' What: Gretchen Archer signs her new release, "Double Mint"
' Where: Barnes & Noble, 2100 Hamilton Place Blvd.
' When: 2-4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 8
' For more information: 423-893-0186
Receiving 437 rejections for a first manuscript would normally disillusion an aspiring writer. Not Gretchen Archer.
After all the rejections for her narrative commercial fiction, the Lookout Mountain stay-at-home mom took a year's hiatus from writing but only to consider her options and revamp her writing style before trying a new genre. There she found her way to success — Davis Way, to be exact — the comical heroine of three mysteries set in a fictional casino in Biloxi, Miss.
Her inaugural Davis Way mystery, "Double Whammy," was a finalist in the 2014 Daphne du Maurier Awards for excellence in mainstream mystery/suspense. Archer's fourth installment of the Davis Way series will be released July 21. It's already been named to Deep South magazine's summer reading list — right alongside Harper Lee's "Go Set a Watchman."
"The rejections were why I quit writing for a year, but somewhere in there I got a lot of good advice," says Archer. "I got a call from Molly Friedrich, Sue Grafton's agent, who said, 'You really have some talent, you're just writing the wrong thing.' I learned that agents aren't going to touch you if they don't know where (what genre) they can sell the book."
She found her niche in "cozy mysteries" (no blood/no sex), a genre in which an unqualified lead character, usually living in a small town, solves mysteries. Think Jessica Fletcher of "Murder, She Wrote."
"I stopped and started looking at the market — what was selling and how could I get in the industry," says Archer. "I love mysteries. I read more than 200 mystery books during that year off to see how it was done. I knew I wanted a setting that would be new to the mystery series itself, a character who was flawed. I wanted it set in the South and I wanted her in a setting that was not overdone in the mystery-series genre.
"I started looking at numbers from the American Gaming Association and what has happened in the South since gambling became so big on the Gulf Coast," Archer recalls.
She hit the jackpot.
Her heroine Davis Way is a 30-something hacker from the small Alabama town of Pine Apple, a name Archer saw on an exit sign while driving to the Gulf Coast. Davis is hired by a glitzy Biloxi casino, Bellissimo Resort, to work undercover security. Her humorous misadventures involve her ex-ex-husband (she divorced the same guy twice), a boss's wife who happens to be her doppelganger, the attorney who got her out of jail and is how her husband, and a wildly imaginative supporting cast of thieves, hit men, enforcers and casino clientele. No matter how dicey things get at the casino, Davis always comes out a winner.
If Davis sounds like the Southern cousin of Janet Evanovich's bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, it's not coincidental. In fact, Evanovich endorses Archer's Davis Way series. The two are friends and Archer credits Evanovich with mentoring and encouraging her through that writing crisis four years ago.
"Gretchen offers not only an excellent mystery but she utilizes humor in a very effective way. You find yourself laughing during the most intense moments of a mystery," says Kelly Flemings, community business development manager at Barnes and Noble in Hamilton Place.
"When I have regular customers I know purchase Janet Evanovich, I recommend the first in the Davis Way series and they begin following her. She's got a regular following and it's hard to keep her books on the shelf."
Contact Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.