Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Grandfather Knows Best

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!

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.


  1. Samuel Craddock sounds like someone I’d really like to meet . . . I’m adding “A Killing at Cotton Hill” to my to-be-read pile . . . .

  2. We used to go to my Gramma MInnie and Grandpa Dave's every SUnday after sunday school. (Yes, I went to SUnday school, long story.) Gramma would make little tiny pancakes, and Grampa would readthe aper. He was not very chatty...wish I remembered more. WHy do I remember there was such a work ethic? Hmm..

  3. That would be my mother-in-law. She was the first feminist I met. I didn't know what a feminist was until I met her. She was of the fire breathing persuasion. She came from privilege. She went against her family by becoming a physicist. She was opinionated and loud. She preferred women. She had a handsome son with a Volvo P1800.

  4. When I was in 2nd grade, we moved to the country and next door to my great-grandfather. I was 8. He was 88. He was very active, planted a garden, kept up an orange grove, went hunting, trapped crawfish. Always outdoors, always carrying a hoe or some work instrument. I used to ride my bike back and forth to my cousin's house to play every day, and Grandpa would flag me down to give me vegetables or oranges to bring home. I was a polite little girl, so I'd make small talk. It's from him I learned the joy of chatting with old folks--still one of my favorite things to do. It's also why I like to include older people in many of my stories.

    Terry, your grandfather sounds like a gem.

  5. Ramona, aww. I can picture you! Was this in Louisiana?

    And Reine--I believe it. But I bet you were already on your way to breathing fire...

  6. Wonderful story Reine--and congrats on the book and Carolyn Hart's recommendation!

    I barely knew my grandparents on my mother's side, though that's where I got my pen name, Lucy Burdette.

    My grandmother on my dad's side was a real pip--someday I should write about her:). Her husband had lost his family business, a silk mill, because his older sisters refused to sell before it lost it's value. Hmmmmm, lots of story there too--thanks for visiting Terry!

  7. Yes, Hank, south Louisiana. When I read Terry's comment "until you've been to Texas in the summer, you don't know heat," I had a flashback. Or was that a hot flash?

  8. Both my grandfather and my mother's friend who owned horses offered me an oasis in a life all too full of chaos and loss. Grandpa and I would take my dog for walks down the country road where I lived. He bought me a spinning rod so we could go fishing, except that ended any "catching" because I loved hearing the Hula Popper crack as it trailed through the water. No doubt, fish would hear it and swim elsewhere in the lake. My mother's friend had been my babysitter, but her barn is where I first found comfort in a horse stable. Following her family to horse shows perked up my summer and eventually led to the book-of-the-heart I'm working so hard to write well.

  9. My Grandfather hunted gold in the Klondike as a teenager, cowboy'd for a southern California rancher until the rancher's daughter fell in love with him, then turned down a trip to Hollywood with his cowboy friend Tim McCoy (who made quite a splash in the movies and TV). In his suitcase when he came to visit was always a pair of chaps and (until Mom found out and banished it) a .22 pistol which he slept with under his pillow. A habit he said from the Klondike where people were murdered for their gold. He was a terrible racist, however, and never won my heart. He said bad things about my hero, Willie Mays, and so I put a wad of gum in his dress shoes.

  10. We lived close to my father's parents and I loved when it was my turn for a sleepover at their house (one grandchild at a time was the rule for sleepovers, not all 4 at once!). My grandfather read us Uncle Remus with a different voice for each character. He did magic tricks, and could pull a wrapped piece of (unchewed) gum from behind your ear. He had a major twinkle in his eye. He lived with us for a while before he died suddenly. Once I, an impatient ninth-grader, was sitting on the curb dejected by a big tangled mess of kite string. He came back from his walk (his constitutional), saw me, and said, "When you start something, you need to finish it." I've kept that advice with me ever since.

    My other grandfather SHOULD be in my stories: he got mad at my mother about something trivial when she was large-pregnant with me and never spoke to her again. My little grandmother would take the train to visit us for a couple of weeks at a time, but bull-headed Irish Papa Dick lived until 92 without knowing any of us four grandkids.

    Looking forward to reading your book, Terry!

