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About the Book
THE BATTLE LINES HAVE BEEN DRAWN. THE WAR HAS BEGUN.
James Hicks has spent his entire life and career fighting on the front lines of terrorism for the clandestine intelligence organization known as The University. Hicks has learned that enemies can appear and disappear in the blink of an eye, and allegiances shift like the wind. But now, Hicks has finally discovered his true enemy: the criminal organization known as The Vanguard.
This shadowy group has operated as a deadly organization comprised weapons dealers, drug runners, and money launderers for decades, but has now decided to add regime change to their catastrophic agenda. But knowing the enemy is one thing. Being able to defeat it is another matter entirely. When Hicks uncovers a solid lead on his new adversaries, his world explodes. His home base is attacked, his operatives in the field are wiped out, and, for the first time, The University finds itself in open combat against an unknown enemy. In a battle that rages from the streets of Manhattan to the halls of power in Washington, D.C., to the dark alleys of Berlin, Hicks will have to use every resource at his disposal to defeat A Conspiracy of Ravens.
Interview with the Author
What initially got you interested in writing?
I’ve always been a big fan of movies, even when I was a kid. My parents favored the classics, where studios churned them out like clockwork. The plots were usually engaging and so were the actors. I also come from a family of storytellers – priests and nuns, mostly – so I was introduced to the realities of the human condition early on.
In college, my desire to tell stories of my own grew and I took my first creative writing class. I wound up graduating with a B.A. in Political Science, but that love of storytelling never left me and I’ve been blessed to go on to have several books published.
What genres do you write in? What drew you to writing these specific genres?
I’ve written crime fiction, mysteries, thrillers, a war novella and I’m currently working on a western series. Eventually, I’d like to try my hand at horror, too, but not yet.
I’ve written in these various genres because each of them allows me to tell a story about some aspect of the human experience. My crime novels set in the 1930s depict desperate people at a desperate time. I write about criminals and murderers who turn out to be the heroes of the story. They might not be someone you’d like to meet in a bar or have over for the holidays, but for the purposes of reading, they’re compelling characters.
My spy thrillers allowed me to delve into modern day paranoia and fears of excessive government intrusion into our lives. Is someone really watching us? Who’s trying to hurt us and why? Who are the people trying to stop them? In my James Hicks series, I take a different angle on the thriller genre wherein I make Hicks believable because he’s not always likable. It’s hard for me as a reader to relate to a character who is too good. That makes them predictable. A character like Hicks allows me to show the reader the shadow world in which he lives while doing what he can to protect our way of life. I never think the reader is always going to like him. I just want to keep them interested in reading him. So far, that tactic seems to work. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some readers tell me, “Man, that Hicks is a real S.O.B., isn’t he?” I take a certain pride in that.
My new western series is about a sheriff in Montana in 1888. I think westerns always reflect the times in which they are written. In the 1950s, they portrayed rugged individualism and family values because that’s what post-war America wanted. In the 1960s and 1970s, we saw revisionist westerns that focused more on the brutality of life back then. Heroes weren’t always heroes and few people rode off into the sunset unscathed. In the 1980s, action was the order of the day until Lonesome Dove came along and showed us how beautiful a western could be. Today, and this is certainly the case with my western, my protagonist is Aaron Mackey, a sheriff who finds himself at odds with his times. His decisions aren’t always popular, but necessary. His job isn’t to be liked. It’s to protect the town he grew up in and has been elected to serve. He’s a man driven by his own code, and sometimes that code means he does the right thing. Sometimes it might not seem that way to the other characters, but Mackey doesn’t care. He reflects a lot of the rebelliousness of our current day, where we question everything and for good reason.
How did you break into the field?
I had always dabbled in writing since college. I pawed at a couple of books, the first being a business thriller called TENETS OF POWER. In hindsight, the book was too long and too involved to be interesting and I didn’t have any luck in finding an agent for it. But all of my hard work didn’t go to waste. I’ve since harvested that book for plotlines in other works I’ve done, particularly in my 1930s novel PROHIBITION.
I had workshopped PROHIBITION for a few years, then in the early 2006, I began sending it out to agents. Once again, no one bit. The feedback was always the same. No one cares about period fiction anymore.
Then, in 2008, a friend of mine encouraged me to enter the book in TruTV’s Search for the Next Great Crime Writer contest. Much to my surprise, it beat out over 200 other novels to win the prize. I was supposed to be published by Borders, but when they went out of business, I was out of luck.
I was fortunate enough to find Ron Fortier and Rob Davis of Airship 27 who loved the book and published it. It received great reviews and caught the eye of Jason Pinter at Polis Books. A few years later, Jason republished PROHIBITION and its sequel SLOW BURN as well as my spy-thriller SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL. I’ve been with him ever since and he’s been great to work with.
What do you want readers to take away from reading your works?
