Interview With Mystery Author Earlene Fowler/Book Review

May 28, 2011 | 2011 Articles, Books & Tales, Marilyn Meredith, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Marilyn Meredith
& Terell Byrd

Marilyn recently interviewed mystery author Earlene Fowler whose series always involves quilting in some way. After the interview is a review of Earlene’s latest book, Spider Web & details on how to enter for a chance to win a copy of this book!

Earlene Fowler

Marilyn: I always like to begin an interview with the author telling me something about their background, including when you knew you wanted to be a writer.

Earlene: I didn’t grow up wanting to be a writer. My dad was a machinist and my mom was a housewife. One set of grandparents were migrant workers; the other were cotton sharecroppers. I left home at eighteen, married at nineteen and held a variety of pink collar jobs for years (mostly in sales and clerical). When I was in my mid-twenties I took a creative writing class for fun at a local community college in Glendora, California (Citrus College). I wrote on and off for ten years, short stories and a little poetry, with no publishing success. I took about 10 or 11 other writing classes, all at community colleges.

In 1992 I decided to try to write a novel. That was my first book in the Benni Harper series–Fool’s Puzzle. I took a novel writing workshop when I was almost finished with the book (again, at a community college, though this time it was in Costa Mesa–Orange Coast College–citrus fruits have been good to me!). The teacher in the class sent my finished book to her agent and about three weeks later she’d sold it and two sequels to Putnam-Berkley (now Penguin Group).

Marilyn: You have a new mystery, Spider Web, out in your series. Tell me about it.

Earlene: Spider Web is my 15th book in the series. Like a couple of my earlier books (Mariner’s Compass and Steps to the Altar), it is a murder mystery without a murder. The suspense aspect of the plot has to do with an unknown sniper shooting at San Celina police officers (which sets off police chief Gabe Ortiz’s PTSD) and a mysterious woman who comes into town who seems to know a little too much about Gabe (Benni’s husband).

Marilyn: Where did the idea for Spider Web come from? A quilt design, but something else has to be behind it.

Earlene: I actually chose the title/quilt pattern this time before I knew what the story was about. I liked the sound of it and it lent itself to so many story possibilities. Then I had to start asking myself questions: Who is the spider in this web? Is he/she evil or good? (Since spiders are both.) And I liked the metaphor of the web: how strong it is and how it connects everything…kind of like the lives of my characters are all connected.

Marilyn: Way back in the beginning, what gave you the idea to use quilt patterns for your mysteries?

Earlene: I thought of the idea to use quilt patterns, but it was kind of accidental. I named the first book, Drunkard’s Path (Fool’s Puzzle is another name for that same pattern). I gave it that title because, if you read the book, you see it is the perfect metaphor for the story. All of my books, once you get to the end of them, you see how the title informs the story. But when I wrote the first book, I wasn’t even thinking about it being a series. When my teacher at Orange Coast College (the author Jo-Ann Mapson) told me I needed an idea to present to her agent for a series, I looked at my encyclopedia of 4000 quilt patterns, written by Barbara Brackman, and said, “How about quilt names?” She shrugged and said it sounded good to her.

I had no idea I was starting a whole trend of craft-inspired mysteries and books. The only other person writing about quilts back then was Jennifer Chiaverini. Her books aren’t mysteries, though. Now, there are hundreds, it seems. And so many mysteries about different types of crafts. But I was mentioned in the May 2011 issue of Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine in their section of “What happened in this month.”
They mentioned that in May 1994 the first Benni Harper mystery was published (it was actually accepted for publication in December 1992).

Marilyn: Is it necessary for someone to start at the first book in the series? Or could a person pick up a book anywhere along the line and have no problem knowing what’s going on?

Earlene: You can read my books out of order since I update the reader a little bit in each book, but I think they are more fun to read in order. That is what is fun about a series in which a character grows. In some series, the character doesn’t really grow, but those tend to be series where the plot is more important than the character.

Marilyn: How much of you is in your heroine?

Earlene: I think that Benni and I are alike in some ways; vastly different in others. We’re both short, blond, smart-Aleck.

She is an only child; I’m second of four girls. She grew up in a small town and on a ranch; I grew up in a city. I always have to remember to have her be a little nervous when she drives in the city. My first job was in downtown Los Angeles when I was 17 years old (2 days out of high school). So I started maneuvering the mean streets of the city early in my life. On the other hand, she’s much more comfortable on a horse than I am. She grew up riding horses; I learned when I was an adult.

Marilyn: What about your other characters? Do they have any resemblance to people in your life?

Earlene: I base some of my characters on people I know, but I mix it up. My husband, Allen, has a little of Jack, Gabe and Emory in him. My cousin, Benny (yes, that’s where I got Benni’s name) is a retired fire chief and he has a lot of Emory’s personality. Evlia was named for a girl I worked with years ago in Pasadena. I didn’t know her well as she trained me to take over her job and she became a sheriff’s deputy. So, I used her name, but not her personality. I’m always surfing my friend’s and acquaintances lives and conversations so you’d better be careful around me! But, I’d never use anything told to me in confidence. My friends know that. There’s a time when you have to take off the author’s cap and just be a friend. I never base the bad people on anyone I know. They are always made up.

Marilyn: You’ve been doing this for a long time now, do you have any advice for new writers?

Earlene: Advice for new writers. That’s a hard one because as I sit here typing this, publishing is in the midst of such a huge change. It is not the same industry I came into back in 1992 so I’m not sure about giving advice that would be relevant. But here’s some things I think are important:

Read A LOT. Don’t be a snob: read outside the genre you are writing. Study your craft and never stop studying it (no one is as good as they think they are). Write the very best book you can. If you are successful, be humble–talent is important, but so is luck. Have integrity with the stories people share with you. Buy books. If aspiring writers won’t spend a good portion of their income on books, who will? Have a life outside of being a writer, otherwise you’ll be a screaming bore. Be kind to animals. Call your mother. Eat chocolate every day of your life. And it never, ever hurts to pray.

Marilyn: What kind of promotion works best for you?

Earlene: The best promotion is writing a good book because that’s my very first responsibility. The second best promotion is treating every reader who meets you as if they are the only person who has read your book. I believe each person who reads my books has a sort of personal relationship with me, the author. Like we took a journey together or were in a disaster together. It bonds you. I know I feel that way when I meet an author I truly love. And there’s been times when I’ve met an author I love and they’ve treated me rudely. It’s humiliating. I swore I’d never do that to any reader. I’ve tried to maintain that stance.

If you’re asking about practical stuff–I’d say at one time it was my mailing list which took me 15 or so years to accumulate. With the Internet, that’s all changed now. It’s a whole new world. I just did my first Facebook chat yesterday so I guess social media is the way to go now. Who knows what it will be five years from now?

Marilyn: And one final question, what do you do for fun?

Earlene: For fun I play with my dog, read magazines (I subscribe to about 22 or so), meet with friends, am continually trying to organize my office, house, photographs. I’ve scrapbooked some and really like it (and I especially enjoy buying scrapbook products!) I belong to a gym. It’s right across the street from where I live and I wave at it a lot 🙂

I ride horses when I can (luckily, I have friends who own horses) and I like road trips both with my friends and my husband. I even like road trips alone. I do some of my best plotting when I’m on a long stretch of highway with hours to go before I stop.

Marilyn: Thank you so much. I’ve known you and your books for a long time though it’s been awhile since I’ve run into you. This was fun, I found out some things I didn’t know before.

Marilyn Meredith is a Springville, CA mystery author and an ongoing contributor to our Local Literary section. Be sure to visit her website;

Spider Web by Earlene Fowler
Review by Terell Byrd

This book made me nostalgic for times I never knew, homesick for a place, family and friends I never had, and envious of a woman who never breathed except in the pages of an Earlene Fowler novel.

