Interview with Terrence McCauley

Bullets.jpgBrian Lindenmuth: Why did you decide to write a western?

Terrence McCauley: I decided to write a western because I had always been a fan of the genre. I grew up watching westerns with my dad and, later in life, began to enjoy reading them as well. A lot of writers I admire, including Elmore Leonard and Richard Matheson, wrote westerns and I wanted to give it a shot, too. It continues to be a great experience.

You’ve now worked in two separate genres. What were those experiences like? Any notable differences? How was Bouchercon different from the western convention you went to?

I’ve actually written in three separate genres. Crime fiction (my 1930s books PROHIBITION, SLOW BURN and THE FAIRFAX INCIDENT) and my University Series (SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL, A MURDER OF CROWS, A CONSPIRACY OF RAVENS). Westerns are different in that a writer doesn’t have modern conveniences to rely upon to move the plot along. Even in my 1930s novels, the telephone, radio and automobile were in use at that time. Not so much so in westerns set in the late 1880s. Distance and a lack of technology play an important role in the stories which, in my opinion, allows for a rich story-telling environment.

Bouchercon is always a great experience and an opportunity to see some friends I haven’t seen in a while. The Western Writers of America convention is much smaller, but every bit as impressive. The amount of scholarship in that community is absolutely incredible. People tend to think of westerns as just shoot ’em ups with cowboys and Indians and bank robbers. One glimpse at the various categories will prove that it’s a very diverse genre. I had the good fortune to make a lot of new friends at this year’s convention and I look forward to going next year as well.

There is an idea that westerns are just crime fiction in a historical setting, do you believe this to be true?

I believe that’s partially true. I also believe that the west is broad enough to encompass quite a few genres. Just look at the amount of westerns for sale on Amazon and you’ll see a good number of them are romances. One could also write an epic novel about the plight and struggles of various groups in the settlement of the west and never have a shot fired or a murder committed if they crafted the story properly. Historical fiction, crime novels, noir, romance and classic stories all have a home in western fiction. And virtually every type of non-fiction is covered under western history and current western affairs as well.

What is your favorite western movie?

My favorite is THE SEARCHERS. It’s an imperfect movie that hasn’t held up as well for me over the years, but I still consider it my favorite. The iconic performances and scenery. The open bigotry of Ethan Edwards, the clashing of cultures and the memorable characters all serve to make it my favorite western.

What is your favorite western novel?

West Texas Kill by Johnny Boggs. He writes a classic western with a modern take that appeals to all audiences. It has some great characters and fantastic action pieces that make it my current favorite. However, I read quite a few books in the genre, so my favorites do change from time to time.

Who is your favorite western writer?

I’ve got a few. Peter Branvoldt, Johnny Boggs, Larry Sweazy, Charles West.

What recent release western novels are worth checking out?

Peter Branvoldt’s Stagecoach to Purgatory, A Bad Place to Die by Easy Jackson, Copper Sky by Milana Marsenich and The Promise Bride by Gina Welborn and Becca Whitham.

What do you most value in the fiction you love?

I value the ability to lose myself in another world. I love reading new takes on old genres and learning something new about myself in return.

Who is your favorite violent western character?

Josey Wales is a tough character to beat. The movie was fantastic and one of my all time favorites.

Is the western genre dead, dying, in a state of disrepair, or doing just fine?

I’d prefer to say it’s in a state of transition. If you look at the book stores that carry westerns, you’ll see no shortage of new releases every month. And if you look online, the selection is even greater, albeit the quality is sometimes a bit suspect. Although a majority of the western e-books selling for $0.99 are bargains, many others should have gone through a more rigorous editing process.

Then/Now/Next: what book did you read last, what book are you reading now, and what book will you read next? (any genre)

Hot Springs by Stephen Hunter / Law at Randado by Elmore Leonard / Hombre by Elmore Leonard.

What was the last great western that you consumed (watched or read)?

Bone Tomahawk was the last great western I consumed. I desperately wanted to like Hostiles, but found it sullen and smug. Bone Tomahawk showed everyone at their rawest form and was a special movie, although not always pleasant to watch.


Terrence P. McCauley is an award-winning writer of crime fiction and thrillers. He is the author of the James Hicks series, which include:  THE FAIRFAX INCIDENT, , A CONSPIRACY OF RAVENS, A MURDER OF CROWS and SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL, published by Polis Books. He has also written two award-winning novels set in 1930 New York City – PROHIBITION and SLOW BURN. 

In September 2018, Kensington Books published Terrence’s first western WHERE THE BULLETS FLY as part of his new Sheriff Aaron Mackey series. The second entry in the series – DARK TERRITORY – will be published in 2019.

Terrence’s World War I novella – THE DEVIL DOGS OF BELLEAU WOOD – won the Silver Medal for Historical Fiction from the Military Writers Society of America. Proceeds from sales go directly to benefit the Semper Fi Fund.