Searching for Golden Words

Terry Shames writes the best-selling Samuel Craddock series, set in small-town Texas. The series has received multiple award nominations. A Killing at Cotton Hill won the 2013 Macavity Award for Best First Mystery.  In 2015, MysteryPeople named Shames one of the top five Texas mystery writers. An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock, a prequel, out January 3, 2017, received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, which dubbed the novel, “Superior….a prequel with resonance in the era of Black Lives Matter.” She is published by Seventh Street Books. Find out more at

Terry Shames
An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock, out January 3, 2017 
“A favorite of fans who like their police procedurals with a strong ethical center…”  Kirkus Reviews, Fall, 2016

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I got a new desk! The old desk was one I hauled into my office when my son went off to college twelve years ago. It was actually only part of a desk—in fact, all it really provided was a surface. Not only that, it was ugly. I spend hours in my office every day, churning out words. So I finally decided it was time for me to have an actual desk. I knew exactly what I wanted, an old-fashioned desk with small drawers and one big file drawer. I wanted wood, preferably painted a nice color that would go with my office. I thought the chance of actually finding “my” desk would take forever, if I found it at all.

To my utter amazement I found it immediately on Craigslist. A young woman in the area refinishes furniture for fun and to make a little money on the side. It was well-priced and I loved it immediately. Not only that but she delivered it. In the rain.

Getting a new desk should not have been a big deal except that with a new desk, I decided it was time to clean out all the detritus in my office. In particular, I resolved to tackle my old manuscripts. When I moved into the office years ago, I carefully saved them, thinking that one day I may go back and find Golden Words among the hundreds of thousands I had written.  Time to take a look. I had kept multiple versions of some of them. The least I could do was toss all but one version.

Maybe it was a result of gifting myself with the new desk, but I looked at the manuscripts with a steely eye. And that eye told me that I had been kidding myself. Detritus is a kind word for what most of those manuscripts contained. They were my first efforts at becoming a novelist and they showed it. The prose was just okay, the characters were flat and the plots predictable at best. So out they went!

The more I dumped, the freer I felt. There was one manuscript in particular that I had for years imagined could be revised. All I could think as I read it was, “Who was I kidding?” I actually laughed when I put it in the recycling bin.

A couple of them had sentimental value—like my first full manuscript, a science fiction story that I still like. And there were a couple that had pretty good story lines that I might one day revive. But other than that—GONE!

As I read I realized how I had grown as a writer. Those pages represented many, many hours of learning how to write. If you had asked me at the time, I would have said these books were perfectly good and that publishers who turned me down were wrong. These days, I might have even made the mistake of thinking they were ready to publish and published them myself. But they weren’t ready. There were no Golden Words—just okay ones. And as I’ve learned, “okay” is not good enough.

I haven’t regretted for one minute tossing all that paper. In fact, sometimes I peek over at the few that are left and think, “When I need that space, you’re out of here!”