A Pulitzer Prize is one of the many awards Brennan accumulated during his 22-year newspaper career. The
Starting out as a sportswriter in
In 1996, Brennan transitioned into the nonprofit sector, spending 12 years as VP Operations for The Bowery Mission and six years as Chief Administrative Officer for Care for the Homeless,
Terry and his wife, Andrea, now live in
When I first started writing, it was a lot. The protagonist in my first book, Tom Bohannon in The Sacred Cipher, was nearly a clone. He was a reporter at The Bulletin in
and executive at The Bowery
Mission on the Lower East Side of New York. He even looked like me—at one time
that is—in my younger years. His wife, Annie, was a very close replica of my
wife, Andrea. So, a great deal of his backstory was a carbon copy of my life. Philadelphia
Ideally, you can/should only model a character after yourself once.
However, I would say there is some part of me in many of the compatible characters I write: my worldview; my faith; the pillars of character upon which I’ve built my life.
I’ve also found that I often take episodes, vignettes from my life and apply them to the lives of my characters, particularly if I’m trying to “flesh out” a character’s motivation for why they would do some of the things I’m asking them to do.
All those things—my character traits and life experiences—often emerge from my characters, whether the characters are male or female.
Author Patricia Hickman teaches that you should take personal experiences and layer your plot or characters over those personal experiences to bring a depth of realism to the emotions being presented. It works.
My villains are pretty ruthless, so I hope there is no part of me lurking in their shadows. And the villain in the Empires of Armageddon series, The Turk, is an other-worldly agent of evil incarnate. Yikes!
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
Going sledding at 2:00 a.m. 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. 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 farther 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. I was 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 think I was born a writer…it was the way God wired me. But I didn’t become aware of it until I was a freshman in high school.
My freshman English teacher (ironically, my future wife’s cousin) was quite a unique and eccentric character. In his class, you could only use a fountain pen–never a ball point pen; all of us (young men in a Catholic boy’s school) were required to use our full names at all times, including a middle initial; and we were constantly instructed that gentlemen, when standing, never clasp their hands in front of themselves (only monkeys and apes do that), but always clasp their hands behind their backs.
See…the guy made an impact.
But, for me, the best part was that he would give us unique writing assignments. One assignment was, Why My Meatball Doesn’t Bounce. Another was, Blue and Bluer. For Blue and Bluer, I wrote a science fiction story about two twins on Mars, one a little bluer than the other. My teacher demanded to know where I stole the story idea–which I hadn’t. That was the start. And, for the most part, I’ve written ever since.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
That’s an interesting question. A couple of my oldest friends and I started a book club several years ago, FTOB (Fellowship of the Book—not very original). Our stated intention was to read a book of fiction one month and then read a book of nonfiction the following month—hopefully a book that would stretch or inform our faith. We’ve stuck pretty close to the formula.
This list from last year will give you an idea of our range.
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Dorothy Sayer
Elephant Company by Vicki Croke
Rescuing the Hidden Hearts of Men (an un-published manuscript I have been writing)
Knowing God by J.I. Packer
A Harvest of Thorns by Corban
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey
Three Men in a Boat by Daniel James Brown
The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren
While reading all these books with the club, I’ve read dozens on my own—primarily suspense and action/adventure are what I enjoy the most. The trouble is trying to find good books that aren’t polluted by filth. That is the hardest task. But I recently found a series I really enjoyed, the Charles Lenox mystery series by Charles Finch. They are well written, good plots, rich story world, and clean.
I so understand the search for good books that are clean. That’s one of the reasons for this blog. How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
Pasta Wednesdays. That’s one way. Almost every Wednesday evening our daughter brings her two children (7 and 2) over to our home for Andrea’s pasta and meatballs. It’s a bit of a rush as we only have a few hours before the 2-year-old needs to go to bed. But every week it’s a gift.
Another way is that we have only one car and Andrea “nannies” our grandchildren four days a week while our daughter works. When Andrea is working, running after the grandkids, I can’t run-run at all.
But my peace comes from the covenant time I spend with God…reading Scripture, reading my regular devotionals, and journaling, where I share my thoughts with God and write down his responses. I’ve been writing in journals for nearly 30 years. It’s been a source of peace and truth for three decades.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
Boy…a number of different ways. I used to watch the screen credits of movies to see what names jumped out at me as interesting, or that sounded right. I’ve taken names from business signs. I’ve used the names of people I know (such as my sisters) who gave me their permission.
