January 9, 2014

Made It Moment: Terry Shames

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 10:30 am

The Last Death Of Jack Harbin

There have been almost 300 Moments authors, and while I have a vision someday of us all gathering over drinks, coffee, or ice cream sundaes, and talking about this writing life, for understandable reasons that party hasn’t happened yet. I have, however, had the joy of meeting some of the Momenters in person, and Terry Shames is one. Terry and I were both debut novelists at the same time–that’s a little like being new moms together–and we got to talk at Janet Rudolph’s fabulous Mystery Salon.

Then Terry’s novel came out.

You know that feeling when someone you like also turns out to be a wonderful writer? It’s like meeting on two plains. You’re kindred spirits in a whole new way. Terry’s mystery is garnering praise from too many outlets to mention here–author and reviewer Andrew McRae just suggested it as a contender for an Agatha award–and that’s reason enough to share her Moment. But if you read on, you’ll see there’s another reason, too, and that’s the change that occurs inside a writer, no matter how she makes it.

Terry Shames

Thank you to my host, author Jenny Milchman, for asking me to write about what moment made me feel like I had finally arrived.

This morning I awoke to a fabulous review. It could easily be a “made it” moment, and I’ve had more of those moments in the past eight months than I could ever have imagined. But my real “made it” moment is a lot more mundane—even silly.

“I admire you so much,” people say to me. “You really persevered.” I smile and thank them. But you know what? Perseverance doesn’t begin to cover it. Add perseverance to commitment, drive, the ability to overcome disappointment again and again, stubbornness, the determination to continue to sharpen one’s craft, and the capacity to pretend that reality doesn’t exist, and you’ve got a good picture of what it takes for most people to find a publisher eager to turn their manuscript into a real, live book.

In the years that I’d been trying to get published, a new opportunity had flourished—self-publishing. Self-published authors had gained a lot of respect and many of them seemed happy with the control they had over their books–the cover, price, the “look,” and whether the book was physical or electronic. They were happy with the fact that they made more money per book than they would if they were traditionally published. But learning the ins and outs of self-publishing seemed like a steep learning curve. Learning to promote my book was a learning curve I couldn’t avoid—but I really wanted to avoid the daunting production part if I could. Still, I accumulated a file of information about self-publishing. I gave myself a deadline to find a publisher, and was determined after that time to publish my first book myself.

One month before my “drop dead” date, I got “the call” from my agent. I had imagined this call countless times, imagining myself squealing, dancing around, chattering. None of that happened. In fact, I felt numb as I listened and tried to comprehend what my agent was telling me—that a real, live publisher loved my book and wanted to publish it. I must have sounded rational on the phone, because my agent talked to me as if I were. I remember saying I was excited. But I don’t remember feeling excited. I remember feeling disbelief.

Here’s why I know that was my “made it moment”. As soon as I hung up the phone, I did something completely out of character for me: I walked upstairs to my bedroom, changed into dress-up clothes and put on makeup. It still makes me laugh to think that that was my reaction. After writing several books that came close but fell short; after considering giving up and needing pep talks from my friends to keep going; after enduring looks of pity from people who knew I was banging my hard, hard head against a hard, hard wall, I had gotten the call that said the wall had yielded before I did.

I looked in the mirror and faced my dress like someone who had changed—someone who had made it.

Terry Shames is the best-selling author of A Killing at Cotton Hill and The Last Death of Jack Harbin, Seventh Street Books. Her books are set in small-town Texas and feature ex-chief of police Samuel Craddock. Terry lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband and two rowdy terriers. She is Vice President of Norcal Sisters in Crime and on the board of MWA Norcal.



  1. Thanks, Terry for sharing. There’s nothing sweeter than good reviews, unless it’s a nice big paycheck for selling those books!

    Comment by RP Dahlke — January 9, 2014 @ 10:46 am

  2. That’s a reaction I’ve never heard of! How great that you made it with a month to go, Terry. Great post, and an excellent description of what you went through to get beyond the wall.

