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Terrence McCauley is a throwback to one of those professional writers who wrote in many genres. Late last year, he wrote Born To Hang, the latest of his Jeremiah Halstead westerns, This month comes Chicago 63', a historical thriller with a Secret Service agent uncovering a plot to kill JFK in Chicago. I caught up with Terrence before he put out another book.

SCOTT MONTGOMERY: What sparked your interest in writing about the failed Kennedy assassination in Chicago?

TERRENCE MCCAULEY: I've always had an interest in conspiracy theories, even though I don't believe most of them. I don't believe there were ancient aliens, just that people got around more back then than we thought. UFOs are interesting, but I don't think they're off-world technology. Bigfoot sightings are probably just hoaxes or people mistaking other animals. But the more that I examined the Kennedy Assassination theories, I saw there was something to certain parts of the theories. And the more I dug, the more evident it became that the people in the orbit of the proposed conspiracy weren't just people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. People can - and have - spent their entire careers talking about what happened that day in Dealey Plaza. How many shooters? Was Oswald the only one? Did he shoot at all? Those are valid questions that I think can only be answered by looking at the tertiary individuals involved on the fringes of the events. Once I started looking at them in greater detail, I found a compelling story I wanted to tell.  

S.M.: This reminded me of Day Of The Jackal in the sense that it remains suspenseful, even though you know the eventual outcome. How did you deal with that challenge?

T.C.: History can provide inspiration when examined the right way. I've found that was true in my research for my 1930s novels and my westerns. I recentered the story so that it was not about simply thwarting the plot, but focused on the people involved. People that have been largely forgotten about because the Chicago Plot has not received as much attention it deserved. I took the facts I uncovered about many of the suspected players and crafted a story that was, at its heart, a crime novella. That's how I approach most stories and I think it's where I do my best work. I tried to create compelling characters with high stakes that would make the reader stay with the story, even though they knew the ultimate outcome.  

S.M.: You kept the names of many of the players the same, except for changing Special Agent Bolden's last name slightly to Golden. How did that decision come about?

T.C.: I decided Abraham Bolden needed to be the hero of my novella because he's the hero of the story in real life. He was the first African American Secret Service agent assigned to a president's protection detail. This was done on President Kennedy's insistence. Bolden didn't thwart the plot, but he's responsible by trying to bring it to light with The Warren Commission. He suffered greatly as a result, later being implicated in a bribery scheme that cost him years in prison. He was later exonerated by President Biden in 2022. 

The actual investigation into Vallee and the suspected Cuban assassins only had a few members of the Secret Service and the FBI involved. This was before the federal government's modern blanket approach to threats against the president. Unfortunately, this only happened after the Kennedy assassination. There isn't much real estate for too many characters in a novella. Since the topic of conspiracy can quickly become complex, I needed to solidify the government's efforts into the actions of one hero. I thought Golden/Bolden was the logical choice.   

S.M.: Your latest Jeremiah Halstead book forced your deputy marshal into being an outlaw for a while. What did you enjoy about doing that?

T.C.: Halstead is like Golden in a lot of ways. As a Mexican American, he's up against a lot as a Deputy federal marshal in 1880s Montana. I never want to tell a straight up western with white hats and black hats but one where both sides of the law wear gray hats. I wanted the audience to see Halstead as a character who had what it took to live outside the law for a while. To see him hunted by the same machine of which he had been part of for so long. It challenged me as an author to discover what this man was really all about. He's a great character to write and I hope to have the chance to bring people more of his exploits in future novels somewhere down the road.

S.M.: It put more of a focus on Sandborne. What did that allow you to bring out in the character?

T.C.: Sandborne is a character who has evolved since he first appeared as a wounded ranch hand in WHERE THE BULLETS FLY, my first western. I didn't intend to include him as a character in most of my westerns, but he just kept coming around as I wrote them. He's the same age as Halstead and while not as flashy as his partner, he has a different set of skills that contrast nicely with Halstead. He always manages to get the job done in his own way and Halstead admires him greatly. In BORN TO HANG, I wanted to show his evolution while also using him to carry the action forward. I also leave the door open to quite a lot of possibilities for him and I hope to explore that further in future novels. 

S.M.: You've written crime and spy fiction, westerns, and even a war novel and now a mix of procedural and historical thriller. l. Are there any other genres or subgenres you'd like to take a whack at?

T.C. I 've been blessed to be able to write in a lot of different genres, but for the past few years, I've had a horror novel concept that I've been toying with. One that takes popular characters in the public domain but puts a much darker and supernatural spin on them. It's an idea that I hope to flesh out in greater detail in the next couple of years. 


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