Monday, September 19, 2016

Guest Post by Terrence McCauley

If you follow the mystery/thriller writing world then you know genre authors convened in New Orleans over the weekend for this year's Bouchercon. And I'm uber jealous! One of these days, Bouchercon! One of these days...

Thanks to Polis Books, I happen to know today's guest post writer was in attendance signing copies of his latest, A Murder of Crows, the second in his James Hicks series, which released this July.

Here's a bit about the book (from Goodreads) before I hand things over to Terrence:


For years, every intelligence agency in the world has been chasing 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. Hicks must find a way to keep the other agencies at bay while he tries to break The terrorist and uncover what else he is planning.

When he ultimately surrenders information that leads to the most wanted terrorist in the world, Hicks and his 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.

Can Hicks and the University survive an onslaught from A MURDER OF CROWS?

And now here's Terrence!

Creating Secondary Characters 
- by Terrence McCauley

One of the things I enjoy most about writing is the feedback I receive on my secondary characters. People who read my work tend to find them as compelling – if not more so – than some of my main characters. For example, in PROHIBITION, people were as concerned about how mob boss Archie Doyle survived his difficulties at the end of the book as they were about what happened to the protagonist, hit man Terry Quinn. In SLOW BURN, readers wanted to know about what happened to Alice (who also appeared in PROHIBITION). They were also interested in seeing if the protagonist Charlie Doherty ever tangled with Chief Carmichael or with the wealthy Mr. Van Dorn again. (I plan to answer those questions in subsequent books.)

In my spy thriller SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL and A MURDER OF CROWS, I’ve been fortunate enough to have readers tell me they’re not sure if they like my protagonist James Hicks, but they’re very interested in his colleagues Roger Cobb and Tali Saddon.

I’ve known a few writers who didn’t like it when secondary characters seemed to be as popular or resonate more with their readership. I happen to love it. Every bit of feedback I’ve ever received has helped me become a better writer one way or the other. So when I hear that they’re interested in learning more about the co-stars of my work, it means I’ve done my job as a writer. I’m not just writing about one character doing brave or heroic things. I’m creating a world in which the reader can lose themselves for a few hours. A place where they can invest their time and money to escape their everyday world while they explore the one I have created for them.

From a plot perspective, I think secondary characters are very important. They can enhance the action and advance the plot so the protagonist doesn’t have to do it all on his or her own. They can show aspects of the protagonist’s character without the writer having to spell it out in detail. It affords the writer the opportunity to show, rather than tell.

Let me explain. Since I write mostly thrillers, I do my best to try to do something different that separates my work from other books in the genre. One set piece expected in spy novels is the obligatory exposition of the protagonist’s past. It often takes place when a secondary character is reviewing the protagonist’s file. There we clearly learn all of the protagonist’s skills and accomplishments. The medals he has won or the demons she’s trying to fight from a bad op gone wrong. It’s an easy way to convey a lot of information about the protagonist quickly and it’s a device I try to avoid at all costs.

Although the reader certainly needs to know about the protagonist, but I chose to hint at it rather than have two characters discussing what they’re reading in a file. James Hicks is the protagonist of my University Series of novels and I intentionally keep his past vague because it adds to the overall covert, secretive nature of his work. I have decided to show how capable he is not only by what he does, but how the secondary characters react to him. Roger Cobb mentioning an op they ran in Africa or Roger being concerned about Hicks’ temper. Tali saying she can’t trust Hicks because she knows how he operates. The Dean of the University discussing Hicks’ strengths and abilities rather than having him review his file with a third party. These secondary characters aren’t just window dressing. They contribute to the plot and convey a sense of who Hicks is and his capabilities. His strengths and weaknesses are reflected in their reactions to him, which allows the reader the chance to fill in the blanks on their own.

Given the feedback I’ve received from my readership, I’m pleased with the results. After SYMPATHY came out, I heard from readers who wanted to see more of Roger Cobb. They wanted to see more of Tali and see her in action. They wanted to learn more about the Dean’s plans and how the University might change in future novels. That feedback helped me craft the sequel – A MURDER OF CROWS – where those same characters play vital roles in how the plot unfolds. It is a tactic I will employ in the next book in the series and in all of my writing in the future. Because strong secondary characters not only make the protagonist more interesting, they add another layer to the plot that keeps the reader invested and engaged.

Creating interesting secondary characters is yet another part of the art of writing that I thoroughly enjoy. 

About the author: Terrence McCauley is an award-winning writer of crime fiction. His first techno-thriller, SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL, was published by Polis Books in July 2015. Polis also reissued Terrence's first two novels set in 1930 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. Proceeds from sales go directly to benefit the Semper Fi Fund.

Terrence has had short stories featured in Thuglit, Spintetingler Magazine, Shotgun Honey, Big Pulp and other publications. He is a member of the New York City chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers and the International Crime Writers Association.

A proud native of The Bronx, NY, he is currently writing his next work of fiction.

Big thanks to Terrence McCauley for being here today and to his publicist for setting up this post! For more on Terrence McCauley and his work you can visit his website here. You can also like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter

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