Terrence McCauley is an award-winning writer of Thrillers, Crime Fiction and Westerns
Do you have a “real” job other than writing, and if so, what is it? What are some other jobs you’ve had in your life?
I am a public relations consultant and a full-time writer. I spent twenty-five years in state government as a community relations and government affairs professional.
Have any of your jobs outside of writing influenced your writing?
I think all of the experiences I have had over the years have influenced my writing. People I’ve met, situations I’ve uncovered, the kinds of dynamics in a group left impressions on me that come through in my stories.
What compelled you to write your first book?
Despite all my years working in an office, I never wanted a traditional job. My father spent his life in an office and advised me to do something more with my life. That compelled me to give writing a chance. I had always enjoyed a good story, whether it was on television or in a theater or in a book, so I challenged myself to see if I could write one myself. I became drawn to it immediately and have been doing it for quite some time.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
As a kid, I wanted to be a director, a writer and a comic book illustrator. Out of those three goals, my ambition to become a writer won out. I didn’t want to go to film school and my drawing talents peaked mid-way in my teenage years. I’m glad it did or else I might not have given writing a chance.
Tell us a little bit about your books. What is the title?
My latest releases from Wolfpack Publishing and Rough Edges Press are The Wandering Man and The Moscow Protocol.
Since you’ve written more than one novel, which is your favorite?
I can’t say that I have a favorite. I suppose the last novel I’ve written is always my favorite since it resembles my current abilities as a writer. Each book I read and each review I get shapes me as an artist. I’ve changed since I wrote my first book and I’m evolving still. I’ve been fortunate to have publishers who allow me to try new ideas and plot points which helps me keep me continue to grow.
Let us know what they are about. Tell us about your recent book or your first book.
Both are the latest entries in other series I have done. The Wandering Man is set in 1920s New York. It’s about a corrupt police detective who must hunt down a madman before he strikes again. It’s loosely based on the real-life Albert Fish case, though I must stress “loosely.” I changed several aspects and details of the case for my novel.
The Moscow Protocol is the fourth book in my University Series. It is about the further adventures of James Hicks, who is continuing his war against The Vanguard.
Are you currently working on any writing projects our readers should watch for release soon?
Yes. I also have a new Western series releasing in March called Blood On The Trail. It’s a spinoff of my Aaron Mackey/Billy Sunday series of Westerns.
Have you ever won any writing awards? If so, what?
In 2008, I won Tru-TV’s Search for the Next Great Crime Writer contest for Prohibition. I’ve also won the New Pulp Awards for Best Author and Best Novel. Where The Bullets Fly won the Western Fictioneers Award and I’ve been a two-time finalist of the WWA’s Silver Spur Award. My short stories have also been nominated for ITW’s Thriller Award and been mentioned in year end “Best of” anthologies.
Do you belong to any writing forums or organizations that have helped spur your career as a writer? If so, tell us about them and how they’ve helped you.
I’m a member of the Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and the Western Writers of America. Membership and leadership of all three organizations have been incredibly helpful to my writing career.
How did you feel the day you held the copy of your first book in your hands?
It was a humbling and surreal experience. I grew up riding the train with my dad, who was always reading a paperback on the trip to and from work. To think I had written something that he might have bought and read was an incredible experience for me and one I’m not likely to forget any time soon.
What type of music, if any, do you listen to while you write?
I don’t listen to music when I write. Instead, I sit on my porch and listen to the birds chirping and the squirrels running up trees and general traffic sounds. I know that might be odd, especially for someone like me who grew up in New York City, but I don’t find ambient noise as distracting as music. That’s just the way I do it though it’s not the only way to do it.
What inspires you and motivates you to write the very most?
The urge to entertain people inspires me most. I like telling stories and I like having that connection with people who like my work. Writing isn’t as hard as digging a ditch or manual labor, but it is work. Making that connection with someone who was able to forget about life for a few hours while reading my books is a real joy to me and it’s what keeps me going.
What one thing are you the most proud of in your life?
I’m proud of being a published author. It’s a dream many people have, but few get to achieve. I know how fortunate I am and I’m forever grateful.
What about your family? Do you have children, married, siblings, parents? Has your family been supportive of your writing?
