Monday, December 2, 2013

Kicking Off the Holidays with Terry Shames

A few weeks ago at the NorCal Sisters In Crime event, I got to chatting with my old friend Terry Shames, author of A KILLING AT COTTON HILL, her highly lauded debut. Terry agreed to share her thoughts on the upcoming holidays here, with us!

Look for her next novel, THE LAST DEATH OF JACK HARBIN, in January.

Me: What kind of holiday shopper are you? Super prepared, completely last minute or somewhere in between?

Terry: Holiday? What holiday? Shopping? What day is it? Yikes!

Over the years I've had a recurrent dream that I'm in a drugstore at midnight on Christmas eve trying to find semi-reasonable gifts for people. There's a good reason for that dream. I hate to shop even when it isn't  Christmas, so the Christmas shopping retrace isn't for me.

When I was young I used to make a lot of gifts, so started really early. One year I made life-sized dolls for my nieces. Another year I made shirts for all the men in the family. After my folks died, I found the wool shirt I made for my dad. He still wore it. I was dazzled at the workmanship in it. What happened to me that I stopped doing things like that? I don't really even like to decorate for Christmas anymore. Scrooge and I could sit down over a nice eggnog, laced heavily with brandy, and get along just fine.

Me: Shirts? You made shirts for *all* the men? Since I sew, I know that was an incredible undertaking…unless they were the poke-a-hole-in-a-trash-bag variety. My mom made my dad a shirt once early in their marriage - every single seam of the plaid was perfectly matched; most of the seams were french. He still owns it, over fifty years later.

As for me, when my kids lived at home, I started the shopping literally a few weeks after Christmas. I loved finding the perfect little inexpensive trinkets for their stockings. My brother and sister and I all love that tradition best from our own childhood, so I tried to recreate it in my own family. Of course, it's a little more difficult now. For one thing, I have much less time to devote to the project and I generally don't get started until December. And for another, it's very hard to find items small enough to fit in a stocking that would suit a 21-year-old college student. I'm thinking of just filling the thing with lacrosse balls.

I'm very amused at the idea of you sharing a spiked eggnog with scrooge. The truth is that I've seen you at enough events to know that you could charm the bells off the reindeer. 

What is one of the most memorable gifts you have received?

Terry: The best gift I ever received: I was seven years old and my sister was four.  Our paternal grandparents were very poor, and lived on a small farm on the outskirts of a small town in Texas. Every year on the day before or after Christmas they would have Christmas celebration at their house. They had four kids and lots of grandchildren. Gifts were strictly for children. One bedroom of the two bedroom house would be closed off,  and a Christmas tree erected in it. The day of celebration, we would all have dinner (this was a midday meal, not evening.) Afterwards, the children would be in a high state of anticipation until eventually a grown-up would say, "I think I saw someone pass the window just now. I'd better go see who it was." The children would all start squealing! Sure enough the adult would come back and say, "That was Santa and he just left some gifts under the tree."

The particular year, when my sister and I walked into the room there were two, amazing, very different baby doll cradles under the tree for us. Because I was older, I could choose the one I wanted first. One was blond wood with curved ends and little decals. The other was dark wood with squared off ends. I was desperate for the light one. But I did not want to disappoint my sister by choosing the one she wanted.  What agony! My mother, who was not known for her kindness, said in the kindest possible voice, "I want you to choose the one you really want. Don't worry about your sister." So I chose the blond one.

Here's the kicker: A couple of years ago my sister and I were talking about this and she said she was in as much agony as I was, terrified that I would choose the dark one--the one she wanted. We both wondered if our mother knew which one we really wanted. Clearly, she knew I would have trouble worrying that I would disappoint my sister--but did she know our taste?

So the best present I ever got was the admonition from my mother to choose what I really wanted. It was a powerful message to a little girl and one that has served me well. I still wonder how my grandparents managed to afford those magical cradles. In a way, it was a double-whammy--the cradles themselves and the lesson I learned.

Me: Love that story...Do you give books as gifts? Any tips for finding the perfect book for each person on your list? What's a book you'll be giving this year? 

Terry: Of course I give books as gifts. Always. Including children. It's one of the great pleasures to go to a bookstore and look through the books to choose just the right books for the people in my life. Sometimes it's cookbooks, or a beautiful coffee table book of art or travel, or a biography that I know the recipient has been waiting to read. But I almost always choose at least one fiction book for each person as well. I think that to choose the right book for someone, you have to know their taste. I know, for example, that I can read much darker books than my sister enjoys. And I know one of my friends prefers books about historical perspective. One person in particular I love to buy books for is my nephew. For him, I can go out on a limb and choose really odd books that probably no one else will enjoy. He's an avid and wide-ranging reader. And in return he introduces me to books I might never have read. One new reader in my family is Grayson, who is soon to be three. I know that he loves books with food scenes. He will go over again and again what the characters eat at a picnic, or what they have for dinner. By the way, his father is a chef. Go figure.

This year I've already bought "Jerusalem," a cookbook that wowed me and that I think one of my friends will love. And I will be buying mysteries. Who doesn't love a good mystery?


Maddy said...

Matched plaid and French seams--pass those nifty invisible, iron-on glue strips--although they'll probably last until New Year, rather than 50 years.

As for mother's wisdom, it certainly makes you wonder.

Buying books for other people is easy peasy, it's much harder to smile when you unwrap a kitchen appliance : 0

Happy holidays.

Anonymous said...

Terry & Sophie. Interesting blog. A good duo.
It's always revealing to hear stories about a writer's past experiences.
Bette Lamb