Julia interviews Earlene Fowler

Earlene Fowler is the creator of the bestselling Benni Harper mysteries, set on the Central Coast of California and published by Berkley. Taking a break from her series, she wrote The Saddlemaker’s Wife, which has been nominated for the Agatha Best Mystery Award. Learn more at the author's web site.

There's a strong but subtle sense of spirituality running throughout your writing. Do you view your fiction as a type of witness? And how do you keep the balance so well?

I don't think of my books as a type of witness in terms of stating what I directly believe, but rather showing the spiritual side of people that is often missing in modern fiction. God is an important part of a vast majority of people's lives (including mine) and yet even in crime fiction where characters are faced with death all the time, very few books talk about it in a spiritual sense. I don't know if I keep the balance well. I get some letters saying I don't talk enough about God and Jesus and others that say I talk about them too much. When it feels logical to me for a person to think or act on spiritual matters, I put it in. I try not to preach, but just lay it out there. I'm not sure I could write a book where God wasn't mentioned in some way because it's such a big part of who I am and that's what writers do, try to show the world their take on things.

The Saddlemaker’s Wife is as much a novel about families--their connections and their brokennessas--as is about a crime. Do you see it as a break with your traditional mysteries, or as an evolution?

I would say that The Saddlemaker’s Wife is more of an evolution of my traditional mysteries. I told my fans I was writing a book outside of the Benni Harper series, but I promised them that they would not be disappointed, that my storytelling style would be the same. It was a bold promise to make, I know, but I knew I could write a book about different characters and yet still maintain what people loved about the Benni books. My style is who I am and after twenty-five years of writing, it's the one thing I'm (fairly) confident about. I found my voice and it will be the same no matter who I write about. And I believe readers love an author mostly because they fall in love with their style or their voice. At least, as a reader, it's always been that way for me.

I was positively hungry reading the descriptions of good food everywhere in The Saddlemakers Wife. Have you thought about doing a cookbook?

I asked my agent if we should do a cookbook and she told me they were harder to write than a novel! All that testing of recipes and such. So, unless I can find someone to do that, I probably will stick with just describing food (though I do have a few recipes on my website).

Whats your process? Outline or organic?

I'm an organic writer. I've experimented with outlining a little, but find it doesn't work for me. I've learned to outline as I write, which, especially with my mysteries, seems to help me keep things organized. But I change the story so much while I write depending on what is happening to me in my real life or by new things I am reading or learning about.

What pithy words of advice would you offer to newbie writers starting out? Craft-wise and commercially speaking?

I have no brilliant advice for new writers that they haven't heard before--read a lot, learn your craft, persevere. The one thing I think is essential to be a writer who touches people is you have to really love human beings and feel a deep empathy for them. Note that I didn't say a good writer. One can be a good, even brilliant writer, and still not touch people's hearts or write books they never forget. The highest compliment readers can give is when they say that they've read your books more than once. The author's whose books I've read more than once have something special because I'm obviously not reading them to see how the story ends, but because of something else they give me. Strive to write books that readers want to reread. It won't make you the highest paid writer around, but your fans will be the best. When you meet them, they will feel like your friends.

Whats next for Earlene Fowler? What projects are occupying you at the moment? In the near future?

I'm working on another mainstream book called Love Mercy. It takes place in San Celina County (same setting as my Benni books) and is about three generations of women trying to make it in life. Benni and family are minor characters in it. We're hoping it will be the first of a trilogy. I also have another Benni Harper book contracted. It's called State Fair (yes, that's a quilt pattern!)

Were you born on a horse? Or did it come later in life?

I didn't learn to ride horses until I was adult! I made Benni a cowgirl because it was one of my fantasies. I also learned to ice skate as an adult, though I haven't found a place to use it in a book yet. And in doing research for my present book, Love Mercy, I'm going to take banjo lessons (I bought the banjo already). I confess, I use writing as a excuse to take lessons in things I've always wanted to do!

My family is looking for a new pet. Whats the news on pembroke welsh corgis?

Pembroke Welsh corgis (the ones with bobbed tails, like the Queen owns) are very smart, very LOUD, very energetic, very persistent and shed a lot. But ask anyone who has had other dogs and then got a corgi and they'll all tell you the same thing...they are like little humans in dog suits. If any dog could learn to talk, it would be a corgi. It's downright spooky sometimes. Boo makes us laugh and pull our hair out. Often at the same time.

Earlene Fowler

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“One can be a good, even brilliant writer, and still not touch people's hearts or write books they never forget. The highest compliment readers can give is when they say that they've read your books more than once. The author's whose books I've read more than once have something special because I'm obviously not reading them to see how the story ends, but because of something else they give me.”