In the fifteenth volume in the amateur sleuth Bennie Harper series, this story can be read alone or as the latest in the series. Fowler does a fine job recapping the pivotal events that have shaped the life of Bennie up to this point without boring the long time fan.

All of the books in this series feature the name of a quilt pattern and the design of each novel has the fabric of characters from previous tales placed side by side with bright, arresting swatches of new material from formerly unknown people.

Bennie Harper is curator of a folk art museum in the small town of San Celina (very like San Luis Obispo). She is married to the police chief, Gabe Ortiz. Her father owns a small cattle ranch in the coastal hills.
In Spider Web someone is stalking Bennie (going through her old house and asking questions about her family). A sniper is targeting police officers. All of this set against the backdrop of a new local event: a Memory Fair.

The Memory Fair is booth after booth of items to keep the past alive; photography, stations to tape record milestones in the lives of local residents by decade, and even jewelry that helps keep a little bit of loved ones near forever. Next to wonderful gleaming gems of memory from the older residents of San Celina, there are horrifying splashes of personal memory – the sniper has awakened the violent nightmare horrors of Vietnam in Gabe’s dreams.

Bennie is approaching forty and, through the course of the novel, muses on the personal milestone and what she has learned from life thus far. It is refreshing to listen to someone who deals with both joys and sorrows with a deep internalized faith. I look forward to growing old with Bennie Harper.

Earlene Fowler’s book ends leaving some sadness, a few problems that remain to be dealt with in future books, but, as always, an uplifting ending, complete with reasons for Bennie and the rest of us to go on.

You can learn more about Earlene and her books on her website.

To enter to win a copy of Spider Web, simply email KRL at with the subject line “Spider”, or comment on this article. Only U.S. residents please. A winner will be chosen next Saturday, June 4, 2011.

Support Indie bookstores by buying this book here!

Terrell is a member of the Fresno Chapter of Sisters In Crime, a mystery readers and writers group. To learn more about them and their meetings check out their event page here on KRL.

Terell Byrd is a native Fresnan, who was born, raised, & educated locally. She graduated from Fresno Pacific with a B.A. in Classical Studies & Psychology. In the course of a mad gypsy life, she has taken classes in Electrical Engineering, broken into bank vaults at night & worked as a Tax Examiner for the IRS. She now lives quietly, with more cats than she admits to, spending her free time doing accounting.


  1. I love the Bennie Harper series so I am always happy to see that there is a new book in the series.

    Helen Kiker

  2. I have met Earlene at mystery conferences and she is ALWAYS nice!!! I love her books.

  3. Sounds interesting, would like to give her a try! Thanks for a great opportunity!

  4. This was a fine interview and review…. Terrell Byrd, especially, seems to have a good grasp of the Benni Harper series and gives voice to many of this reader’s thoughts. “…envious of a woman who never breathed except in the pages of an Earlene Fowler novel… is a good example of that. Earlene Fowler has indeed become a friend to all her readers, just as she intends. Thanks for this!

    R. Souders
    McMinnville, Oregon

    • Thank you, Rebecca, for the wonderful comment. I am glad you liked the review – I expect to be doing more – I am always glad to hear that someone enjoyed reading what I write. The book has some marvelous gems about the veterans of WWII – especially the military nurses.

  5. The best part about reading interviews and reviews is finding an author whose work seems right up my alley, especially if there’s a whole series I can dive into. I also hadn’t realized craft mysteries were relatively new. Interesting interview–love the term pink collar jobs and may have to borrow it some time.

    Holli Castillo
    Gumbo Justice
    Jambalaya Justice coming 2011

  6. I haven’t read any of these books but I want to. They sound really good! Thank you for the giveaway!

  7. Great interview! Love Earlene’s books and characters! Every book is like visiting old friends.

  8. I enjoyed the interview immensely. The books sound really interesting.

  9. Thanks to all who entered! The winner is
    Sue Mueller
    Keep coming back for more mystery fun!
    Lorie Ham, KRL Publisher


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