It’s a pleasure to have Tracy Gardner from Howell, Michigan, here to chat about her writing and new release, Behind the Frame: A Shepherd Sister’s Mystery.
How long have you been published, Tracy? What titles and/or series have you published and with which publisher? Have you self-published any titles? Please give details.
My first traditionally published novel released last year through Hallmark Publishing. OUT OF THE PICTURE: A SHEPHERD SISTERS MYSTERY was the first ever Hallmark Publishing cozy mystery novel. That has now become a Hallmark cozy mystery book series, with book two, BEHIND THE FRAME, releasing August 11th, 2020, and book three, STILL LIFE AND DEATH, releasing summer of 2021.
And just recently, I’ve signed with Crooked Lane Books to publish a new cozy mystery with series potential called RUBY RED HERRING: AN AVERY AYERS ANTIQUES MYSTERY.
Prior to receiving the Hallmark Publishing deal in 2019, I had published a women’s fiction novel, THE FALL OF OUR SECRETS, through a small e-publisher that has since gone out of business. That book is still available on Amazon as well; readers should note that it has more PG-13 / R rated content as opposed to my nicely G / PG rated cozy mysteries above.
That’s wonderful, Tracy. I also have a 4-book cozy mystery series, The Cobble Cove Mysteries, with Solstice Publishing, a small Indie publisher, and am looking to publish a new one with a larger traditional publisher if I get lucky with an agent. In the meantime, I’m happy publishing my series and standalone mysteries with Solstice and Next Chapter.
Tell us a little bit about your books — if you write a series, any upcoming releases or your current work-in-progress. If you have an upcoming release, please specify the release date.
In Hallmark’s Shepherd sisters series, Savanna Shepherd has just returned to her small Lake Michigan hometown of Carson after a broken engagement and lost job in Chicago. As an art authenticator, Savanna has a special talent for spotting clues hiding in plain sight. Savanna is thrilled to be reunited with her two sisters, and her family is happy to have her home. In OUT OF THE PICTURE, when it becomes clear that someone is trying to kill Savanna’s would-be grandmother, town matriarch Caroline Carson, Savanna races to uncover the truth and find the culprit with help from her sisters, Detective Nick Jordan, and intriguing town doctor, Aidan Gallager. By book two, BEHIND THE FRAME (8/11/2020), Detective Jordan realizes Savanna could be an asset when she discovers the body of a murdered councilman and has insight into possible suspects. Savanna once again becomes embroiled in a murder mystery in book three, STILL LIFE AND DEATH (summer 2021), when her beloved uncle is suddenly a suspect in the strange murder of the town florist.
Aside the mystery in each book, Savanna and her sisters share a wonderful friendship, and we see Savanna recover from her broken engagement and begin a slowly developing relationship with a Carson resident. The Shepherd sisters series encompasses high-stakes mysteries, Sunday family dinners, a gourmet dog treat and grooming salon in a town you’d love to live in.
In Crooked Lane Books’ RUBY RED HERRING, Avery Ayers now runs her parents’ antiques and artifacts appraisal business a year after her parents perished in a fiery car crash. But Avery’s life is turned upside down again when she receives a mysterious message from someone claiming to be her (deceased) father on the heels of being hired to investigate a potentially priceless ruby that could be the missing dragon eye in famed Emperor’s Twins Xiang Dynasty medallion. Avery and new friend Detective Art Smith are pulled into a mystery involving a possible faked death, a stolen ruby worth millions, and New York’s Museum of Antiquities. RUBY RED HERRING takes place in the upstate New York town of Lilac Grove and in Manhattan; Avery Ayers younger sister Tilly and eccentric force of nature Aunt Midge keep Avery centered as she delves into her parents’ past and how it is connected to the ruby under lock and key at the museum.
Both those series sound excellent. Describe your goals as a writer. What do you hope to achieve in the next few years? What are you planning to do to reach these goals?
I’d love to continue working with wonderful publishers and writing stories that matter to me and resonate with readers. I’m so extremely fortunate to be on this path, and I’m committed to doing the work necessary to continue.
Writing is definitely a labor of love. Best of luck to you meeting your goals.
