Thursday, January 7, 2016

Terry Shames talks about the weather, Texan style, that is.

RHYS: When I first met Terry Shames at an MWA meeting she was a new writer, hoping to get published. Now I'm celebrating with her the publication of her fifth book in the best-selling Samuel Craddock series, set in a small Texan town. Terry is a Texan girl herself, although you wouldn't know it because she doesn't say y'all or howdy or anything of the things one expects Texans to say.

I spent three years in Texas when my kids were growing up and what I remember more than anything was the weather: actually an excess of dramatic weather--tornadoes and hurricanes and ice storms and sizzling heat. Texas does nothing by halves. So it made sense that Terry should choose weather for her topic.

Welcome Terry.

TERRY SHAMES:  I’m thrilled to be visiting Jungle Red Writers today talking about (wait for it) the weather! This year people on the east coast were baffled by a balmy Christmas while those on the west coast were shivering. The fact that both of them were having 50-60 degree weather shows that people are used to their own brand of weather—or it may mean that people in California are wimps. 

But if you want to talk crazy weather, try Texas. I was in Austin visiting my family for the holidays. The day before I arrived, it was 80 degrees. The day after I arrived, it was 30, with overcast skies and icy, bone-chilling wind. By the time I left two days later it was warm again. Texas epitomes the old saw, “Don’t like the weather? Stick around for a few minutes and it will change.”


My Samuel Craddock series is set in Texas, and I make liberal use of the variables as metaphors or portents. When things are heating up in the plot, things start to get hot weather-wise as well. When I describe storm clouds, look out, things are about to get turbulent. In The Last Death of Jack Harbin, Samuel Craddock says:

“Off to the west a few puffy clouds are piling up on the horizon, as if deciding whether to collect into something more serious.” In the next scene, the book takes a serious turn.

In the novel I’m working on now someone gives Samuel Craddock an unexplained cold shoulder. Samuel observes, ”To the north the sky has darkened. We’re going to get our first ‘norther’ of the season.” A half hour later, “in the past ten minutes the temperature has dropped thirty degrees. The ’norther’ is like a wall of cold air that moves forward, sweeping away the heat.”

I love to read novels in which the weather is presented as a character. Craig Johnson (The Cold Dish) and Martha Cooley (Ice Shear) both use bitter cold to great effect in their novels. They portray a world in which the cold is a metaphor for being frozen out of life. How much more determined a detective has to be if every step involves lots of clothing and the possibility of frostbite.

Heat is just as debilitating, rendering people unable to move without great effort. Combine it with rain, and as Tim Hallinan notes in The Hot countries, “After the air-conditioning in the Expat Bar…the rain feels like a hot shower.” And, hey! Texas has that, too.

For me, a book is enhanced by references to weather. I’ve been to Scotland and I know it’s cold all year round. I want to know how that affects people who live there. In the Caribbean, I want to feel the sun beating down, feel the cool ocean breeze and the hurricane winds. In Africa, I want to experience the drought or the refreshing rain that follows.

I’m curious to know if other writers use weather intentionally, or if it creeps in without your thinking about it. How does it affect your characters and your plots? In our everyday lives weather can be motivational. Is that true in novels as well?

RHYS: So what about you, Reds and readers? Is weather important in your books? When you are reading do you like to experience heat, cold, rain?


 Terry Shames writes the best-selling Samuel Craddock series, set in small-town Texas. A Killing at Cotton Hill won the Macavity for Best First Mystery, 2013. The Last Death of Jack Harbin was a Macavity finalist for Best Mystery, 2014. Mystery People named Shames one of the top five Texas mystery writers of 2015. Her fifth Craddock mystery, The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake launches January 12, 2016. It is a Top Pick for January in RT Bookreviews.   www.terryshames.com

Terry will be giving away a copy of her brand new book to her favorite comment of the day.

27 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

I, for one, appreciated the balmy east coast Christmas; I didn't miss the snow at all!
Yes, I do like having the weather and nature as part of the story . . . I’m looking forward to reading your new Samuel Craddock book.

Edith Maxwell said...

Let's hear it for weather! It can also be used as a stark contrast. I remember going home from work on Sept 11, 2001 after being glued (with the rest of the company) to a television in the cafeteria all day. It was a drop-dead gorgeous day in New England and I couldn't even get my arms around how that was possible after so much destruction a couple hundred miles south of where I live. I've used that effect, that feeling, several times in my books.

Gail said...

I live in Oklahoma, and the weather is much like Texas, although we don't have hurricanes, just torrential rains when the hurricane moves north. Since weather impacts my daily life so much - too cold to run errands, read new book instead - I like it included in the setting - atmosphere - of a book. Terry, I anxiously await your new books. I really enjoy them and can even get my non-fiction loving husband to read them! Thanks for the chance to win.

