The Mystery of the Missing___

Has anyone ever figured out the “mystery of the missing sock?” You know, when you put a perfectly good matched pair of detectivesocks in the wash and then by the time you take them out of the dryer, one is missing?

When we moved to Arizona, we lived in a furnished rental cottage for nearly three months. There, every single time I did laundry, I had a least one missing sock! I did eventually find them—sometimes one fell behind the machine, other times it got stuck inside another item of clothing, or maybe it just sneaked under the bed. But when we moved into our permanent home, I haven’t had a problem since (knock on wood—as soon as I say this, I’ll start losing socks again!)

The other mystery is how do things get lost when you move? I packed up everything and was good about labeling the boxes. We had movers load everything and it was stored for 3 months until we moved into our house. They had a detailed list and every box was numbered and had to be accounted for before they left.

But I’m missing weird things. Things that wouldn’t necessarily have been packed in the same box—in the event that a box was lost (which it doesn’t appear to have happened).

Things like my flatiron for my hair. Why I wouldn’t have packed it in the stuff for my 3-month rental stay, I don’t know, but I frying_pan_clip_art_didn’t. Then there’s my cast iron skillet. It wasn’t in the boxes with the rest of the pots and pans and I cannot find it anywhere. A framed photograph of my husband and me, taken for our church directory, was not in the box with the other three. A small green plastic wastebasket never turned up. My heavy scotch tape dispenser for my desk. None of these things should have been packed in the same box. But where are they?

I haven’t a clue.

What are some things you’ve “lost” and did you ever find them?

Published in: on August 16, 2013 at 6:40 am  Comments (2)  
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Meet Betty Webb, Writer of Controversial and Humorous Mysteries

Welcome to my guest, Betty Webb, award-winning author of seven Lena Jones mysteries and two Gunn Zoo humorous mysteries, with a third, The Llama of Death, due out January 6. It will debut at the famed Poisoned Pen Bookstore, in Scottsdale AZ, which just happens to be near Betty’s home.

I recently became a fan of Lena Jones when I read your book, Desert Wives, which delves into Arizona polygamy cults. You tackle difficult subjects such as this in your books: uranium mining practices, immigration issues, prisoner of war escapes and murder.

What inspired you to write the first Lena Jones book and what led you to write about these controversial subjects? I spent more than 20 years as a journalist covering some of those very issues, but as we all know, one newspaper article can hardly get to the depth of some subjects. I always wanted to write to the “emotional core” of these issues, and because of the very strict format of journalism, that was impossible. In fiction, however, I could do that – through the hearts of fictional characters. Thus, in my very first Lena Jones book, I told the true story of an elderly woman who was forced out of the home she was born in when the Arizona government declared “eminent domain” and forcibly took her home away to build a sports stadium for a group of private investors. The 85-year-old woman was dead within the year – of heartbreak. The success of this book, Desert Noir, showed me I was on the right track, and that this was a technique which could be used to expose human rights abuses in Arizona and elsewhere.

You’ve written two books that deal with polygamy, Desert Wives and Desert Lost. Have you ever received criticism or threats from members of that group? Polygamists tend to be bullies, especially towards women, whom they have absolutely no respect for. Their disrespect is exemplified by their practice of trading young girls around in the polygamy compounds as if the girls were nothing more than baseball cards. I received several death threats when Desert Wives came out, mainly because I had exposed the polygamists’ Welfare fraud schemes, as well as the child rape that runs rampant in polygamy compounds. Twice, when I appeared at bookstore signings, several polygamist men sat in the front row giving me very threatening looks (you can spot polygamists by the way they dress). After I’d spoken, they followed me out to the parking lot, but I’d had the sense to ask several other people to accompany me, so nothing happened.

How frightening! You are a brave woman.

