough, and its feet are tough enough, there is a claw at the end of those feet. It can stomp the coyote or wolf to death and will because a Llama will feel very proprietary over the herd. So, I used that, that instinct that Llamas have for Alejandro, loving children.
ALBERTO RIOS: Ok.
BETTY WEBB: Sees a little child, and his heart just goes pitter pat, and he begins to make a purring sound. And he --
ALBERTO RIOS: The purring sound was a surprise.
BETTY WEBB: The purring sound is a surprise, but actually, it's a double-edged surprise. Usually, when you hear a Llama hum, it means they are alarmed. But if the tone goes lower, and a little softer, it means he's happy. So, you have to get attuned to different Llama's voice. They are very vocal. They make many sounds. I read there was something like 85 different sounds a Llama make. And --
ALBERTO RIOS: Teddy certainly is attuned to every one of those.
BETTY WEBB: She's a zookeeper.
BETTY WEBB: She's a lover of these animals.
BETTY WEBB: I have never met a zookeeper who did not absolutely adore animals. That's why they go into the business. When I was a child, for a brief amount of time, I thought that I would be a zookeeper, too, and then I realized I had to get a degree in science, and that changed the whole thing.
ALBERTO RIOS: Discovery channel wasn't enough.
BETTY WEBB: No, no.
ALBERTO RIOS: You have one other culture that comes into play, and then there is something else that I want to ask you about. But, it's the circles. The zoo has to be funded, and so you have a character who plays that pivotal role.
BETTY WEBB: Astra Edwina.
ALBERTO RIOS: Where did come up with that name?
BETTY WEBB: I woke up one more uttering the name. ASTRA, ok, yeah. That's her name then. And I really do believe some of my dreams are, are about my books. And a lot of my problems with my books worked themselves out in my dreams. And I had named -- I had given her something like ten names, and none of them felt right until I woke up mumbling Astra Edwina, she lives in a castle brought over stone by stone from Scotland by her very elderly father at the time. And --
ALBERTO RIOS: Echoes of the London bridge in Arizona, right?
BETTY WEBB: Exactly, that's where I got the idea. And the castle. And she started the zoo. Now, a lot of people may not realize this, but the Phoenix zoo is a private zoo. It was started by the Maytag family.
BETTY WEBB: Oh, wow, I did not know that.
BETTY WEBB: Started by the Maytag family, so I thought if they can do it, so can Astra, and she starts the zoo, and therefore, everyone who works at the zoo is her employee, and she is a battle ax. She loves the animals. She's a battle ax, and she runs in high society circles, as does Teddy's mother.
ALBERTO RIOS: Right.
BETTY WEBB: The much married Carol.
ALBERTO RIOS: Much married is key to understanding her, and again, a plot point.
BETTY WEBB: Yes, it is.
ALBERTO RIOS: And Cairo never met a rich man that she did not like. And --
BETTY WEBB: Or marry.
ALBERTO RIOS: Right, yes.
BETTY WEBB: Apparently.
BETTY WEBB: And but, sadly enough, her first husband, Teddy's father, was an embezzler. Rich. But, but he just couldn't help himself. All that money just there. Why can't I take it. So he's on a land in Costa Rica from the FBI. But every now and then he pops up in the books. So, there is a lot of talk about expensive dress designers. Expensive shoe designers, there is all Cairo, because Teddy couldn't care less. All she wants is her zoo uniform. And she is happy.
ALBERTO RIOS: And now, all of those things come together. The renaissance fair, the zoo. The wealthy, you know, a number of wealthy people.
BETTY WEBB: High society.
ALBERTO RIOS: High society.
ALBERTO RIOS: And the boat-dwelling group. They all come --
BETTY WEBB: And fat Elvis.
ALBERTO RIOS: And fat Elvis. All right. And in the process of you giving that all to us, by the way, you also give us these wonderful Nuggets that come through. We learn things like where the word "sheriff" comes from.
BETTY WEBB: Shire Reeve, the Reeve of the shire.
BETTY WEBB: Sheriff
ALBERTO RIOS: Who knew.
