by Betty Webb
Reblogged from Marilyn’s Musing, March 4,2020 When Killer Fiction Becomes Confessional by Betty Webb
“No, I’m not admitting to murder. Maybe I’ve sometimes been tempted (one former boss comes readily to mind), but I can truthfully say that I never shot, stabbed, clubbed, or poisoned anyone.
However, in “The Panda of Death,” my new Gunn Zoo mystery, I write about uncovering one wowser of a family secret, one that actually happened to me.
Halfway through the writing of “Panda,” I decided – mainly as a lark – to have my DNA tested. The story had come down through our family that at sometime in the mid-1700s, William Douglas Webb purchased his Delaware Indian wife at a New Jersey slave auction. An intriguing story to be sure, but the DNA test proved it simply wasn’t true; there was no American Indian blood in my lineage.
After a few chuckles, I put the test results away and continued writing “The Panda of Death.” I was having trouble with it, mainly because I couldn’t come up with a good-enough subplot, but I persevered. Then one day, my telephone rang. The caller’s accent alerted me to the fact it was one of my Alabama cousins named James (we have several James’s in my family, and only some of them are from the South).
“Did you see our latest DNA results?” James asked, all aflutter. He, too, had joined the same ancestry site. “Wow, huh?”
I had to say no, that after finding out the non-truth about my Delaware Indian ancestry, I’d put the whole DNA thing out of my mind. Besides, I was too busy trying to figure out a good subplot to insert into my latest work-in-progress to care which old moonshiner or horse thief I was related to.
But the next thing James said rocked my world. “You have a brother, Betty!”
Now, I’d been raised as an only child, which – considering my black sheep parents – was probably just as well. But a brother? Who, where, and when? And what prison was he currently doing time in?
Since I’d been a journalist for more than 20 years, I was able to track down my half-brother (my father turned out to be the guilty party, having “romanced” a redheaded lady after a booze-fueled poker party), and called him.
Funnily enough, he’d been worried about what prison I might be in, too. But long story short, my “new” brother was not only an upright citizen, he’d also sired a large, gifted family of musicians, artists, geologists, and teachers. Over the next few months, we talked almost weekly by phone – he lived in a small southern Illinois town, near where our father had run a few illegal gambling casinos – and we finally decided to meet.
He and his family flew out here, rented an airbub for two weeks, and those weeks turned out to be one of the most loving experiences of my life. When they all finally flew back home, I realized I’d found not only a wonderful brother, but the perfect subplot for “The Panda of Death.”
Readers of the Gunn Zoo series know that my childless zookeeper Theodora “Teddy” Bentley had recently married Sheriff Joe Rejas, a widower with two children. Family dynamics were already pretty much locked in, so it was up to me to pull a rabbit out of a hat. And I did, thanks to the spiked punch at Joe’s high school prom 18 years earlier. Certain things happened (and were promptly forgotten about), but one day 18-year-old Dylan shows up, claiming to be Joe’s son. He’s got his DNA results with him, not that they were necessary, because he’s a dead ringer for Joe. Things are going swimmingly until the poor kid gets arrested for murder.
Needless to say, I had a lot of fun writing my own emotional experience into “Panda,” even though I needed to change the relationships around a bit. And the most fun came when I dedicated the book to my “new” brother, and added an explanatory author’s note at the end of the book, that said, “Much fiction is based on truth, and the DNA surprise in this book actually happened to me. My “new” brother Ron and his wonderful family have brought me great joy, and I believe much of that joy has been transferred to these pages.”
I also believe that our black sheep father is looking down on us — even gamblers go to Heaven – feeling the same kind of joy because his babies finally found each other.”
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.