The third time the polygamists showed up, I’d had enough. I said to the audience, “Tonight we are honored to have as uninvited guests a group of polygamists in the front row. Gentlemen, please stand up and introduce yourselves.” The polygamists immediately left, and after that, they never attended another signing. The lesson here? Stand up to bullies; they’re always cowards at heart. By the way, Desert Wives told the story of what happens to little girls under polygamy; Desert Lost tells what happens to the boys, which is even worse, because if one man can have 10 wives, then 9 men will have none. The cult leaders – “prophets,” as they’re called — aren’t about to allow 9 extra men hang around in the compounds causing trouble, and have devised an ingeniously evil way to get rid of them as soon as these “extra men” reach puberty – around age 13. It’s horrific.

Have your books resulted in any further investigation into these cults? Yes, once Desert Wives came out, many members of the Arizona legislature read the book, and afterwards, began drafting anti-polygamy legislation. When Desert Wives was first published, the legal marriage age for girls in Arizona was 14; the legislature changed that to 16, but that was as far as they would go. However, the FBI was alerted to the Welfare scams I’d uncovered, and began investigating Warren Jeffs, one of the most notorious of the polygamy cult leaders. Jeffs was eventually arrested on my birthday, and is now serving 25 years to life.

What a great birthday present!

What kind of research do you do for your books? Each Lena Jones “Desert” book has been researched for a minimum of three years, via combinations of library research, interviews with victims, and trips to the area where the crimes have taken place. It’s a very wearying process, but it’s necessary so that I get my facts straight. In my recent Desert Wind, I actually found and interviewed two people who had watched – without any sort of protection — the A-bomb tests in Nevada during the 1950s. The area they live in became one of the largest cancer clusters in U.S. history.

How do get to know your characters before and while you’re writing? Oddly enough, other than Lena Jones, I don’t know my characters at all until I start writing about them. Then they begin to reveal themselves to me as the book progresses. My husband says I “channel” them like a psychic. Come to think of it, I do have to make one exception. While I was writing Desert Wind, the face of a young girl of around 13 years old kept appearing to me. I didn’t know who she was or what was going on with her, but now that I’ve begun a book called Desert Regret, I know what she was trying to tell me.

How do you construct your plots?  Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”? I write very detailed outlines before beginning each book, but by the time I’ve reached the third chapter, I’ve thrown the outline away. I’ve done that for 12 books now! You’d think I’d just not bother with an outline anymore, but outlines serve as odd sorts of “comfort blankets,” so I just keep writing them.

You have another fun mysteries series with The Anteater of Death and the Koala of Death, and the upcoming The Llama of Death. Tell me how these books came about. For the past 6 years I’ve been a volunteer at the Phoenix Zoo. Watching the animals’ antics has heightened my interest in exotic species and the people who care for them. One day, when watching the giant anteater from Belize play with her baby, I decided then and there to write something about them. It began as a newspaper article, then became a short story, then it morphed into a full-length book! My publisher loved it, and thus the Gunn Zoo mystery series was born. The animals are real; the human beings are fictional. And the zoo is actually the Phoenix Zoo, but I picked it up and moved it to the Monterey Bay area of California, so as not to overdo the Arizona stuff. Plus, I wanted my zookeeper/sleuth to live on the same houseboat I lived on one summer. Exotic animals and houseboats – can’t beat that!

Which series do you enjoy writing more? For sheer “enjoyment” the Gunn Zoo series is the clear winner. I giggle all the way through those books, because the comedy level is quite high in them. But the Lena Jones “Desert” mysteries are the books that are closest to my heart.

What are some of your writing challenges and how do you overcome them? The usual. I’d rather stay in bed than write, but I still get up every morning at 4 a.m. to bang away at the computer until noon. Also, there are times I write myself into a corner, and it’s sheer bloody hell in our house until I figure out of way to write myself back out.

I understand you were a journalist before beginning to write fiction. Tell us about this background and how it helps in writing your books. My 20 years as a journalist has everything to do with my books. For starters, I learned discipline (Can you imagine telling a newspaper editor that you don’t “feel like writing today,” that you’re suffering from “writer’s block”? You’d be fired on the spot!) My journalism experience also taught me how to research hidden crimes, and how to interview people who would really rather not be interviewed.

