Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Terry!
Thank you to the “Dames” for interviewing me today. I loved answering the Dames’ Dozen. AND today is my birthday! Yep, 39 again!
Well, happy birthday! I hope you have a fantastic day and we’re so glad you’re sharing it with us. I’ve been 39 now, let’s see… never mind!Tell us about your debut novel.
A KILLING AT COTTON HILL hit the bookstores and the e-waves yesterday, July 16. Set in the fictional town of Jarrett Creek, Texas, it features Samuel Craddock, former chief of police, who is still known as “Chief” because he was the best lawman the town ever had. The book is getting good reviews, my favorite of which came from RT Reviews, “Shames’ novel is an amazing read. The poetic, literary quality of the writing draws you in…”
I read that review and it’s a great one, and coming from RT Review, need I say more? In fact, this book is getting some really wonderful reviews. Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
Jarrett Creek is based on the small town where my grandparents lived. I never lived there myself, but when I return it feels like home to me, even after many years of living in Berkeley, California. I’m not sure any two towns could be more different—so I guess they speak to different parts of me. In the novel my protagonist, Samuel Craddock, loves the land around Jarrett Creek. Like me, he sees beauty in the changing colors of sky and fields. He also appreciates the nuances of the people in the community.
Sounds like a great place to base a novel. How long have you been writing?
When I was six, I stole money from my grandmother to buy a notebook to write in. My life of crime came to a bad end when my mother demanded to know where I got the money. I confessed and the notebook was confiscated. But I’ll never forget the look and feel of that smooth, unsullied paper, ready for my story. In 9th grade, my English teacher asked the class members to write a story about anything at all. The next week she said she had enjoyed the stories but that one in particular stood out and she was going to read it aloud. I knew it would be my story—and it was. I never forgot the combined terror and happiness of that experience.
Great anecdote! What are major themes or motifs in your work?
I am interested in secrets and identity. How and why people keep secrets from each other—and sometimes from themselves–and how people identify themselves and each other. I try to give my characters—even minor ones—unexpected dimension. Sometimes they surprise me! In my second novel, Loretta–who isn’t particularly brave–volunteers to confront someone with a gun. It surprised me and it surprised Samuel. When she explains, it’s perfectly in character, but it shows how she sees herself.
Oh, I like that answer – secrets and identity. What satisfies you about writing crime fiction?
I am interested in what pushes normal people to decide that murder is their only recourse. In everyday life, most people find something short of murder to solve their problems. But crime fiction gives writers a chance to speculate on how and why people get pushed to their limits.
I also like to get at the story behind the story. Often after the villain is caught, there is a thread that needs to be dealt with, having to do with what lead to the crime and the aftermath of it.
Very interesting answer. Mark Twain said, “Southerners speak music…” Do you have a favorite southern saying you can share with our readers?
One of my favorite old Southern sayings is, “He jumped on that like a duck on a Junebug.” Except for one problem: that isn’t an old Southern saying; it was made up for Rhett Butler to say in Gone With the Wind. A good illustration of how a writer can make up a fresh phrase that sounds authentic.
I didn’t know that! Any family influences?
You can tell from my answers that family was a big influence on me as a writer. I’ve start working on my third Samuel Craddock novel and I realized that, like the other two books, it hinges on a tale I heard growing up. I’ve made the stories my own, but their roots, and the roots of many of the characters, are solidly in family stories.
And I think those are the best kinds of stories. How many hours a day do you write, where, any specific circumstances help or hurt your process?
I write four hours a day maximum. My brain shuts down after that. I can do activities around the process of writing—research, notes on characters or plot, promotion, blogging. But putting words to paper is a four-hour limit. I can write just about anywhere. When I worked at a “regular” job, I would often hide in my car at lunch and write.
A KILLING AT COTTON HILL was written on our boat. Every morning I got up and wrote from 6 until 9 in my cabin. I wrote the first draft in two months. I can write in cafes, in bed, in the backyard. If I’m into the story, it doesn’t matter where I am.
