HANK: Was there a memorable moment in your life-when you knew it would change? Many of us were in the audience at the last Malice Domestic when the iconic Carolyn Hart was interviewed..and the interviewer asked what great books she'd read recently. Carolyn said: the best book she'd read in a while was Terry Shames A KILLING AT COTTON HILL.
Talk about something that would make your day. Now of course you know Terry is a major-league friend of the Reds--and I'll never forget the look on her face when I told her about Carolyn! And, of course, I snagged her for a guest blog immediately
Today Terry lets us into her life a bit, and at the end, she has a question for you--maybe about your own grandparents? Are we giving away a copy of A KILLING AT COTTON HILL to one lucky commenter? Well, of COURSE. This is Jungle Red!
THE REAL SAMUEL CRADDOCK
They say if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. I grew up on the Gulf Coast in Texas, and until you’ve been to Texas in the summer, you don’t know heat. I loved my family and the great heart of Texas, but once I realized that not every part of the country sweltered nine months of the year, I couldn’t wait to get out. I tried the East Coast then Denver, and ended up in Berkeley, California. The first night we arrived, I said to my husband, “I feel like I’ve come home.” I’ve never considered moving back. It’s nice and cool here.
I’ve now lived in California longer than I ever lived in Texas, so how come I am writing a mystery series set in Texas? Because it isn’t the setting I chose, although that’s an integral part of the books; it’s the character. Samuel Craddock is loosely based on my grandfather, a man who loomed large in my life. A loud, brash, hard-working, hard-drinking man, he sometimes scared me when he yelled at me--he didn’t have much use for children being underfoot. But he fascinated me, which meant I was frequently underfoot.
He only finished the third grade, but he read constantly and he had a tremendous respect for education. My grandparents had a bookcase full of books. My mother told me that once when she was a child my grandfather told his kids to get in the car, that they were going to the courthouse. Why? Because the county was giving away used library books.
My grandfather could tell a funny story as well as the best comedian. I can still picture him laughing and slapping his leg as he described a prank someone in town played on a bunch of teenage kids who had been bugging him—a prank that resulted in someone fleeing the house through the front screen door—without opening the screen door! Maybe that’s where I got my story-telling ability.
The former town mayor, years after he retired people still came to him to help solve community problems. He didn’t suffer fools gladly, but he also didn’t waste time judging people harshly. Having lived a hard life, he valued hard work and humor, which had seen him through.
When I went off to college, my grandfather was thrilled. I still have a letter he wrote me in his childish scrawl, telling me how proud he was. I’m so happy that he lived long enough to see me graduate. And what I wouldn’t give to have him read my book—the book that he inspired!
Before I wrote my first Samuel Craddock novel, I wrote several other mysteries that didn’t find a publisher. And then I attended a workshop in which the takeaway for me was to dig down deep and write a novel from the heart. Within a couple of weeks I sat down and started to imagine a man like my grandfather, a man sitting on his front porch in the early morning…a man who had lived in a small town in Texas his whole life and who had a visceral feel for the land. A man who kept his eye on the pulse of the town and, when things went wrong, had a drive to repair them.
These days when I go back to the small Texas town that I based Jarrett Creek on, I feel as if I could run into my grandfather at any moment. There’s a certain combination of smells--of damp vegetation, iron in the red dust, creosote from the railroad tie plant, and the smell of barbecue cooking that I know he would recognize. Birdsong, animal sounds, wind in the trees, and the whistle of a train invite his spirit to me. And I hear him in the accents and jargon of the people in small town Texas. And I tried to translate all this to the page in A KILLING AT COTTON HILL.
I’m curious to know if others had someone in their lives who inspired them? Someone you hold in your heart and who guides your writing hand?
HANK: My grandfather, one of them, we think sold cars..I hardly knew him. The other had a chain of department stores, and I used to love to go in and fold things. We called it "going to the store." (Thinking about that now, what else would we have called it? :-) But it seemed very special at the time.) Grampa Dave was a diligent hard worker, 24/7, and used to give us quarters. But it was his wife, Gramma Minnie, who taught me to type. SO--in a funny way-- she guides my hand every day!
How about you, Reds? Who were your grandfathers? And did they change for lives?
In A KILLING AT COTTON HILL 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.