The first two Samuel Craddock books I wrote came to me without much thought as to “what happens next?” in the series. But when I contemplated writing the third book, I suddenly realized that I had some big decisions to make.
Would Samuel age in my books? Would he develop and grow, or would he stay pretty much the same? Would Samuel always be an ex-chief of police, or would he officially slip back into the role of chief? How many crimes can one small town support? Would I continue the same characters, or would some of them disappear, one way or the other? My editor suggested that I do a “prequel.” When would be the appropriate time to tuck it into the series? What about Samuel’s love life? Would he continue to mourn his ex-wife or would he take up with one of the women around him? Or, would a new person come to town?
I discovered that I had answers for most of these questions. I read series and in my favorites, characters change. In my first book, A Killing at Cotton Hill, Samuel was a man looking for purpose in life after his wife died. All his qualities—his strong sense of responsibility, his humor and decency–are there from the beginning, but he has no place to focus them. Investigating the death of an old friend reawakens him to his abilities. I want him to continue to learn new things about himself and the world around him. I want the town to change, and Samuel to change with it.
If Samuel is to continue to grow more confident in his role as an investigator, that means that I, as a writer, also have to grow—I have to learn more about what a small-town lawman is expected to do. Not that I have to include every detail in the books—but I have to know the reality of what would happen in tight situations.
I started researching guns and discovered that I couldn’t possibly learn everything about guns by simply reading. There’s a weekend police workshop for writers that I can’t wait to take so I can put myself in Samuel’s shoes.
I also had to research the structure of Texas crime prevention forces. Who really investigates serious crime in small town Texas? What is the role of the Texas Highway Patrol (hint: it’s a lot more than just chasing speeders). And what about the Texas Rangers? How did they fit into the mix? Having grown up in Texas, I knew something of their notorious reputation. How much of that was true? Had it changed? How were police chiefs selected in small towns? By ballot? Were they chosen by the county sheriff? And what did they really do? What I discovered is a hodge-podge of crime prevention and investigation. In other words, it was a writer’s dream—whatever I made up would probably be true somewhere, in some small town in Texas.
As for the question of how many crimes I can set in a small town, people are fond of pointing out that some of the best series happen in small towns. And what I discovered is that in reality there is more mayhem in small towns than you might imagine. Still, I wanted to mix things a little and not just do one book after another in Samuel’s hometown. The first book happened outside of my fictional town of Jarrett Creek. Books two and three happen in Jarrett Creek, each with a different focus. Book four I’m going to set in Bobtail, the fictitious county seat. And because of the art theme that runs the book, I will be taking Samuel somewhere outside of Jarrett Creek to investigate a to-be-determined crime centering around art. And then there is the prequel. I think I can keep going for a nice, long series.
As for whether the same characters will continue, the book has quite a few geezers in it and we all know what eventually happens to geezers. Somebody, in some book, has to go. I don’t know who it will be, but it’s inevitable.
Also, with a man who still has vitality and interest in the world, Samuel will eventually become interested in another woman. Stay tuned…it’s going to happen. And then the next question will be, how far do I follow him into the bedroom. Yikes! More decisions.
Terry Shames will be in the store TONIGHT at 7PM speaking & signing copies of her latest book, The Last Death of Jack Harbin.