Oh, how I envy you that ability. If there is anything distracting around me at all, I can’t focus on what I’m writing. I’ve tried writing on our boat but more times than not am so calmed and relaxed by the water, I don’t do anything at all. What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know?”
You can know anything. You can research and visualize and write your way into a subject or character. But the reason you want to know about that subject or character comes from somewhere inside of you and resonates with you A historical writer like Ann Parker or Priscilla Royal, for example, can’t actually know what it was like to live in Colorado during silver rush years or medieval Europe, but the subjects speak to some part of what they instinctively know about people and places, so they are willing to do the research to know it on another level.
In the Samuel Craddock books I write from a man’s point of view. When I was a kid, at family gatherings I always wanted to be around the men and listen to their stories. They had more action and humor. Once I spent a week with my grandparents and it was clear that they had no idea how to entertain me. My grandmother arranged for me to meet ladies and children. I was bored to distraction. One day my grandfather said, “I’m taking you to the cattle auction.” It was like another world—and it was a big hit. After that, for the rest of the week when he went somewhere he loaded me into the pickup and took me along. I was one happy kid. I wish he could know how that experience stuck with me when I dreamed up Samuel Craddock.
I can see how his world would be so much more interesting to you. Any books on writing you’ve found helpful? Or classes you’ve taken?
All of them. A good way for me to focus my writing is to take a class or dip into a book on writing. There’s always some tidbit that leaps out. I may have read or heard the advice many times before, but for some reason it resonates in the moment.
If you could talk for thirty minutes with any author (or person) living or dead, who would it be?
I’m so lucky. I go to conferences and events for Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America and I often meet authors I admire. Most authors are extremely generous with their time and are only too happy to have a lively conversation.
As for dead people I’d like to have a conversation with:
Shakespeare—to find out if he would be surprised to discover how enduring and influential his work has been.
Jane Austen—to hear the sound of her speaking voice and to find out if she’s as witty in person as she is on the page.
Wallace Stevens—I’d like to take a long walk with him and watch him observe his surroundings.
A few of the framers of the U.S. Constitution–I’d like to clear up a few things–although I expect it would take a lot longer than 30 minutes!
I’ve found SinC and MWA great organizations with well-known authors who are generous with advice about this industry. What’s coming next?
My second Samuel Craddock mystery, THE LAST DEATH OF JACK HARBIN, will be out in January, 2014. And I’ve started working on the next one, as yet untitled.
For more information about Terry and her works: http://terryshames.com/
In A KILLING AT COTTON HILL the chief of police of Jarrett Creek, Texas, doubles as the town drunk. So when Dora Lee Parjeter is murdered, her old friend and former police chief Samuel Craddock steps in to investigate. He discovers that a lot of people may have wanted Dora Lee dead—the conniving rascals on a neighboring farm, her estranged daughter and her surly live-in grandson. And then there’s the stranger Dora Lee claimed was spying on her. During the course of the investigation the human foibles of the small-town residents—their pettiness and generosity, their secret vices and true virtues—are revealed.
Terry Shames grew up in Texas. She has abiding affection for the small town where here grandparents lived, the model for the fictional town of Jarrett Creek. A resident of Berkeley, California, Terry lives with her husband, two rowdy terriers and a semi-tolerant cat. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Her second Samuel Craddock novel, THE LAST DEATH OF JACK HARBIN will be out in January 2014. Find out more about Terry and her books at www.Terryshames.com.
“…if you’re as fond of good writing as I am, it will be the characters in Cotton Hill that will keep the pages turning until late in the evening…” Mysteryfile
“Shames’ novel is an amazing read. The poetic, literary quality of the writing draws you in…” RT Book Reviews
“Readers will want to see more of the likable main character, who compassionately but relentlessly sifts the evidence. Convincing small town atmosphere and a vivid supporting cast are a plus.” Publisher Weekly