I’m married without children and my wife has been incredibly supportive of my work. Not only is she my beta-reader, but she’s also my biggest fan. And although I’m the writer in the family, people at conferences are often more excited to see her than me. And I can’t blame them for that.
The main characters of your stories – do you find that you put a little of yourself into each of them or do you create them to be completely different from you?
I think there’s a bit of me in all my characters. I often wish I had the toughness of Terry Quinn, the worldlines of Charlie Doherty. The cunning of James Hicks and the dignity of Aaron Mackey. I know I don’t have all of those attributes, but I can aspire to them.
Is there an established writer you admire and emulate in your own writing? Do you have a writing mentor?
My writing mentor passed away back in 2016, but he changed my life forever. He did not only teach his students the value of writing as a craft, but of how to be a writer. The best piece of advice he ever gave me was to be careful about who I told about my work. He said that some people would be threatened by it and would tear me down, even if they didn’t mean to. I learned the value of those words often in my career.
When growing up, did you have a favorite author, book series, or book?
I didn’t really like books when I was a kid. I hated to read even though I was very good at it. I grew up watching classic films on public television and on afternoon movie channels. Later in high school I began to read for pleasure and found the works of Nelson DeMille and James Clavell to be inspiring.
What about now: who is your favorite author and what is your favorite genre to read?
I love crime novels and mysteries. James Ellroy’s pacing and syntax are incredible. Vera Caspary told some wonderfully dark stories. Hank Ryan is one of my favorites, too. For Westerns, you can’t beat Pete Brandvold. He’s a master storyteller.
Hey, let’s get morbid. When they write your obituary, what do you hope they will say about your books and writing? What do you hope they will say about you?
As an Irishman, morbidity is always an attractive topic to me. I hope they’ll be able to engrave New York Times Bestselling Author on my headstone, but who knows?
Location and life experience can sprinkle their influence in your writing. Tell us about where you grew up and a little about where you live now––city? Suburb? Country? Farm? If you could live anywhere you want to live, where would that be?
I was born and raised in The Bronx, New York. I grew up about twenty minutes north of Yankee Stadium. It was a nice environment with a fair amount of grass and trees and impressive apartment buildings that lined the Grand Concourse. I had the benefit of being able to walk to school my entire life. Eight years to grammar school up on the Grand Concourse and eight years to high school and college on the Fordham campus. I passed by The New York Botanical Garden each day, so I always had a mix of urban and country settings. I’d like to think that duality helped me in my writing career.
Do you have any pets? What are they? Tell us about them
I have a black barn cat named Marlowe. She’s very protective, but also very loving.
Where do you write? Set the scene for us when you are writing. What does it look like? On the couch, laptop, desk? Music? Lighting, handwriting? Or do you write at a coffee shop or other location?
I write on the front porch of my home in Dutchess County, New York. I write here all year long. We installed a heater so I can use it in the cold weather. It’s enclosed during fall and winter, but I take down the covers when spring arrives. I do all of my work on the computer, but if I hit a snag, I find writing it out helps me clear up any blockage.
Do you watch television? If so, what are your favorite shows? Does television influence of inspire your writing?
Television has had more of an influence on my work than reading. I think I’ve seen at least one episode of every obscure crime series from the 1980s through the 1990s. Manimal. Street Hawk. Riptide. Those stick out in my mind because they did not work well. In hindsight, the shows I liked weren’t very good, either. Hunter. The A-Team. Knight Rider. Nostalgia lets me remember them as being better than they were, but few hold up to the test of time as well as Magnum P.I. and even The Rockford Files.
Today, my favorites are 1883, Yellowstone, The Promised Land and The Gilded Age. The writing on these shows is only eclipsed by the performances.
What about movies?
The first movie I ever saw in a movie theater was Raiders of the Lost Ark. I didn’t understand all of it at the time, but I knew I enjoyed it. Later I saw ET and The Untouchables. Watching those films helped fuel my interest in stories, which made me have a new appreciation for classic movies and modern-day tales as well.
Focusing on your most recent (or first) book, tell our readers what genre your book is and what popular author you think your writing style in this book is most like.
