Friday, May 13, 2011

Carolyn Hart and Earlene Fowler for Authors @ The Teague

Left to right - Earlene Fowler and Carolyn Hart

 If I was a little giddy knowing I was going to host Carolyn Hart and Earlene Fowler for Authors @ The Teague, I can hardly be blamed. Earlene Fowler was actually the same way. She told the audience Barbara Peters from Poisoned Pen asked her if she "minded" signing with Carolyn Hart.
Carolyn kicked off the special "Before Hours" program at Velma Teague by saying she loves libraries, librarians, and library readers. She was so proud to go into the Oklahomas City library and see her books on the shelves. As a child, she'd take the bus downtown to the library to check out mysteries. Dead by Midnight is the twenty-first book in her Death on Demand series, and no one could be more surprised than Hart herself since she was a failed author when the first one was published. She had published five juvenile books, but she had written seven adult books in seven years, and hadn't sold any. So, she wrote one more book, and decided if it didn't sell, she'd give it up, and play tennis.
So Carolyn Hart decided to write an old fashioned traditional mystery with characters she liked. She loved mysteries, and since the book was going to sell, her main character was a young woman who owns a mystery bookstore. And, Hart hadn't seen many happy marriages in mysteries, so she created a couple that would truly love each other, Max and Annie, since the book wasn't going to sell. Carolyn had no expectation that the book would sell. She sent her book, Death on Demand, to a new agent. That agent sent it to Bantam Books, where it became the second book in Bantam's new paperback line. 
At the time, New York only recognized two types of mysteries, the hardboiled crime novel written by a male author with a male protagonist, and the traditional mystery, written by dead English ladies. Then, in 1977, Marcia Muller's first book, Edwin of the Iron Shoes, was published. That was the first hardboiled mystery to feature an American woman as a P.I. Then Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky's books were published. The American women mystery authors became a valued commodity. Hart's Death on Demand came out in 1987. Now, the twenty-first, Dead by Midnight, has been published. Carolyn said she loved writing the books. The one thing New York does understand is money.
Earlene Fowler said she couldn't believe it when Barbara Peters asked if she minded signing with Carolyn Hart. She said she read Hart's first novel when she was in her 30s. She and her sister went to see Hart and Joan Hess at a bookstore. She said the question really was, would Carolyn Hart have her? Hart was in the first wave of women mystery authors in the U.S. Fowler's first book, Fool's Puzzle, came out in 1994. She was in the second or third wave of authors.
Earlene just did a chat on Facebook, and answered questions about who influenced her. She said after she read Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew, A.A. Fair's Bertha Cool/Donald Lam books were the first with a female protagonist. But, those were written by a man (Erle Stanley Gardner).  Then she read Muller's Edwin of the Iron Shoes, the first in the Sharon McCone series, and that's the book that influenced her. But, Fowler said her NY publicist participated in the chat, and had never heard of the book. 
Earlene Fowler also wanted to say how much she appreciated libraries. She used to go to the library once a week, and take out the maximum number of ten books, and carry them home. Those were in the days when you had to sign your name to the card, with no expectation of privacy. It was nice to see who had read it, or, even to see if you'd already read the book. She said the day you see your first book in the library is surreal. That's the first moment when she realized, "I am a writer."
Earlene had written 150 short stories, but they didn't sell. Then, like Caroline, she wrote the book she wanted to read. Fool's Puzzle was her first book. Earlene liked romance and mystery, and thought there wasn't enough romance in mysteries. She said she did what every aspiring writer is told to do, write the book you want to read.
She took a night class with author Jo-Ann Mapson. Mapson said she thought Earlene's book was publishable, and she'd like to send it to her agent. The agent said she'd be happy to read it, but had lots of books ahead of it on her pile. It was serendipity how it worked out. The agent put the book in her briefcase, and took the train back to the suburbs. The train broke down, and she had nothing to read but Fowler's manuscript. She loved it, and told Earlene she was to represent her. Fowler knew nothing about the publishing world. She had just written a book, and didn't realize this was a big deal until the LA Times wrote a story about it. Within three weeks, she had a three book contract.
Earlene warns new authors, though, that they have a lifetime to write their first book, but one year to write the second. And, the publishing world takes that deadline seriously. In the year Fowler was supposed to be writing her second book, her mother passed away. She called New York, and told her editor she was in the process of planning a funeral. Her editor expressed her sympathy, and then said, "Are you going to finish the book?"
Carolyn told us she writes two other series. One is the Henrie O. series. People ask her if there are going to be more books in that series. She never says never, but she is already committed to two books a year, neither of which are Henrie O. Of those two, they always want a Death on Demand book.
Henrie O. is a retired newspaper reporter who had the career Hart always thought she'd have. From the time she was eleven, Carolyn wanted to be a reporter. She was a child of World War II who thought the most important job you could have was working on newspapers. But, she met a young law student, and they're about to celebrate their 53rd anniversary. Even so, after her marriage, she missed writing.
Then, Hart saw a contest in a writing magazine. It was a contest for a girl's story. She won, and Secret of the Cellar came out in 1964. Now, Carolyn Hart's forty-sixth book, Death by Midnight, has just been released.
Hart's other series features Bailey Ruth, a ghost in Oklahoma. She came back to earth to help people as an emissary of the Department of Good Intentions. The fourth book in that series will be out in winter 2013. Carolyn's inspirations for the series were the Topper books and the movie Blithe Spirit. She always liked happy ghosts. The books are set in a small fictional Oklahoma town, Adelaide, aka Ada, where Hart's husband grew up.
Carolyn puts part of her life in her books. The journalism is in the Henrie O. books. She likes happy ghosts, so that's in the Bailey Ruth books. And the Death on Demand books include her love of mysteries.
She told the audience never to apologize for reading mysteries. Every time we pick up mysteries, we are reaffirming our commitment to goodness. If you didn't believe in goodness, you wouldn't read them. You'll never see the point of view of evil people in her books, as in thrillers or serial killer books.
Earlene agreed, saying Gabe in her books is a police officer with a good view of human life. Evil exists, and she shows it, but she interested in how good people react to evil, and how you go on in life.