How did you manage to get a blurb from David Morrell? I’m a major fan of David’s work, and he’s been a fan of the Lena Jones books for a long time. He actually volunteer to blurb a couple of my books, most recently, Desert Wind, which exposed the cancer clusters in the Southwest and the history behind those cancer clusters.

What’s your next project? The Llama of Death, a Gunn Zoo mystery, comes out January 6; zookeeper Theodora Bentley takes Alejandro the llama to the local Renaissance Faire, where the phony minister playing King Henry VIII gets murdered via crossbow. But right now I’m writing the 9th Lena Jones mystery, Desert Regret. By the way here are all the Lena Jones books in chronological order, oldest listed first: Desert Noir, Desert Wives, Desert Shadows, Desert Deceit (a 100-page novella in the Desperate Journeys anthology published by World Wide Library), Desert Run, Desert Cut, Desert Lost, and 2012’s Desert Wind. As soon as I finish Desert Regret  (it’ll probably be released sometime in late 2013 or early 2014) I start on The Puffin of Death, which necessitated a two-week research trip to Iceland, to study those odd-looking birds, Icelandic horses, and Arctic foxes.Almost the entirety of The Puffin of Death will be set in Iceland. That was far and away the most fun I’ve ever had researching a book!

Read a review of Desert Wives by Mary Trimble.

In her writing, Betty makes liberal use of her varied background. She earned her way through art school by working as a folk singer but gave up singing to concentrate on her commercial art career, eventually winding up on Madison Avenue. At various times she has picked cotton, raised chickens which laid blue eggs, worked in a zoo, was a go-go dancer, ran a horse farm, founded a literary magazine, helped rebuild a 120-year-old farmhouse, and backpacked the Highlands of Scotland alone. In her journalism career, she has interviewed U.S. presidents, astronauts who walked on the moon, Nobel Prize winners, Death Row inmates, and polygamy runaways.

Betty is a member of the National Federation of Press Women, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Women Writing the West, and the National Association of Zoo Keepers.

Her books may be found on her websites and

You can find Betty’s blog at, Betty is on Facebook at Betty Webb, writer, follow Betty on Twitter at @bettywebb and you can also email her at

Celebrating Freedom and the Book Launch of Montezuma Intrigue

My guest today is Linda Weaver Clark who says she  enjoyed writing short stories and novels for several years but it took a lot of courage to begin submitting them. Linda has published an Idaho family saga series, beginning with award-winning “Melinda and the Wild West,” and a mystery series, Anasazi Intrigue, Mayan Intrigue, and her newest, Montezuma Intrigue.

Linda also tours all over the United States, teaching people the importance of Family Legacy, encouraging others to turn their family history and autobiography into a variety of interesting stories.

In celebration of our country’s Freedom and my Official Book Launch for Montezuma Intrigue, I’m having a Book Give-Away from June 27-July 7: Win a mystery/adventure novel with a touch of romance, at

Adventure…Suspense…Romance…Intrigue…Humor! The search for Montezuma’s treasure, mysterious events, family secrets, and a good-looking rogue!

When a leather parchment of Montezuma’s map is found in great-grandfather Evan’s old chest, April and the twins know this summer is going to be a memorable one. The girls want to search for it but their father is against it for some mysterious reason. With Julia’s help, she and the girls convince John to go on a treasure hunt. Is Montezuma’s treasure a legend or reality? Whatever the case, John insists on keeping their little treasure hunt a secret. If certain people find out about it, the family could be in danger.

But that’s not all! I have more gifts for you! I will be having a drawing for 2 children’s books: The Magic Word by Sherrill S. Cannon and The Donkey and the King by Lorilyn Roberts. If you have already bought Montezuma Intrigue, I will email you 4 free e-books (pdf):

1. The Treasure of Isian by Serena Clarke. This is a fantasy/adventure novel with a touch of romance. This story is full of intrigue as you watch Garin and Elani search for the treasure of Isian.

