Author on the Couch: Terry Shames
Today I’m conducting a session with…Terry Shames!
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Me: Tell me about an experience that had a profound impact on your life.
Terry: When I was a child, I adored my grandfather. One week when I was about eight I decided I wanted to stay with my grandparents for a whole week in the small town where they lived about two hours from my home. As soon as my folks drove away I was horribly homesick. But then something thrilling happened. An elderly black man apparently “went crazy,” drew a gun and shot the deputy sheriff in the leg. Then he ran off into the swampland west of town. That night at the dinner table my grandfather reported that the men in town had formed a posse to hunt down the offender. I was very excited. I pictured men on horseback, like something from a western movie. I said, “A posse! Are you going to go with them?” My grandfather, a big, strong, self-made man gave me a long look and finally said, “No, I’m not going.” And then had added the words that have never left me. He said, “Poor old fellow.” I could easily have absorbed the casual racism that I grew up around, but that phrase from my grandfather set me on a course for compassion that I still practice.My grandfather set me on a course for compassion that I still practice. @TerryShames #amwriting Click To Tweet
Me: So many profound moments happen when you least expect them.
What personality trait of yours helps you most as an author?
Terry: I used to think it was being organized. But I think being high-energy helps me most. I don’t need much sleep and I have a lot of drive. People ask how I get so much done, and a lot of it hinges on that trait. Of course, I’m also highly motivated, and work a lot. But energy is the bottom line.
Me: That’s a great trait to have. I wish I had a bit more it myself.
What personality trait of yours hinders you most as an author?
Terry: Taking on too much. I want to do everything. Everything! I love the writing, but I also I love being social, love cooking and entertaining and traveling. Whatever I’m doing, I throw myself into it. It would probably be more successful if I focused more on one thing.
Me: What was your high point as a writer?
Terry: I hope I haven’t yet had my high point. I have to say, though, that it will be hard to beat the joy of hearing my name called as the winner of the Macavity Award for Best First Novel in 2014. I was sitting next to one of my writing heroes, William Kent Krueger, and he gave me the biggest hug and grin—and then he won the award for Best Novel. I still smile when I think about it. At the end of the event, Charlaine Harris, whom I had never met, came up and gave me a big hug and congratulated me. I have often experienced the warmth and generosity of my fellow writers, but that evening was special.
I have often experienced the warmth and generosity of my fellow writers. @TerryShames #amwriting Click To Tweet
Me: What a special moment for you. And I LOVE Charlaine Harris.
What was your low point as a writer—a time when you questioned your path?
Terry: That’s an easy one to answer. Early on in my writing life, writers had to send actual, physical, type-written manuscripts through the mail. I was lucky and very quickly got an agent. But in those days when an agent thought they had done all they could and had been unable to place the book, they would send it back—without notice. It would show up on your front porch like a dead rat. The third time this happened, I decided I had had it. I was done. No more. I actually crawled into bed and lay there. And about that time a very successful writer friend called. I told her what had happened and she talked me into going shopping with her. When we were together she said, “Fine. You can quit. You’re right if you keep going, you may never get published. Who knows? But if you quit now, it’s a guarantee that you won’t get published.” I got back on the horse.If you quit now, it’s a guarantee that you won’t get published. @TerryShames #amwriting Click To Tweet
Me: Many writers I know–me included–have had those moments where they decided to quit. Some really do quit. Some keep going. I’m glad to see you kept going.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Terry: It seemed like I always knew I wanted to be a writer. I was always making up stories. I wasn’t one of those precocious kids who wrote them down, but they were in my head. And then in fifth grade, we were assigned a science fiction story to read called The Asbestos Man. I still remember exactly where I was sitting when I read it because it was like lightning had struck. I thought to myself, “I could do that. I could write stories.” Fast forward a few years and my class was assigned a short story. We could write about anything. I was pleased with my story. When the teacher had graded them, before she handed them back she said she had read one story that she thought everyone would like and that she was going to read it aloud. I knew before she started reading that it was mine. And it was. From that moment on I was hooked on the rush of having people read what I had written.
