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Jerry B. Jenkins Interview

by C.J. Darlington

"I have never liked knowing things in advance. I like to be surprised. I’m not a goal-setter but rather strive to do the best at whatever it is I have been assigned and see what happens. I write the same way: put interesting characters in difficult situations and write to find out what happens." -- Jerry B. Jenkins

Jerry B. Jenkins, former vice president for publishing and currently writer-at-large for the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, is the author of more than 160 books, including the 63,000,000-selling Left Behind series.

Also the former editor of Moody Magazine, Jerry’s writing has appeared in Time, Reader's Digest, Parade, Guideposts, and dozens of Christian periodicals. His non-fiction books include as-told-to biographies with Hank Aaron, Brett Butler, Bill Gaither, Orel Hershiser, Luis Palau, Walter Payton, Nolan Ryan, and Sammy Tippit among many others. Jerry also assisted Dr. Billy Graham with his memoirs, Just As I Am, a New York Times bestseller.

Jerry and his wife Dianna have three grown sons and three grandchildren and live in Colorado.

C.J.: You share your writing-life story in your book Writing for the Soul, but could you recap for us what first inspired you to become a writer? I know your love of sports played a huge part.

Jerry: I got into sports writing as a young teen – mostly as a way to get into games free. I was soon hooked and became a stringer for local newspapers even before I was old enough to drive. My parents took me to the games and to the newspaper offices.

What is the number one thing you learned as a sports reporter?

To work fast and get to the heart of the story in the first sentence. It was the pattern of the day to tell all the facts up front – the who, what, when, where, and why. I was taught to start with the why. So, rather than: “The Forest View High School men’s basketball team defeated Maine West 46-40 in a home game Thursday night,” I would write, “Jim Anderson’s steal and breakaway lay-up late in the third quarter Thursday night broke a 32-32 deadlock and paved the way for…”

Even with all your writing successes you still continue to produce. What motivates you to get out of bed and head to your keyboard?

I don’t sing or dance or preach. This is all I do. :) I never did it just to make a living anyway. Not to sound falsely modest, but I believe I have been given only one gift and so feel obligated to exercise it.

What is your “Family Policy”?

I never wrote or did any work from the office, read the paper, watched TV, or did anything to detract from time with the kids between the time I got home from work and the time the kids went to bed. (Of course, sometimes we put them to bed at 4:30 in the afternoon…)

I told my kids they were my highest priority and tried to prove it with TIME. Kids hear what you say but they believe what you do.

Christian Writers GuildTalk to us about the Christian Writer’s Guild and its vision to help aspiring writers.

My dream is to restock the pool of Christian writers and to help beginners avoid all the pitfalls they might otherwise encounter. We aim at people who want to make writing more than a hobby.

What have you learned from reading the entries of the Operation First Novel Contest?

How far we have to go in teaching the next generation of writers. It appears the mistake many beginners make is to start their careers with book-length material rather than learning the craft slowly with shorter pieces. That’s like trying to start one’s education in graduate school instead of kindergarten. Also, we have found some real treasures too.Jenkins Entertainment

Can you share with us about Jenkins Entertainment and some of its upcoming projects?

My son Dallas, who runs the company in Los Angeles, is directing a picture called Midnight Clear, based on a short story of mine. It stars Stephen Baldwin and is currently in post-production. It has been accepted into a major film festival, and we expect it to be accepted in others and soon find a distributor for release to theaters. This will be our second feature-length release, the first being Hometown Legend, which starred Lacey Chabert and Terry O’Quinn (Lost).

Left Behind series logoWhat kind of writing do you enjoy doing the most? Why?

Adult mainstream fiction, because I get to make it up and write what I like to read.

Will you miss writing the Left Behind series?

In some ways, because it has been my life for a dozen years. But when the final sequel, Kingdom Come, releases in March of ’07, it will be nice to have other deadlines to worry about. That said, I never lost my enthusiasm for that series, always eager to get to the keyboard for each new manuscript.

Share with us about your new Biblical fiction series with Tim LaHaye.John's Story by Jerry Jenkins & Tim LaHaye

We’re putting the stories of the writing of the four gospels in novel form, allowing us to flesh out characters and situations only mentioned in Scripture. The first in The Jesus Chronicles, John’s Story: The Last Eyewitness, has just released. We’ll follow up annually with Mark, then Luke, then Matthew.

