Yesterday, I reviewed a charming book called LOVE MERCY by Earlene Fowler. I really liked the characters from this novel, and I loved some of the messages. So you can probably guess that I am pretty excited that Ms. Fowler is joining me today and answering some of my questions about LOVE MERCY and her other novels!
Booking Mama: You have had a lot of success as the author of the Benni Harper mysteries. What made you decide to take the jump and start a non-mystery series?
Earlene Fowler: The murder mystery part of my Benni Harper books has always been hard for me. There are thousands of ways to murder people, but there is only so much I have (or want) to say about crime and how it affects people. Since my books are definitely character driven, the subplots about the lives of my regular cast are actually of more interest to me..and to my fans...than the "visiting" characters and the crime that involves them. I wanted to expand my storytelling possibilities, write about something other than homicide. Writing outside the mystery genre allowed me to do that.
Booking Mama: Did you find it more difficult or easier to write LOVE MERCY than the Benni Harper mysteries?
Earlene Fowler: LOVE MERCY was a very difficult book for me to write, but not because it wasn't a Benni book. I'd already jumped that hurdle when I wrote THE SADDLEMAKER'S WIFE. It was hard because it was the first time I'd written about a subject at the same time I was experiencing it. Usually I wait a few years after emotional events to write about them, let them simmer a little. One of the subplots in LM involves dementia, which my father is living with now. While I was writing LM he was staying with me two days a week to give my older sister a break. I had two days a week where I couldn't write, so that made the physical part of producing a book harder. But it was emotionally hard dealing with emotions that were still raw. On the other hand, since I didn't have a murder, suspects and red herrings to worry about, I could just allow the characters to drive the plot and let the story unfold. The suspense had to be maintained by the character's actions, rather than the artificial suspense in a genre mystery. I admit I like writing non-mystery better. It suits me.
Booking Mama: It was clear to me throughout this book that you are a very spiritual person. When you began writing this book, did you know that faith and hope were going to be such a big part of this novel?
Earlene Fowler: Certainly my faith is going to enter into whatever I write. It is a central part of who I am, though I don't write what is traditionally labeled as Christian fiction. I think of myself as a Christian who happens to write fiction. Some of my novels have more of a spiritual edge than others. I'm not exactly sure why. I certainly don't plan it that way. Flannery O'Connor says we should write about the "country we know," that is, the world with which we are familiar. I guess you could say that is what I try to do. I realize that Christianity is much bigger than the particular parts I describe, but what I write about is my "country." It has been interesting to me that my books aren't Christian enough to be sold in the Christian book world and, at the same time, some reviewers in the non-Christian book world say my books are too evangelical. My only response is my stories and characters are what they are. They are the stories I can tell. Not every character in my books is Christian and not every problem is solved. I hope that I portray both Christians and those of other beliefs in a fair and realistic way.
Booking Mama: The characters in this novel and terrific (and very memorable.) Are any of the characters based on people you know?
Earlene Fowler: Like all my books, the characters in Love Mercy are a combination of people I know and people I make up. And, of course, there's a little of me in every character. Rett is eighteen and though I wasn't an eighteen-year-old girl who was a professional gospel singer or a songwriter or lived in the South, I was once eighteen. I remember what it was like to feel awkward, to want to be free of family, especially my mother and what it is like to be in love with and betrayed by a boy. Times change, emotions never do. Mel is a combination of every female law enforcement officer I've met and what I would imagine myself being if I'd had the background she did. Love has many of the same longings I have, the desire to make everyone happy and the wish that she could sometimes just walk away from everything and start a new life (only she really doesn't want to and neither do I). I did take some of the experiences with my father who has dementia and used them to characterize August, Love's father-in-law. I think my dad, if he were able to comprehend it, would have liked how I used his experience with Morse code. He can't remember most things, but he still remembers the Morse code he learned as a Navy signalman in WWII.
Booking Mama: What do you want readers to take away from this novel?
