Against the Ropes

Terrence P. McCauley is an award-winning writer of crime fiction. His latest novel, Slow Burn is currently available from Noir Nation Books. His first book, Prohibition, published by Airship 27, is a full-length novel set in the colorful, exciting world of 1930 New York City. Terry Quinn is an ex-boxer turned mob enforcer who must use his brains instead of his brawn to figure out who is trying to undermine his boss’s criminal empire and why. Quinn’s boxing career is also featured in a prequel, Fight Card: Against The Ropes.  A proud native of The Bronx, NY, he is currently working on his next work of fiction.

 Writing a prequel to a successful first novel can pin a writer against the ropes of his storyline …


Terrence McCauley

I love boxing. Always have – warts and all.

I can’t explain why I love it, exactly. It’s not that I ever had any talent for the sport. Oh, I’ve taken and thrown a few punches in my time, but that’s not boxing. I lack a depth of vision that always made sports difficult for me. I could never shag a fly ball properly or gauge the distance between me and a football. And I can’t really tell how far away a fist – gloved or not – might be from my face, which made my ability to take a punch come in mighty handy over the years. I was never what you might call a roughneck, but in the course of my life, I had my share of scrapes.

How many?

Let’s just say I’ve had enough scrapes to appreciate the skill and commitment it takes to climb into a ring and duke it out over twelve three-minute rounds against another trained professional. To dedicate endless hours to training and pushing yourself to the limit knowing that you’re ultimately going to get hit. And, despite all that, you still step between the ropes anyway.

MMA has its merits, don’t get me wrong. It’s faster than boxing, often more brutal and tends to have more blood. It usually makes for great television. But I think boxing has an added gallantry to it that I think MMA lacks.

In boxing, you can’t use your legs or elbows. Head butts are illegal, and so are takedowns. In the ring, unlike the cage, all you have is your fists, your skill and your will against your opponent. I admire that kind of courage. And in today’s mixed up world, I admire that kind of clarity.

Why did I write Against The Ropes? The short answer is because Paul Bishop let me. I’ve been a fan of the Fight Card series from the beginning and had wanted to try my hand at writing for the series. I’d already covered Terry Quinn’s boxing career in passing in my other book Prohibition, which was written several years before the Fight Card series began. But since Quinn’s days in the ring play such an important role in which the character has become at the beginning of Prohibition, I’d always dreamed of being able to tell the story of the end of his career in more detail.

When Airship 27 gave Prohibiton the green light for publication, I thought Fight Card would be the perfect vehicle to tell Quinn’s story.  And, much to my surprise and delight, Paul agreed. The result is Against The Ropes.

But what makes the Terry Quinn character so special in the first place? Why devote one book to him, much less two – not to mention all the short stories I’ve written about him? He’s an ex-heavyweight contender who becomes an enforcer for the mob in 1920s New York. Hardly an original idea. Half of the henchmen in pulpdom and noirdom have boxing backgrounds, if not more.

While that’s certainly true, I worked hard to make sure Quinn was different than those other characters. Enforcers of pulp fiction are usually portrayed as brutes, guys who were too quick with their fists and too slow with their brains. They’re usually easy pickings for the hero of the story. Or they’re punch-drunk has-beens past their prime and looking for some kind of redemption. One last shot at glory.

In Quinn, I wanted to create a different kind of character who was certainly recognizable, but had more going for him than the reader might expect. Sure, he’s a big, tough, mean, violent guy. That’s what makes him interesting to the reader. But Quinn also has something he doesn’t value very highly: a brain. He thinks of himself as just a pug while everyone around him sees him as much more than that. I wanted to create a character who didn’t fit the traditional mold of a thug; one who was tough but not cocky. Who followed orders, but wasn’t ambitious. Who was loyal and had his loyalty reciprocated by Archie Doyle, the man who runs the criminal empire of Prohibition and plays a huge role in Against The Ropes as well.

I could’ve written Quinn differently. I could’ve made him a war veteran or an ex-cop or just another product of the mean streets of New York City. I made Quinn a boxer because boxers have a capable, professional toughness that writers like, but rarely capture accurately. I wanted a tough guy an audience would be surprised they were cheering for. A character that wouldn’t give me the luxury of easy plot devices that some crime novelists have employed in their stories. You know: the one where the hero walks into a room, gets hit over the head and wakes up tied to a chair. Quinn’s not the kind of character who’s going to let anyone get that close to him. He doesn’t make those kinds of mistakes. He sizes up every situation at his own pace, decides on a course of action and sees it though. He’s not afraid because he’s learned not to be.

Is he a hero? I don’t know. He’s a protagonist, that’s for sure. Is he a good guy? That’s for you to decide. Is he a bad guy? He’s done bad things and even the worst thing: murder. But does that make him a villain? You tell me.

Quinn is a character that I know the audience might not admire, but he’s a character who I certainly hope you’ll want to read about. He does bad things for mostly the right reasons, even when those reasons are criminal reasons. He’s black and white in a Technicolor world. He views the world with narrow parameters and lives his life accordingly.

To Quinn, life outside the boxing ring isn’t much different than life in general. He honed his skills through training and sacrifice. He adapted those skills for each specific opponent he faced. He climbed between the ropes and took whatever they threw at him. And he hit back.

Just like all of us do in our own lives. Every single day.

Find out more about Fight Card here: