Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Arizona Republic interviews Earlene Fowler

Mystery writer on bad reviews and the fate of characters

Earlene Fowler was working a regular nine-to-five job when she decided to take a class in writing at a California community college. Next thing you know, she is a published author with a popular mystery series featuring museum curator Benni Harper.
The series' latest offering, "Spider Web," is out this month, and Fowler will visit the Poisoned Pen to sign autographs and meet with her fans. She called from her home in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Question: This is the 15th book in this series. Does that surprise you?
Answer: When I wrote the first book, I didn't even know it was going to get published. I never thought about writing a second, third or fourth one, much less a 15th.

Q: And you got published in an unusual way.
A: I walked into a junior-college classroom, and the teacher read it. She took it to her agent, and within three weeks I had a book contract. I hit the ground running back in 1992.

Q: How many people come up to you and say, "I want your life"?
A: (Laughing) I do get, "You're a writer. How exciting!" I've often wished somebody would do a reality show on writers, because you would be so bored. I have a laptop, then I sit on the sofa, then I go to the bathroom, then I look in the refrigerator. If it's really exciting, the mail comes. I'm not complaining, but that's basically your life.

Q: How did your husband respond to the change in your life?
A: He's used to it, but I think it was hard that all of a sudden I had somewhat of a public persona. He's an engineer and lives this normal life, so it's different.

Q: He must hate it if you get bad reviews.
A: Oh, he doesn't read them. And you're so tempted when you're up late at night to get on Amazon and read what they're saying. But it's best not to give (negative) people energy. And when you work with the public, you know that people get upset about something else and take it out on you.

Q: Some of the critiques get so personal.
A: I have this one lady, and she read my second book and she absolutely hated it. OK, that's fine. But I have 15 books in the series, and she has continued to read each one and leave negative comments. (Laughing) I want to e-mail her: "You hated the books back in 1994; now please stop reading."

Q: Is there an outline of where the books are going?
A: I don't outline; that's one of those things with writers: Either you outline or you don't. I don't think it has anything to do with the quality of the book. I think the disadvantage is there is a lot to keep track off, and if you have an outline, that would be easier. But it also leaves it more spontaneous.

Q: So you don't know where Benni is going to end up?
A: Well, I did something very unusual. Back on my sixth book, my sales were not doing very well. My publisher didn't say they were going to drop me, but they weren't answering my phone calls, either. There's so many series where you read the books, then they're dropped and you never know what happens to the people. So in "Mariner's Compass," I put a prologue where the narrator is 75 and she talks about what has happened in her life. I wanted to tell readers everything ends up OK with these characters.

Q: What did your editor think?
A: I really had to fight with my editor about it. I thought it belonged in there, but nobody had ever done that before. And that ended up being the book I won the Agatha Award (for mystery and crime writers) for.

Q: When you write, do you have an actress in mind for Benni?
A: I did early on. When I started, my character was 34 and I was 37. She's now 38, and I'm 56. I would have thought Holly Hunter, but just like me, Holly Hunter's now too old.

Read more:


Earlene will be signing at The Poisoned Pen this coming Sunday, May 8 at 1pm with author Carolyn Hart. To find out more about it, visit the event page at

The following Earlene Fowler titles are available from The Poisoned Pen. 

Benni Harper1. Fool's Puzzle (1994)
2. Irish Chain (1995)
3. Kansas Troubles (1996)
4. Goose in the Pond (1997)
5. Dove in the Window (1998)
6. Mariner's Compass (1999)
7. Seven Sisters (2000)
8. Arkansas Traveler (2001)
9. Steps to the Altar (2002)
10. Sunshine and Shadow (2003)
11. Broken Dishes (2004)
12. Delectable Mountains (2005)
13. Tumbling Blocks (2007)
14. State Fair (2010) SIGNED
15. Spider Web Signed (2011)

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