  11. My mom's father had a stroke when I was young and they said his personality changed. He died when I was 17, and while we had many good moments, I wish I'd had the chance to know the person my mom grew up with. He had a brilliant smile that made you smile with him, but we didn't get to see it very often. He was a janitor at the state university and also had a small family farm with corn, soybeans, pigs and chickens. He rigged up devices to compensate for his paralyzed left hand so he could continue farming.

    My dad's father passed away about 5 years ago. When he was 15 he had pneumonia, and while he recovered, he wasn't in good health. The doctor told his parents he needed to be sent out west, where the air would be better for his lungs. This was during the depression and they had no money to do so. My grandfather left in the middle of the night and started hitchhiking west. He spent some time in Wyoming working on a ranch, and he came back with cowboy songs that all of his children and grandchildren loved. My favorite was The Old Gray Mare. My grandmother taught reminiscence writing at the local senior center, and both of them gave us binders full of fascinating stories every year at Christmas. They were active in the Grange (both were state officers and I believe grandpa was a national officer), and traveled extensively to learn and share agricultural information. I have photos of my grandparents riding an elephant in India!

  12. Terry, your character sounds like a one-off. Original. Like your grandfather. Congratulations on the book! And a thumbs-up from Carolyn Hart is a huge deal.

    I only knew my grandmother. She was sweet, but not a large loomer in my life. She barely spoke English and I loved her, though I honestly I can't say I actually knew her very well. She died before I was old enough to even be curious about her.

    I have the big wooden bowl bowl she used to chop the livers, and I know that some of the cut marks in the base were from her hand.

  13. I didn't know my maternal grandfather, but my paternal grandfather (and grandmother) were huge. They were the place to be in the summer or when you were sick from school. Papa served in North Africa with the 1st Armored Division in WWII, and then spent 30 years working in a steel mill. He was wiry, stubborn, came from a family of alcoholics (which is why he never drank), and never finished high school. He taught himself guitar and took long-distance motorcycle trips into his 70s. And he was funny ("I was the key man in my company. They saw me coming and said, 'key-ripes, what is he doing here?').

    Grandma was a "Rosie the Riveter" and worked the school cafeteria when her kids were young. And she kept my grandfather in line. =)

    Neither of them took a lot of crap, and they didn't get overly emotional - but when they were angry you knew it. And when they were proud of their grandkids, the whole neighborhood knew it. =)

  14. Yikes! I'm just not tuning in and finding all your wonderful comments. I swear I'm not a laggard--but it's 6:30 AM here. That time difference always makes me realize people on the east coast have been up for hours.

    I love reading all your stories. Hank, I went to Sunday school every single week unless we went to visit my grandparents for the weekend. My grandfather didn't do church. When he died, the decision was to get a female preacher and the Catholic priest to hold the service together because he had been friends with both of them.

  15. Ramona, how lucky to have lived next door to you great-grandfather. Sounds like you got a lasting gift from him.

    As for whether my grandfather was a gem, after reading A KILLING AT COTTON HILL, my sister said that Samuel was a lot nicer than our grandfather!

    Wow! Reine, a first-wave feminist! Interesting that some of our great-grandmothers seemed to be tougher than our mothers. A story is in that.

  16. Rhonda, I feel an ache for that little girl you describe. So lucky that you found good comfort. When you read my first Samuel Craddock book, you may be taken aback by one of his comments about horses. Never fear, in book three, something will happen to shift things.

  17. Jack, that's a great story! The Klondike--the mere name seems Romantic (with a capital R). Something that people would be surprised about is that rifles were kept casually around the house--for varmints, especially those poisonous snakes Texas is famous for. Kids were taught respect for guns early on. But once we walked into my grandfather's house and found a pistol lying casually on the kitchen side table--my mother pitched a fit. Long story.

  18. Edith, my grandfather is Irish, too. Volatile temper. And the eight kids, including my mother, would get mad about something and not speak for months at a time. Used to drive me crazy. As a result, I'm not much of one to let things simmer. Except for one person....another story.

  19. I didn't know my grandparents on either side very well. They'd visit us in California from the Midwest. Interestingly, my grandfathers were both gentle, low-key men...but I never got the hang of them because they were religious (Catholic), and we grew up, well, crunchy granola Californian. :-)

    Terry, your grandfather sounds wonderful. And what a thrill to have Carolyn Hart mention your book!

