Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Personal Accomplishments, Writing and Other

What moment of personal accomplishment within the writing realm made you most proud? Outside of writing?

Terry Shames here:

Is there ever a feeling like seeing your first book in print? Mind you, this was not my “first” book. I wrote six novels and about twenty pieces of novels before I got the call that rocked my world: An editor loved my book and wanted to publish it. He was even willing to give me money for it! And then Carolyn Hart, an author I had long admired when she was asked at Malice Domestic what novel she had read recently that she loved, named A Killing at Cotton Hill. And then the book was nominated for numerous awards, including the Strand Critics award for Best First Novel. And it won the Macavity Award for best first. One, long, thrilling year of pride. My books have been nominated several times since then and won another award, but nothing quite compares to climbing onto the merry-go-round and having the pony I’m riding take off running.

But I have to back up. This didn’t happen in a vacuum. It happened because I finally took to heart the advice I had heard again and again to write a novel the “no one else could write.” At a workshop, Sophie Littlefield gave writers the advice to dig deep inside and find our story. A month later I sat myself down and took a critical look at the books I had written. Here’s what I discovered: they all seemed to be an echo of other books I’d read. They weren’t bad. Or as two different editors said, “Love the writing and the characters, but not the story.” And “Love the writing and the story, but not the characters.” I know now that when you get two opposing viewpoints from seasoned editors, there is something wrong at the core. And that something was not telling “my” stories. So although I am proud of producing A Killing at Cotton Hill and all the other Samuel Craddock novels, I’m proudest of finally taking the advice seriously and running with it.

As for my life outside of writing, I would say that raising my son has to be right up there. He was a tough kid to raise and my husband and I sometimes got advice from professionals that scared us: His anxiety would always make him a difficult person. We finally got some advice that worked from a therapist who laughed at all the other advice. He taught my husband and me the proper way to deal with a kid who was anxious. My son is now a fabulous person who has his own business, is kind and thoughtful, has friends who adore him, and is good to his mother! I recently told him that the fact that not one of his employees had quit in the five years he has had the business was some kind of record. He modestly said, No it was the nature of the business. But I know that isn’t true. I know they stay because they trust him. They know he works as hard as they do, or harder, and that he has their interest at heart.

But that took a village. It wasn’t my actual, personal accomplishment. So what is my personal accomplishment that I was proudest of? I think it has to be when I learned to water start my windsurfer. That means instead of standing on the board and pulling up the sail by brute strength, you lie in the water and position the sail so that the wind pulls you up onto to board. Voila!

Everyone else was playing on their boards all summer while I was struggling to figure out this new technique. I had seen someone else do it and  I was determined to learn it for myself. When I did, other sailors kept asking me how I did it. I was so proud. Never having been the least bit athletic, I was especially pleased to do something that took athleticism and perseverance. The sad thing is that someone developed a really easy way to teach people to do it, and I could have saved myself a lot of trouble if I had waited a bit. But as a completely klutzy non-athlete, I felt really proud that I had persevered and taught myself a new technique.

So the two accomplishments are oddly at opposite ends of the spectrum. In one, I finally listened to good advice. In the other, I found the way for myself. But in the end, it’s perseverance that made the difference both professionally and personally.

On a personal note, I want to wish everybody a safe and secure time in the next few weeks. We are facing a crisis that I could never have imagine no matter how much science fiction I read. Now it feels like we've been plopped into the middle of one of those novels with no clear idea what will happen next. Be kind to each other and kind to yourselves.



Brenda Chapman said...

So much to be proud of, Terry. I'm eager to read A Killing at Cotton Hill, and your son sounds like a wonderful person.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Yeah, there's nothing like that first book being published, Terry. And all the rest of it's great as well.

Terry said...

Thank you Brenda. Oh, yes, Geoffrey is a great guy. I once had a writer friend tell me that she herself wasn't a "good" kid and that she turned out okay. Which we laughed about because she was fabulous. And she was right.

Dieter, that first book!

Susan C Shea said...

Your 'ride' with the first Samuel Craddock was as exhilrating as rising from the ocean and sailing away on the board. It was fun to watch.

Barb Goffman said...

Wow, Terry. Good for you on all counts.