    Comment by Kaye George — January 9, 2014 @ 10:52 am

  3. Kaye, as I said it was completely out of character for me. I guess it made me feel “professional.”

    Comment by Terry Shames — January 9, 2014 @ 11:44 am

  4. What an outstanding moment and reaction. Congratulations!
    Marja McGraw

    Comment by Marja McGraw — January 9, 2014 @ 1:06 pm

  5. Congrats, Terry! It doesn’t come easy for most of us. So reading your “made it moment” was heartening. Wishing you much continued success.

    Comment by Jacqueline Seewald — January 9, 2014 @ 1:19 pm

  6. I love that story and enjoyed your “moment” vicariously. So glad you hung on until the right publisher came along to love your book and your talent.

    Comment by Susan C Shea — January 9, 2014 @ 2:17 pm

  7. “Perseverance doesn’t begin to cover it. Add perseverance to commitment, drive, the ability to overcome disappointment again and again, stubbornness, the determination to continue to sharpen one’s craft, and the capacity to pretend that reality doesn’t exist, and you’ve got a good picture of what it takes for most people to find a publisher eager to turn their manuscript into a real, live book.”

    Boy, howdy, you said it, lady! I’ve had three agents and just signed with my fourth. Three out of four could not find a publisher for my books. I tried again and again, only to wind up back at the curb over and over again. Publishing is not for the weak. But what a wonderful story! Perseverance DOES begin to cover it: and so does loveliness, and dignity, and strength, and courage in the face of adversity. Congratulations, and well-deserved kudos.

    Comment by Savvy — January 9, 2014 @ 2:39 pm

  8. Terry, continued good luck with what you love doing! Even if your first book had been discovered and loved by one person, you would have still “made it.” All the best…

    Comment by Barbara Ebel ('Doctor Barbara') — January 9, 2014 @ 4:10 pm

  9. Perseverance is right. Non-writers often are kind but don’t have a clue about the process of submitting. Still, we need non-writer friends too to keep us grounded. Congratulations.

    I’m afraid I didn’t do anything very exciting with my first acceptance. It was in an email that had gone astray, and I got a second one from them saying ‘perhaps you did not get our email to you offering….since our internet system has been down.’ Nope. I hadn’t.

    Comment by Vonnie — January 9, 2014 @ 4:16 pm

  10. I’m sorry I was away from my desk for a few hours and am just now seeing all the great comments. It looks like everybody really gets how much perseverance really does count. As Savvy says, publishing is not for the weak (unless they are really, really lucky). Vonnie, your story of your wandering email made me want to faint! I guess there really is a good reason to make sure your spam folder isn’t full of good news.

    Comment by Terry Shames — January 9, 2014 @ 8:15 pm

  11. Oh Terry, I hadn’t heard that factoid in your path to publication…making your made-it moment with only one month to spare. How freaky, how lucky! I look forward to reading your sequel soon.

    Comment by Kay Kendall — January 10, 2014 @ 12:54 am

  12. I’m happy your perseverance paid off!
    As far as dressing up and putting on makeup to celebrate “The Call,” that is truly a drastic step! lol

    Morgan Mandel

    Comment by Morgan Mandel — January 10, 2014 @ 9:57 am

  13. This is so sweet, Terry. I’m so glad you made it, so I could get to know you—and read your books!

    Comment by Lori Rader-Day — January 10, 2014 @ 12:39 pm

  14. Morgan, you make me laugh. When I say makeup, you may get the wrong impression. I dash of eye makeup and a little blush–that’s what passes for glamor on my life.

    Comment by Terry Shames — January 10, 2014 @ 12:47 pm

  15. The first book is a winner and the review goes up just after midnight my time tonight. 12:30 am to be precise. Very much looking forward to the next book.

    Comment by Kevin — January 10, 2014 @ 10:17 pm

  16. That’s http://kevintipplescorner.blogspot.com/ for the review of Terry’s latest. Great review site, and a book I’m very excited to read myself.

    Comment by jenny — January 10, 2014 @ 11:34 pm

  17. What a wonderful Made It Moment. How I long for that. Congratulations and continued success in all you write and publish. Loved this.

    Comment by Jane Risdon — January 30, 2014 @ 6:52 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress