Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Interview: Terrence McCauley

me hatThis week we sit down with Terrence McCauley, a New Yorker with a passion for the past. His ex-heavyweight boxer turned enforcer, Terry Quinn, has appeared in joints like THUGLIT and ATOMIC NOIR, as well as recently released novels FIGHT CARD: AGAINST THE ROPES and PROHIBITION, and most recently in our own flashzine with “The Careful Hunter.” His new book SLOW BURN was released from the newly launched Noir Nation Books.

With so much going on, and he’s support of Shotgun Honey, how could we not help him sell some more books. You will buy his books! So let’s get on with it.

How’d you get the gun? Or rather what drew you to crime fiction?

I’ve always been drawn to unconventional stories. I enjoy the standard cops and robbers stuff, but I’ve never really wanted to write that kind of fiction. I’ve been in politics and government for most of my life, so I know there are no good guys or bad guys in life. We’re all capable of good and bad given a particular situation. I also didn’t want to write excessively about crooked/bad cops either because I think that’s just as unrealistic. I decided to write about people as they were, warts and all.

I set my Terry Quinn character in the past because I didn’t want to write a contemporary story about contemporary problems. Researching modern criminal and police tactics don’t interest me. Sure, they’re important in real life, but I didn’t want to spend time learning about them for my fiction. I wanted my story to be set in an interesting time period in America’s history in general and New York City history in particular. That’s why I set my story during the Prohibition era. It just naturally evolved into a crime story from there and I’m glad it did.

Our readers, some for the first time, got a taste of Terry Quinn the other day with “The Careful Hunter.” Tells them a little more about Terry, what makes him tick?

Throughout the course of the Quinn books and stories, I do my best to portray him as a guy who is much smarter than he thinks he is. He believes he’s just a thug, but no one really treats him that way. He’s every bit as smart as he is tough – and he’s pretty tough. He has a deep sense of loyalty to Archie Doyle, the crime boss for whom he works and the feeling is mutual. So many mob stories feature some kind of predictable schism between the head boss and the hit man. In the Quinn stories, I didn’t give myself that luxury. If anything, consistent loyalty between the two men has forced me to come up with more creative story lines for them.

Do the Quinn stories take place in our present timeline, or an alternate one allowing you more flexibility? What kind of research goes into setting a story in the Prohibition era?

The Quinn stories are set in the 1930s. The setting provides me with the flexibility to use historical figures and events to pepper my stories. I ignore them or pay attention to them, depending on how I feel they can serve my plot’s purpose.

That takes a lot of research which sounds like a lot of work. It is, but it’s also very rewarding. Research gave me new plot ideas and pushed me in directions I never intended to go. That makes my work better and the act of writing it very exciting.

Sometimes writers put a little of themselves in their characters, anything in former boxer turned PI that reflects you?

Well, Quinn isn’t really a PI. He’s more of an enforcer than anything else. I’d say that if there’s anything of me in Quinn, it’s his grit. I’m a great believer in not giving up on anything until every avenue is explored. My writing career has been like that. A lot of people told me to quit writing period fiction and forget about the Quinn character. They told me audiences want a hero they can admire; a character to whom they can relate. But I knew in my heart Quinn was a good character that audiences would like. He’s a cold blooded killer, sure, but he does it for the right reasons. He isn’t reckless about it and he always has a plan. He’s tough with a purpose and he never gives up. I didn’t give up when all those people told me to do so. Now I’ve got several short stories in print and three books on the market. Hopefully, it’s the beginning of a long career.

Forget the naysayers, who and what venues have given Quinn support? Where can our readers find the short stories?

Quinn has found a home in both short fiction and in novels. Airship 27 published PROHIBITION, a full length Quinn novel and FIGHT CARD: AGAINST THE ROPES is about the end of Quinn’s boxing career. Short stories featuring Quinn have appeared in THUGLIT published by the Honey Boo Boo of Crime Fiction today: Todd Robinson. Those stories are called ‘Lady Madeline’s Dive’ and ‘Redemption’. Matt Hilton’s ACTION, PULSE POUNDING TALES, VOL. 1 featured an action packed Quinn story called ‘Blood Moon of 1931’. Out of the Gutter Books ran a story of a 1950s Quinn in ATOMIC NOIR called ‘A Brave New World’. All of these works are available on Amazon. I’m proud that six different publishers (including Shotgun Honey) have proved the naysayers wrong and seen value in the Quinn character. He’s someone I’d like to write about for a long, long time.

FIGHT CARD is a notable series of boxing stories penned by under the pseudonym “Jack Tunney,” an homage I can guess to Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey. Many of our contributors have been “Jack Tunney.” Being part of a series like that, were there any guidelines, rules to follow?

ROPESThe main rule is that the story has to center around The Big Fight in a boxer’s career. That makes sure the reader knows there will be some kind of dramatic payoff at the end. Yes, it’s a theme that’s been done to death in almost every boxing story ever told, but Paul Bishop and Mel Odom have done a great job of building FIGHT CARD into a damned respectable franchise. They’ve featured some of the best fiction writers out there today and I’m honored to be part of it. I encourage everyone to check out the series on Amazon. There honestly isn’t a weak story in the bunch. I’m especially proud of my FIGHT CARD entry because it’s one of the best things I’ve ever written.

PROHIBITION from Ron Fortier’s Airship 27 imprint was your first novel featuring Quinn. How did that come about and give us the pitch for PROHIBITION?

ProhibitionFINALaPROHIBITION is about Terry Quinn, an ex-heavyweight contender turned mob enforcer who must use his brains as much as his brawn to find out who is trying to undermine his boss’s criminal empire in 1930 New York City. It is a robust crime drama, filled with memorable historical characters like Mayor Jimmy Walker while portraying the way New York was at the end of Prohibition and the dawn of the Great Depression.

Back in 2008, I submitted PROHIBITION in the running for TruTV’s Search for the Next Great Crime Writer Contest. To my surprise, it beat out over two hundred other manuscripts and won the contest. Borders Book Stores was going to enter the publishing market and promised to not only publish the book, but heavily market it in their stores. Well, we all know what happened to Borders and, well, nothing ever happened with PROHIBITION. Publishers looked at the manuscript and, although they liked it, said no one was interested in period fiction any more. But I took into account their more technical criticisms of the work and revised the manuscript, hoping I’d find a publisher for it one day. If the big publishers weren’t interested, I figured I’d give the smaller presses a try. My agent dropped me at that point and I found Airship 27. Ron loved the manuscript, but told me that it was about 20,000 words too long for him to publish. So, I pulled an Ellroy and edited dialogue tags and other information. The result? I came under Ron’s word limit by a thousand or so words. He hired the great Rob Moran to do original interior illustrations and the cover of the book.

The result is a unique work that really stands out. FIGHT CARD: AGAINST THE ROPES was written in late 2012 as sort of a prequel to PROHIBITION, detailing the end of Quinn’s boxing career, which receives a mention in PROHIBITION.

It must be a thrill after nearly 5 years to see PROHIBITION in print? These last few months have been a big upswing, or should I say uppercut, with PROHIBITION, FIGHT CARD: AGAINST THE ROPES and your third novel SLOW BURN from Noir Nation Books.

Slow Burn CoverIt is a great thrill. Even though I kept getting rejection after rejection, I kept writing. I thought about self publishing for a while, but I’m so glad Quinn has found a home in a variety of forms with a variety of publishers. I also have another Quinn story coming out later this year in Big Pulp. It’s a story where Quinn and Doyle go up against Joe Kennedy. SLOW BURN is different from anything I’ve ever written. It’s told in first person from Charlie Doherty’s perspective. He’s a corrupt Tammany Hall cop who finds himself embroiled in a murder/kidnapping case that involves one of New York City’s wealthiest families. It’s set in 1932 during a heat wave that set the entire city on the edge. Throw in the fact that the Great Depression was starting to hit home and it sets the stage for a good story. I’m glad Eddie Vega decided to publish it as the first in the Noir Nation Books franchise.

Like most writers I know, this wave is a long time coming and has been tempered with juggling real world concerns. What’s your day job, and how and where do you find time to write?

I’m the Manager of Government and Community Relations for MTA Metro-North Railroad. We’re the largest commuter railroad in the country and deal with dozens of communities and elected officials, so I’m kept pretty busy. I find time to write any time I can: on the ride into work, on the ride home, at night and on weekends. Writing has always been a labor of love for me and is my way of relaxing. I enjoy every part of the process: drafting, rewriting, editing and especially the feedback I get on my work. Even when it’s negative feedback, as long as it’s valuable in making me a better writer. Of course, when it’s positive feedback, that’s even better.

What can we expect from you in the future?

While I’ll always love the 1930s and hope to write about that era and Terry Quinn and Charlie Doherty for a long time, I’m always interested in challenging myself as a writer. That’s why I’m currently working on a Western I’m calling THE DEVIL’S CUT as well as a short story for The Big Adios. I’ve also got several other projects in the works, including a modern day spy thriller, a space opera and a horror story I’ve been kicking around for a while. Maybe they’ll flop, maybe they’ll find a home. I don’t have any control over that. All I can do is turn out the best work I can and do my best to improve my craft and entertain my audience. I seem to be off to a good start. Here’s hoping it keeps going.

Terrence, thank you for sitting down with us. One last question before you go, can you give us, our readers, any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?

My advice to any writer is to just write. Don’t worry about publishing trends. Tell the story you want to tell. Tell it your way and find people who will give you honest criticism. Always be open to improving yourself and never give up.