Terrence McCauley had success writing short stories featured in Thuglit, Spintetingler Magazine, Shotgun Honey, Big Pulp and other publications before turning his hand to two crime novels set in 1930s New York City, Prohibition and Slow Burn. In 2016, Down and Out Books also published Terrence's World War I novella - The Devil Dogs of Belleau Wood, with proceeds going directly to benefit the Semper Fi Fund. His latest work is the techno-thriller, A Murder of Crows, the just-published second installment in his James Hicks spy series, Sympathy for the Devil.
A Murder of Crows opens with every intelligence agency in the world on the hunt for the elusive terrorist known only as The Moroccan. But when James Hicks and his clandestine group known as the University thwart a bio-terror attack against New York City and capture The Moroccan, they find themselves in the crosshairs of their own intelligence community. The CIA, NSA, DIA and the Mossad are still hunting for for The Moroccan and will stop at nothing to get him. The team find themselves in a strange new world where allies become enemies, enemies become allies and the fate of the University - perhaps even the Western world - may hang in the balance.
McCauley stops by In Reference to Murder to take some Author R&R (Reference and Research) on how he went about preparing to write this novel and his other books:
Research has always been very important to my work, no matter what genre I may be writing in at the time.
When I wrote my western, I made sure I weeded out many of the inaccuracies created in the collective entertainment consciousness by movies and television. Cowboys didn’t say shucks and darn. They didn’t just drink sarsaparilla and Miss Kitty probably just didn’t run a harmless hotel. Townsfolk weren’t cowardly and almost no one ever had a showdown on Main Street at high noon. Just as people hadn’t travelled all that way and endured all that hardship to let some bully push them around, they certainly weren’t going to stand in the middle of the street and let someone shoot at them in broad daylight.
I did even more research for the first two novels in the University series (PROHIBITION and SLOW BURN). I wanted to capture the flavor of the 1930s without falling prey to the pitfalls of caricature we have come to believe as fact. Anyone who thinks Daymon Runyon’s work accurately chronicled the era is sadly mistaken. If he told the truth about the people he knew and what he saw, his friends would have made sure he took a long walk off a very tall building. For accuracy, one must turn to the photographs of Weegee and the writings of Herbert Asbury (Gangs of New York) and others to attain a better sense of the underworld at the time. Al Capone wasn’t a cigar chomping, Tommy gun-firing mad man. He also wasn’t the charming common man portrayed in archival film footage, either.
If research has taught me anything – whether I’m examining the past or the present – it’s that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The trick is to get close enough to it for the reader to believe it and be entertained by it. As Wesley Gibson, my mentor and friend once told me, ‘You’re not writing a textbook. People don’t care how it’s done. They care about why it’s in your story. Justify it and move on.”
I took the same approach when I researched SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL and A MURDER OF CROWS. Just as I sought to avoid the stereotypes of the black hat-wearing villain in my western or the cigar-chomping mad-dog killer of the 1920s, I wanted to avoid the stereotypes that the techno-thriller genre has acquired in the last couple of decades. You know what I mean, even though you might not realize it as they’ve become so commonplace, they’re impossible to notice. I didn’t want to write about the nerdy, socially awkward computer whiz with spiked hair, piercings and tattoos who resents authority, but follows it anyway. I also didn’t want to write about the hacker with the heart of gold or the criminal who reluctantly decides to fight crime or promote national security. And I sure as hell didn’t want to write about the foaming Islamic terrorist or the ex-special forces super-agent who reluctantly gets pulled back in to the fray of serving his or her country.
I wanted to write something different, but also something the reader could recognize. If I wrote an existential spy novel, no one, it meant I had to do my homework. A lot of it.
I started by deciding what kind of story I wanted to tell. Did I want to go the Le Carre route, meaning a book heavy on background and plot but not much action? Did I want a Bourne-like novel, with hyper-action and plot that got filled in along the way? Or did I want a Tom Clancy novel, wherein technology and lingo rule the day while plot and character development take second place?
Never opting for the easy road, I chose a little bit of all three. The collective Snowden and Assange messes helped me with the technological aspects of the story. I replaced the inked-up, rebellious hacker with a standing system called OMNI that gave the members of the mysterious University access to some of the most classified information in the world. Agents could not only access OMNI from their phones, but they could also upload vehicle traces, photographs of suspects and the fingerprints of suspected terrorists with ease. I employed a plot device I’ve dubbed near-technology, wherein I use every day technology and simply expand on our own personal use of it. Can the black box in your car be automatically tracked by satellite? Maybe. Can your fingerprints be scanned and analyzed remotely? They already are by the biometric device on newer iPhones. Can someone listen in to your phone or activate its camera without your knowledge? Certainly.
To a greater extent, could an organization like The University exist, one that isn’t funded by the government but has immense power and reach? That’s for the reader to decide. I certainly hope I’ve painted a convincing world in which the reader cannot only believe, but about which they will want to learn more. Through careful research and a bit of story telling, I strive to strike a balance that strains credulity only far enough for the reader to escape their reality and not fear for their safety. Because, like a wise person once told me, I’m not writing a textbook. I’m telling a story.
To find out more about Terrence McCauley and his books, check out his website and follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Grab a copy of A Murder of Crows via online stores or through your local bookstore.