Please welcome author Tracy Gardner, to the blog. Her first book with Hallmark Publishing, Out of the Picture releases September 3rd!! This is Hallmark Publishing’s first-ever cozy mystery release.
Tell us why you decided to write Out of the Picture?
I’ve always loved mysteries. As a kid, I read every Nancy Drew book I could get my hands on. When I began writing several years ago, I found that the intrigue and suspense that hooks me when I’m reading holds the same appeal when I’m creating a story. So when my agent (the truly wonderful Fran Black of Literary Counsel) mentioned pitching an idea to Hallmark Publishing, I immediately started thinking of a storyline and setting that might be a good fit. Main character Savanna Shepherd popped into my head, followed shortly by her two sisters, Sydney and Skylar. Characters tend to drive the story for me, so then it was just a matter of figuring out what sorts of interesting situations former art authenticator Savanna might find herself involved in, having just returned to her small Lake Michigan hometown after a painful break-up.
As an author, what was the most surprising thing about the publishing world (that you can safely share)?
Honestly, I think the most surprising thing was learning that the writing is the easy part. I grew up writing short stories and poems, and began writing my first novel after my second child was born in 2002. In between working and being a mom, I began querying agents in 2009, was picked up several years later by Literary Counsel, and am now, in 2019, I’m finally fortunate enough to have my debut cozy mystery coming out with Hallmark Publishing. I’m not saying my experience is the norm, but I think the road to publishing is long and twisty and filled with potholes. There were many times I was ready to take the nearest exit, get off the road, and attempt to turn off the writer part of my brain for good. I actually did that in earnest once, about a year and a half ago. Or at least I tried. But my agent wouldn’t let me quit, and she probably saved my sanity by pushing me to stay the course and keep going.
Your first book, The Fall of our Secrets, was published back in 2014, how has this process (working with Hallmark Publishing) been different?
I published The Fall of Our Secrets with a small start-up publisher, but things didn’t work out very well and the book reverted to being published in my own name. The publisher was very helpful and provided a gorgeous cover, great editing and lots of support, but I think the company was just too new and too small. That book is available online, but I’m focusing attention on my current project with Hallmark and a couple other stories in the works.
Publishing with Hallmark has been a dream come true. Editor Stacey Donovan is an amazing, talented person and has been a valuable resource for me throughout this process. For cover design, she made sure she understood my vision when it came to the small town of Carson and the mansion where much of the mystery events take place. She has been very involved every step of the way, and I also couldn’t be happier with my editor Rhonda Merwarth. Stacey, Rhonda, and Fran were instrumental in bringing out the best in Out of the Picture. The support, information, and patience I receive from the Hallmark team and my agent makes this process pretty seamless.
Can you tell us how many more books you plan to write for the Out of the Picture series?
I’m currently working on book two in the Shepherd Sisters Mystery series, Behind the Frame. Savanna’s ties to the art world and the smart, fun team of Savanna and her sisters, paired with Detective Nick Jordan and handsome town doctor Aidan Gallager, make it a breeze to dream up new scenarios and potential trouble in and around the small town of Carson, Michigan. I have exciting futures planned for the Shepherd sisters. I think the possibilities are endless for more escapades!
What types of music do you enjoy listening to and is the music different when you’re writing?
I love almost everything. I have different playlists on Spotify depending on which book, scene and character I’m writing. The words don’t flow as easily if I try to write without music. Right now, I have a lot of Twenty-One Pilots, One Republic, Lumineers, Vampire Weekend and Jon Bellion on constant shuffle, but there are definitely scenes that call for Panic at the Disco, My Chemical Romance, Green Day, The Fratellis, All-American Rejects, and my local favorite musician, Dan Tillery. And in the middle of all that are occasional tunes from some of my favorite musicals (a trait I share with Savanna), including Michael in the Bathroom from Be More Chill, Cecily Smith from Fly By Night, and anything from Hamilton.
Who are some of your favorite authors or books at the moment?
My taste in books is pretty eclectic. Stephen King is probably my all-time favorite author. His characters seem real to me, and when I’m reading his books, I forget I’m reading at all. He has a way of just drawing you into the story. If I had to name a favorite, it would probably be 11/22/63 or The Gunslinger in the Dark Tower series.
Aside from King, one of my favorite books is Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain. And I absolutely loved the movie adaptation, though it did cost me a lot of tissues. Other favorites are Jo-Ann Mapson’s The Owl & Moon Café, Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park, and Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. John Steinbeck’s East of Eden is an all-time classic favorite just for the complex relationship dynamics. I also love anything John Green or Jennifer Weiner. So … as I said, eclectic!
How much time a day do you spending writing?
I always envy those authors who have set blocks of writing time every day. The truthful answer for me is, sometimes not at all. And sometimes two hours, or seven hours. It depends on life, on my family, on my job, and sometimes, even though I try not to let it, it also depends on my mood. Sometimes I can’t wait to sit down and get ideas and characters out of my head and into the story, and sometimes I am lazy, and choose to watch Sherlock on Netflix when I know I should be writing. I write best under deadline, which is a brand new thing I’ve learned about myself with Out of the Picture.
What do you hope readers take away from Out of the Picture?
I hope readers fall in love with Savanna Shepherd and her sisters. My goal was to create a compelling, clean cozy mystery with relatable characters, enough suspense to keep the reader guessing, and the hint of a blossoming romance. Savanna’s personal journey in the book mirrors her quest to solve the mystery, as she works toward closure and resolving feelings about her past in order to move forward toward a bright future.
I hope the end of the book leaves readers feeling fulfilled but wanting more!