Wednesday, April 07, 2010
So far, my male protagonists always start off as me. But, then they wake up to the power they hold and begin to demand the ability to express themselves. After that, it’s anybody’s guess who they are.
I’m not a character-driven author, but a plot-driven author. I’ve always been a story teller. Story tellers always start with the story. The people in the story are secondary to the story itself … they people the universe, but they don’t determine the universe. The story does.
I think my story telling was sharpened and defined by my 15 years as a sportswriter. When you cover sports, the game is the story. The athletes play the game, so they have a part, but the game is the story – the score; the impact of the score; etc. So when I come at a story, I come at it through the plot, not the people.
As a result, many of my characters start off as some version of me – or someone I know – and then grow organically into who they will eventually become.
Usually, there’s not much of me there at the end.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
Going sledding at 2:00 in the morning – after we had gotten that day’s edition of the local newspaper on the press and running – with one of the news editors, my good buddy, Vince. We went to a golf course he knew had a great hill with incredible launching ramps that summered as sand traps. So we climbed the chain link fence and lifted ourselves over the barbed wire on top. It was still. Quiet. Ice crystals in the air. Blackness against the white snow.
The first run was a blur of fear and fun and flash … screaming and laughing and trying to hang on. Since we had only one sled, we were riding as a double-decker … Vince on top. My eyes were stinging from the flying snow that peppered my face as we hurtled down the hill. So I didn’t see the dark slash across the ground until after Vince had launched himself away at the very last moment. But I do remember hitting the water as the sled and I plunged into an icy stream … truly, a water hazard.
I do remember Vince, running around in this huge circle, laughing like a crazed hyena, particularly when he looked at me.
I remember, soaked to the skin, there was smoke rising from my clothes in the frozen night. I remember it got harder to move the further up the hill I got toward the fence – and the promised warmth of my car.
And I remember getting to the fence and recognizing that my clothes were frozen solid. Nothing bent anymore.
Amazingly, somehow I got to the top of the fence (no credit to Vince), with no way to navigate the barbed wire. So I threw myself – launched myself as an icy missile – over the top of the barbed wire and slammed into the snow on the ground on the other side. Lying in the snow with Vince running in circles again, howling at the human popsicle.
When did you first discover that you were a writer?
I was a freshman in high school. My English teacher was quite a unique and eccentric character. You could only use a fountain pen in his class. All of us (young men in a Catholic boys school) were required to use our full names at all times, including a middle initial. Gentlemen, when standing, never clasp their hands in front of themselves (only monkeys and apes do that), but clasp their hands behind their backs. See … the guy made an impact.
He would give us writing assignments. One was, Why my meatball wouldn’t bounce. Another was, Blue, and bluer. For Blue and Bluer, I wrote a science fiction story. My teacher demanded to know from where I stole the story idea – which I hadn’t. That was the start.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I’ve always loved the classic American authors – Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald – particularly Steinbeck. That guy was a wizard with words. As a kid, I read every Fu Manchu mystery. As a college student, every James Bond thriller and the required Lord of the Rings trilogy, including the prequel The Hobbit. In between, Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes … you get the drift.
Today, I love Dennis Lehane’s work – particularly his latest – The Given Day. I think he’s become a lyrical writer. And my son, Matt, has hooked me into both Stephen King and (more my style) Cormack McCarthy.
Sprinkle into that adrenalin mix some historical biographies and/or autobiographies (Mornings on Horseback By David McCoullough).
And lots of contemporary thriller writers, like Joel Rosenberg.
What other books have you written, whether published or not?
My first book, Jacob’s Portion, was a necessary soul cleansing, written by a journalist who had no idea what book writing was all about. It’s still in a drawer, but it’s on life support and needs organ transplants to make it viable. Perhaps someday.
I’ve “finished” (Hah!) my second novel, Hunger’s Ransom, which my publisher, Kregel Publications, has seen and for which they’ve suggested some significant editing and story shaping. And I’m working on the sequel to The Sacred Cipher.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
I try to sleep. And I try to stay rooted in prayer.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
My wife Andrea and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary in June ’09. If you knew the story, you would know that is a miracle. I’m proud of Andrea that she hung in there … I’m grateful to God for grace … and I’m proud of myself that I was determined to do whatever it took to be the man God designed me to be and the husband Andrea needed (deserved) me to be. And I did not give up.
That I got to take my Dad to a Phillies world series game in 1983.
That when I was editor of the Pottstown (PA) Mercury, we wrote a three-year series of editorials that won a Pulitzer Prize.
That there’s a hunk of paper and cardboard sitting on a shelf in Barnes & Noble that has my name on it.
But nothing compares to God saving our marriage.
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
A mountain goat. I am in rapture in the mountains. And I’m a task oriented person. Show me the goal, and I will get there.
What is your favorite food?
Chicken pot pie … but only the way my wife makes it.
