Terry Shames discovered the power of writing when she read Stephen Leacock’s short story “The Man in Asbestos” in the fifth grade. “I read it and I was just dumbfounded. I still remember the feeling I had: ‘I could do that. I could write like this.'”
That feeling, and the sense of direction it gave her life, never left her. She was determined to major in English in college but her English teacher dissuaded her, encouraged her to major in something else that would teach her about the world. So Shames majored in political science. Later she got an MFA in Creative Writing.
In college she wrote short stories. As a child she had spent every summer with her grandparents in Summerville, Texas.
“What child likes to go visit their grandparents in a town where they don’t know anybody?” Shames told me in an interview. “There is nothing special about Summerville, Texas. I just love it. I still have family there. There is a family reunion there every year. I have cousins who have children, they love the town too. But there is absolutely nothing special about it.”
But for Shames, at least, there is something special about it: a source of inspiration that she was able to turn to even after the requirements of life had slowed down her writing career.
Her first novel was a sci-fi book. “I wrote it at night when I got home from work. I set myself a goal of typing five pages every night. But by the time I finished it the publisher who was interested went out of business.”
She left the computer field and went into real estate “so that I could make my own hours and write more,” but quickly found that was not a viable plan. She wrote four of five books — by now she was writing mysteries–but “they were too much like other books out there.” And her young son needed all of her attention.
One day she heard Sophie Littlefield give a talk. Littlefield described how she had written eight or nine books before she got published. She encouraged her listeners to “write the book that only they could write.”
For Shames, that meant writing about Summerville, Texas, again, as she had in those short stories in college. And she decided to write about an older detective, because she was tired of reading descriptions of “tired old men who turned out to be sixty.” She knows ninety-year-olds who are more active and vibrant than most of the sixty-year old characters in some of the novels she reads.
The first book in the series was A Killing at Cotton Hill. Samuel Craddock is a long-retired chief of police, but the current chief doubles as the town drunk. So when Samuel’s friend Dora Lee Parjeter is murdered, Samuel takes the investigation into his own hands.
Shames based Craddock on her grandfather. “He’d been a mayor thirty years earlier, but people would still come to him to solve their problems. When I was a little kid I asked my mom why and my mom said, ‘your grandfather was a man everyone trusted.'”
A Killing at Cotton Hill was a Left Coast Crime Squid Nominee, a Finalist for Killer Nashville’s Claymore Award, and won the Macavity Award for Best First Novel of 2013.
Shames has now written five books in the series. THE NECESSARY MURDER OF NONIE BLAKE is the fifth, due out in January of 2016. (RT Reviews has already listed it as one of their top picks). In this book Samuel Craddock realizes that nothing is at it appears as he tries to solve Nonie Blake’s murder. Even the cows. And that perhaps the person with the best answers for him is a man with advanced Alzheimer’s.
Shames claims that her characters “just come to her.” One of the most inspired characters in this book is Frazier, the dog.
A new character is introduced, a Latina officer, Maria Trevino. Shames had a friend, Mary Trevino, in high school, lost track of her, tried to find her, and recently found out her friend had died. So the character is an homage to that friendship.
Shames plans three more books in the series. The next will be a prequel, which shows Craddock as a young Chief of Police and his beloved wife Jeanne is still alive. “They were different people when they were young. Different from how Craddock remembers them.” She plans an additional two books for the series, “as long as the publisher wants them.”
Her publisher is 7th Street. She loves being part of a smaller publishing house because she can read all the mysteries by her fellow 7th Street Authors. “But now 7th Street is getting bigger, and there are so many I can’t keep up.”
Is there (writing life) after Craddock? Right out of college Shames did some computer work for the CIA. Later she did a lot of computer works for banks. Now she is writing a thriller about economic terrorism. “The banking system in this country is so loose, so vulnerable to hacking. In this book I ask: what if the entire US banking system was attacked by hackers, in a stealth attack that brought everything crashing down?”
She described her concept to an FBI agent and he admitted that it could happen. “I’m hoping once I get the book out, someone in the banking world reads it and fixes the issues. Before it really happens.”
Terry Shames (Berkeley, CA) is the Macavity Award-winning author of the Samuel Craddock mysteries A KILLING AT COTTON HILL, THE LAST DEATH OF JACK HARBIN, DEAD BROKE IN JARRETT CREEK, and A DEADLY AFFAIR AT BOBTAIL RIDGE. She is also the coeditor of FIRE IN THE HILLS, a book of stories, poems, and photographs about the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire. She grew up in Texas and continues to be fascinated by the convoluted loyalties and betrayals of the small town where her grandfather was the mayor. Terry is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.
To learn more about Terry, please visit her website.