Thursday, November 7, 2013

Writing Time and Place with Guest Author Terry Shames

Where and when do you do your most creative work? That's a question writers are often asked. My theme for November is "Time & Place." Some of this months posts will focus on the theme in their work (see Kaye George's post from Monday about researching an ice-age mystery). Others will be showing us where and when they write, and author Terry Shames leads off today with her (not that) messy desk and her task-dependent schedule. Welcome back Terry! ~ Sheila

Writing Time and Place

by Terry Shames 

Recently I was thrilled to read that people are more creative when they are surrounded by clutter. Years ago someone told me that it is important to clear your desk when you are trying to write a first draft. Ever since then, I’ve scolded myself every couple of weeks because I can’t seem to stop piles of detritus from evolving around me. Even if I start the day with a clean desk, by the end of the day, it’s a total wreck. I kept thinking there was something wrong with me.

Ahhhh…after reading that article, now I can settle down and write surrounded by the following: empty coffee cup, an old Bouchercon program, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, a fat folder of event planning for Northern California Sisters in Crime, bookmarks, my eating diary, lots of  notes about everything from my current novel to old grocery lists, a Thesaurus, my glasses, and an odd assortment of pens and pencils.

What’s more important for me when I’m doing a first draft is not where I write, but when. If I’m editing, it doesn’t matter when I do it, but for some reason when I’m writing a first draft, I work best early in the morning. I mean EARLY. I get up at six o’clock, feed the dogs (or else they’d nibble me to death), brew myself a real cup of tea made with tea leaves and am at work by 6:30. And I write. I can write in an easy chair, in bed, at a cafĂ©, at my kitchen table, or pretty much anywhere—even at my cluttered desk.

I was glad to discover that I could even write on our catamaran. A couple of years ago I had started a book just before I went to the boat. I told my husband that I was on a roll, and needed to keep working. I asked him to clear out of our cabin every morning at 6 o’clock while I wrote. Luckily, he’s an early riser, like me and the book came rolling out. The only problem I had was when one of our guests complained that I never came out of my cabin until 9 AM. I told her I was writing. I don’t think she believed me until A KILLING AT COTTON HILL came out this summer!

When we sold our catamaran I felt nostalgic for writing there*, but I need not have worried. A few months ago, my husband said he couldn’t live without a boat. We found a new, smaller one that we both liked. When we were looking her over, my husband came into the main cabin to find me sitting up on the bed. He asked what I was doing. My reply? “Making sure I can write here.” In fact I’m in the cabin writing this at 6:30 AM.

How about you? What’s your best writing time? Do you have to be in a particular place, or can you work anywhere? What’s the most unusual place you’re ever been able to write?

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.

“…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…” ~ Mysteryfile

“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

“A KILLING AT COTTON HILL enchants with memorable characteres 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.” ~ Carolyn Hart

"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  

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

Please leave a comment - and don't worry or respost if it doesn't show up immediately. I  monitor all comments to avoid spammers. ~ Sheila


  1. Writing on a boat - that would be lovely. I have a favorite chair I love to write at. It usually faces into our living room, or the sunroom at our old house, and I can look over the computer screen to the window. That way I can see the weather, the birds and snap photos while I weave together poetry and prose, and sometimes articles for blogs too.

    I'm no neat freak to be sure, but my writing space has be smell good and be near a window. I've written on the lawn, in the tractor while my hubby drove and in the back of a semi truck sleeper. Never a boat, but one day maybe on the beach. And I often get inspiration while spending time with my animals.

    Thanks for sharing, and thanks Sheila for having another great guest!

  2. Mystic, I'm with you! I think it has to do with gazing out on the natural world while we write. A window, a boat, on a tractor....a tractor? That's the one that got me. You've had a varied experience.

    1. Yes a tractor! :-) Some of the new ones have two seats, and in a pinch a 5 gal bucket works as a stool! :-)