That I’ll never give them anything less than my best. People might not like my subject, my style or my characters, but no one can ever say I mailed it in on a novel. I believe the publishing business IS a business, so if you’re buying my product, you deserve my very best. I haven’t yet tried to write the Great American Novel and I’ve never written a book that was meant to change anyone’s life. However, when people tell me they couldn’t put the book down and can’t wait for the next one, I feel like I’ve done my job.
What do you find most rewarding about writing?
I find the feedback I receive from readers to be the most consistently rewarding part of writing. The feedback has been mostly positive, but it’s been negative, too. Most of those complaints came from people who didn’t like the genre or were expecting a different kind of book. A few complaints were pointed observations made by people who know the genre very well. I took those complaints to heart and kept them in mind when I worked on the next book.
When it comes to the art of writing itself, there’s no greater endorphin rush for me than the thrill of feeling a story take off as I’m typing it. I know it might sound weird to someone who has never written a book or a story, but these characters really do take on a life of their own. I recently started writing a novel and quickly realized I had started in the middle of the book. I had to go back and tell it from the beginning. It’s more work, but I don’t look at it that way. I look at it as the story telling itself through me. Again, we’re not talking high literature here, but I want every story I tell to be the best it can be. But when you hit that scene just right or that idea pops into my head, man, there’s nothing better than that.
What do you find most challenging about writing?
I find the editing process to be the most challenging part about writing. It’s also the most important part of the process. Almost anyone can sit at a keyboard and bang out a story. The editing process makes you cull it down and mold it into something cohesive and compelling. After that, I have to read it again to make sure all of the seams have been covered. And again after that. After the third pass, I can’t read it anymore because it all blurs together for me. Often, by then, my mind is already straining at the bit to move on to the next work anyway, so I rely on beta readers to help ensure I haven’t left anything out or left a gaping hole in the plot.
What advice would you give to people wanting to enter the field?
If you’re going to be a writer, you’d better be tough. You’d better be ready for rejection and you’ve got to take criticism. That’s not always easy, especially when you’ve labored over something for months or years. You develop an attachment to it and bristle at even the slightest hint that it’s not as perfect as you envision it.
But a mentor of mine told me long ago that writing isn’t about the writer, it’s about the writer and their relationship to the reader. I might know what I mean, but if it’s not on the page, I can’t expect the reader to divine what I mean. People are entitled to their opinion and readers are right more than they’re wrong. As long as the critique is coming from an honest place, the writer must consider it.
The other piece of advice I’d offer a new reader is to write in secret whenever possible. That sounds crazy, I know. Conspiratorial, even, like something out of one of my spy novels. But believe me when I tell you that the act of becoming a writer is very intimidating to some people. You’re attempting to do something that most people couldn’t do even if they had the courage to try. People tend to enjoy tearing down those who attempt what they cannot. The less people who know about what you’re trying to do, the better your story will be. There will be plenty of time for the critiques I mentioned above, but first, just sit down and do it and keep doing it until it’s done. When you’re ready, show it to the world. It’ll be your scariest, but most rewarding moment.
What type of books do you enjoy reading?
I like thrillers, mostly. I read westerns when I’m writing a western, just to make sure my spy thriller voice doesn’t bleed into that genre. It keeps me honest and keeps me engaged. I’m not worried about another author’s work bleeding into my own. In order to write, you have to read a lot because one never knows what will spark that next idea for your story.
Is there anything else besides writing you think people would find interesting about you?
I think people would be surprised that I’m as quiet as I am. People read my work and expect me to be a larger-than-life character. I’m really not. I prefer to keep to myself and I listen a lot. Wherever I am, I overhear how people speak to each other. I listen to their concerns and watch them on their phones on their way to and from work. Observation helps keep me grounded and, as always, gives me inspiration for my next novel or short story.
What are the best ways to connect with you, or find out more about your work?
All of my works are available online on Amazon, BN.com and all of the usual places in both print and e-book formats. I’m also on Facebook as Terrence P. McCauley and on Twitter as @tmccauley_nyc. My website is www.terrencemccauley.com. Feel free to drop me a line or ask me a question. And if you’ve purchased one of my books, please leave a review. They help, believe me.
About the Author
Terrence McCauley is the award-winning author of two previous James Hicks thrillers: SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL and A MURDER OF CROWS, as well as the historical crime thrillers PROHIBITION and SLOW BURN (all available from Polis Books). He is also the author of the World War I novella THE DEVIL DOGS OF BELLEAU WOOD, the proceeds of which go directly to benefit the Semper Fi Fund. His story “El Cambalache” was nominated for the Thriller Award by International Thriller Writers.
Terrence has had short stories featured in Thuglit, Spintetingler Magazine, Shotgun Honey, Big Pulp and other publications. He is a member of the New York City chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers and the International Crime Writers Association.
A proud native of The Bronx, NY, he is currently writing his next work of fiction. Please visit his website at terrencemccauley.com or follow him at @terrencepmccauley.