In my first book, A Killing at Cotton Hill, July 2013, I introduced ex-chief of police Samuel Craddock, the best lawman the town of Jarrett Creek ever had. The recent death of his beloved wife left him feeling like his life was basically over. Solving the mystery of an old friend’s death brought him back into action. When the book came out not only did I get some great reviews, but I received emails from people all over the country (as well as from England—who knew I would get an English audience for a series set in Texas?) telling me how much they loved Samuel.
The Last Death of Jack Harbin came out in January, 2014 to more good reviews—including the amazing declaration by a reviewer in the Toronto Times that Samuel Craddock was his favorite new American sleuth (who would have guessed that a Canadian reviewer would love a small-town Texas lawman?). It appeared that Samuel had traits people identified with.
Both of the first two books practically wrote themselves. It seemed as if the inhabitants of Jarrett Creek were eager to tell their stories. I heard the characters talk and watched them go through their daily lives as if I had a movie going in my head.
Then reality struck. When I started writing the third book in the series, the characters suddenly became coy—they refused to cooperate and seemed flat and uninspired. Thinking that I needed to re-spark my imagination, I took a trip back to the small town in Texas that Jarrett Creek is based on. Nope. Still the characters weren’t working. Now what?
I realized that I was confronted with what every writer of a series has to face—the need to have characters grow. Samuel Craddock and his supporting cast could not remain static and still be interesting to readers. The trick was to have characters change in ways that surprise readers—but not surprise them so much that they didn’t believe the characters would behave that way.
I realized that one of the ways to do this was to use secondary characters to highlight different aspects of the recurring characters. Almost by instinct, in both of the first two books I did this. Like people in real life, citizens of Jarrett Creek came and went, interacting with the main characters like a Greek chorus.
I knew that some of these characters may only appear in one book, while others may come back. I love the character of Walter Dunn in The Last Death of Jack Harbin, and although I don’t think he will ever be a major character, I know I’m not through with him. And one character from A Killing at Cotton Hill showed up to become the victim in book three, Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek.
Settling into writing a series is like committing to a long-term relationship. People go along acting pretty much the same way they always have—and then they surprise you. Readers can look for changes as the series progresses. And as the writer, I have to be prepared for them to change as well.
Terry Shames is the best-selling author of A Killing at Cotton Hill and The Last Death of Jack Harbin, Seventh Street Books.
Her books are set in small-town Texas and feature ex-chief of police Samuel Craddock. Terry lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband and two rowdy terriers. She is Vice President of Norcal Sisters in Crime and on the board of MWA Norcal. For more information, please visit her website: www.Terryshames.com.
With the chief of police out of commission, it’s up to trusted ex-chief Samuel Craddock to investigate the brutal murder of a Gulf War veteran who was a former high school football star. Craddock uncovers a dark tale of greed and jealousy that extends into the past, and well beyond the borders of the small town of Jarrett Creek.