A few years ago, I was speaking at a luncheon for the Friends of the Bonita Springs Library in
and held a raffle. The “winner” could have me use their name in my next novel.
Well, the winner asked me to use her mother’s name instead. So, I wrote a
character in the current series named Ruth Hughes. She’s a former VP and board
member of ARAMCO, the Saudi/US oil company, now chief political officer at the Florida US embassy in . A respected, professional
businesswoman. Turns out the real Ruth Hughes, which I didn’t know until after
the first book was written, was also a highly respected businesswoman in Israel who was active in
both industry and social justice organizations. She was honored as one of Detroit ’s Top Ten Working
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
When I was editor of The Mercury in
, I led a team of people to
winning the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. That was satisfying. Pottstown, Pennsylvania
In 1989, I helped launch what may have been the last major metropolitan daily newspaper startup, The St. Louis Sun, when I led a national recruiting tour to enlist the best journalists in the country to join its staff. That was exciting.
But I’m most proud of the work I did in
for The Christian Herald, the parent organization that operated The
Bowery Mission and other ministries serving homeless people in NYC. Under my
direction and guidance, we completed the first major renovation of the New York City ’s entire
four-building complex in nearly 100 years. And early this century, I was
instrumental in securing The Christian
Herald’s largest philanthropic gift … a five-story, double-wide brownstone
building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan—a building that became The Bowery
Mission Women’s Center. That changed lives. Mission
Sounds exciting and wonderful. If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
I used to say a mountain goat. Today, more like a grandpa mountain goat. Not as frisky, not as much energy, but still determined and diligent.
What is your favorite food?
Chicken pot pie–but only the way my wife makes it, with an absolutely awesome pastry crust.
I love homemade Chicken pot pie. What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
I had no formal training in journalism. I went to college to become a teacher. Everything I learned about being a journalist I learned on the fly, in the doing of it.
The same thing is true of my writing career. I’ve had no formal training in novel writing, except that which I was fortunate enough to gain from the now-famous “Nangie” seminars that authors Angela Hunt and Nancy Rue presented at Christian writer’s conferences.
Everything else, I’ve learned from the seat of my pants or, more accurately, from sitting in front of a computer screen and allowing my fingers to run along at the same speed as my imagination. Now that’s good for writing a story, but it doesn’t always work for writing a good novel. I’ve found that I often write myself into dead ends that I can’t escape. Or I write a lot about stuff that has no real place in that particular book and has to be discarded (sometimes to be resurrected elsewhere, but not always).
I waste a lot of time running down rabbit trails that have no lasting value or writing scenes or chapters that need to be discarded altogether. And I also lose a lot of time engaged in research that proves to be much more than I need.
The ultimate “problem” with my unschooled approach is that the burden often falls on the shoulders of my editors to bring me back to earth—guiding me to write “complete story arcs” or to fully develop “character motivation” or to write plot elements that don’t spill over the limits of plausibility.
Because I write thrillers—action/adventure stories that are often global in scope, with many characters—one way I’ve developed to keep my thoughts, my plots, more organized is developing detailed, exhaustive timeline/outlines on Excel spreadsheets that list the key elements of each chapter along with a time/date stamp for each chapter and sub-section within a chapter. These spreadsheets are critical to keeping things straight—who, what, when, where, how.
My writing style is generally that of a gardener (plant a seed, put it in the light, give it some water and see what grows) rather than an architect. So, the timeline/outlines have become vital tools to keep me more organized. And help me deliver more coherent manuscripts to my editors.
Tell us about the featured book.
Taking that idea, I wondered how this potential clash of empires might impact current history, future events, and the viability of the Jewish state. One conclusion was that an emergent Persian Empire—an alliance between the majority Shia governments of Iran and Iraq—would drive their ancient enemies, the Sunni Arabs of Saudi Arabia, into a treaty and mutual defense pact with, of all people, Israel…hence, the Ishmael Covenant, the sons of Ishmael and Isaac joined together once again.