Where is your favorite place to write?

In what I call my cave, which is a beautifully furnished writing room in the middle of Colorado with 360-degree mountain views. I call it a cave because I leave the radio, TV, internet, etc., in the house and can only write or procrastinate in the cave. My wife Dianna is in the house, so my reward for finishing my pages is getting time with her every day.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started writing?

Interesting question. I have never liked knowing things in advance. I like to be surprised. I’m not a goal-setter but rather strive to do the best at whatever it is I have been assigned and see what happens. I write the same way: put interesting characters in difficult situations and write to find out what happens.

Had I know how remote was the possibility of ever being published, I might have despaired. Instead, I just blithely went for it.

Jerry JenkinsWhat was the lowest point in your writing career, and how did you get out of it?

I accepted a project for which I was not qualified, a book on Bible doctrine for teenagers. It was a short book explaining doctrine but it was the longest, most arduous writing task ever. I still recall slogging through every minute of it. With the help of a lot of experts, it turned out all right, but I’ll stay away from that topic from now on.

Ever had any embarrassing moments while performing research, traveling, speaking or doing a book signing?

I once tried to loosen a microphone cord wrapped around my neck, while speaking, but every time I tugged, I chose the wrong end of the cord and it kept tightening. By the time I got help, one more tug would have cut off my breathing.

How do you share your faith in your stories without preaching?Twas the Night Before by Jerry B. Jenkins

I’ve found that just telling a story forthrightly helps. Don’t sneak up on readers; they know what you’re about. It’s also important to keep in mind where your reader is coming from. Try to tell faith stories in his language, not yours.

Who’s your favorite character in your books, and why?

I like quirky, unusual ones, often orbital characters. Wally Festschrift in the Margo mysteries, Elgin Woodell in The Youngest Hero, Cal Snyder in Hometown Legend, Nicolae Carpathia in Left Behind.

Are there any authors or books you consistently turn to for inspiration?

I try to read The Elements of Style annually. I also read anything by Rick Bragg, former New York Times columnist and our best living non-fiction writer. His All Over but the Shoutin’ is a masterpiece.

The Youngest Hero by Jerry B. JenkinsFor someone who hasn’t read any of your books, what would you recommend they read first?

Depending on their area of interest:

Left Behind: A novel of the earth’s last days

The Youngest Hero (the story of a baseball prodigy)

Though None Go with Me (historical)

‘Twas the Night Before (a Christmas fantasy)

Some Christian authors don’t believe there even should be the label “Christian fiction”. What do you think?

It is what it is, and Jesus was our model. His parables were clearly fictitious while communicating truth with a capital T.

What would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?Riven by Jerry B. Jenkins

My next novel, Riven, a story of redemption.

Do you ever see yourself retiring?

I’m starting to change pace, putting more months between deadlines, but stopping? Unlikely. My wife wouldn’t know what to do with me underfoot.

What’s next for you?


Who is Jerry Jenkins?

Husband, father, grandfather, believer.

What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?

I hold five state championships in tournament Scrabble, and I was once a tournament table tennis player.

When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

Spending time with my wife, sons, daughters-in-law, and grandkids. I’m a movie buff too.

What have you eaten in the last 24 hours? (Come on, be honest!)

Though None Go With Me by Jerry B. JenkinsI can be not only honest but also accurate, as I keep track of every bite via computer. I am maintaining a 115-pound weight loss for three and a half years. Chicken salad sandwich, trail mix, chili, candy bar, 3 ounces of ice cream, banana, toast, and yes, a cheeseburger. I restrict no specific foods but count calories and work out.

Three things always found in your refrigerator:

Diet Coke, rare roast beef, cheese.

You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?

A way out. Not a coffee drinker.

What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?

I want to climb the Sydney (Australia) Harbor Bridge. And it’s on the schedule for before I turn 60 in September of ’09.

What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?

I’m a huge Gaither Homecoming fan, but right now Bob Dylan’s Modern Times.

Anything else you’d like to share with TitleTrakk.com readers?

Support Christian filmmakers by attending their movies and buying their DVDs to show Hollywood that a real market exists for good stuff.

C.J. DarlingtonC.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.