FChurch said...

William Kent Kruger is another author who uses to weather to great effect in his mysteries--where it can take on the power of the otherworldly as well. And, Terry, I have fallen hard for Samuel--a man who appreciates fine art and loves his cows! What more could a gal ask for!

Kristopher said...

Thomas Hardy is the master at blending weather into his stories. Who can forget that scene in the rainstorm in the forest when Bathsheba Everdeen begins to explore her sexuality? That's from Far From the Madding Crowd, but Jude the Obscure, Tess, and even Return of the Native all have similar juxtaposition between weather and what is happening in the scene.

Margaret Turkevich said...

In my favorite books, setting assumes the role of a character so weather is a key component of the setting. Christmas in Houston this year, where the a/c was on until, overnight, the heat clicked on with a thirty degree temperature drop.

Ramona said...

Hi Terry! This post is more proof that Texas does its own thing!

I write about the South, and heat and humidity find their way in because it's impossible to avoid. But people who are not from the South don't always realize the effect of air-conditioning on daily life. If you go to a restaurant, hospital, or public building in the South in the summer, the AC is cranked up to Arctic blast. I used to carry a sweater the way I now carry an umbrella. When I read an author who mentions this, I know he or she is an authentic Southerner.

Deb Romano said...


I love Julia's books but must confess that I have to wait until summer to read any of them that are set during the winter. I can FEEL the chill, the cold, the misery, when I'm reading her books, and I appreciate a cup of hot tea when I'm in the middle of one! To me, being cold is as miserable as being in pain. The way Julia describes the weather makes me feel like I should run for cover!

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Welcome Terry--love the title of your new book! And totally agree about the weather. Edith, I remember 9/11 in exactly that way--I was playing golf on a picture-perfect day when we heard that news. And yes, our Julia is brilliant with cold weather!

Key West is very humid for the summer and fall, and there's always the scary shadow of a possible hurricane in the background. I'm using all that in my next book for another ominous layer.

Terry, tell us a little more about your book and series...

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Welcome dear Terry! And congratulations on your wild success.

I always think about my english teacher warning us of the bathetic fallacy. But I agree, it's inevitable that the weather will reflect or portend. And Edith, I remember that day's weather, too, perfectly. Sometimes I recognize just that blue--and it scares me.

I'm always writing about one season while living another--and it's so confusing! When I wrote THE WRONG GIRL, I remember so well, it was summer for much of the first draft. I finally had to put a yellow stick on my computer, and it simply said: IT'S COLD!

In the midst of WHAT YOU SEE, the weather in Boston was incredibly cold. The real-life timing for the next one is the same--I start in Feb. So what could I do? The next title is OUT COLD. Might as well go for it.

Kay said...

So, hello to Terry. I'm a native Texan and live in the Austin area. Yes, the weather around Christmas was insane. But, Texas has had quite a year for weather. And, best of all, our lakes are full. Which means lots of rain.

Terry, I've had your first book for a bit and mean to get to it this year. What was I thinking putting off reading a Texas mystery series? Love your examples of weather in your books, the norther, the clouds building. I think if you've lived here for a long time, you get a little offhand about weather events - like tornadoes and ice storms and 100+ degree heat for days on end. It is 'normal' for us.

Good luck with your new book!

Mary Sutton said...

I used to not pay much attention to weather. Now, I do - how it affects the setting, what the characters are doing and how they do it, unique challenges. Descriptions of cold weather seem to affect me more than hot weather. Maybe because I'm from Buffalo, where the cold can latch on and never let go, so it gets "in my bones" more.

And yes, I remember leaving work on 9/11 to a perfect blue sky and a gentle breeze. Surreal.

Deborah Crombie said...

Hi Terry!! You left out the tornadoes. Yeesh, the last bunch of storms in North Texas were scary. Texas certainly gives one plenty of opportunity for using weather to set mood and foreshadow action.

England is not bad for that, either. That old Texas saying "if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes" could just as easily be applied in the UK. I very deliberately use weather to enhance the plot and to add atmosphere and tension, and I love reading books that use weather, too.

Can't wait to read the new Samuel!!

Kait said...

Hi Terry, I love the Craddock series, and your use of weather. Yes, I've noticed. My books are set in South Florida and weather is a character, stage set, and metaphor too. In a way, it's art imitating life. Hurricanes, tornadoes, drenching rains that come and go leaving floods in their wake--life can change in an instant. Just like the weather.

Karen in Ohio said...

We say the same thing about weather here in Ohio. I've seen a 70-degree change in one 24-hour period, with sun, rain and sleet added to the mix. Mother Nature likes to play with us, doesn't she?