  20. I'd love to read the book. My dad's family is kind of a mystery. They kept secrets. Then when you find out what the secret was (Uncle George owned a tavern that was open on SUNDAYS so he never went to church. Really? Why a secret? So and so was adopted. So what?) But my Mom's Mom's family were big time Irish storytellers. Got that gene from them. And that may be why I want not just the family tree but stories. Recipes and stories. Dig out the secrets that are anti-climatic, for the stories. :)

    Pen M.

  21. Love family secrets. It's at the heart of so many mysteries.

  22. Hi Terry! Congrats on your book from a fellow Texas--although I'm still there and as we are expected to hit triple digits today, you can be glad you're in Berkley:-)

    I love your story about your grandfather. My dad grew up on a cotton farm outside Sulphur Springs (apologies to non-Texans who won't have any idea where that is) and all small Texas towns feel much the same, don't they?

    My dad's mother died when he was in his teens. His father lived into his nineties, but my father didn't like him and I was only taken to visit him once. I have a memory of a mean white-haired old man sitting on a porch in a rocker. No idea how much of that is true and how much is drawn from my childhood overactive imagination. My mom's dad died when she was sixteen so I never knew him, either.

    It was my mother's mother who was my great inspiration. She lived with us from the time I was born, so was my primary caretaker when I was growing up. She'd been a schoolteacher and she loved to read--taught me, in fact. She was quiet, rather self-effacing, but enormously kind, and she had a great and life-long curiosity about everything.

    And she always told me that I could do--or be--anything I wanted. Two of the greatest disappointments of my life are that she didn't live to see my first book published, or to know her great-granddaughter.

  23. Deb, what I said Saturday night at my first, ever bookstore reading (Book Passage) about small towns was: "It's possible to know just about everything about the human condition from what happens in a small town." A woman from Dallas was in the audience and she came up afterwards and heartily agreed.

    Your sweet grandmother sounds wonderful. It was up to my dad to teach me to read, since I wanted to learn before I went to school. Since he was working full-time and going to college on the GI bill, it couldn't have been easy, but that's the kind of guy he was.

  24. I only knew one grandfather, as my father's dad died when he was two. My Welsh grandfather was a fiery man with a temper--a brilliant musician and orchestra conductor. He was known to snatch an instrument from a member of his orchestra and show how he wanted something played.
    He was also a good carpenter and made me wooden toys I still remember fondly. He adored me and used to let me sit on his knee and eat dinner with him.
    Unfortunately he smoked, mostly cigars and died of lung cancer when I was 12. I wish I'd had a chance to speak with him as an adult.

  25. For me it was my paternal grandmother, ostensibly an upper crust and proper lady, but her tales of her childhood and how she survived and thrived were completely invisible to the outer world. She taught me, by example, never to judge people by their outward appearance.

  26. I'm back! ANd my hair is blonder, and you all have been doing so nicely without me! Hang on, I'm gong to go read all the comments, but I've been thinking--IM the Gramma now. And what will my grandchildren think of ME? Eesh.

  27. My great-grandmother and my mother were both inspirations to me. Both worked in times when women didn't, neither put up with crap from anybody and both were vey smart and funny.

    The only grandfather I knew was a pedophile, thus inspiring me into many hours of counselling. Enough said.

  28. Gaylin thank you for your post. Thank goodness for the strong female figures in your life.

  29. I live in Texas and have lived here longer than anywhere else. I know small towns here, and the people, and the sounds. I want to read this book because I believe it will be as though I have gone to a home place. You remember, where "this evenin' " is any time after noon, where people send someone to the store to buy "light bread" and where fried catfish and potato salad are just about heaven. And right now it is very hot. I heard a story once that God gave the devil the choice of Texas or that other place, and we know what he chose.

    And I did have a grandfather who was lovely to me. When I was very little he made me root beer floats, and read the Sunday funnies with me. He was always kind to me, and in my world, that was so exceptional I remember it still.

