Auntie M is embarking on an adventure! She’s won a grant to attend St. Hilda’s Crime Conference in her beloved Oxford, site of the first Nora Tierney Mystery, The Blue Virgin (which is a finalist in the Murder and Mayhem Fiction Awards from Chanticleer Media).
After the conference she’ll be traveling around the south of England, researching settings for upcoming books in the series. In her absence, she’s arranged for a stable of great guests to blog in her stead. These kick off with the wonderful new release by author Terry Shames, A Killing At Cotton Hill.
It’s an honor to be a guest on Auntiemwrites. Auntie M writes fantastic reviews that I look forward to. I won’t be reviewing my own book, A KILLING AT COTTON HILL, today. Instead I’ll be sharing with you some thoughts on how and why it was such an easy book for me to write.
Because it took two years for my agent to place my book with a publisher, A KILLING AT COTTON HILL got a little fuzzy in my memory. So when I first saw the cover, although I loved the look of it, I wondered what it had to do with the book. Once I started rereading, I realized that the cover artist caught the undercurrent that runs through the book: Samuel Craddock early on says he feels like a rusted out old car. He has lost his wife and his focus in life.
Once I understood what the artist had in mind, I wondered what kind of car it was. After hours on the Internet looking at different grills, I finally ran into a man in a department store who looked at my cover and said with serene self-assurance, “It’s a 1962 or ’63 Dodge Dart. I know my cars.” I ran to look it up. No, it wasn’t. I turned to my audience, and held a contest to find out. Instant success: It’s a 1966 Plymouth Belvedere.
The exercise in reading the book for car references lead me to rediscover how much I love my characters. People have asked me where the character of Samuel Craddock came from and how I chose the setting. Unfortunately the real answer is lost. All I know is that I sat down and started writing and two months later, the first draft was done. It seemed effortless—even though most of it was written while I was aboard our catamaran, with lots of guests and activities to keep me busy. I got up every day at 6 AM and wrote for two to three hours, nonstop. I had heard of authors feeling like they channeled their characters, but this is the first time I had experienced it.
What I do know about the inception of the book is that I had decided that it was time to write a book that would sell. I had written six other novels, all of which had secured good agents, but none of them sold. This time I was determined to write, “the book only I could write.” I had written several short stories about Jarrett Creek, so I had a ready-made cast of characters. But who would be the focus of investigating crimes in the town? I had a vague idea that he would be someone like my grandfather, who was a force in the small town where he lived for almost his whole life. He was never in law enforcement, but he was smart and had his finger on the pulse of the town. The one-time mayor of town, he was called on for years afterwards to solve odd problems. I didn’t think an ex-mayor would be a particularly good investigator—but suppose I made him an ex-chief of police?
The rest, as they say, is history. Although the main inspiration for Samuel Craddock was my grandfather, there was another person stirred into the mix. Probably my closest friend for thirty years was a man from Kentucky who had a dry wit, a jaded view of people and a southern accent. He died a year before I started the book, and I missed him. So Samuel Craddock is really a blend of my upright grandfather and my droll friend Charlie.
Other characters in the book stepped from real life onto the pages. I know the killer in person—although as far as I know he has never really killed anyone. I know the model for Rodell, Jarrett Creek’s chief of police. He was a hard-drinking man. I know the murder victim and Samuel’s friend Loretta—and all the other people who show up. None of them is a direct match for a real person; they are blends of people. And these people aren’t all from my personal past–some are from stories I heard growing up.
I also know the geography of Jarrett Creek intimately. I can go there in my head and walk around. I know who lives in what house, the man who has a dog that barks non-stop, the woman whose elderly mother lives with her. I know who is stingy, who is generous, who is foolish, and who is kind. I know the people who have had hard luck, and those who laugh at their worries. And here’s the part that I can hardly fathom: I love all of them. I love their foolishness and their intelligence; their kindness and their selfishness. I even care about the bad people.
My hope is to convey through my writing that villains usually behave out of desperation. It doesn’t let them off the hook; but I hope readers understand and maybe have a bit of empathy for them the way Samuel Craddock does—even as he hands them over to the law.
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…”
“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.”
Terry Shames offers readers a wonderfully-told tale that kept me turning pages… what kept my interest more than anything was the writing. It was absolutely superb.
Lee Lofland, The Graveyard Shift
A KILLING AT COTTON HILL enchants with memorable characters and a Texas backdrop as authentic as bluebonnets and scrub cedars. A splendid debut by a gifted writer who knows the human heart.
Carolyn Hart, Agatha award-winning author of ESCAPE FROM PARIS
Terry Shames does small-town Texas crime right, and A KILLING AT COTTON HILL is the real thing I has humor, insight, and fine characters. Former chief of police Samuel Craddock is a man readers are going to love, and they’ll want to visit him and Jarrett Creek often.”
Bill Crider, Anthony award-wining author of COMPOUND MURDER, a Dan Rhodes mystery