What type of reader are you hoping to attract? Who do you believe would be most interested in reading your books?
I think anyone who is looking for characters they can relate to, sweet, slow-burn romance, mystery and intrigue, and/or normal, everyday life issues we all deal with will enjoy my books.
That’s a nice, wide audience.
What advice would you give other authors or those still trying to get published?
If you’re completely worn out from the effort of trying to get your work out there, and it’s too heartbreaking or soul-crushing for you to go on, go ahead and try to quit. If you feel okay and at peace not writing, or writing solely for your eyes only, then you’ve made the right decision. But if you try to quit and find you can’t, then get back on your journey to publication and keep on going. Don’t stop.
Great advice. Even if I never land an agent or publish with a large publisher, I will continue to write and publish wherever I can because I truly love sharing my characters and plots with readers.
What particular challenges and struggles did you face before first becoming published?
This question made me smile, coming right after the previous one, as the answer is in that advice. I became worn out and just mentally and emotionally crushed more than once. You can get into an unhealthy cycle of focusing so much on this one goal, that you lose perspective of what really matters. The last time I tried to quit, I’d reached the point where I realized I was siphoning away time, energy, and enjoyment from my family in pursuit of this thing I’d tried for over a decade to achieve, and for what? I told my agent (the one it took me years of querying to secure) to take me off her website because I was done. She nicely told me no, and to take some time and step away from writing for a while. I was able to strengthen my focus on the things that really matter to me—my kids, my husband, and how truly blessed I am in life for so many reasons. When my agent got back in touch and asked if I wanted to put together a proposal for Hallmark’s new publishing division, I said sure, why not? I think the difference then was that my expectations were gone. I can’t say the drive was absent, but I really had nothing to lose and zero expectations.
I’m sure there are a million different routes to becoming published. I wouldn’t recommend mine to anyone, but I’m so grateful I’m here.
What a great story. Thanks for sharing your experience. I know many writers who have gone through a similar period of despair, as I have, and questioned all the time and effort they’ve put into writing for very little reward. It’s good to know that a successful author such as yourself has gone through the same thing.
Do you belong to any writing groups? Which ones?
I don’t, but I should. Well, that’s not 100% true. The Hallmark authors have a little online group I’m part of, and they are some of the sweetest, most helpful and supportive people I’ve ever known. I do not belong to any organizations or formal groups, but I’m sure I would benefit if I did.
I also belong to my publisher’s Facebook groups and a writing group at the library which currently isn’t meeting. Other than those, I belong to Sisters-in-Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Cat Writers’ Association, and the Long Island Authors Group. I find certain groups are more helpful than others depending on your interests and type of writing you do.
What are your hobbies and interests besides writing?
I really enjoy spending time hanging out with my kids, who are now 18, 20 and 20 (son and two daughters, respectively). I learn so much from them; they are pretty cool people.
My husband and I have transitioned from a Harley to a Side-By-Side (SxS) ATV, different but still fun. I love, love, love live music, and that is one of the things I’m saddest about in our current pandemic: that I have no idea when my concert-wife and I will be able to see our favorite bands again. I also love reading, baking, and snuggling our pets.
My only daughter will be 16 in October, and I think she’s cool, too – lol. As for snuggling with pets, I absolutely adore our two-year-old cats and our 13 year old senior tabby.
What do you like most and least about being an author? What is your toughest challenge?
Most: Those moments when the little plot points come together or the characters are talking and I suddenly stumble across the deeper meaning in what I’ve written. That’s seriously the best. That, and being able to write the stories of these random characters who pop into my head. If I couldn’t do that, I think I’d always be curious about them. I keep notes on characters I’ve “met” and haven’t yet had time to figure out their stories and write them.
Least: The tech-angst I experience when trying to do necessary things like create and link newsletters or construct book promo graphics or change formats of files or find the right platform to get something to run. My tech guy (my 18-year-old son) is leaving for college any minute and then I have no idea what I’ll do!
Toughest challenge: Beginning. Writing that first sentence in a new manuscript.
