HOWELL — For nearly 20 years, Tracy Gardner, a full-time nurse, has been writing stories, poems and books, now it’s starting to pay off for the Howell resident.
Gardner is set to release her second book in the Avery Ayers Antique Mystery series in June, “Peril at Pennington Manor,” through Crooked Lane Books, distributed through Penguin Random House Publisher Services.
The book is a follow-up to Gardner’s first in the series, 2021’s “Ruby Red Herring”, which is one of five nominees for the 2022 Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Awards, also known as the Edgars, in the Simon & Schuster Mary Higgins Clark award division to be given on April 28.
“I’m beyond thrilled that her book has been nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark award. It is very well deserved,” Faith Black Ross, senior editor at Crooked Lane Books said.
“That was totally out of left field,” Gardner said. “I got the email from the Mystery Writers of America saying that it had been nominated and I didn’t even know that it was up for consideration. I did not expect that.”
Just like becoming a successful author was something she didn’t believe possible at one point.
Growing up with parents who were both teachers, Gardner knew she was expected to go to college, graduate and find a good job.
“I think the idea of going for anything related to writing wasn’t even on my radar because it wasn’t practical,” she said.
She had written short stories and other things since she was young and, as a teen, she wrote angsty song lyrics and poems, and even had a poem published in her high school paper.
“I don’t think I ever really had the confidence in anything I was writing. It was just for myself,” she said.
While seeking some direction after high school, she asked her boyfriends at the time, now her husband, Joe, what he thought she should pursue and he suggested going into the medical field.
Gardner ended up pursuing nursing: She received an associate’s degree from Henry Ford College and started working at DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital. She’s been in the field for 29 years and currently works as a nurse case manager for Aetna.
About five or six years after getting married, she started a family and eventually had three children: two daughters and a son. The youngest, Joey, is 19, while daughters Katie and Halle are both 22.
Getting Back to Writing
In about 2002, when Joey was 4, Gardner wrote about two-thirds of what would become her first book, but due to health issues in the family she put down the manuscript in 2006.
Then, four years later, she met a new neighbor, who talked her into joining a book club. Through conversations the two of them had, Tracy admitted she used to be a writer and her neighbor wanted to read her work.
“That made me start thinking about trying to get it published,” she said.
Trials and Tribulations
She finished the book and gave it to her neighbor. From then on, she spend about four years sending out cold query letters to more than 100 different publishers.
She eventually self-published “The Fall of Our Secrets” in 2014 under e-LIT BOOKS, an indie startup that is now out of business.
“I think at the time I thought, ‘Someone wants to publish my book,’ so I can quit my job. I’m going to be on the best seller list,” she said.
It was around that time Gardner met her current agent, Frances Black of Literary Counsel in New York.
“She liked my writing and she liked me, and she thought she could make something happen,” she said.
Gardner signed with Black in 2014, and sent out manuscripts to different publishers for another four years, and again struck out.
“In the meantime, you’re raising kids and working a day job. Living your life, and then you have this, at night you’re writing, sending this stuff out and getting rejections,” she said.
In 2018, Gardner asked Black to pull her name off Black’s website because she wanted to step away for a little while. Black kept Gardner on the web and let the fledgling author figure things out for six months.
taking a chance
Finally, Black encouraged Gardner to put together a pitch because the Hallmark Channel was establishing a publishing arm, and they were looking to dip their toes into mysteries. Gardner wrote a five-page synopsis for Stacey Donovan, creative director and executive editor with Hallmark Publishing at Crown Media Family Networks.
“I really just did it because I didn’t have anything to lose,” Gardner said.
Donovan, however, didn’t like the synopsis and thought most of the ideas wouldn’t work, including putting a lost poodle in peril.
“It was challenging to write a murder mystery. There’s no violence. There’s no affairs. If you think about murder motives, which pretty much leaves money,” she said.
planning the story
For Gardner, the writing process always starts with a character.
“A lot of times they just show up in my head and they’re interesting enough that I need to know more about them, so I’ll start writing my own story in my head about the character,” she said. “You start thinking about their circle, their world, the people around them and what their journey, and what their struggle is.”
Gardner tries to identify the victim in her head. Then she uses a piece of notebook paper to sketch out the murder. Using a web template, she puts the victim in the middle, draws a circle around their name de ella and creates a series of suspects and their motives.
Gardner ended up publishing a three-book mystery series with Hallmark about three sisters titled, “Out of the Picture” (2019), “Behind the Frame” (2020) and “Still Life and Death” (2021).
“It was good. Looking back, this taught me how to write,” she said. “Between the process of writing these and then the rounds of editing that they put them through. I feel like every book I’ve written I’ve learned so much more.”
After that, Black encouraged Gardner to pitch Crooked Lane Books.
“Everything is about connections,” Gardner said.
They sent Gardner’s first book in the Avery Ayers Antique Mystery series, “Ruby Red Herring” (2021), to Ross at Crooked Lane Books and she liked it.
“I fell in love with Avery Ames and Tracy’s story from the moment I read it and was so thrilled to be able to acquire it for Crooked Lane. An antiques appraiser is a really unique spin on a cozy and a new hook I hadn’t seen before,” Ross said. “I also love how she combined New York City and a small town setting as well. It really is the best of both worlds.”
Coming Full Circle
Now she’s set to release the second book of the series, and she still wonders how she got to this point, suggesting her high school self would be amazed at what she’s become.
“That was the one thing I loved doing the whole time I was in school was reading and writing and probably writing more than reading, but I never considered it as something I could actually do,” she said. “That probably was my aspiration, which was my block, why I couldn’t figure out what to do with my life.”
Gardner’s now working on a psychological thriller about a medical examiner. She’s also submitted a piece to Alcove Press, a second line with Crooked Lane Books that focuses on romance novels.
Tracy can be found @tracygardnerbooks on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.