Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sean Chercover Discusses His New Thriller, THE TRINITY GAME.

Sean Chercover's new thriller, THE TRINITY GAME, is available now.  In it, Father Daniel Byrne works for the Office of the Devil's Advocate, which debunks miracle claims. Things get complicated when his latest assignment is to expose his own uncle as a fraud--especially because his uncle is a well-known televangelist who has newly begun speaking in tongues, and each event actually predicts the future.

The televangelist Tim Trinity reminds me of someone like Jim Bakker or Jimmy Swaggart (to whom a character compares him in the book). Were they in your mind when you built his character?

Hell, I had dozens of these guys in my head while writing THE TRINITY GAME. I’ve been watching televangelists since I was a kid. They often make for great theatre.

I like the idea of a priest (your main character, Danny) who is conflicted about his faith, first because it seems authentic and second because it’s not stereotypical. Did you interview any priests about this book (or do you know any priests personally?)

I did speak with a couple of priests while writing the book, and I’ve known a few over the years. Interesting that I’ve gotten a couple of complaints about the occasional profanity used by the priests in the book. Truth is, I toned it way down – some of the priests I spoke with use very salty language indeed. And I’ve gotten very complimentary emails from over a half-dozen members of the clergy – only one of whom had a problem with the profanity.

I enjoy the fact that your book engages in a dialogue about faith—what it is, who has it, who doesn’t have it, and how this philosophical question is bogged down, hijacked, by earthly greed and selfishness. Were you playing with the notion of Original Sin, or were you merely reflecting the scenario as you thought it would play out?

I don’t believe in Original Sin. I believe we are risen apes, not fallen angels. But human nature being what it is, there’s plenty of room for unethical (sinful, if you prefer) behavior, including within religious institutions. Without it, there would be no crime fiction.

Tim Trinity has a very unique (and dangerous) ability. How did you happen to figure out that your character would achieve this unique twist on speaking in tongues?

It wasn’t something I figured out; it actually hit me like an epiphany. Tim Trinity just bubbled up from my subconscious one night in the bathtub. I knew who he was, what he believed (or didn’t) and his predicament with the tongues and the predictions. I knew that the Vatican would send an investigator to debunk him, and that the predictions would make him a target of heavyweights in the gambling industry. It was the first time that a character ‘came upon’ me, fully formed. An amazing experience.

How great! In one of his sermons, Tim Trinity says that “most people who call themselves Christians have a fundamental mis-understanding of the nature of sin.” Would you agree with this statement? 

Well, most Christians I’ve spoken to think of sin as certain types of behavior. Murder is a sin, adultery is a sin, theft, and so on. But if St. Paul is to be believed (and Paul is the principal architect of Christianity as it is most widely practiced) then those behaviors are not sin – they are caused by sin. Sin, according to Paul’s writings in the Bible, is actually a demonic force that causes people to act against God. So, I’d agree that most people have a misunderstanding about the biblical definition of sin, but I don’t believe in a demonic force that causes people to misbehave.

Your priest character, Daniel, is thirty-three—the age of Christ when he died. Were you aware of this parallel, or is this just a coincidence? 

I was well aware of it. It’s the reason that I made Daniel thirty-three.

One of your characters cites one of Arthur C. Clarke’s three laws of prediction: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Do you find this especially true in light of the Internet? 

I think it has always been true. I don’t think it is especially so in light of the Internet. But I do think it is especially true in light of what we’re learning about how the Universe operates on a quantum scale, and the technological advances that are resulting from our ability to manipulate tiny things like electrons. The Internet is just one example.

How did you decide upon the name “Tim Trinity?” 

I didn’t decide, at least not consciously. He came into my mind with that name.

You have a Catholic priest who is still emotionally tied to an old girlfriend who happens to be an atheist—yet they both believe in miracles. Do you think this is ironic or realistic?

As an atheist, Julia doesn’t believe in miracles in any religious or supernatural sense. She believes that human understanding of the Universe is limited and there are many things that we do not (yet) understand. And she calls things miracles (in the secular sense) that are simply awe-inspiring. Daniel, on the other hand, believes in true miracles that show the hand of God. This difference of belief does not prevent them from being in love, and I find that realistic.

Without going too deeply into spoiler territory, there are parts of your book that remind me of Hawthorne’s THE SCARLET LETTER. Have you ever read it, and if so, was it ever on your mind when you wrote this?

I read THE SCARLET LETTER in high school, and again in college. Loved it both times, but it wasn’t consciously in my mind when I wrote THE TRINITY GAME.

You refer to your wife as Agent 99. Are you both GET SMART fans? :) 

Ha! GET SMART was a staple of after-school television when I was a kid and like many boys in the ‘70s, I loved the show and had a sizable crush on Agent 99. My wife is protective of her privacy and I never refer to her or our son by their real names on Twitter or Facebook, but I needed to call her something. Agent 99 was the first thing that popped into my head. 

Thanks for chatting with me about The Trinity Game, Sean! Best of luck with the book.

Thanks so much for having me, Julia! It was fun.

Find out more about Sean at


Sheila Connolly said...

Good to see you here, Sean. The Trinity Game sounds fascinating, particularly because you incorporate issues that lie outside of the simple solution of a mystery. I'd guess it makes it a more challenging and rewarding read.

Sandra Parshall said...

As a once-devout, but long since lapsed Catholic who grew up in the deep south, where "speaking in tongues" is a fairly common ability among ordinary people because evangelicals are so thick on the ground, I usually steer clear of stories centered on religion. You may have persuaded me to read yours, Sean. If you wrote it, it must be good. You didn't mention snakes, so I trust the story doesn't include snake-handlers. Those are the people who really got to me. I always felt sorry for the snakes because they'd fallen into the hands of lunatics.

Julia Buckley said...

Congratulations on the amazing sales of this book, Sean! It just shows that when you don't write to a formula, people will take note.

Sean Chercover said...

Thanks, Sheila - it certainly made it rewarding to write. I'll leave it up to others to determine how rewarding it is to read :-)

No snake-handlers in THE TRINITY GAME, Sandra, I promise! Thanks for the kind words, I hope you enjoy it.

Julia - thanks very much for having me here, and for the congrats.