Brand New Me

Apr 17, 2024 | 2024 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Terry Shames

Well, not exactly a new me, but a new voice for my fiction. My published books have always been in the voice of the experienced, logical small-town chief of police Samuel Craddock. Having grown up with a grandfather and father who were storytellers, I always had the voice of a man in my head. It seemed natural to write in the voice of a man. An older man loosely based on my grandfather.

But there’s another side to me: a side that wonders what it would be like to be in a true adventure. I was a windsurfer for many years and after that spent a lot of time on boats. I never much cared for the scary part of either. In fact, I had a few scary moments, like the wind dying when I was far off the coast and having to swim in. Like being on a dinghy far from the boat when the engine died, and no one was around. Like being on a small cay in the Bahamas and going on what was supposed to be a leisurely adventure and finding myself on a boat with drug runners. That’s another story.

Despite those experiences, nothing terrified me like my first big dive experience. I got certified to dive, and my husband and I went to Australia to the Great Barrier Reef. We were assured that we would go on an “easy” dive. But when we got geared up, the dive master informed us that the water was too rough, and we would be going on a much deeper dive: 60 inches along a “wall.” Below the wall was…nothing. It was 1,000 feet deep. I am afraid of heights and the idea of dangling above 1,000 feet terrified me. I mean scared me half to death. The only thing I saw of the whole experience was the flippers of the person ahead of me. I was afraid of getting lost (I know, I know—stupid) and somehow afraid of who knows what? I swore I would never dive again. And I haven’t.

So when I started thinking about writing something different, I thought, “Why not write about something really scary? A real adventure story. A thriller. And as the protagonist, how about a young woman, someone the opposite of me. Someone intrepid. Someone who despite being in a horrible situation doesn’t fold into a pretzel and squeal…and instead, is determined to not just survive, but prevail.

Jessie Madison was born. I had actually worked on a novel set in the Bahamas many years ago, but it never jelled. So I took pieces of that and revamped the story line. I also drew on real experiences on boats and in scary situations. It was easy to recall my fear in those moments, the kind of fear that would render me paralyzed in real life. In fiction, those challenges had to be met with the kind of courage and daring I could only dream of. But that Jessie Madison would run with.

My Samuel Craddock books are more serious. They often have themes of social justice and rely on Craddock’s understanding of people and their motivations to solve crimes. Craddock doesn’t usually find himself in situations where his life is in danger. A few times he’s had to be careful—like in A Reckoning in the Back Country, where he investigated a dogfighting ring. But most of the crimes he solves are about people in the community who think the only way out of their troubles is to commit murder. The plots peel back little by little, revealing the secret at the heart of the book.

Perilous Waters is an adventure story—a thriller. The idea behind thrillers is that people find themselves in perilous situations that demand quick thinking and sometimes impulsive action to prevail. And sometimes it means having a little luck; although my philosophy is that often people make their luck. Jessie is no exception. I knew she needed to be intrepid, smart, and maybe have a little luck.

In the debut novel, Jessie again and again finds herself in bad trouble that demands that she think and act fast. She has to be confident in her own physical skills and be able to face her adversaries with fierce determination. Getting her into scary situations was easy. Finding a way to get her out of trouble was a bigger challenge. It called on a different type of mental acuity from me as a writer. Instead of writing Craddock’s methodical use of his wits, I had to think up ways to get Jessie out of dire situations with ingenuity but without seeming too far-fetched.

I hope readers will enjoy going along for the wild ride.

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Terry Shames writes the popular, award-winning Samuel Craddock series, set in the fictional town of Jarrett Creek, Texas and featuring chief of police Samuel Craddock. The tenth in the series, Guilt Strikes at Granger’s Store, was named one of Library Journal’s top mysteries of 2023. Perilous Waters, the first in her new Jessie Madison thriller series, came out April 2, 2024.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


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