Terry Brennan

Terry Brennan spent twenty-two years in the newspaper business as a writer, editor, and publisher, then switched genres to become vice president of The Bowery Mission for twelve years. He is now a semiretired management consultant. His two adult sons live in Pennsylvania with their families. He and his wife, Andrea, and their two adult children live in New York City. You can visit Terry on his blog: http://terrybrennan.blogspot.com/.

The Name of the Game: Who’s on First?

When I started writing novels, I had to forget everything I had previously learned about writing. At the start of my twenty-two years as a journalist, I trained and sharpened my writing as a sportswriter for a chain of community newspapers in Pennsylvania. But when it came to writing novels, I found myself in a whole different ballpark.

My debut novel, The Sacred Cipher (Kregel 2009), started as a result of my fascination with archeology, Jerusalem, and the Middle East conflict (I was a history major in college). And I launched the story with a crazy idea I had one day while standing at the back of The Bowery Mission chapel in New York City. I held a senior position at The Bowery Mission for twelve years, and that day I was staring up at the organ pipes when I thought, Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a secret room hidden behind the organ pipes? And then I thought, Wouldn’t that make a good story?

A story. Just like any of the other stories I had written as a newspaper journalist, right? But I was soon to find out it was actually very different.

One of the interesting things about being a newspaper sportswriter is that you have little time to write your story once the game has concluded. All reporters are on deadlines of one kind or another. Sometimes the deadlines are so tight that you begin writing your story before the game is over. So you learn how to write fast. And you learn how to break down an athletic contest into its most critical elements.

Athletes? Well, athletes are just players in a story. They are out there and involved; they are the means through which the game is played. The game is the story. And only the really unique athlete has the talent to transcend the game. The game … the plot … was always paramount.

So that’s how I wrote The Sacred Cipher, as a game story: a plot with players.

Then came my first few phone calls with Dawn Anderson, editor extraordinaire at Kregel Publications. She asked just awful questions. Like, “Why would your character do such a thing?”

Why? Because he’s in the game, that’s why. He’s just a player who moves around the field, depending on where I want him to be. Don’t you get it?

No … she didn’t.

And soon I realized why.

Why was my hero willing to risk his life to chase down an ancient message written in an extinct language that he found in a secret room hidden behind the organ pipes in The Bowery Mission? What was his motivation—the motivation of all the other players around him who got caught up in this adventure?


The editors at Kregel, Miranda Gardner and Dawn Anderson, never wanted to change my story of the game. They just counseled, correctly, that if these players were critical to the

story’s moving forward, the reader needs to know why. Radical idea to me, but one that, once they beat me into submission, resulted in a much fuller, deeper, enriching story than I ever could have shaped on my own.

And now I know.

If I want to get my really cool story published, I had better know who the players are, why they are on the playing field, what they hope to accomplish (or are running from), and how they will determine the final score.

Because how much suspense is there in whether a ball will make it over a line or over a fence or into a cup? Not much.

But how much suspense is in a man—Tom Bohannon—who has studied history all his life and now has a chance to make history … if he’s willing to risk his life? Wow.

The Sacred Cipher is Tom’s story, not mine. He shaped it, lived it, and propelled it. And over time, he told me what the story really was. Not only a chase around the world for ancient secrets that could ignite a world conflict, but more important, the story of a marriage based on God’s faithfulness … of one man’s search for meaning and another’s search for the approval of others … the story of one willing to risk all he had for his friends, and the ultimate price he paid.

What is suspense except that a person we have come to know is facing a decision that will irrevocably change his life? We feel a catch in our hearts and hold our breath to see what will happen … will he, or won’t he take that risk?

After all, that’s the name of the game, isn’t it?


The Sacred Cipher