BETTY WEBB: Who knew.
ALBERTO RIOS: And then the wonderful bower bird.
BETTY WEBB: I love it. I want to go to Madagascar and see a real Bower bird, but I have had to make due with films. They build these huge nests, and they color coordinate everything.
ALBERTO RIOS: It's so stunning.
BETTY WEBB: They have turquoise piles and yellow piles, red piles; it's all to attract the females.
ALBERTO RIOS: Ok.
BETTY WEBB: And because see, the birds are very discerning. It has to be decorated just right or they are not moving in.
ALBERTO RIOS: Color by color by color.
BETTY WEBB: Yeah.
ALBERTO RIOS: It's extraordinary.
BETTY WEBB: Yeah.
ALBERTO RIOS: It must be the only bird that does that, right?
BETTY WEBB: Well, yeah, that I can think of off the Top of my head. The second I get home I will look it up and there will probably be 40 birds that do that.
ALBERTO RIOS: I don't think so. The overarching thing now that ties so much of this together is the ubiquitous internet.
BETTY WEBB: Oh, yeah.
ALBERTO RIOS: So we have got all of this -- and oddly enough, in counter point to the renaissance festival.
BETTY WEBB: Right.
ALBERTO RIOS: The High-tech internet and then kind of a low-tech boat, you know live-a-boarders. So you have this mix of technologies and time.
BETTY WEBB: Right. It's the internet.
ALBERTO RIOS: So she is pretty good at using this.
BETTY WEBB: Yeah. Well, actually, I am, too.
ALBERTO RIOS: Ok.
BETTY WEBB: And that's why --
ALBERTO RIOS: That's how it works out.
BETTY WEBB: Yes.
ALBERTO RIOS: Tell us how got to do that.
BETTY WEBB: Well, when I was a reporter. When I first started working for a newspaper, we did not have internet. This was in the dark ages, you know, in and our type was set by Guttenberg.
ALBERTO RIOS: Who also was at the renaissance festival?
BETTY WEBB: Right, right, along with the leper, who has a wonderful -- a leper, a wonderful character as a leper, but halfway through my tenure at the tribune we got the internet up and running. And they taught us how to use it to track down people, and it's, it's -- I'm not going to give away fully secrets here. But, it's a lovely tool. Just a lovely tool. But every now and then when I think that somebody may be tracking me on the internet, I get very paranoid.
ALBERTO RIOS: Well, it seems like everybody has a past. This is what happens in the book. Everybody has a past, which makes for a great detective work.
BETTY WEBB: And that's true in real life. Fiction, you know this, as a writer, good fiction is, is very real. You cannot make things -- if you are writing a non-fiction book, you can be as crazy as you want as long as you keep to the facts. But, a good novel has to be realistic in order for, for the person, the reader to buy it. And unless you are running science fiction or magical realism or something like that. And a murder mystery has to be very, very real. Because, because when you kill as many people as I do, you have to, you have to stay with the logic.
ALBERTO RIOS: Ok.
ALBERTO RIOS: Well, and those -- there is the dark side, and there is also humor in all of this.
BETTY WEBB: Yes.
ALBERTO RIOS: And we have, for example, the escaped snake.
BETTY WEBB: Oh, yes. Sybil, the escaped snake, who tweets. She lets people know where she is, what she is doing, and she finds love in San Francisco. And she's a very romantic snake.
ALBERTO RIOS: We'll let Sybil sign us off here today.
BETTY WEBB: Yes.
ALBERTO RIOS: So, thank you for coming and talking about "the Llama of death" there is so much more in it, the and the herpetologist joke.
BETTY WEBB: That joke was told to me by one of the zookeepers at the zoo.
ALBERTO RIOS: Tell me the joke.
BETTY WEBB: The joke is, what is the sentence you always hear just before a bad snake bite? The sentence is, here, hold my beer and watch this.
ALBERTO RIOS: Thank you, Betty Webb. This has been books and company. I am your host Alberto Rios. We've been talking about "The Llama of Death." Please join us again next time when we'll bring you another good book. Thank you, Betty.