  30. I love that this is the book you were meant to write, Terry!

    I've used family inspiration in my writing, too. Only a little bit in my first novel, but it came through in a much bigger way than I ever imagined in my second novel. Growing up in India while it was still under the control of the British, my father told me fascinating family stories that I'm glad I get to write about in fiction.

  31. Oh, Annette, You clearly know the Texas I know. Light bread, "fixin'" to do something, and my mother would kill for catfish and cornbread. I'll bet you feel right at home when you read it.

    Gigi, I can't wait to read the sequel to ARTIFACT!

  32. Thank God for A/C! I grew up in Houston, but lived to go visit Grandma and Grandpa. My happiest memories are when they lived on a ranch in Hamilton county and raised mohair goats. Grandpa was so friendly and genial and cracked jokes like no one's business. Dominoes was his game; cards were too complicated. He loved entertaining people; poor Grandma!
    I visited one weekend as a college student after they had moved to a home on a lake. Grandpa's knuckles on one hand were scabbed up. His explanation? I took a swing at grandma and she ducked and I hit the wall instead. Grandma was scandalized at the thought that someone might believe him.

  33. Cards! That's what we did! Oh, so intreating .Grampa and I played gin rummy--and that's how I learned it!
    I never would have remembered that without your comment, Pat D!

    And yes, Annette, the Sunday funnies! Amazing how YOUR memories are bringing back MY past!



    And the winner of THE WRONG GIRL is--#36! Who is...Denise Ann! Email me at h ryan at whdh dot com with your address! Hurray!

    AND nelizadrew wins THE OTHER WOMAN! Just send me your address..xoo

  35. Samuel Craddock sounds a lot like my Grandpa - would love to read more about him. I forgive you for being glad you're no longer living in Texas - it is really hot and humid here on the Gulf Coast.

  36. It's POURING here..POURING! And a second ago it was bright sunshine.Weird. and now back to grandparents..

  37. Hank, my other grandfather made shadow pictures with his hands. He could make anything--eagles, bunnies, airplanes. A sweet man.

  38. Yay for me (The Wrong Girl)!

    I am the oldest grandchild on both sides and felt as if all my grandparents thought I was "all that." But my grandmothers both died fairly young, and the men didn't fill the gap at all.

    When I was newly married, I wrote letters to my father's father, asking him questions about his life. Later I typed up his letters and made a little booklet for the extended family.

    That grandfather was a tugboat dispatcher in NY harbor, and we got to ride in a McAllister tug when we were kids.

    My other grandfather was German. He had a 6th grade education, but was a master electrician. He almost never spoke.

    Aren't families endlessly fascinating?

  39. Terry, that is so evocative...ahh..and thank you, endlessly for a wonderful day. I am so thrilled that your book is getting such acclaim! Now..you have two hours to pick a winner ==and Jungle Red will award them a signed book!

    Denise Ann--that is so wise! xoox Yes, indeed.

    Tomorrow, a real treat--a mystery librarian podcaster! A true pod person.

    Thursday, Linda Fairstein. Whoa. A true icon visits Jungle Red.

    And Friday--well, let me just say you do NOT want to miss it. BIG BIG News!

  40. I wish I had time today to share some of the more colorful family stories...but they sound too much like fiction, anyway.

    I'll just briefly mention my mom's father: he had sparkling blue eyes, adored my grandmother (they were still walking hand in hand when in their late seventies, which we kids thought was "really cute"-and they thought the same thing about our reaction!) He worked as a machinist for the railroad for thirty six years, could fix ANYTHING, loved kids, listened to opera while working in his home workshop on his days off, and competed in the Olympics as a gymnast in 1912, I think. Mom said that when she was growing up all the neighborhood kids hung around in their yard because my grandfather set up equipment for pole vaulting and other such activities and would do his gymnastic routines to entertain the kids. As a youngster I took walks with him from their house down to the beach, and he would pull a wax paper bag of candies out of his pocket to share with me. He loved nonpareils . Both of Mom's parents made each grandchild feel so special that each of us believed "*I* am the favorite!"

    Dad's parents were "different". If I wrote a story based on relatives on that side of the family, people would say it was too bizarre to be believeable! I think he was attracted to Mom because she was a normal young woman from a happy, loving family.