Most authors cite promoting and marketing as their toughest challenges, and they are definitely mine. You mention your struggles with technology to create your promotions. I enjoy learning how to use graphics, but I have difficulty locating photos I’ve saved and the time it takes to master everything. As far as beginning a new manuscript, I have no trouble with that. I’m now outlining my plots which also helps.
What do you like about writing cozy mysteries?
Oh, good question! I have fun coming up with who I want to be the victim, and then all the reasons various other characters might have to kill that person. I enjoy being along for the ride as my main character follows the clues. I especially love writing the mini cliffhanger—those Oh no! What happened?! moments when you’re reading a book and you know you absolutely can’t put it down now, you’ve got to read another few pages. At least!
I also love all of that, but I enjoy switching up genres now and then, alternating my cozies with standalone mysteries of a darker nature.
Can you share a short excerpt from your latest title or upcoming release?
Sure! Here’s a little from Behind the Frame:
Now Savanna saw what was wrong with the view. As she walked around the gazebo into Carson’s park, she stared up the twelve-foot-tall statue of Jessamina Carson on her pedestal. Jessamina wasn’t quite twelve feet tall any longer. Savanna gasped, covering her mouth in shock.
Jessamina Carson’s head was missing.
Savanna took an involuntary step back, away from the defaced, century-old statue, taking in the scene. What in the world? The head of the statue lay several yards away on the ground, scattered debris littering the grass between the base of the statue and the eerily severed concrete head. Across the base of the statue, from one side to the other, spanned large, red spray-painted words, NEVER CARSON.
Savanna whirled around at a sound behind her, hands up defensively—a reflex, considering what she’d just stumbled onto. Her friend Britt was walking toward her, his eyes wide and his short, white-blond hair making him look paler than Savanna felt.
“Savanna? What is this? What happened?”
She shook her head. “I have no idea.” She turned in a circle, searching the park for any sign of the person who’d done this. No one. The park was deserted.
Britt stood, hands on his hips, looking the statue up and down, gaze coming to rest on the ugly words. “Well, I’d say someone has a problem with your town.”
I liked that. Thanks for sharing it.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or your books?
You’ve asked some great questions, I can’t think of anything else. But I do want to say how grateful I am knowing people are enjoying the stories! Thank you for reading!
I’m glad you enjoyed the interview, Tracy. I’m including your blog tour and giveaway below. Best wishes to you on your new release and forthcoming books.
Behind the Frame: A Shepherd Sisters Mystery
by Tracy Gardner
About Behind the Frame
Behind the Frame: A Shepherd Sisters Mystery
2nd in Series
Publisher: Hallmark Publishing (August 11, 2020)
Paperback 360 Pages
Digital ASIN: B084FHKMTG
When art in the park
leads to murder in the dark,
the Shepherd sisters
have another crime to solve.
Savanna Shepherd, an art expert turned elementary art teacher, is planning the Art in the Park festival for her hometown of Carson. But apparently, someone isn’t happy that Carson got to host the event: the beloved statue in the park is destroyed. Not long after, Savanna finds the dead body of one of the people on the planning committee.
Savanna and her sisters are convinced that the arrested murder suspect didn’t do it, despite strong evidence to the contrary. With the help of Dr. Aidan Gallager, Savanna’s new romantic interest, they uncover hidden resentments and intrigue. Several people in Carson had a motive for the murder. Can they find out which one of them is behind the framing of an innocent person?
This intriguing mystery includes a free Hallmark original recipe for Mini Rhubarb Pies.
About Tracy Gardner
Tracy Gardner is a fiction author represented by Fran Black of Literary Counsel. Tracy writes Hallmark Publishing’s Shepherd Sisters Mystery series, intriguing, engaging stories about Art Authenticator turned elementary art teacher Savanna Shepherd and her sisters solving murder mysteries in a small Lake Michigan town. A Detroit native, Tracy is the daughter of two teachers. She grew up on Nancy Drew mysteries and rock and roll. Tracy lives with her husband and best friend of thirty years and a menagerie of spoiled rescue dogs and cats, her front door constantly revolving with her two daughters and son back and forth from college. She is a strong believer in the power of baked goods, live music, family, and friends as staples to a happy life.
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