Agatha Award—winner Earlene Fowler, author of Delectable Mountain and other titles in her Benni Harper Southern cozy series, tries her hand at a stand-alone mystery about Ruby Gavin, a young widow who discovers some unsettling secrets about her late husband.

You've taken a break from your Benni Harper series to pen a stand-alone, The Saddlemaker's Wife. Why now?

I wanted to write about someone who was entirely different from Benni Harper, but who faced the same tragic circumstance, becoming a widow early in her life. I often thought about how Benni had such a loving, supportive family surrounding her and what would it be like for someone to go through the same tragedy and be alone. As for why now, it just seemed like time for Ruby's story to be told.

Your mysteries are very character-driven. Did that make it easier to write a book that examines family relationships so compassionately?

People have always fascinated me. I just love hearing about people's lives. So it makes sense that my books and stories would be character-driven.

Setting is important also, and in particular, regional variations and how they inform character.

For example, having Southern roots.

I'm really thankful for having a Southern mother, a Western father and growing up in Southern California. I think it gives me a perspective that enables me see things from more than one point of view. I love the straightforwardness of Westerners, their toughness, their bravery, their stoicism. But I think my spiritual self resides in the South. I love the wit of Southerners, their humor, their love of language. When I'm with Southerners, I never have to apologize for talking too long or asking too many questions about their family.

The importance of family is a consistent theme in all your books.

I do think about the whole concept of family a lot, about who is our family, what defines a family. Since my husband, Allen, and I don't have children, we've never been what is considered the traditional family unit. I understand what it feels like to be different because you aren't exactly like the norm. Thank goodness, that's changing. With so many blended families now, the word family means something entirely different than what it did 30 years ago. Family, I think, are people we love. Maybe it's as simple as that.