2. Reflections of the Heart, which has 13 chapters of inspirational writings such as: The secret of Happiness, Laughter is the Best Medicine, Parenthood A Great Responsibility, Equal Partners in Marriage, and Music Soothes the Soul.

3. Writing Your Family Legacy, in which I teach you how to write your family history or autobiography. I travel all over the U.S., teaching this class.

4. The Donkey and the King by Lorilyn Roberts. This is a Christian story about a donkey named Baruch who longs for an easier life beyond the stable. Each page is beautifully illustrated.

Be sure to leave a comment and you’ll be eligible for the drawings!

Seattle Author Debuts Murder Mystery

Today’s guest is Seattle author Joan Merrill with her debut novel And All That Murder, a Casey McKie Mystery. I had the privilege of helping with the editing process and I can say this is a fun, fast-paced, exciting read.

Synopsis of And All That Murder: Casey McKie is a 36-year-old private investigator who lives in San Francisco’s Chinatown and hangs out at her singer friend’s jazz club in nearby North Beach.

When Dee asks Casey to check into the supposed suicide of a long-time friend, Casey hesitates. She doesn’t buy Dee’s belief that he was murdered, all signs pointing to suicide. But, friendship wins out, and Casey reluctantly agrees, believing it will be easy to disprove Dee’s theory.

After a second body is found, Casey decides Dee may be right – someone is targeting people from the jazz community. As more bodies turn up, Casey follows clues to an Oakland blues club, a Seattle record company, and a Palm Springs gay escort service, her quest ending in a deadly encounter with the killer.

1.   Joan, what attracted you to the idea of writing a mystery

Writing a mystery was something I thought I could do, since, being an avid reader of the genre, I was acquainted with the format.

2.  I know you have a background in the music industry. How did this help you in writing your novel

One of the precepts for writers is to write what you know, so I made the jazz world the ‘milieu’ for the novel. Also, I had a lot of issues about the business I wanted to express.

3.  Do you have a background in writing?
Since childhood, I wanted to be a writer, whatever that means.  I’ve always enjoyed writing; for example, doing a college paper was fun and not a chore. In my professional career, I’ve written a number of scripts, liner notes, as well as three textbooks. But, to me, being a “writer” means being a writer of fiction. So, those books did not satisfy my lifelong goal. And All That Murder does.

4.  Is crafting a mystery harder than writing other fiction

I haven’t written other fiction, but my guess is that it is harder in the sense that you must create more than one viable suspect, giving them all believable motives and opportunities and making them equally as suspicious as the real killer. I think logic is the most important ingredient of a mystery and being logical the most important qualification for the mystery writer.

5. How do you go about planning your books—do you outline? Do you know the ending before you start?

Based on my limited experience (one book published, one in rough draft) I don’t know if I have developed a pattern. But the first things I did were to decide on the PI’s home base (San Francisco, a city I know and love), the ‘milieu’ (the jazz world), the private investigator’s characteristics, and who will be her confidante. (A PI must have a friend who serves as her “sounding board,” for every so often in a mystery, you have to give a “progress report.”

6. How long did it take you to write this book and get it published?

It took several years to get this book to the point of publication. It was the book I started while in writing class and discussed in my writing group. Also, I didn’t work on it all the time. But now that I have given up my other job, I can concentrate solely on novel writing. I plan to have my second mystery finished by fall. And I have the broad outline for the third one.

7. Why did you decide to self-publish?

I didn’t want to spend a lot of time “selling” the book to agents or publishers; I wanted to get it published and start on my next book. For several years, I worked as a talent agent and manager for jazz artists, where my main occupation was trying to get them gigs. I didn’t want to do any more “selling.” Also, I don’t think self-publishing lessens the gratification of having a book published.