Fowler said a number of World War II veterans suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Authors are successful schizophrenics who use their writing as therapy. Earlene's father, a veteran, has dementia. His mother suffered from Alzheimer's, and she knows it's a long, hard row. He's in a home, and he fell recently. They gave him medication, but often older people have reactions, and he started hallucinating and the staff couldn't calm him down. They called her. He was experiencing two different situations. In one, he was locked in a root cellar. In the other, he was a POW. A writer goes home, and thinks of this.

Gabe is a Vietnam veteran. The story Fowler uses is based on a group that was targeting police officers in California. They were setting booby traps and bombs for the police. In her latest book,Spider Web, Gabe, as police chief is worried about the police force when they're targeted by a sniper. What would that do to Gabe? It sets off his PTSD.

Hart grew up entranced with finding out more about World War II. She has a couple books set during the war that will be republished on Kindle in 5-6 weeks. One is Escape from Paris. After the fall of France, two American sisters help RAF fliers escape from the Nazis. The other is Brave Hearts about London and the Philippines after the fall of Corregidor.

Hart grew up entranced with finding out more about World War II. She has a couple books set during the war that will be republished on Kindle in 5-6 weeks. One is Escape from Paris. After the fall of France, two American sisters help RAF fliers escape from the Nazis. The other is Brave Hearts about London and the Philippines after the fall of Corregidor.

Carolyn mentioned that Mary Roberts Rinehart was a successful author, once the highest paid writer in America. She was also the only woman to reach No Man's Land in World War I. Rinehart once described writers as crows. Crows like bright and shiny objects. Writers are attracted to bright and shiny objects, too, and then then take them back to use. Earlene added, crows also eat dead carrion. 

Earlene said her father's memories stop at World War II. He doesn't remember anything after that, not her mother, and not his kids. In Spider Web, she deals with memory. There's a Memory Festival going on in San Celina.

She said those nurses who were imprisoned all signed a bedsheet since they weren't sure they were going to make it out alive. She said when she sees older people in wheel chairs or sitting in homes, she knows we don't always recognize that that older person might have been a hero or heroine. It's important to put that in fiction.

She asked Carolyn about the war. She said she was only five when Pearl Harbor was attacked, but she does remember VJ Day. Baby boomers remember where they were when Kennedy was assassinated. We all remember where we were on 9/11.

Carolyn agreed, saying we don't recognize the heroism and what women did in World War II. One of her characters in Death on Demand was a woman in a flying machine, a WASP who ferried planes. Those people were young during the most traumatic period in our history.

Then, changing the subject, Earlene asked Carolyn to tell the story of her book tour with Margaret Maron. Carolyn said it was the last Southern tour of the Grand Dames. They started in North Carolina, and toured South Carolina. Hart stayed at Margaret's, and then Maron drove her stately old heavy, sturdy Lincoln, a comfortable car. Soon after they started, Carolyn noticed a sweet, cloying scent in the car. She has allergies, and it bothered her. She thought Margaret was wearing perfume, and she didn't say anything. Then, five days after she returned home to Oklahoma, Margaret called her. She said, "You don't wear perfume, do you?" Maron had noticed the scent, and thought it was Carolyn's perfume. Maron had the car detailed before the tour, and they had left a deodorizer in the car. Both of them were too polite to say anything to the other. They decided Southern women just won't speak up.

Asked what they thought of the term "cozy" mysteries, Hart responded saying cozy originally was a pejorative term. Raymond Chandler coined it in an essay in which he sneered at Agatha Christie. She said the term traditional mysteries is the proper one. Traditional mysteries are about fractured relationships, and the sleuth, amateur or professional, has to find out what went wrong with someone's life.

Now, the publishing world uses cozy to define a book with a nice, genteel background. They don't know the word is pejorative. Carolyn said there can be trauma and despair in lives, but they can still have a genteel background. However, there is nothing cozy about murder. In her opinion, Agatha Christie was the finest mystery writer of all. Her favorite way to kill people was poison. How cozy is poison? 

Earlene agreed, saying the publishers had the same idea about quilters, that quilters must just be old ladies. But, she said she's received some of her best ideas for her books from police and district attorneys, and many of them were quilters. All kinds of people are quilters

Hart said Chandler was sneering at all the murders that took place in little villages, as in the Miss Marple books. However, quarrels can destroy lives and go on for generations. Great evil can happen in a small English village just as much as in New York City.

Fowler's latest, Spider Web, doesn't even have a murder. She said she's talking about relationships and evil in that book. But, mystery readers have a desire to see justice done, in whatever format. They're all seeking the same thing.

Earlene was asked why she uses quilts in her books. When she wrote her first book, she put everything she wanted into it. She wanted to live on a ranch, so Benni Harper lived on a ranch. Fowler thought it would be fun to work in a folk art museum. Benni was an only child because Fowler has three sisters. Earlene loves quilts, so, in the first book, there was a murder at a quilt show. Three fourths of the way through the book, she realized she didn't have a title for the book. The original title was to have been Drunkard's Path, based on a quilt title. It was meant to be a metaphor for the story. Then, Jo-Ann Mapson asked her if the had an idea for more books in the series, knowing NY would want a series. She had a book with 4000 quilt patterns in it, so she said, yes, she'd use quilt patterns. But, she had to teach NY about quilts. They wanted to change the titles to include more mystery. She said the quilt titles were metaphors for the stories. And, she had to do the cross-marketing herself. They never thought of marketing her to the quilting world. In fact, Earlene made history. One of the quilting magazines, in listing historical events recently, had, "In 1994, Earlene Fowler's first quilt mystery, Fool's Puzzle, came out.

