Get Lost in a Story with Mystery Author Terry Shames

From an early age, Terry Shames wrote stories based on the small town in Texas where her grandparents lived. Her Samuel Craddock mysteries, A Killing at Cotton Hill and The Last Death of Jack Harbin are set in a fictional version of the town that sparked her imagination. Terry lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband, two rowdy terriers and a mature cat.   Please welcome Terry to Get Lost in a Story.

Jarrett Creek is bankrupt. Gary Dellmore, heir apparent to the main bank, has been murdered.  Samuel Craddock thought he was retired but now he's been asked to return as police chief. Dellmore supposedly had a roving eye, although his wife says he was never serious about dallying. Still, Craddock wonders: Did the husbands and fathers of women he flirted with think he was harmless? What about his current lover, who insists that Dellmore was going to leave his wife for her? 

Craddock discovers that Dellmore had a record of bad business investments. Even worse, he took a kickback for procuring a loan that ultimately drove the town into bankruptcy. 

Then the investigation turns up another crime. As Craddock digs down to the root of this mess, many in Jarrett Creek are left wondering what happened to the innocence of their close-knit community.

DONNELL:  Terry, welcome to Get Lost in a Story. You have been busy since 2013 putting out your fabulous novels:  A Killing at Cotton Hill (2013) The Last Death of Jack Harbin (2014)

Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek (Oct, 2014), and what a wonderful endorsement by the San Jose Mercury News.  “…Shames...creates a larger-than-life hero for this novel of small-town crime.” San Jose Mercury News.

 Tell us about Sam Craddock, your protagonist. Who are what drove you to create him?

TERRY: For many years I wrote short stories about the fictitious town of Jarrett Creek, Texas, but Samuel never showed up in any of them. A few years ago I took a workshop hosted by Sophie Littlefield and Cornelia Read. Sophie gave an impassioned speech in which she urged writers who were intent on being published to write the book “only you can write.” I had heard this before, but for some reason, it struck home. A few weeks later I sat down to write something new, something that came from deep inside. The only way I can describe what happened is to say that I suddenly saw Samuel Craddock sitting on a porch in his rocking chair. It was as if I were coming out of his house, behind him. I watched as his friend Loretta walked up the steps to tell him an old friend had been murdered. I didn’t stop to say, “Who is this guy? Where did he come from?” It was as if I knew him—had always known him.

DONNELL:  A Killing in Cotton Hill appears to be written in first person, present tense. These types of stories have a wonderful, immediate feel in my opinion. Obviously the reviewers agree.  Are all of your books written this way? Did you experiment with different tenses, test third person? Tell us about the ultimate style that you selected, and do you see a change, if ever?

TERRY:  This series is the first I ever wrote in first person, present tense. As soon as I finished A Killing at Cotton Hill, I immediately thought, “Oh, no! Now I have to convert it to past tense.” But something rebelled. It seemed really right as it was written. That was just a few years ago and there was very little written in this style at the time. The first agent interested in the book informed me crisply that she liked it and she’d be glad to represent me, “but of course you have to change it to past tense.” Of course I most certainly did not!  And now there are many books coming out written in first person present. Not everyone likes it. In the second book I actually wrote the first 50 pages in past tense—and it fell flat on the page. I guess by now you’d have to say I’m a big believer in letting the book come to you however it wants to.

DONNELL:  East Texas, and small towns. As someone born in Texas, I’m intrigued. Your reviews are amazing, not one below a four star.  Can you pinpoint what it is about your series that has hooked readers? Do you read your reviews?

TERRY: Yes, my reviews are amazing. I’m embarrassed to say that I never paid much attention to reviews, so believe or not I thought most everyone’s reviews were probably pretty good. I said this to a couple of writer friends and they were dumbfounded. “Are you kidding?” So I started looking at the reviews of books I admired and was surprised to find how wrong I was. Maybe I’ve just been lucky and the only people who read my books happen to be people who like the sort of thing I write. I still haven’t received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and the “big” writers have hundreds of review while I don’t have that many. (If anybody reading this wants to give me a review on Amazon or Goodreads, please do so.) Bottom line: I don’t live and die by reviews. But I sure am happy when I get a good one!

DONNELL:  Samuel Craddock is obviously an older protagonist if he’s coming out of retirement. Is he grooming someone to take his place? Or does he have plenty of life in him even though he’s ready to hang up his shield?

TERRY:  One of the underlying reasons for writing this series is to acquaint people with the idea that “older” people can be vital, strong, and interesting. Too many times I read books in which a cop or detective knocks on the door of an older person—and the stereotypes just don’t stop. Gray-haired, stooped, whining voice, dull eyes, shuffle—and gee, she must be at least 60! So far, Samuel hasn’t groomed anyone to take his place, but I just laid out a plot for book 6 and something fun is coming!

