April 2015

SPOTLIGHT ON TERRY SHAMES: Fan Favorite Questions!


Terry Shames
Photo by Margaretta K. Mitchell



"This is the fourth - and most complex - book in the Samuel Craddock series, 

novels that have established our hero as one of the most engaging new 

central characters in American crime fiction."




Out this month, A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge is the latest in the highly acclaimed Samuel Craddock series, and author Terry Shames has earned a devoted fan following since the release of the first book, Macavity Award-winning A Killing at Cotton Hill


In this special edition of 'Zine of the Crime, we've rounded up the questions that Shames' fans most frequently ask her at author events, including everything they want to know about the series, Samuel Craddock, and what's in store for the motley mix of characters who inhabit the small town of Jarrett Creek, Texas.



Is Samuel Craddock's character based on a person you know in real life?


The Samuel Craddock books actually started with setting. I used the fictional town of Jarrett Creek, where I had set some short stories that I wrote when I was in graduate school. The town is based on the town where my grandparents lived. I loved to visit there when I was a child-still do, in fact. I was very close to my grandfather, so I thought, "Why not make him the hero of the book?" He was ex-mayor of the town, which I didn't think would be particularly interesting, so I decided to make him an ex-police chief. My grandfather's name was Samuel and everyone called him Sam, so I didn't want to shorten Samuel Craddock's name to "Sam." Samuel is not really my grandfather-he's a collection of the best parts of several men I have known in my life. A little side note: When I told my sister that Samuel was based on my grandfather, she said, "Our grandfather was not that nice." She's probably right, but he was a man people trusted, and that's important for me. Samuel has grown into his own person as I've written more of the books, which is an amazing process.


Did you use any particular method of fleshing out Samuel's character prior to writing, like answering a set of bio questions? Or did he just "show up" pretty well developed and say he had a story you should write?


Samuel showed up full-blown, including his name. I sometimes feel as if I'm channeling him, and I'm not much into woo woo stuff. When I first saw Samuel, "I" was coming out of his house and saw him from the back, sitting in a rocking chair on his front porch.  A friend from down the street walked up the steps onto the porch. The friend was Loretta and I saw her through his eyes. Everything in the story-and the subsequent stories--evolved from that moment.


I've heard the trick of writing a bio for characters and have tried it a few times, but it always feels false to me. I know it works for some people, but it doesn't help me get a handle on characters.


Given the plot line about fine art, are you an art collector yourself?  I must admit to having no knowledge of modern art, but I know the artists in Samuel's collection are famous. It would be interesting to know why you wrote about them.


I am passionately fond of contemporary art, especially the "California School" of art that includes Richard Diebenkorn, Wayne Thiebaud, and Elmer Bischoff. I do have some wonderful art, but nothing like Samuel's collection. My sister is an artist and I had an uncle who painted some pictures that were in my grandparents' house. For some reason it fascinated me that someone I knew could paint a picture. The art theme came about in a very odd way. I wanted Dora Lee's grandson to be a budding artist, and for Samuel to recognize that he had talent. I realized the only way Samuel could know that he had talent is if he had an interest in art. So I decided he should be an art collector and that his wife should be the person who brought him to that interest. When the book came out, someone I knew said he couldn't imagine a small town man who raised cattle having a fine art collection. Not a week later, I read about a Montana rancher who everyone was surprised to find had a wonderful art collection, and he had just given it to a museum in Montana. I felt vindicated!


What has the reception of your books been like among the people you still know in Texas? Have they ever told you that they've tried to match themselves up with particular characters?


I have been very gratified by the reception the Samuel Craddock books have received in Texas. Friends from high school whom I haven't seen in many years have made it their business to let everyone in the state know about the book. None of my relatives has ever mentioned seeing themselves in the books, but they've certainly tried to match characters with other relatives. There are only a few characters that are actually based on real people, but no one has ever guessed who they are-or if they have, they've kept quiet about it.


How do you see Jarrett Creek and Bobtail Ridge changing in the years to come? Do you imagine these towns as untouched by time, or is change inevitable?


In Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek, Samuel got a cell phone because cell phone service improved in Jarrett Creek. And in A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge, there's a big mall being built in Bobtail, to Loretta's delight. Change usually comes slowly to small towns, but oddly some things actually happen faster. For example, the overall impression of Texas is that racial prejudice is still rampant, and yet in many small towns people of color who have lived there a long time are accepted readily. It's the strangers and families who don't mingle who are on the receiving end of prejudice. I'm exploring that in Book 5, which I am editing now. I live in Berkeley, California, which considers itself an innovative city, but a large grocery store was just renovated and expanded, and you would think aliens had invaded. I don't think any place is immune to a certain number of people being opposed to change. It would be interesting to me to explore a big change in Jarrett Creek. We'll have to see what that might entail.

About the Author


Terry Shames lives in Berkeley, California and is the 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 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.




2014 Macavity Award for Best First Mystery


"An amazing read. The poetic, literary quality of the writing draws you into a small town and its interesting, secret-carrying residents."

RT Book Reviews


"Shames's sophomore series entry highlights her comfortable storytelling style. The lead's folksy tone belies astute detecting, and the plotting will dazzle readers."

Library Journal



"This plot is fun, quick, and offers a town full of characters that are written so well it seems like they're living in your own neighborhood. Shames continues to supply her fans with a winner."

Suspense Magazine

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Lisa Michalski
Seventh Street BooksŪ, an imprint of Prometheus Books

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