Since then, Fowler's publisher, Berkley, took off on crafts. Now, it's "What craft haven't we done?" Earlene feels as if she started that. She never meant her books to be about quilting. They were metaphors for life.

In Carolyn Hart's latest book, Dead by Midnight, Annie's new clerk is dead, and the police think it's suicide. But Annie knows it's not. The two had talked about Agatha Christie. In one of the books, a character commits suicide, and the clerk had a strong opinion against it. Annie is suspicious.

Earlene said she puts much of what she's learned in her books. She had a discussion with a friend, and learned about African-American hair. She also learned about the prejudice her friend faces, even in Southern California, where it's supposedly quite liberal. She put that in her book, State Fair.

Earlene said we read to live other lives. Someone in the audience then thanked Fowler for the romance and good endings in her books. Fowler said she's fascinated by the rural lifestyle. Few people know it nowadays. She said the values of hard work, and the expectations people have of life have changed. You need to enjoy who you are. There is a dignity in working hard, and being a good person.

Carolyn said while she was at the airport, she watched the people loading planes. We never think about the people who make things go in this country, and are not appreciated. In World War II, the whole country pulled together. Now, with only 5% of the population in the military, few of us know anyone involved in the war, or really know what they're going through.

As to future books, Carolyn Hart will have another Bailey Ruth ghost story out in 2013. The next Death on Demand book, Death Comes Silently, has been turned in. And, she's starting a new series. It's about a young woman who had a traumatic event, and now understands what cats are thinking. This isn't a cute book. Hart thinks cats are very perceptive. The character thinks she's losing her mind until she goes someplace where a woman fell down the stairs, dying in the fall. And, the cat is thinking, she didn't see the skateboard on the stairs.

Earlene Fowler is working on the sequel to The Saddlemaker's Wife. After she said that, they were both asked how they have time to meet deadlines with the travel they do. They both said they can't write while they're traveling. Earlene said she only does one book a year. Carolyn said she makes deadlines due to desperation. She's publishing two books a year, but doesn't know how much longer she can do that. She doesn't travel much anymore, but came to Arizona because she loves coming to the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale. And, Earlene told us she likes to go to the library to work when she's home.

Asked if her series blend together as she's writing, since she does multiple series, Hart said no. They're structured differently. The Annie and Max books are in third person. Bailey Ruth is in first person. Carolyn thinks she has the only ghost who is the protagonist. Usually, a protagonist has to deal with a ghost. And, Henrie O is in first person. But, everybody has their own story, and she doesn't have trouble keeping them separate.

And, the program ended with a compliment from blogger, friend, and avid mystery reader, Kay Stewart. Kay told both of them that she wanted to compliment them. She reads lots of mysteries, and their books remain on the top of her list. The characters ring true. Other series have lost her over time, but both Carolyn Hart and Earlene Fowler's characters change and grow. They've remained true to themselves.

Carolyn Hart's website is

Dead by Midnight by Carolyn Hart. HarperCollins. ©2011. ISBN 9780061914973 (hardcover), 288p.

Earlene Fowler's website is

Spider Web by Earlene Fowler. Penguin Group (USA). ©2011. ISBN 9780425240984 (hardcover), 320p.

Earlene Fowler, Lesa Holstine and Carolyn Hart
And, a big thank you to Bill Crider who sent me a copy of this blog. In Blogger's  "maintenance update," this blog was lost. Thank you, Bill.


Booklady said...

I love that you share your visits with these wonderful authors. It almost (just almost) makes up for my not being able to see them in person.

Thanks for letting me live vicariously through you. I love The Death on Demand series. When I first discovered them, my to read pile tripled - not only were the books wonderful in themselves, but I kept rushing out to find books by the authors mentioned in the books.

Lesa said...

Perfect, Booklady! I think that's just what Carolyn Hart intended with her Death on Demand books. She wanted you to enjoy them, and she wanted to share her love of mysteries and other authors.

Thank you for stopping by to read my recaps of author visits. I, too, love to share that opportunity.

donna said...

