Writer's Notes

Writing Rituals: Terry Shames

Well, that was fun! I just threw my writing rituals out the window. It was unintentional, but thorough in every way.

Terry Shames head shotBy Terry Shames

Well, that was fun! I just threw my writing rituals out the window. It was unintentional, but thorough in every way.

How did this happen? First let me describe my writing “habits” (not sure they rise to the status of ritual). I write almost every day. It doesn’t have to be brilliant prose, but it has to be at least 500 words, and when I’m working on a first draft I aim for 2,000. When you write 2,000 words most days, 500 seems like a snap. So when I went on vacation for two weeks, I magnanimously told myself I only had to write 500 a day. Suddenly, five days into the trip, I realized I hadn’t written so much as a word. In fact, I hadn’t even thought about writing anything. Not only that, but I found myself unable to read. I had brought a few books I thought would be compelling, but every single one left me flat. Instead, I did Sudoku, played on-line games, chatted with people, or stared into space.

Usually when I don’t write, I feel uneasy. I wander around either physically or mentally, feeling as if a pet duck is nibbling at my heels. Annoying, but sort of sweet. I think of the duck as my intention to write. Eventually the duck herds me to my desk, hops up next to the computer and paces until I open it. Then it blinks at me while I read my emails and spend a couple of minutes on social media. Suddenly it starts to quack: “Get busy!”

If I intend to write, even if I am having trouble getting into it my ritual is to open my computer and assume the position—back straight, hands on keys, document open to previous work, cup of tea at hand. And I call on the one thing that never fails me—determination. I will write words. Even awful words. Even blah blah blah. I may start off reluctantly, but a few good sentences will come to me, and I move along.

Terry ShamesThis vacation was different. My intention was gone. Without intention, all the writing rituals in the world won’t help me. The writing rituals come after the intention. Clearly I had forgotten to pack the duck inn my suitcase. But then it occurred to me that maybe the duck was smarter than I thought. Maybe we both needed a vacation. I had been working hard—driving myself to meet some deadlines, and I was drained.

I decided to let the duck guide me, as usual. I spent a little time thinking about the characters in my work in progress and musing over another idea I have. I thought about marketing. I jotted down some ideas for a book my sister and I have been mulling over. But I wrote not one word in my current book. It felt great!

After two glorious weeks, I got back, and sure enough that crazy duck was at my desk, tapping its little webbed foot and making quacky noises. I haven’t asked what it did while I was gone, and I don’t intend to. It’s entitled to a vacation, too!


T Shames Unsettling Crime_coverAn Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock:

When the Jarrett Creek Fire Department is called to douse a blaze on the outskirts of town, they discover a grisly scene: five black young people have been murdered. Newly elected Chief of Police Samuel Craddock, just back from a stint in the Air Force, finds himself an outsider in the investigation headed by the Texas Highway Patrol. He takes an immediate dislike to John Sutherland, a racist trooper

Craddock’s fears are realized when Sutherland arrests Truly Bennett, a young black man whom Craddock knows and respects. Sutherland cites dubious evidence that points to Bennett, and Craddock uncovers facts leading in another direction. When Sutherland refuses to relent, Craddock is faced with a choice that will define him as a lawman—either let the highway patrol have its way, or take on a separate investigation himself.

Although his choice to investigate puts both Craddock and his family in danger, he prevails in getting Bennett freed. In the process he learns that his job ends at the city limits.


Terry Shames head shotTerry Shames writes the best-selling Samuel Craddock series, published by Seventh Street Books. Her books have been nominated for multiple awards. A Killing at Cotton Hill won the Macavity Award for Best First Mystery. In May 2017 RT Reviews awarded the Necessary Death of Nonie Blake the Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Contemporary Mystery of 2016. MysteryPeople named Shames one of the top five Texas mystery writers of 2015. An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock, January, 2017, received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. Terry is president of Northern California Sisters in Crime. She lives in Berkeley with her husband and two rowdy terriers.




















Terry Shames




An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock

“Superior….a timely story with resonance in the era of Black Lives Matter.” -Publishers Weekly, êSTARRED REVIEW



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By Thonie Hevron

Mysteries to keep you reading through the night.

7 replies on “Writing Rituals: Terry Shames”

I’m so with Terry on this. My “duck” is a squirrel that tsks me pretty constantly when I’m goofing off. Or when I forget to toss peanuts under the bird feeder. Thanks Terry and Thonie.

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