What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
Confidence, and I haven’t overcome that one yet. Organization, and I haven’t overcome that one yet. Pride and arrogance, once I sold a book. I figured I must have the golden touch. So I threw down a story and didn’t pay attention to my craft. Those two, God put a dent in with a 2x4.
No, the greatest roadblock is discipline. When I have it, magic happens. When I don’t, nothing happens. Creating and sticking to a rigid schedule is one of the few ways I’ve found to establish discipline.
What advice would you give to an author just starting out?
Don’t make the mistake to think somebody else has the answer. That there is some magic formula for writing that those on the inside know, but they won’t tell you. There are as many theories about writing and style requirements as there are books about writing. And all of the authors believe their way is the best (right?) way. Understand, this is not a science. There is not one formula that works. Some basic expectations for content and presentation but – hey, down to it, it’s all about the writing.
So, write. Write a lot. Write all the time. Write until you’re sick of it. And then keep on writing until your characters begin to talk back to you. Then follow their advice.
Tell us about the featured book?
The Sacred Cipher is an adult thriller/suspense triggered by the discovery of a hidden room behind the organ pipes in The Bowery Mission’s chapel in New York City. In a safe in the room is found an ancient scroll with a message written in an extinct language that has never been deciphered. The first half of the book takes place in NYC as a ‘team’ of guys tries to discover the content of the message, and t he second half is when the team goes off to find out if the message is, in fact, true.
Here’s the blurb from the back cover of the book:
"When New Yorker Tom Bohannon uncovers an ancient scroll containing a dead language that has been lost in the sands of time, he doesn't fully comprehend the danger that's about to unfold. Though Tom and his team of ragtag scientists and historians want to decode the ancient text, others don’t want the cipher revealed. And they are prepared to kill to keep it hidden.
"From a market in nineteenth-century Alexandria to a library in present-day New York to the tunnels beneath Jerusalem, the secret of the cipher is gradually revealing itself across the globe. And for those in its path, life is about to change - forever."
Sounds interesting. Please give us the first page of the book.
1889 • Alexandria, Egypt
Only three types of buyers entered the Attarine—the foolish, the fraudulent, and the forewarned. The foolish, who acted on whim instead of wisdom and expected to fleece an ignorant Egyptian native; the fraudulent, expert in identifying well-crafted forgeries, anxious to pass them on for great profit; and the forewarned, who searched for treasure but were wise enough to employ someone who knew the ways, and the merchants, of the seductive but evil-ridden Attarine.
Spurgeon knew the risk. But treasures awaited in the twisting, narrow stone streets snaking away from the Attarine Mosque.
He had Mohammad, he had a gun, he had money—and he had God.
Peering down the darkened alley, Spurgeon worried that, maybe, he didn’t have enough.
Mohammad entered the alley and disappeared from view. The alley was gray-on-gray, denied sunlight by overhanging, second-floor balconies adorning almost every building, their shuttered windows barely an arm’s length from each other. Joining with the dark was a riot of refuse, crazed, cadaver-like dogs and powerfully pungent, unknown odors.
The Attarine District was home to the greatest concentration of antiquities dealers in Alexandria, both the illicit and the honorable. A person could buy almost any historical artifact along the ancient streets of the Attarine. Some were even genuine. And Charles Haddon Spurgeon was on a treasure hunt.
He held his breath; he held his heart; and he stepped into the dark.
At the first fork, Mohammed Isfahan was waiting. Spurgeon’s heart slowed its pounding pace. Mohammed confidently led the way, weaving in and out of the shoppers and the strollers who clogged the tight byways. It was early morning, before the sun began to scorch the stones, and Spurgeon was grateful for the moderate breeze off the Mediterranean. At his size, the heat sapped his strength and soaked his shirt within minutes. Though the morning was warm, Spurgeon hoped to get back into his hotel, under a fan in a shaded corner of the dining room, long before the withering heat began blowing from the Sahara. On one of his regular trips to the Middle East, Spurgeon was trolling for ancient biblical texts and Mohammed, recommended by the hotel’s concierge, promised he knew where to look.
Now fifty-six, he was England’s best-known preacher, and he grudgingly accepted the considerable influence and power he had earned as pastor of London’s famed New Park Street Church for the last thirty years. Spurgeon was the first to admit preaching was his passion.
But Spurgeon was also the first to admit that books were his weakness. He typically devoured six books per week and had written many of his own. Now, scuttling through the twilight of the dusty alley, Spurgeon sought to slake that hunger in the shops of the Attarine.
I can hardly wait to read it. How can readers find you on the Internet?
terrybrennan.blogspot.com … but, sadly, I’m seldom there. It causes my agent heart attacks, but I just have a hard time finding time to do it.
Thank you, Terry, for the interesting interview.
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Posted by Lena Nelson Dooley at 2:18 AM