Terry Shepherd - Thriller With an Intoxicating Plot and Descriptive Prose
Terry Shepherd wrote his first short story at age eleven and was first published as a non-fiction author in 2008. He created Detective Jessica Ramirez in 2019, publishing his thriller "Chasing Vega" in 2020. When his grandchildren asked to star in their own stories, he created the "Waterford Detective" stories for his grandson and published the popular "Juliette and the Mystery Bug" series, co-authored with his wife, Colleen, when his granddaughter wondered how kids could protect themselves during a pandemic. Terry is also a prolific book narrator and audio-artist, voicing Dänna Dennis Wilberg's "Borrowed Time: Book 1 - Broken Promises" and Louise Dawn's thriller "Siren in the Wind," along with dozens of commercials and promotional trailers. He hosts the popular Authors on the Air podcast, was a moderator and panelist at Bouchercon 2020 and is co-chair of the Sisters In Crime - Capitol Crimes Chapter's 2021 Anthology project. Terry and Colleen live on the ocean in Jacksonville. As our Author of the Day, he tells us all about his book, Chasing Vega.
Please give us a short introduction to what Chasing Vega is about.
When I decided to write fiction full time, I wanted to create an ensemble cast of diverse characters that were representative of today’s America. Since I had a good friend who happened to be a 25-year cop veteran and also a Latina, we agreed that I would cast her character as the protagonist in “Chasing Vega,” a thriller about a 32-year-old latina detective, doing her best to survive in a department still in the grip of male chauvinism. It’s available in paperback, hardcover, digital, audiobook and in Spanish.
What inspired you to write about a meth lab bust that went badly?
I wanted to put Jess in a “fish out of water” situation, far from family and comfort zone in her mythical hometown of Paloma, Illinois. So, I built a scene where she is sent to bust a meth lab with two other cops. Her supervisor knows it’s risky, but violates the usual SWAT protocol to put her in harm’s way. Naturally, things go south and she finds herself with a gun in her face in the basement of a house that’s going up in flames.
Tell us more about Detective Jessica Ramirez. What makes her tick?
Jessica is a survivor. A world-class swimmer, her father destroys her dreams when he forbids her to try out for the Olympic team. She joins the police as a way to rebel, but comes to see her success there as a way to please a complicated and traditional Latino father figure who loves her but has trouble showing it. Pleasing him is her greatest challenge and letting him down is her greatest fear.
What makes Alexandra Clark such a great partner to have?
Her partner and best friend is Alexanda Clark. Ali exudes bravado and is a gifted computer forensics nerd who could make ten times her cop salary in the private sector. This gives her the confidence to fight the power when she needs to. Her parents’ rejection when she comes out of the closet as gay tightens her bond with the more accepting Ramirez family. Humor and a total lack of fear are weapons she uses against those who can’t accept her lifestyle. She and Jessica are devoted friends and share the unique bond of a pair of professionals who have to count on one another to stay alive.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
Writing in the age of self-publishing gives me the chance to exercise my chops in several other areas of interest. In my corporate life, I spent time as a marketing executive and love deciphering the secret sauce that can turn a book into a best seller. I’m also an unabashed computer nerd and can identify with Ali’s love for the ones and zeros that are at the heart of all great software. I design my own websites and enjoy all the technical steps in the publishing process. I also spent many years as a broadcaster and voice-over artist, which has led to occasional gigs narrating books for my friends and creating movie-like trailers to help promote new publications.
You also wrote some books for your grandkids. Please tell us more about this.
My writing life epitomizes the old John Lennon chestnut, “Life is what happens when you make other plans.” I expected to create thrillers, but was drawn to kids books when my own grandchildren began to ask questions about Covid 19. That led to “Juliette and the Mystery Bug,” a story, starring our four-year-old granddaughter, illustrated by my son-in-law and written in tandem with my wife, Colleen, in a poetic style reminiscent of our best memories of Dr. Seuss. The book teaches hand-washing, masking and distancing, and the science behind how vaccines work. It’s based on CDC guidelines and became an unexpected hit.
Does Chasing Vega contain a hidden message? What do you hope readers will take away from this?
The message I hope people take away from my writings is one of empowerment. I put my diverse characters in hero roles in the hope that people who look like them might think, “Hey! I could be that hero, too.” I hope my stories teach readers that every person, even the bad guys, have value as human beings. We are imperfect and we can make bad choices, but redemption is always possible when you apply courage and tenacity.
