Interview with Terrence McCauley

Most of you who visit this site know I do a little 'book a week' post each month to review/promote writers and their work. For a few months I've had plans to follow up some of those reviews with author interviews. Alas, life got busy (as it tends to do) but here we are (better late than never) kicking it off with SLOW BURN crime/pulp author TERRENCE MCCAULEY.

TM

Winner of the 2013 Stalker Award for most Criminally Underrated Author, McCauley is the author of two novels,  PROHIBITION and SLOW BURN, as well as numerous short stories in THUGLIT, THE CRIMSON MASK, NOIR NATION, ATOMIC NOIR, THE KENNEDY CURSE, THE BIG ADIOS, and SHOTGUN HONEY, among others. He also is an editor for the FIGHT CARD series and GRAND CENTRAL NOIR, a charity anthology.

Prohibition     Grand Central Noir     Slow Burn

What kinds of fiction did you read growing up? What grabbed you and still sticks with you today?

Growing up in the 80s (I'll be 40 in February), I actually hated to read. I was more of a movie/tv kid. I'd fall asleep trying to read, even if it was necessary for school work. But I was fortunate enough to come from a family of story tellers, so I was surrounded by plot development and characters, though I didn't even know it at the time.

In high school, I had to read THE SHINING and my love of reading grew from there. I gravitated to action books like CATHEDRAL by Nelson DeMille and epics like TAI PAN by James Clavell. TAI PAN was the first book that made me want to take a shot at writing a story on my own. It took a while for me to actually do it, but the seed was planted.

As for the genres I read now, I'm all over the place. I read westerns, spy thrillers, pulp stuff and even zombie novels. I try not to get stale with my writing or my reading.

Much of your writing takes place in the 1920's and 30's. What about this time period keeps bringing you back?

I enjoy writing about the 1920s and 1930s because it's a simpler time in which to tell a crime story. I can focus on telling a story without worrying about describing modern crime techniques and technology. All of that is important and can lead to great stories, it's just not the kind of story I want to tell. I enjoy writing about that period of American history following the horrors of World War 1; a war we've unfortunately forgotten about in part because there isn't as much footage available about it as World War 2 and subsequent wars. World War 1 is also a very difficult war whose origins are difficult to understand. That war deeply affected the psyche of an entire generation of people throughout the world. I'm not talking about the supposed Lost Generation like Fitzgerald and Hemingway and others. They were drunks and flakes and bullies looking for an excuse to get drunk and would've found it even in the best of times. I'm talking about the regular people who came back from the war or lived through it here at home and had to rebuild their lives. The impact of the war and the resulting economic boom led to a dynamic time - Prohibition, The Roaring 20's (in spite of Prohibition) and The Great Depression. The era is filled with interesting characters in turmoil which makes for a great dramatic setting.

What do you think makes for compelling noir?

To me, compelling noir is bad things happening to imperfect people. Compelling noir also avoids stereotypes, like the alcoholic, haunted detective. The smoldering bombshell client with trouble in her heart and sin on her mind. The tough, but beautiful government agent. I roll my eyes when I read descriptions of stories like that and tend to buy something else. Of course, the protagonist has to be wronged in some way, otherwise their wouldn't be a story. But the characters themselves can be different and free from old time plot devices that may have worked decades ago, but have become somewhat clichéd now.

As we are nearing the holidays - What are some of your favorite books and short stories from 2013 that you recommend readers check out?

The best thing about being a noir/pulp writer right now, there are so many talented people working out there today - both in the long and short forms. Long form you've got Johnny Shaw's BIG MARIA  and Todd Robinson's THE HARD BOUNCE and Dana King's GRIND JOINT are all winners. Les Edgerton's THE RAPIST is a hard book to read because of the subject matter, but it's still a hell of a tale. Tim O'Mara's CROOKED NUMBERS and Charles Salzberg's DEVIL IN THE HOLE are both great.

As for the short form, damned near anything featured in THUGLIT or SHOTGUN HONEY/BOTH BARRELS are always good places to look for fiction. Stories by you [editor's note: yes... there were bribes involved], Nik Korpon, Jen Conley and Richie Narvaez are examples of some of the finest fiction in the genre. In my opinion, this is a great time to be a crime fiction writer, but an even better time to be a crime fiction reader.

Speaking of short fiction, I'd also ask everyone to take a look at GRAND CENTRAL NOIR, an anthology I edited where every single dime goes straight to a wonderful charity here in NYC called 'God's Love, We Deliver'. It's great fiction for a great cause.

Thanks, Terrence!