PJ Gardner took just as circuitous a route to being the author of children’s books as she did to take to Gilbert, her home the last 17 years.
Gardner recently published the first in her “Horace and Bunwinkle” novels last month and already has the second in the final stages for release next year with plans for a third the year after that.
Targeting young readers in second-fifth grades, the series features Horace, a Boston Terrier, and Bunwinkle, a potbellied pig, as they partner to solve mysteries around their barn yard.
The first book, titled simply by the two character’s names, is already out in America and next month will be published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand next month.
“I hope readers find it fun, and a good mystery, but there’s more to the story,” said Gardner. “It’s about moving and learning to like your new home. It’s about family.”
Gardner wound up in Gilbert after forays into Southern California for college, New Jersey for her master’s degree in art and then a return to Southern California.
And it wasn’t until she left a 12-year job as a customer rep for a pool supply company that writing slowly came on her radar.
“I didn’t think of myself as a writer,” she explained. “I was an avid reader and assumed that was all I’d ever be. However, a friend from a book club invited me to join her writing group. I said no for years, but after quitting my job, I found myself at loose ends so I decided to give writing a try.”
So, she took a crack at women’s fiction, but that didn’t work out.
Writing children’s fiction turned out to be a different story.
“Ultimately, I think it was inevitable that I write for young readers,” she said. “Most of what I read is in that area and I love it. My kids would agree, but they would argue that it’s because I have the sense of humor of a 12-year-old.”
The inspiration for her two characters came from real-life situations.
Horace was inspired by her own two Boston Terriers.
As for Bunwinkle, since her husband Neil vetoed the idea of owning a pig – somewhat prematurely, she said.
“My husband told me I wasn’t allowed to have one before I knew if I even wanted one,” Gardner said. “It’s probably for the best that we don’t have one. I have a hard time keeping up with my kids and my two dogs.”
So, she did the next best thing: she volunteered at Better Piggies Rescue in North Phoenix, where she studied pig behavior and temperament and found a way to bring Bunwinkle to life.
As for how she got the idea of making Horace and Bunwinkle a kind of Starsky and Hutch of the barn yard set, Gardner explained:
“The idea came from a real incident. Many years ago, I read about a potbelly pig named Lulu and an American Eskimo dog named Bear that saved the life of their human. Bear stayed by his owner’s side, barking for all he was worth, while Lulu went and blocked the road until someone stopped and she was able to bring the person back to help. The story stuck in my mind. I loved the idea of a dog and a pig working together.”
Illustrated by renown Ohio graphic designer and illustrator Dave Mottram – his images truly bring the characters to life,” Gardner said – “Horace and Bunwinkle” has drawn raves from some authors of children’s books.
The first book has the two animals investigating the mysterious disappearance of their “yard mates.”
It also was selected for HarperCollins 360, a program that publishes in international English speaking markets. “It is a huge honor…not every book gets the opportunity,” Gardner said.
Horace & Bunwinkle is available in hardcover, eBook and audiobook at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound and Bookshop.