Weather-related writing can instantly pull you into the scene, if it's well written. Their Eyes Were Watching God springs to mind, for an especially dramatic example.

Terry said...

Thank you all for joining in. I'm off to the hand therapist and will answer everyone more completely when I return. Love the comments.

Kathy Reel said...

Terry, it's so good to see you here on the Reds blog. I thoroughly enjoyed your company in Raleigh at dinner with Rhys, Elly Grittuths, Anne Cleeland, Jonathan Moore, and several enthusiastic readers. I plan on catching on your series by New Orleans. And, I love weather as a character!

FChurch said...

KRUEGER, William Kent Krueger, I meant to say....never comment before caffeine!

Terry said...

Ramona, the heat and humidity drove me out of Texas. I grew up on the Gulf Coast and the air could actually get super-saturated there so the humidity can register above 100%--I know, sounds crazy. knew when I was young that I would never live there. My folks took me on a camping trip to Colorado and I discovered the wonders of cool, dry air. Now I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and the weather is moderate. Sometimes I miss thunderstorms, but I never miss the heat and humidity.

When I was young, I loved cold weather, but now I'd rather read about it than experience it. Kay, wasn't that Texas Christmas weather crazy? From 80 to 35 practically overnight.

Lucy, in answer to your question about my books, Samuel Craddock was introduced in the first book as a retired chief of police who gets interested in the murder of an old friend. He believes the current chief, an alcoholic, won't be able to do justice to the investigation. By the third book in the series, he's acting chief because the town has gone bankrupt and can't afford to pay anyone. I get a lot of emails from both men and women who seem to have found something they connect with about Samuel. Last spring at a fund-raising event a woman came up to me and said, "I want to marry Samuel!"

In the first book the reader is introduced to Samuel's love of art that came through his wife, Jeanne, a wealthy woman from Fort Worth whose family collected art. In the book that's just coming out, Samuel is sent a young Hispanic woman to be a deputy, as part of a program to get more minorities involved in small town law enforcement. They start off on the wrong foot, but eventually realize they have something to teach each other.

One thing I loved about The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake is that a dog pushed his way into the story. I had no intention of writing about a dog. Samuel has a perfectly good cat. But Frazier was not to be denied. I think readers will really enjoy his surprising part in the book.

Terry said...

Karen, I just saw your reference to their Eyes Were Watching God, one of my all-time favorite books. You're right, she weaves weather into it beautifully. Anyone who has read this book, written in the 1930s, should read it immediately.

Anonymous said...

I remember talking to my son on the phone while he was do basic training in Texas. While we talked the weather changed several times. Sun, rain and lightning. Can hardly wait for a new visit with Samuel. Would love to win this book but will gift to me from me for my birthday. Here's hoping for many more books in this series.Ruth Nixon

Terry said...

Ruth, you've been a great supporter, and I appreciate that so much! I've just started working on #6, a prequel--title still not firmed up. I think people will be surprised at Samuel as a young man. We all change, and he's no exception.

Pat D said...

Terry, I don't know how I've missed your books but I will have to remedy that. I'm currently living in Houston (born here) but I've lived in El Paso, Lubbock, Austin, northeast Ohio, New Orleans, Minnesota, and a brief time in southern California. I'm so used to wacky weather I don't even think about it anymore. I absolutely hate summer here; I can't take the humidity anymore. Some day I hope we will move elsewhere just for the weather. I still look forward to a blue norther rolling in. What a dramatic change it brings. Anyway Texas has it all: snow, ice, floods, droughts, hurricanes, tornados, hail. Did I leave anything out? Oh yes. Hellish hot weather.

Pat D said...

Oh, and I left out that winter saying from the panhandle: the only thing between here and the north pole is a barbwire fence.

Kathy Reel said...

I think the first book in which weather made an impression on me as a character was Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, one of my favorite books of all times.

Terry said...

Pat, I hear you about the weather. It's nothing if not variable. Hope you o try the series. With all your Texas experience, I expect you'll like them. Hope so anyway.

Lynn in Texas said...

Terry, it's such fun to meet a new-to-me writer. The series intrigues me enough to add more to my towering TBR pile! I can certainly identify with weather being a character itself in books, just as it is in my real life. I'm a Southern gal, originally from New Orleans but have lived all over the country, and in many parts of Texas since I was 13. It's true what they say about just wait a minute and it'll change! It stormed and was freezing last night, drizzled this morning, was cloudy til late afternoon then warmed up and was pleasantly sunny, all within 24 hrs. One more nice day is predicted, then we're expecting snow over the weekend! I'm constantly checking the weather. Anyway, it's so nice to "meet" you and learn about the Craddock series, especially Samuel!