The Wandering Man is told in first person, so the style is different from many of my other books. It’s a more conversational style because I’m giving the reader a glimpse into the mind of a corrupt NYPD detective in the 1920s. Charlie has a worldly weariness to him. He has a job to do but knows Tammany Hall is really in charge. Many of the crooked things he does are because of his allegiance to Tammany. I enjoy describing the people and places from that period through Charlie’s eyes. Some might think it’s limiting to describe complex stories from a single character’s point of view, but I find it a great challenge. I like that the reader doesn’t know what happens until Charlie learns about it. I believe that helps the reader get absorbed in the story.
The Moscow Protocol is the fourth book in my University Series. The University is a secret organization that President Eisenhower formed to keep an eye on the Military Industrial Complex. Over the course of the previous three books, I’ve described the world in which The University operates. It’s been great to take my readers on the journey that shows a seemingly small event in Sympathy For The Devil that quickly mushrooms into a life-changing event spanning three novels. I enjoy world-building and these books are no exception. They’re told in the third person with revolving pointes of view. It helps me tell a complex story without allowing it to become boring. I use technology as a tool, not as a measure by which to cover up plot holes.
How long did it take you to write your most recent (or first) book? When you started writing, did you think it would take that long (or short)?
The first novel I ever wrote (a financial thriller called Tenets Of Power) was never published, but I pawed around with that book for about ten years or so. Once I started writing Prohibition, I knew I was on to something. All my work on Tenets did not go to waste. I’ve harvested that book for numerous other books. Scenes, characters, plot lines all of it have been absorbed elsewhere. Sympathy For The Devil took me six weeks to write. It was my first modern story, so I had quite a bit to say. On the whole, it takes me a couple of months to write a book. The most I ever did in a year was six novels. I spent time writing them on nights, weekends and to and from work.
Is there anyone you’d like to specifically acknowledge who has inspired, motivated, encouraged or supported your writing?
I’ve been most fortunate to have many good friend and family who have supported my work over the years. I’m grateful for all they have done in the past and all of the support they will give me in the future.
Thinking about your writing career, is there anything you’d go back and do differently now that you have been published?
I suppose there are regrets in any career. Writing is certainly not different. I wish I had paid more attention to the marketing aspect of it. I wish I’d had the money back then to help market my books better. Publishers, especially the independent publishers, don’t know how to get their books into the hands of readers. They claim they do, but they really don’t. I’m working with some good people now, though and I’m hopeful for the future.
What is your main goal or purpose you would like to see accomplished by or with your writing?
I’d like to see my work reach more people. I’d like to be able to be a bestseller one day because I really enjoy writing novels. It’s what I feel I was born to do. I’ve developed friendships with many of my readers and I look forward to making many more friends along the way.
How has having a book or being published in a book changed your life?
Publishing a book is quite an accomplishment, whether it’s self-published or traditionally published. As my mentor once told me, “Writing is a very intimate act. You’re taking the one aspect of the human condition that makes us different from all the other animals–our creativity–and putting it down on paper for all the world to see.” I also remember what my father told me all those years ago. “No matter what happens to you in life, you can always pull out the manuscript, plop it on the desk and tell people ‘I did that’.” It’s nice to be able to look on a bookshelf and see more than twenty of my titles looking back at me. Not all of them have my name on the cover or the spine, of course, but I created them just the same.
Many authors have said that naming their characters is a difficult process, almost like choosing a name for their own child. How did you select the names of some of your lead characters in your book/s?
A name often just comes to me as if it’s someone I’ve known for years. But when I need a name, I often search old NHL players from the early days of the league, pick a team and use their rosters as inspiration.
Have you ever had a character take over a story and move it in a different direction than you had originally intended? How did you handle it?
The wonderful part about not writing an outline is that I experience the story as the reader experiences it. I can’t think of the last book I wrote where the main character didn’t take over and go in places I hadn’t imagined. Those are the best books.
Now that you area published author, does it feel differently than you had imagined?
It certainly does. I never understood what writers said about connecting with their audience. But since I was first published ten years ago, I certainly understand it now. Connecting with my audience is one of my favorite aspects of being a writer.
Is there anything else you want your readers to know about you? Include information on where to find your books, any blogs you may have, or how a reader can learn more about you and writing.
My books are available in print and as e-books everywhere books are sold. If you can’t find them at your independent book store or library, ask for them!
Thank you, Terrance, for sharing your writing world with us,