Earlene Fowler: Boy, that's a good question, but a hard one! I have to admit that when I'm writing a book, what people will get from it doesn't even occur to me. I'm just so deep into the story myself that I'm writing to see "what happens." So much of the subtext in my books happens unconsciously, though some scenes, like Rocky's sermon on prayer, were planned. I've been studying and thinking about prayer (and quizzing my friends) for a long time. It is still such a mystery to me. That was some of the stuff I learned and articulating by using Rocky helped clarify it for me. If it helps someone else, that's great, but it was more of a physical working out of my own questions and discoveries. I've always believed that God will allow my books to go where they need to go, end up in the hands of those who want or need them. What I'm thinking while I'm writing is--here's a story, hope you like it, but if not, that's okay. And, maybe, it'll help kill some time in a lonely hospital waiting room or help someone through a tough time. That is always the highest compliment a reader can give me, that my books helped them through a tough time. I know I appreciate all the author who were "with me" when I was going through hard times.
Booking Mama: What is your writing process like? Do you write at a set time everyday or when the mood hits? Where do you write?
Earlene Fowler: I try to write every day. I've been on a book-a-year schedule since 1993 so I can't slack off too much. I like to write in the mornings. I have a lap top computer now, so I sit on the sofa or in a chair. I have a writing room upstairs, but I like writing downstairs so I yell at my dog, Boo, to quit barking. As I get older I seem to be more easily distracted so when I'm not writing well (that is, getting the pages done each day), I often go to a hotel somewhere for a few days. It has to be someplace nice, with a desk and a good television, but not in an area that is too much fun (like the beach). Then I'd be tempted to play and not write. I try to write five days a week, though when I'm close to deadline, it can be seven days. If I waited until the mood hit me, I would have never finished my first book, much less any of the others. Though it's never "easy," the first book is the most exciting one to write. But it's the second, third, tenth and every book after that really proves if you are a writer. Being a writer simply means writing. It is that easy. And that hard.
Booking Mama: I always am on the lookout for new books and new authors. What are some of your favorite books? What is on your nightstand right now?
Earlene Fowler: My favorite authors are Lee Smith, Bobbie Ann Mason, James Lee Burke, Richard Russo, Jo-Ann Mapson, Lorna Landvik, Anne Tyler, Jessamyn West, John Steinbeck, Mary Stewart, Fannie Flagg, Flannery O'Connor, Philip Yancey, Donald Miller. I could go on and on, but I won't. Three books I've recently read that I've thought were outstanding were The Gods of Animals by Aryn Kyle, The Help by Kathryn Stockett and Life Sentences by Laura Lippman. All three books were so good I was jealous! Right now I'm reading The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss and Thinking About Memoir by Abigail Thomas. The best non-fiction book I've read recently is Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin. Also I'm reading a really funny book by Susan E. Isaacs (the comedy writer and performer, not the fiction writer) called Angry Conversations With God--A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir. I have about 100 books in my to-be-read pile. The biggest thing I dislike about being a writer is how much it cuts into my reading time.
Booking Mama: I adored the characters in LOVE MERCY and can't wait to see more of them in future books. Are you currently working on another book in this series? If so, when can we expect for it to be published? Can you give us any hints about the storyline?
Earlene Fowler: I'm so glad you liked the characters in LOVE MERCY! When you write a long-running series, you're always worried that readers will only accept those characters and no others. The response to both of my non-mystery books has been wonderful. Right now I'm working on another book in the Benni Harper series. It's called State Fair and will come out in May 2010. After that, who knows? Publishing is in such a turmoil right now. There are no guarantees. But I've got a proposal with my publisher for another Benni book and the sequel to The Saddlemaker's Wife. As for Love Mercy sequels...I certainly left open enough with the characters to write more books about them. As my mother used to always say, we'll see!
A big thanks to Ms. Fowler for spending so much time answering my questions. I really appreciate how much thought went into each and every one of her answers!
Does LOVE MERCY sound like a book that you'd like to read? If so, then you're in the right place because I have two copies to giveaway courtesy of Berkley! For one entry, just leave a comment with your e-mail address telling me why you'd like to read this book. For another entry or two, you can blog about this giveaway with a link back to this post and/or mention it on Twitter. You have until Monday, April 27th to enter. I will announce the winners the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. or Canada mailing addresses only. Good luck!