8. What are the pros and cons of doing it this way

The pros of self-publishing: you can get it done fairly quickly, no need to spend months or even years finding a publisher. The cons: you are entirely on your own. Whatever you write is printed; you don’t have an editor or proof-reader. You make a mistake and there it is for all the world to see. In addition to three friends who read my book, I used a professional writer to copy edit and critique. But the biggest problem for me was proof reading. I had to send my manuscript in three times; I kept discovering typos I’d missed. That cost me time and money. With my next book, I plan to hire a professional proof reader.

9.  What do you think the techniques are for making a mystery a good read (one that keeps the reader guessing all the way to the end)

A mystery novel must keep the plot moving along the inexorable path to the solution to the crime. Each scene should present a step along that path. Also, as I said earlier, you have to present the real killer along with believable suspects, giving them all plausible motive and opportunity, and not make it obvious who is the real culprit. Another challenge is to vary the settings. The PI does a lot of interviewing of suspects and, if the setting is always the same, the reader may become bored. I also think that along with an intriguing plot, a mystery writer should create an interesting ‘milieu,’ to allow the reader to experience a new world. For example, Dick Francis writes about horse racing; Tony Hillerman writes about Native Americans living on reservations; Donna Leon’s mysteries take place in Venice, so we learn a great deal about Italian politics and culture; and Elizabeth George, who is American and lives in the Northwest, sets her mysteries in Great Britain and takes great pains with her descriptions of place.

10. For writers new to the mystery genre, what would you suggest they do in beginning their stories?

To begin, a mystery writer should decide on a) the crime b) how and why it was committed and by whom, c) who will investigate the crime, giving his or her motives for doing so, and d) what he or she will do to uncover the culprit (at least the first steps), and e) the climactic scene, when he catches the perpetrator. Some writers prepare meticulously (Elizabeth George, for example, as she describes in her book “Write Away”) while others outline only loosely. Whichever the approach, I think a mystery writer needs to have a basic plan before beginning a novel. I can’t fully imagine the characters or the actions of the book when not writing. For me, the process of writing inspires creative imagination.

11. What are your favorite authors in this genre?
My favorite authors are Ruth Rendell (who also writes under the name Barbara Vine), Martha Grimes, PD James, Elizabeth George, Donna Leon, Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwell. I like Dick Francis and Tony Hillerman, although their books have a certain similarity, but I generally prefer woman writers. Some male writers who have achieved great popularity make an obvious appeal to male fantasies, creating situations and scenes that border on pornography.

12. I understand you are planning another book. Will this be a series

The rough draft of my second book is near completion and I expect to publish it this fall. I have the basic plan for a third in the Casey McKie series. I plan to continue the series so long as I find it challenging.

An excerpt from And All That Murder:

“They found him this morning in his office. Shot in the head. A gun lying next to his hand. With a note. The cops think it might be suicide. But they’re not sure.” Her voice faltered.

The mournful sound of a muted trumpet from the CD player filled the silence. I didn’t know what to say. Her friend was dead. It was tough any way you looked at it.

Dee took a deep breath and seemed to pull herself together. “My ass it’s suicide. That’s bullshit. The po-lice don’t listen.”

I stared at her, my thoughts spinning. I was sorry that Dee had lost her friend, but I thought she was exaggerating. It sounded like suicide to me. I figured she didn’t want to admit it. It was easier to blame the cops.

“But if there was a note –” my voice trailed off.

She only stared at me. She ought to realize that leaving a note indicated suicide, for God’s sake.
We fell silent. Miles Davis’ trumpet sounding louder in the quiet. I stared out at the darkening sky. She was in denial. It was bad enough to mourn a friend, but to believe he was murdered only made it worse.

Her voice was steady and determined. “Casey, I want you to investigate.”

And All That Murder is available at an introductory sales price on Joan’s website and also at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iUniverse online bookstores.

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