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Terry Shames took a change of direction with her latest book, Perilous Waters. The nautical thriller is very different from her mysteries featuring Samuel Craddock, a police chief in a small Central Texas town. I talked with Terry about the change of pace which led to some interesting thoughts about writing in general.

SCOTT MONTGOMERY: How did working on a book so different from the Samuel Craddock series feel? 

TERRY SHAMES: Exciting. Exhilarating. Having written eleven Craddock books (the next one comes out next October), I was used to depending on the same characters and setting. This book was like jumping off a cliff and hoping the parachute would open.

The funny thing is that I started working on this book before the Craddock series, and once Samuel came into my life he crowded out everything else. But during Covid, I started retrieving things I’d been working on before the Craddock series, and this one stood out. It draws on a lot of personal experience, so it seemed like something that could work. A side note: I intended it to be a standalone, but when my agent read it she said it was absolutely a series in the making. At first I wasn’t confident that she was right—and but as usual, she was. 

S.M.: Did it feel like you worked out any different writing muscles more? 

T.S.: Absolutely. It’s a different pace. Everything is more immediate and happens faster. There’s a lot more action, a lot more adventure, and more danger for the main character. 

The Craddock series is a small-town police procedural centered around a chief of police, and has more of a methodical feel. 

The other thing is that the series is written in the voice of Samuel Craddock. Writing a woman’s voice is very different, and is oddly, a lot harder for me. I think that’s because when I was growing up my grandfather and my father and a couple of uncles were natural story-tellers, so I have men’s voices in my head telling stories. 


S.M.: This book doesn't work without  Jessie Madison. How did you go about constructing her? 

T.S.: I actually started with plot, which is unusual. My husband and I are long-time sailors and we had a minor adventure on an island in the Bahamas. As so many “adventures” are, this one was due to some miscalculations, which had us on the Atlantic side of the island, all the way across the island from our catamaran, with only a dinghy—and it was getting dark. I won’t recount the whole adventure, but after that I kept thinking about various things that can happen to people on boats in remote places. Then I read an article about pirates who boarded a boat in another part of the islands and killed the owners. It was chilling. And I couldn’t let go of it. 

All these things swam around in mind for quite a while and when they started to come together I knew I needed an intrepid hero. I had always written about men, and I wanted to try my hand at a woman. It took a lot of writing and rewriting to shape her into the character she is now. But the work was worth it. I’m already working on the next Jessie Madison and I have a good handle on who she is and how she’ll deal with the things I’m going to throw at her.

S.M.: What were you able to do that you couldn't with Samuel? 

T.S.: The Craddock books are intended to be thoughtful. As one of my reviewers in The Toronto Star said, “Sam wins our respect as a guy who stitches together the answers to forensic puzzles with logic and confidence. From page one of the novel, he also claims our affection as a decent kind of guy.” A Publishers Weekly review said something I found amusing, “Craddock is forced to rely more on his insight than on forensics. But like a good shade tree mechanic, he gets the job done.” But it’s true. Craddock is methodical and decent. 

Jessie, on the other hand, is in situations where she’s at risk in many scenes and has to use her wits to get out of trouble. She had to smart and clever. Sometimes she’s too impulsive, but it’s usually when she sees no easy out. So, since she’s has to be clever, so do I. Samuel is never in a situation where one slip could get him killed. With Perilous Waters It was fun to figure out not just the kinds of situations that would be thrilling to the reader, but to figure out how to get Jessie out of the situations. Sometimes it was daunting, but a reader just told me she was in awe of my ability to put Jessie in tough situations and then get her out of them. So I guess it worked.

S.M.: I know you and your husband have a boat and you spend a lot of time sailing. What did you want to get across about being at sea? 

T.S.: I have sailed enough to know that the sea can be unforgiving. You have to keep an eye on what you’re doing, or you can have big problems. You can run aground. You can run into things even in daylight if you aren’t alert. You can hit hidden rocks, or other boats. It’s amazing that with so much water around you, so much space, that you can find yourself on a collision course with another boat when there are no other boats anywhere around. You have to be alert and ready for emergencies. Every system needs a backup, even if it’s a crude one. And even if you do everything right, you can still find yourself in trouble. 

S.M.: If you couldn't write, what other art form would you pursue? 

T.S.: That’s an interesting question I haven’t run into before. When we lived in Italy in the 1990s, I took a break from writing and decided to take some art courses. I loved it. My sister is an artist, but she is in a whole different category. I’ve always been strictly a dabbler. But for a couple of years before I got published, I got into painting a little more seriously because I wanted to learn how to “see” more closely. To notice small things. To pay attention to things I might not have otherwise noticed. I think it helped me with writing. Once I got published and started answering to contracts, the painting fell away. But every now and then I dabble and really enjoy it. 

But there’s another art form I seriously considered at one time. Singing. I used to love to sing and took classical singing lessons. I mused that if I had started a lot earlier, I might have pursued a career in music. However, one of my voice teacher’s former students, who had a singing career in Europe, talked to me about music as a career and I realized that although I had a perfectly nice voice, I simply didn’t have the serious competitive drive that excelling in the classical singing world demands. 


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