DONNELL:  What is the most interesting thing you have learned doing research?

TERRY: Interesting? Startling, maybe. I learned that you can’t take research for granted. I did some research for Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek and found out some interesting tidbits about the way law enforcement is handled in small towns. I wrote the book and it was almost done with editing when I had the good fortune to attend a meeting of the Heart of Texas chapter of Sisters in Crime. Their guest speaker was a 25-year veteran detective of a small city police department—much larger than Jarrett Creek, but smaller than a major city. I asked him to verify my research. Believe me, I was only expecting him to say, “Sure, that’s the way it happens.” Instead he told me that OFFICIALLY that’s the way it was supposed to be, but in reality it was totally different. Yikes! Luckily I was able to make the change in the book. And truly, if I hadn’t made the changes, it wasn’t the end of the world. But I like to get things right as much as possible, knowing that there will always be things that slip through the cracks no matter how good my research is.

DONNELL:  Three books in two years, that’s quite an accomplishment.  What comes next (a vacation on an island?) more Sam Craddock mysteries or something else?

TERRY: Ha! Funny you should say that. The first two books were written on vacation—on our boat in the Caribbean. I got up at six o’clock every morning and wrote for three hours. And it will actually be four books in two years. I just sent book four off to my editor. A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge comes out next April. And for those who wonder how I write so fast, the first two books were actually written before I got a contract, so I had a little padding. But I do write fast. I tried for so many years to find a publishing home that I feel like I’m making up for lost time. I’m lucky because I don’t need much sleep. I’ve always been that way. I’m up at six, and often hit the computer while I’m drinking my first cup of tea. I can’t say I’m worth much after about ten o’clock at night, but I stay up past eleven most nights.

DONNELL:  Let’s learning something about Terry.  If you’re not writing, where will we likely find you?

TERRY: I love to be outside hiking--alone or with friends. And I love to go look at art. My favorite art museum is the DeYoung in San Francisco. I can’t go there often enough. There are whole sections of it I’ve never seen because I keep going back to my favorites—artists who show up in Samuel Craddock’s art collection. Also, I love to cook. We hardly ever go out, because I really enjoy cooking. It’s creative and fulfilling (not to mention filling). And of course I read, and read….and read!

DONNELL:  What’s the most unusual thing you have in your closet?

TERRY: A coat. I had the extraordinary good fortune to go to Africa for a month in May. We went on safari and I fell in love with the place. Our last stop was Capetown and there I found a place that sold these gorgeous coats—very elegant, unique, African. As I was leaving, I stopped by the VAT office and the woman taking care of VAT rebates begged me to take out my coat so she could see it. She knew the woman’s work and said she can’t wait to buy one for herself!

DONNELL:  Has any one event ever occurred in your life that you thought I have to write about that?

TERRY: I think I have to say going to Africa. I started a book I thought would be fun about going on safari, but the more I though about it, the more I think I have to write a book with depth. That will take some research—and another trip to Africa!


Terry, Now it’s your turn.  Time to ask readers a question.

TERRY SHAMES:  Hmm, what a great opportunity! Okay, folks, several people have asked me this, so I’ll ask you—who should play Samuel in a TV series? (Dreaming). And in case you haven’t read one of Samuel’s books, I’ll be doing a giveaway to get you acquainted. I’m going to give away two books—one copy of A Killing at Cotton Hill, to get someone started, and one copy of Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek to keep someone going!


Links: www.terryshames.com, @terryshames

Contact Information: Tmshames@pacbell.net

Appearances: See my website for my calendar of events

Thanks for being our guest, Terry!


  1. I'm terrible at casting, especially since I have just met Samuel Craddock here today. I love how he came to you.


  2. I'll play, Terry. If Longmire gets cancelled, which is my sincere hope that it's not, how about Robert Taylor? I love older people playing in series. Best wishes with in About Dead in Jarrett Creek!

  3. Welcome to GLIAS Terry !
    Fantastic interview

  4. Not sure about the casting

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

  5. I love the idea of Robert Taylor, but my thought was Jeff Bridges.

  6. Hi Terry, Your series is on my TBR list, but I haven't gotten to it yet. I'd love to get the first in your series. Obviously I don't know much about Samuel aside from his age, but I'd love to see Harrison Ford in anything. He's still hot!

  7. Great interview, Terry. Since I too only met Samuel today, it's difficult, but he sounds wonderful. So does your book so I'll be checking it out. Love heroes closer to my age so I googled older actors. Love google. What about Robert Forster?

  8. Sure hope Longmire gets picked up, but if not, my vote would be Robert Taylor. Or Dennis Quaid.