Interview: Terry Shames

Please welcome Terry Shames, author of the Samuel Craddock mystery series.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
A walk or a workout; scones, eggs and tea; writing; lunch on my backyard deck while I read; more writing; having a lovely dinner presented by magic and with no grocery shopping or dishes involved; and watching a basketball game in which my beloved Warriors play. That last part could be interspersed with a movie, a night at the opera or theater, or dinner with friends. Oh yeah, and the whole thing could be subverted if I were magically transported to a wonderful beach resort.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?
What an interesting question. I’m afraid my “signature” is wearing shorts or workout pants, a nonieblakeT-shirt and bare feet. But that isn’t what most people see. That’s my writing attire. For “signature” I’ll concentrate on the fragrance. I never liked perfume, and then I read Denise Hamilton’s Damage Control. The protagonist is obsessed with perfume and makes a case for wearing it as a way of defining yourself. So I started sampling and found one that I love. Very expensive, but when I spritz it on (sparingly!), it always gives me a delicious feeling that something wonderful is about to happen. The fragrance is Bois de Paradis by Parfums Delrae.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?
It will surprise you to know that it isn’t a mystery writer that inspired me. Eudora Welty and Truman Capote are my two go-to authors. All I have to do is read a few lines from either of them and my fingers itch to get to the keyboard. I’m sure most people think of Welty as a nice little lady who wrote nice little stories, but if you read them closely, you come to realize that there is a hint of violence close to the surface in most of the stories. I love that sense of surface calm with turbulence underneath. You know who else captured that perfectly? Peter Benchley in Jaws. Danger lurking just below the calm surface.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No. It doesn’t bother me for music to be on, but I don’t think to turn it on.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
That’s easy. The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake is bitter chocolate with nuts. It won’t take more than two pages of reading for anyone to find out why.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Wow. That’s a tough one. The character of Nonie is based on someone I used to know. She always fascinated me because I couldn’t get a handle on how she thinks. In the book I didn’t really even try. Some readers will probably have trouble with her character, but I tried to see things from her perspective.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
1) Secrets and how they can poison people’s lives from every direction. And how some people you would think would blab secrets can be trusted to keep them 2) The lengths people will go to to protect their reputation. It’s terrible to think that someone would actually kill to keep people from finding out that they’ve committed a crime. In every book I have taken on a serious issue. I try to explore important themes in the context of real people’s lives without being didactic.

Tell us about your main character.
Samuel Craddock is trustworthy. I really don’t need to say much more than that. What better thing can you say about someone than that they can be trusted? Of course I suppose criminals trust each other to carry out bad things, so I guess I have to amend that to say that Samuel can be trusted to do the right thing. He has judgment, but isn’t judgmental. He often understands the deeper fears and hopes that lead to criminal behavior, and he has compassion—but that doesn’t mean he thinks the criminal can be let off the hook. He understands something very fundamental. When people commit crimes, it sets them outside their society. His job is to bring them back into society—even if it means they have to pay a price for it.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
I can let the reviewers do that. He has been described as like Walt Longmire and Miss Marple. From my standpoint, add in a healthy dose of Sheriff Rhodes (Bill Crider) and you’ve got Samuel Craddock.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Most of the mystery writers I’ve met are really smart. You can always count on lively dinner conversation, even with those who consider themselves introverts. Get them talking about craft or research and you’re on. Here are some writers who I’ve shared dinner with recently: an evening with David Corbett, Stephen Vessels, Barry Lancet, Stacy Allen, and James Ziskin—every one of them a terrific writer. The conversation could not have been more lively. Another night I had a magical evening with Rob Brunet, Anonymous-9, William Wallace, and one non-writer. Another night Susan Shea, Diana Chambers, Deborah Crombie, Julia Dahl (who had just swept the awards), and Karen Salvalaggio. Here are some writers I’d like to invite: Denise Mina, Henning Mankell, Keith Raffel, Val McDermid, David Corbett, and Laurie King. I could just sit back and let them roll.

What’s next for you?
I’m starting my sixth Samuel Craddock, which will be a prequel. And I’m almost done editing a thriller tentatively titled The Coder.


Terry Shames writes the best-selling Samuel Craddock series, set in the fictitious town of Jarrett Creek, Texas. A Killing at Cotton Hill was a finalist for numerous awards and won the Macavity for Best First Mystery, 2013. The Last Death of Jack Harbin was a Macavity finalist for Best Mystery, 2014 and was named one of the top ten mysteries of 2014 by Library Journal and top five of 2014 by MysteryPeople. Her fifth Craddock mystery, The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake launches January 2016. Terry lives in Berkeley, CA. Visit her at


16 thoughts on “Interview: Terry Shames”

  1. Hi Terry, thank you for joining us. What a great interview. Sam is such a wonderful character. Definitely the kind of man you would like to come home to, so I cherish being able to visit him and am looking forward to our sixth rendezvous.


  2. Welcome, Terry! Great interview! Your perfect day sounds fabulous, and I love what you said about finding a signature perfume that defines you, that makes you feel like something wonderful could happen 🙂 And, wow, you’ve described Samuel Craddock so articulately, I feel like I have a great sense of who he is! Can’t wait to check out your book!


  3. Hi everyone! I’m having breakfast in San Diego, headed home after a 3-day book tour in SoCal. I love talking about Samuel Craddock and my books, but am ready to get home to work on book six of the series.


  4. Hi, my friend! So tickled to see you here! I love your themes and doing anything to create that “delicious feeling that something wonderful is about to happen.”

    Kudos to you for your success. It’s well-deserved.


  5. “The character of Nonie is based on someone I used to know. She always fascinated me because I couldn’t get a handle on how she thinks.” Now, I’m fascinated. I’d love to read about a character like that.


  6. Great interview. Look forward to reading the new book, and I’m so glad there is a prequel in the works, as I’d like to know more about Craddock and his wife and their life before the books I’ve read so far.


  7. Hi, Terry. Very interesting interview questions and responses. I’ve read 85% of Nonie and still have lots of questions that need to be answered, including “whodunnit,” and, more importantly, why. Bill and I hope to see you in few weeks with Brian and Adria,.


  8. A belated thank you to everyone for your comments. I’ve been on a wile ride for a few days, but am home catching my breath. It looks like I hit a “good” nerve with my comments about Eudora Welty. I actually am friends with a woman who used to live a couple of doors down from Miss Welty in Jackson. Her mother occasionally had coffee with the very down-to earth Welty.


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