Terry: My sixth book was just published, but that has nothing to do with the number of books I’ve written….and partly written…and thought about writing. Before I found a publisher I had written at least six books and started another dozen. At this very moment I have five partially written manuscripts waiting in the wings, plus huge chunks of another one. I’m sure at least three of them will be finished. So it’s hard to say how long it takes me to write a book. My Samuel Craddock books seem to flow very quickly. I write them start to finish in about four months. But before the writing begins, the stories are roiling around in my head. Also, writing a series means I know the characters and I don’t have to start from scratch.
The other books are not in the series so don’t have the benefits of familiar characters and setting. One unfinished book has been kicking around for at least twenty years. Another I started a couple of months ago and it’s about 30,000 words. The last part of the question, what’s the most painful part of the writing process, is not always the same. Right now I’m working on my next Samuel Craddock novel. The subject is very difficult and I find myself not wanting to get back to it. And yet, I’ve been thinking about it for a while and know that it has to be written. Another thing that can drive me crazy is getting to a paragraph that just will not say what I think it ought to say. Thank goodness for a good editor! In all six Craddock novels my editor has zeroed in on the one area that I wasn’t satisfied with and offered suggestions.
Me: Name a writing pet peeve of yours. Something that hits you like fingernails-on-a-chalkboard every time you see it. Why does it bug you?
Terry: I’m not sure if this is exactly what you mean, but I have to say I can’t bear to feel manipulated by fiction. I just read a book that is quite the rage these days, and it was a compelling read in some ways—I wanted to find out what happened—but I kept feeling a bit like I was reading “grief porn.” The characters were so overwrought that I groaned through much of the last few pages. And then the end wasn’t enough of a pay-off. I even looked up some of the reviews to find out if other people had the same opinion. There were some rave reviews, but thank goodness there were others who felt as yanked around as I did. This book was not in the mystery genre, by the way. Bottom line, to me when an author expects the reader to trust her, she has an obligation not to play around with feelings. The resolution has to be worth the effort the reader has expended to read the book.
When the Jarrett Creek Fire Department is called to douse a blaze on the outskirts of town, they discover a grisly scene: five black young people have been murdered. Newly elected Chief of Police Samuel Craddock, just back from a stint in the Air Force, finds himself an outsider in the investigation headed by the Texas Highway Patrol. He takes an immediate dislike to John Sutherland, a racist trooper
Craddock s fears are realized when Sutherland arrests Truly Bennett, a young black man whom Craddock knows and respects. Sutherland cites dubious evidence that points to Bennett, and Craddock uncovers facts leading in another direction. When Sutherland refuses to relent, Craddock is faced with a choice that will define him as a lawman either let the highway patrol have its way, or take on a separate investigation himself.
Although his choice to investigate puts both Craddock and his family in danger, he perseveres. In the process, he learns something about himself and the limits of law enforcement in Jarrett Creek.”
Me: Share with us a favorite paragraph or two from your newest release, An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock..
From pg. 43:
“I don’t know what I’m looking for. Maybe I’m overstepping myself and ought to leave this to the experts, but at the very least I want to get a good look at the scene. I want to know how they lived and what was going on inside when the murders occurred. Did they know the person who killed them? Did they have a meal together? Or were they rousted out of bed? The stench is still hanging in the air from the fire and the bodies, but it has come down a notch in the chill air. The scene has a feel of doom, trees at the perimeter of the clearing drooping from the heat and the smoke of the fire. I have to remind myself not to get caught up in the desolation of the scene. That’s what they told us in the scant training I received—that your investigating is best done with a neutral attitude. Still, it’s hard not to react when children are involved.”
I like this paragraph because it shows a few things about the young Samuel Craddock the tough job he’s faced with. First of all, he has only been on the job as chief of police for six months, with a short training course from the state. He is young and inexperienced. There is no way he feels competent to investigate what happened. But a restless curiosity drives him. Instinct alone compels him to ask the right questions. In addition, he notices the atmosphere and is affected by it. He has to remind himself that thinking is more important than feeling, but I think the paragraph gives the reader the understanding that Samuel is tuned in to his surroundings and will use that to his advantage. There is an atmosphere of doom surrounding the place, and he will want to honor that.
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Abbie Roads writes dark emotional novels featuring damaged characters, but always gives her hero and heroine a happy ending… after torturing them for three hundred pages. RACE THE DARKNESS and HUNT THE DAWN are available now! Stayed tuned for SAVING MERCY. Book 1 in the new Fatal Truth Series.