Terry Shames--Number 9 That Should Have Been Number 10

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I am a huge fan of Terry Shames's books featuring Jarrett Creek Chief of Police Samuel Craddock. Jarrett Creek may be fictional, but I love Central Texas and I have my very firm idea of exactly what Jarrett Creek is like. And I have been missing it, so I was thrilled when I learned there was a new book on the way. 

Isn't the cover gorgeous? But I'd have been holding my breath if I'd known the journey this book had taken! Here's Terry to explain: 

Number 9 that should have been number 10

On October 4, the ninth book in my Samuel Craddock series, Murder at the Jubilee Rally, launches into the world. It was great fun to write and it’s getting terrific reviews. Set at the Jubilee Motorcycle Rally, held out at the lake at Jarrett Creek, the book is based on a real motorcycle rally that happens every other year in the town that Jarrett Creek is based on. Because of Covid they didn’t have the rally, so I had to rely on videos from past events, and some first-hand accounts from people who have attended them. The videos! Let me tell you, I’m no prude, but some of the videos of real-time attendees stunned me. When you read descriptions in Murder at the Jubilee Rally, understand that I toned down some of those scenes.

“Jubilee Rally” should have been book 10. What happened? Covid happened. Or at least that’s what I’m blaming. In 2020 I wrote a Samuel Craddock book that turned out to be horrible. I mean truly. It was not only dark, but sleazy and distasteful. But there was more. I had intended to make this a book about a motorcycle rally. At some point in writing it, the rally disappeared and nasty people took over.

When I finished it, I disliked it, but turned it over to my writer’s group just in case I was wrong. They also disliked it. Then I sent it to my agent and she said the equivalent of, “What the hell is this?”

Now this is not the first time I’ve written a bad novel. There are all those “practice” novels that never saw the light of day. But I really liked them and thought were publishing-worthy if I just did some good editing. BUT. Recently I went back to purge my files and read the old books. In almost every one, my response was, “What was I thinking?” But every, single one of them had more to recommend it than my car crash of a book. It was with the greatest pleasure that I dumped it and started over.

Thinking back, I wondered why Covid caused this? Like most people I was feeling dark and unsettled the entire year of 2020. I didn’t mind staying inside. I had a great house with lots of room to spread out. We had a student living with us who was ultra-careful not to bring Covid into the house and was fun to be around. We had our two spirited dogs. And I had friends who were also careful, so we formed a “pod” of people who could come into my backyard and have a meal—at a distance. I cooked wonderful things, I indulged myself with jigsaw puzzles, my husband and I laughed. I Zoomed and hopped around on social media. Not so bad really. It’s not as if I haven’t had other dark times in my life that I was able to write through.

But this was different. The idea of being forced to stay inside ate at me. No travel. No hugs. Worse, there was always that itchy feeling in the air that you didn’t know whether the virus was lurking outside to nail you. Pouring that angst into the book I was working on, the characters became bitter and angry and ugly.

How is this different from writing noir or violent thrillers? After all, these characters can be ugly and angry and bitter. But there’s always some kind of “romance” at the heart of these novels. Sometimes it’s love interests, but it can also be the romance of interesting settings, passionate characters, people on a mission. The characters in my bad book were just behaving badly. Period.

When I jettisoned the book, I felt nothing but relief. I started over and this time the book flowed. I don’t mind saying I was biting my nails, worried that I’d lost it for good. But I got back on the hawg and this time the ride was smooth.

One character climbed out of the original mess and sneaked into the new book. In fact, she charmed me. Her name is Hailey. She’s the daughter of Samuel’s nephew, Tom. At the age of sixteen, she is suddenly sure that she knows exactly what her life should be—and it includes a bad boyfriend, no college, and defying every adult in her life. Her parents send her off to Samuel to take a break from her, hoping that Samuel can manage her. He almost can’t!

I loved creating Hailey and I hope you enjoy reading her as much as I enjoyed writing her.

All of which makes me wonder. Was I the only writer who found herself producing awful work during Covid? Work that not only didn’t satisfy, but that made you feel like you’d dredged up some mean part of your subconscious you didn’t know existed? Did others find themselves lost in the weeds? I’d love to hear about it!

Not everyone is thrilled that the yearly Jubilee Motorcycle Rally is coming to Jarrett Creek, Texas. Some locals want to ban it. But the merchants who’ve parlayed a good deal of money from the event are happy to put up with a little aggravation. A nasty war of words breaks out between Lily Deverell, who's spearheading the campaign to shut down the rally, and Amber Johnson, a store owner whose husband was badly injured while riding with his motorcycle club, leaving her to support their family by herself. Chief of Police Samuel Craddock brokers a deal leaving no truly satisfied.

When one of the warring women is found dead on the rally grounds, Craddock and his deputy, Maria Trevino, investigate even though the case is theoretically the job of the overburdened Department of Public Safety.

Complicating matters, Craddock offers to have his nephew’s teenage daughter, Hailey, visit to see if he can straighten out her recent bad behavior. Sam has his hands full with Hailey, who alternates between acting like the sweet girl he remembers. Eventually, she takes an interest in the murder investigation and a keen observation she makes helps Craddock solve the crime.

"A neat character-intensive combo of clever police work and family angst." Kirkus

And Library Journal gave Jubilee Rally a starred review and made it one of their October picks of the month!

DEBS: Can I just say, YIKES. I know all the writers out there are cringing along with me. Throwing out a book!! Nightmare of nightmares! But obviously it was the right thing to do, and very brave, I think.

Who else has had to start a book--or a big project-- over from scratch?

Terry Shames writes the award-winning, critically acclaimed Samuel Craddock series, set in the fictitious town of Jarrett Creek, Texas. The books have been finalists for numerous awards, including The Strand Critics Award, The Lefty Award, and the Macavity Award. A Killing at Cotton Hill won the Macavity for Best First Mystery, 2013. The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake won the RT Reviews Critics Award for Best Contemporary Mystery of 2016.

Regarding the latest in the series, MURDER AT THE JUBILEE RALLY, Publishers Weekly called it an entertaining read, with "vivid secondary characters and well drawn small-town setting."

Raised in Texas and a University of Texas alum, Terry has lived in California for many years, now in Los Angeles. She is a member of t Sisters in Crime, and on the board of Mystery Writers of America.

Visit her at www.terryshames.com to see photos and to find out about upcoming events.