Hi Lesa - Wow - two great authors at the same time. You make me really, really want to move to Arizona just to be able to go to all of these great events. I am very jealous. You could probably have a second career selling real estate in the area to book lovers. I really give both of them credit to be able to carry on their craft for so many years and consistently put out interesting books. By the way, I hate the term "cozy". A mystery is a mystery - it is stupid to call some of them cozies. Kind regards,

Liz V. said...

Two more interesting authors. So glad I found this site.

Lesa said...

Oh, Donna, that's funny, a career in real estate selling property to book lovers. That's really funny considering I added someone who just bought property in Mesa to my library mailing list for Authors @ The Teague programs. Do you think she bought that property so she could come hear the authors?

Lesa said...

Thanks, Liz. I'm glad you found the site, too.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

2 fantastic authors...another great event! Thanks again for making us feel like we were there (and we all *wish* we'd been!)

Larry Marshall said...

What a wonderful post, Lesa. You Arizona bibliophiles have all the fun. Why did I ever move away from there?

Cheers --- Larry

donna said...

Hi Lesa - Don't laugh - people move to different places for all sorts of reasons. Why not a special place for book lovers! It is so fun to come to your site each day and read about another book - hear about what the author went through to write it - and communicate with other people who are on the same wave length. Thanks again for the great job you do!

Kay said...

Lesa, as I told you, this event was the highlight of my year! I'm so excited I got to attend. Both Carolyn and Earlene were just fascinating and I could have listened to them for hours.

Glad the picture turned out OK. I'm not very gifted in that regard. :-)

Moving to AZ for the books. I agree with Donna. Think I could convinced the husband that we should retire in AZ? LOL

I'll be back. Maybe even early next year. Had a good visit with Cathy at the Poisoned Pen. Jill got a cold and was not able to make it. We'll have to try for a meeting of the 4 of us next year, OK? Enjoyed lunch so much. Loved both events. Your library is fabulous.

Terry said...

Hi Lesa,
Thank you again for such a great report. I felt like I was there! I just read Earlene Fowler's Spider Web last week and was blown away by its depth and insights. How fascinating now to read her comments about PTSD, etc. Profound.

Lesa said...


I wish you could have all been here, too. Wouldn't that have been fun? You know how much I enjoy sharing these events with everyone.

Lesa said...

Was the Poisoned Pen here when you moved, Larry? Maybe you wouldn't have left if they'd been in business. I hope they stay in business a long time. The authors wouldn't be coming to Velma Teague if they weren't here to visit the bookstore.

Lesa said...


Thank you so much for your warm comments. I owe so much to Barbara Peters and the Poisoned Pen. Thanks to her, I have most of these events. So, as long as I can work with her and the bookstore, the events should be terrific.

Lesa said...

Well, Kay, your husband does like the golf here. But, didn't you just get a new house in Texas?

I'm so glad you were able to come to two of the events here, and spend some time with me. I'll look forward to your return visit.

Thank you, Kay!

Bill Crider said...

You're welcome. Lookin' good!

Lesa said...

Thanks to you, Bill. Thank you SO much! And, I let Carolyn know it was thanks to you.

Beth Hoffman said...

Thanks for such a terrific post, Lesa! I laughed out loud when I read: "How cozy is poison?"

Lesa said...

Definitely not cozy,is it, Beth? I'm so glad Bill had a copy of that post, or I might have been working on it forever!

Beth Hoffman said...

I thought about you when Blogger went down. Thank goodness for Bill.

Have a lovely weekend, my friend!

Lesa said...

Well, it should be a better weekend now, Beth. Thank you.

Donis Casey said...

Carolyn is one of my favorite people in the world, and I got to spend time with Earlene for the first time when they were here. What a fantastic pair, and great writers to boot.

Lesa said...

Donis, I think you're one of Carolyn's favorite people, too, from everything she said. I hope she was able to make it to Tempe to catch up with you and Judy.

Weren't they terrific, together? It was fun to host them for that program.