Q&A with Terry Sheppard
Q: How old were you when you began to write stories?
Our 6th grade class produced a stage play I wrote. It was a comedy about being lost in th desert, very Python-esque before Python existed. I had terrible handwriting so the most important life skill I learned was how to type. It’s always been a challenge to get ideas out of my head and onto the screen as fast I get them. I figured out early that it was ok to barf out the story first and then go back and fix things later.
Q: What was your first novel?
I wrote CHASING VEGA in 2020 to honor my good friend Traci Ruiz. She was one of the first Latina female cops in her jurisdiction and had a rough time in what was still a male dominated world. But like my protagonist, Jessica Ramirez, Traci never gave up, never lost her empathy or her moral compass. The feedback I got on VEGA inspired me to bring Jess back in CHASING THE CAPTAIN this summer.
Q: What themes can readers find in your latest release, Catching the Captain?
The best characters come to us flawed and grow over the course of the story. Jessica often lets things get personal and makes bad decisions in the heat of the moment. Who among us hasn’t had that experience at one time or another? During the course of VEGA and CAPTAIN, she learns that revenge doesn’t heal her wounds. CAPTAIN is also a techno thriller that could fly out of today’s headlines. The bad guy has learned how to control our devices and influence our minds. He’s planning something really bad and Jess and her team have to figure out how to stop him before time runs out.
Q: Tell us, readers, what your latest novel is about.
It’s really a story about teamwork and the power of perseverance. Jess has a knack for finding the right people and empowers them to think beyond their self-imposed limitations. The guy who runs MI-6 in the story does it from a wheelchair. And the college kids who help her and her partner, Alexandra Clark, solve the technological puzzle leverage individual strengths in a team setting, proof that diversity and cooperation are powerful advantages.
Q: Who are your main protagonists and what are they like?
My stories tend to feature ensemble casts with multiple plot lines keeping the story rocketing forward. Jessica Ramirez is the central pivot. She’s a detective in an Illinois college town who finds trouble, even when she’s not looking for it. Her partner, Ali Clark is a computer forensics specialist and a fearless smart alec who feels like she’s always, “pulling Jessica’s chestnuts out of the fire.” In CAPTAIN, we meet Layana Evans, a London Detective Inspector who is half Scottish and half South African Zulu. She becomes Jessica’s partner when the story shifts to the UK. Andy Milluzzi’s computer geeks return. We get to see Andy in action on his own this time in an homage to Q in the Ian Fleming Bond thrillers. Jess’ love interest, FBI Special Agent, Michael Wright has recovered from his near-death experience in VEGA and is still trying to win Jess’ affection even as he must put her in harm’s way. There is also a rainbow of interesting characters Jess encounters at MI6 and a US Marine who pops into the story with a Zippo lighter and a solution that comes at a crucial moment.
Q: How many books do you plan to write for your Jessica Ramirez Series?
Jessica still has a lot of stories to tell. I have at least two more books in process. There’s a third novel that takes place after CAPTAIN where we get to see Jess and Ali work a little closer to home. And I’m documenting some of Traci’s real-life experiences in a fictional AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF JESSICA RAMIREZ that is scheduled to come out after the next novel, hopefully in late 2022.
Q: How have your careers as a narrator and audio artist influenced your writing?
I write my stuff to be read aloud. I narrate a chapter as the final edit before publication. My wife and creative collaborator, Colleen, hears every chapter. If she’s not asking “what happens next,” when I’m done reading it to her, I go back and rewrite.
Q: How did you get into the thriller fiction genre?
I was an insomniac as a kid. Instead of counting sheep, I dreamt up blockbuster movies as a way to calm my mind and drift off to sleep. I love a popcorn thriller where you know the good guys are going to win, where the action starts in the first scene and doesn’t stop until the credits roll. So writing in that genre was the next natural step.
Q: Using only three words, how would you describe your writing style?
Still learning how.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers in the thriller genre?
Keep ratcheting up the tension. Run your protagonists up a tree, start cutting the limbs out from under them and then throw hand grenades. Take away every option for escape and then try to figure out how to have them prevail. That’s the way life works for anyone with the courage to go their own way. Good things can happen to people with tenacious desire and a clear picture of where they think they want to go. But not without lots of failure, setbacks and disappointment. Writing is a lot like that. You never fully master the craft. But with perseverance you learn to translate the Muse’s song into something somebody might just want to read.
Q: Is it true all writers drink coffee?
I never learned to like the stuff. Coca Cola is my caffeine source. But I limit my intake. My brain is already running at maximum warp and doesn’t need much stimulation.
Q: Where can readers find you and your books online?
Our publishing company works with Amazon. The print and digital stuff is over there, in English and Spanish. The audio books get a broad distribution and can be found “wherever audiobooks are sold.” The first place we share everything is on the TerryShepherd.com website.