The idea caught fire when I was introduced to the Vilna Gaon. The Genius of Vilnius, or Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, was the most revered Talmudic scholar of his time, the late 18th century. In 2014, his great-great-grandson revealed a prophecy the Vilna Gaon wrote two hundred and twenty years before: “When you hear that the Russians have captured the city of
you should know that the Times of the Messiah have started, that his steps are being
heard.” Only months before, in the spring of 2014, Russian troops had invaded
the Crimea Ukraine and swept
through the . Crimean
I took the idea of the rising empires, the premise of an unexpected treaty between Israel and all its Arab neighbors, wrapped it up in the Vilna Gaon’s Messianic prophecy, speculated that the Gaon wrote a second prophecy that was yet to be revealed, and started writing.
Of course, I had to populate the story with characters: Brian Mullaney, Regional Security Officer for the Diplomatic Security Service, responsible for the security of US Ambassador to Israel, Joseph Atticus Cleveland; and their adversary, the Turk, an otherworldly agent of evil who pursued, and wished to destroy, the prophecies of the Vilna Gaon since they were first written in 1794. The Turk and his demonic master, the One, are driven by a singular purpose—if they can prevent the fulfillment of one Biblical prophecy about the Messiah, they will invalidate every other prophecy, and thus rewrite the end of Scriptures. Reverse the result of the battle of Armageddon.
Sounds intriguing. Please give us the first page of the book.
This time evil came riding on shafts of lightning, thunder its rapacious roar—torrents of pounding, cold rain hurtled out of the blackened sky for hours on end.
Yehuda pulled his fox-lined cape more tightly around his body, his left hand gripping it securely against his neck, his right hand throbbing in pain as his mule jerked against the reins with every bolt and bellow from the skies. “Papa . . . please. We should seek shelter from this storm.”
The dark shape ahead of him, nearly obscured by the downpour, wrestled his mule to a stop on the narrow, muddy path through the tall pine forest. As Yehuda came alongside in the enveloping blackness of the storm, he didn’t like the look of his aged father—fiery determination in his eyes, yes, but a sallow, sunken exhaustion in his face.
“We push on, Yehuda. We cannot, we must not, turn back again. Tonight, we cross the Prieglius.”
A chest-rattling cough was muted by his expansive white beard as he turned away from his son and kicked his mule forward.
His father was as stubborn as this mule. Yehuda knew his father feared this would be his last opportunity, his last chance to make his desperate pilgrimage to
But the hounds of hell were surely unleashed against them. Evil had stalked
their days and threatened their nights ever since they left Vilna, only eight
days past. Hooded bandits on black stallions hunted for them in the dense
Lithuanian forest and thieving Gypsies swept down on their camp in the
blackness before dawn. Only the sharp eyes and ears of Itzak, his father’s servant,
allowed them to escape unharmed. But this rain . . . this rain would
not relent. Jerusalem
And neither would this Talmudic scholar.
Yehuda’s aged father was no ordinary pilgrim. Renowned as the Vilna Gaon, or genius of Vilna, Rabbi Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman was a Torah prodigy from the age of seven. As a result of his great wisdom and his extraordinary comprehension of both Torah and secular knowledge, the often reclusive Gaon spent forty years writing voluminous corrective notes to the ancient texts of his people, particularly the Talmud. Now approaching seventy-four years, Yehuda’s father was regarded as the most influential Jewish writer of his time. There was almost no ancient Torah text that did not bear his notes.
How can readers find you on the Internet?
Thank you, Terry, for sharing this new book with my blog readers and me. Your description of the book and the first page have pulled me right into the story.
Readers, here are links to the book.Ishmael Covenant - Christianbook.com
Ishmael Covenant (Empires of Armageddon) - Amazon Paperback
Ishmael Covenant (Empires of Armageddon Book 1) - Kindle
Leave a comment for a chance to win a free copy of the book. You must follow these instructions to be in the drawing. Please tell us where you live, at least the state or territory or country if outside
North America. (Comments containing links may be subject
to removal by blog owner.)
Void where prohibited; the odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. Entering the giveaway is considered a confirmation of eligibility on behalf of the enterer in accord with these rules and any pertaining local/federal/international laws.
The only notification you’ll receive is the winner post on this blog. So be sure to check back a week from Saturday to see if you won. You will have 4 weeks from the posting of the winners to claim your book.
If you’re reading this on Goodreads, Feedblitz, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, or Amazon, please come to the blog to leave your comment if you want to be included in the drawing. Here’s a link: