A Question Behind the Question

Since my debut novel, A KILLING AT COTTON HILL, was published two weeks ago, I’ve done a few readings and talked to a lot of people who are excited about my books. One thing I was surprised about was some of the funny questions people ask me. Here are a few of my favorites:

1) At a bookstore reading, a man asked if I took up crime writing because it’s easier than writing mainstream fiction.  His question made the assumption that crime writing is easier than writing mainstream novels. At one time, I thought the same thing. When I first started writing, I dreamed of being a “literary” writer. But, knowing how hard it was to break into print, I thought maybe if I wrote an “easy” mystery, it would at least get me in print. And then I discovered reality. At the heart of every good novel is a mystery. The difference is that readers of crime fiction, these days demand tight, rich prose and interesting characters in addition to a compelling plot with just the right mix of red herrings and real clues. Easier? I don’t think so.

2) Where did (name a character) come from? Is he based on a real person? I think what people really want to know is, how does a writer think up characters? Do we take them from real life or do we dream them up? My characters are usually a mix of people I’ve known—liberally sprinkled with a bit of myself.  Every now and then someone I’ve known from the past is a perfect match for a character I need. One in particular stands out in A KILLING AT COTTON HILL—but I’ll never tell who it is!

3) How long does it take to write a book? It took only two months for me to write the first draft of “KILLING.” William Styron sometimes took seven years to write a book. Most people say nine months to a year. So the answer is all over the place. The question behind the question is, “Could I write a novel?” The answer is that it takes a lot more than time to write a novel. And the thing that most people won’t do that a novelist must do is sit down, apply hands to keyboard and write!

4) What kind of car is that on the cover? Where did I find it? The assumption behind this question is that I had something to do with the cover. Unless an author is self-published he doesn’t have much, if anything, to do with the cover choice. Luckily, I loved my cover. When I first saw it, I spent hours looking at different photos of car grills trying to figure out what kind of car it was. One man told me firmly that he knew exactly what the car was—a 1963 Dodge Dart. But it wasn’t. So I had a contest to find out what kind of car is was. It’s a 1966 Plymouth Belvedere.

5) Still, my favorite question was one that I couldn’t answer, one that was asked at my very first reading. It was along the lines of, “How was I so cocky that I thought I could write from the viewpoint of a man?” I mumbled something vague, and then somebody from the audience, a woman I’d never laid eyes, on piped up with a wonderful, astute answer. Everyone clapped. Unfortunately, I was so rattled that don’t remember what she said!

I’d love to hear from readers what some examples of funny questions you’ve gotten—about your writing, or any creative endeavor.

Blurb: A KILLING AT COTTON HILL: A Samuel Craddock Mystery

 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

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.


“…if you’re as fond of good writing as I am, it will be the characters in Cotton Hill that will keep the pages turning until late in the evening…”

“Shames’ novel is an amazing read. The poetic, literary quality of the writing draws you in…”

                                                                   RT Book Reviews

“Readers will want to see more of the likable main character, who compassionately but relentlessly sifts the evidence. Convincing small town atmosphere and a vivid supporting cast are a plus.”

                                                                   Publisher Weekly
                   Terry Shames offers readers a wonderfully-told tale that kept me turning pages… what kept my interest more than anything was the writing. It was absolutely superb.  Lee Lofland, The Graveyard Shift

Blurb from Carolyn Hart:

“A KILLING AT COTTON HILL enchants with memorable characters and a Texas backdrop as authentic as bluebonnets and scrub cedars. A splendid debut by a gifted writer who knows the human heart. Definitely a candidate for both the Edgar and Agatha Awards for Best First Novel.”



cncbooks said…
Terry, maybe you should go back to where you had that first reading and see if anybody might know who the woman was and what she said. It's worth a shot ;-)

Lelia Taylor
Terry Shames said…
Lelia, I actually know the woman who asked the question and she probably remembers the answer. You're right, I should find out.
Terry Shames said…
Lelia, I actually know the woman who asked the question and she probably remembers the answer. You're right, I should find out.

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