For Day 24 of the Open Mic Creativity and COVID-19 Special Project I check in with the prolific and versatile Terrence McCauley. He is a true triple threat – a master of noir crime fiction, high tech thrillers and…wait for it…westerns! I’ve read them all and I can vouch that he is a true talent.
OM: How has this ongoing pandemic impacted you? This last week or so it has hit NYC really hard – are you and yours safe?
McCauley: Thanks for asking, Rich. Everything is going well and we’re all safe up at my house in Dutchess County. I’m fortunate enough to be able to work from home, which is a blessing. The thirty-second commute is nothing to sneeze at, either! I also love my job and work with some of the best people in the business. Government gets knocked around a lot, often for good reason, but my group is the best in the business. I’ve been doing this for twenty-five years now and what they’ve been able to accomplish here in New York State is incredible.
OM: How has this impacted your creativity? Are you still getting your usual amount of writing done?
McCauley: Fortunately, none of this has had much of an impact on my creativity. It has impacted my work, certainly, and me personally. I wouldn’t want to meet someone who could say none of this has changed them in a profound way. But there are still stories I want to tell and people who seem to want to hear them, so I keep writing. My work has certainly taken on a darker, more pessimistic tone, but I never wrote feel-good stories anyway. All of my old deadlines are still in place. I count myself lucky to have them and they keep me grounded. And I think Republicans, Democrats and everyone can agree that Governor Cuomo is doing a tremendous job.
OM: You’ve written about potential pandemics as a plot device in your James Hicks series, so living it now must be surreal. Is there anything you might eventually take out of this for use in a future James Hicks book?
McCauley: Certainly. The University Series currently stands at four or five, depending on how you count them and I’m shopping the next book as we speak. I think people liked the Hicks series because it wasn’t about perfect characters. My characters never sipped vodka martinis or drove fancy sports cars. They’re all gritty, hard-bitten individuals who do some nasty work that isn’t always admirable. I certainly believe that every writer out there right now – published, unpublished, established or just starting out – can find something in all of this horror to make their work more resonant and more human. If anything, this tragedy has shown us just how fragile life is and how important all of us are in each other’s lives. Today is all that counts. Make the most of it and make sure the people you love know that’s how you feel.
OM: Like me, you are a very politically-attuned person. To get away for a bit I am getting up really early to take my dog for a walk down at the river before anyone else is around. I really need that time to decompress in nature so I can face the onslaught of the news day. Is there anything special you are doing to reclaim your focus from the news cycle?
McCauley: For better or for worse, my day job requires me to be immersed in the news cycle so I can’t really escape it. I find some comfort in that because these events are beyond the scope of the accepted news cycle. Before, we’ve always been able to turn away from the tragedy at some point. Katrina, Chernobyl, impeachments, hurricanes, massacres all fade after a couple of days. People get bored and switch on Sportscenter. Inhumanity becomes an abbreviated sentence on the crawl at the bottom of the screen while partisan talking heads tell us how we should view it. COVID-19 doesn’t care if you’re left, right or center. It’s there, right in front of you and it’s not going anywhere until it’s damned good and ready.
Instead of focusing on that, I take heart in the other aspects of the story that are beyond the news cycle. People sewing masks for their neighbors and first-responders. People volunteering to take meals to the sick and the elderly. People thanking the medical professionals and cops and fire personnel for what they do every single day. The teachers who have to find a way to keep their students somehow engaged remotely through all of this. We’re seeing the best of people in a detached, digital world. Our smartphones and computers aren’t just our escape from each other anymore, but a way we can all stay connected like never before.
I maintain a sense of hope for the future because nothing like this has ever happened to us before and I think it will change the way we treat each other. Hopefully for the better. I prefer to focus on that than the horrific numbers we see on the numbers we see on the screen.
OM: Anything new on the horizon we can tell people about for you?
McCauley: Believe it or not, this boy from the Bronx has been on a tremendous tear of Western novels lately. My Aaron Mackey series from Pinnacle (WHERE THE BULLETS FLY and DARK TERRITORY) have both been finalists for the Western Writers of America’s Silver Spur Award for the past two years. And BULLETS won the Western Fictioneers award for Best Novel last year. I’m proud of that. I’ve got two more Mackey novels coming out this year: GET OUT OF TOWN and THE DARK SUNRISE. I love the feedback I’m getting from the series and hope to keep churning out Aaron Mackey stories for as long as Pinnacle will have me.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to have joined Penguin’s Ralph Compton series. THE KELLY TRAIL and RIDE THE HAMMER DOWN are stand-alones that will also be coming out this year. People are wrong when they think Westerns are just gunfights and cowboys-and-Indians stuff. The best books of the genre are about much more than that and there are lots of great writers working in the genre today who are turning out some top-notch stuff.
Of course, I’ll always be a pulp/crime writer at heart and, if I’m lucky, you’ll have a chance to read more about Terry Quinn, Charlie Doherty and James Hicks in the near future.