Have you always known you wanted to be an author? What inspired you to write your very first book?
I grew up in a family that read books aloud. I was introduced to Homer and C.S. Lewis at a very young age. My mom was a child psychologist and could have had a great career as a book narrator. She brought every tale to life and taught me that the final edit in the writing process is when we read it to an audience. We were encouraged to write stories as soon as we could hold a pencil and plot, stucture and character development were things we were aware of, even before taking up the pen.
Chasing Vega forms part of a series. Can it be read as a standalone? How do the other books in the series tie in with this one?
I wrote Chasing Vega as a stand-alone, but left one plot detail unresolved. That is the basis for “Chasing the Captain,” the second in the Jessica Ramirez Thriller Trilogy, which is due out in June. Captain stands on its own, but part of the fun is seeing many of the same characters back again and watching Jess and Ali do their thing on an international stage. The plot in Captain flies along and Jess ends up in Europe, chasing Vega’s boss. I chose London as one of the backdrops for the story because Jess has a surprisingly huge cop fan base there. I don’t know how it happened, but she’s clicked with that group and I got many emails asking me to send her to the UK and put her with a partner from the Metropolitan Police. That also opened the door for the creation of the Layanna Evans character, a bi-racial female Detective Inspector with a Scotish father and a South African mother of Zulu extraction. Lee is a fascinating player and shares something in common with Ali that becomes a central part of the story.
What, would you say, makes audiobooks so appealing? Do you enjoy narrating your own stories?
During my executive years, I spent a lot of time on the road and fell in love with audio books. Being a practitioner, I knew great narrators when I heard them and loved how they could take the written word to a whole new level with their performance. I try to write my stuff so it works well on the audio platform and enjoy the opportunity to narrate my own work when it fits. I’ll hire a female narrator when the story is told in first person by a woman, but am happiest when I’ve got the headphones on and can bring my words to life.
When starting on a new book, what is the first thing you do?
I’m new enough in The Craft that every book seems to have it’s own Genesis. Vega began with the opening scene where we meet the antagonist and watch her dispatch a victim. Captain was originally a Twilight Zone-esque short story I wrote from the perspective of a condemned prisoner who was headed to the electric chair. That became the Culpado character in Captain and I built the story around his death. Sometimes I’ll overhear a conversation in a restaurant and use that as the premise for a short story. And I love writing in unfamiliar genres when a fellow author throws me a scenario and challenges me to build a story around it.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
My process is to hit a certain word count every day. The great detective writer Kate Anslinger and I text one another our word counts as accountability buddies. Our competitive nature keeps me focused on hitting the minimum goal. But if the muse is singing, I keep writing until she stops. I’m usually a seat-of-the-pants writier. I’ll outline when I get stuck, and if I’m ever blocked, a rewrite the story as a screenplay. The limitations of that approache always seems to get things moving again. I begin every day by walking four miles right after sun-up and before the Florida heat descends. Then I write. Then I record at least an hour’s worth of narration for my current audio book client. All this is usually done by noon and I’ll spend the afternoon on the business end of publishing. Colleen and I have a publishing company that holds the copyrights to all of my work and the nuts and bolts of marketing and promotion gobble up much of the afternoon. Depending on deadlines, I’ll write again after dinner.
I also host the “Authors On The Air” podcast and record weekly interviews with my colleagues in The Craft. It’s a great way to learn and many enduring friendships have resulted.
What are you working on right now?
Currently I’m writing Book Three in the Jessica trilogy. I also have a time-travel book nearly done that is a companion for the 4th grade history curriculum. My grandson is one of the stars and, along with his friend, Maria, and their history teacher, they go back in time to witness the history that the class is studying first hand. I’m experimenting with several short stories featuring spin-off characters from the Jessica cast to see if there is traction there. There’s a graphic novel in the works for Vega and an animated version of Mystery Bug in production, too.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I love interacting with readers. The easiest place to find me is at TerryShepherd.com. Links to my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram presences can befound there. Jessica has her own popular Twitter identity. She has more friends than I have on that platform and shares humorous videos and tips focusing on situational awareness and personal safety. I communicate via a monthly email list with backstories on my characters, sneak peeks at current projects and an audio rendering of a recent chapter of my current “work in progress."