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Jerry B. Jenkins Interview

by C.J. Darlington

"People have asked me when I knew I loved to write. I don’t love to write. It’s grueling. What I love is having written." -- Jerry B. Jenkins

Author of more than 175 books with sales of more than 70 million copies, including the best-selling Left Behind series, Jerry B. Jenkins is former vice president for publishing and currently chairman of the board of trustees for the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Jerry’s writing has appeared in Time, Reader’s Digest, Parade, Guideposts, and dozens of Christian periodicals. Twenty of his books have reached The New York Times best-seller list (seven debuting number one). Jerry released Matthew’s Story in February 2010 from Putnam Praise and The Last Operative in July 2010 from Tyndale House. The Brotherhood / A Precinct 11 Novel will release in February 2011 from Tyndale, the first of a trilogy.

C.J.: Let’s jump right in and talk about your latest novel The Brotherhood. Was writing this novel different than writing any of your other books?

Jerry: I write all novels the same. Lots of research, then put interesting characters in difficult situations and write to find out what happens.

Growing up as the son of a police chief I’m sure had its challenges. Jerry, what sticks out in your mind as the hardest part about growing up with a cop for a dad?

I loved it. I was proud of my dad and probably an obnoxious know-it-all when it came to police-related stuff. I suppose it could have been a handicap if I was a kid who would rather have been a rebel, but I wasn’t.

I’m guessing there are so many fascinating stories you could share from your dad’s experiences. What is the one that sticks out in your mind as the most memorable?

Actually, he didn’t bring his work home and didn’t talk about it much. We had to badger him to get stories out of him – many of which I use in the Precinct 11 trilogy. My strongest memories of my dad are of his daily disciplines: he was an early riser, loved to have a clean, pressed uniform, shined shoes, etc. He was an ex-Marine, a man’s man, and yet he never smoked, drank, swore (ever), was a churchman (deacon, elder, Sunday school superintendent), and a hopelessly romantic poet. Near the time of his death we published several hundred of his poems that chronicled many of the momentous events in the life of our family and especially his love of my mother (whom he referred to as his lifetime valentine).

Did you ever consider being a cop yourself seeing as two of your brothers followed in your father’s footsteps? Why or why not?

I was involved in a few cases as an undercover narcotics buyer in 1971, right before I got married. One time I was set up to work in a factory for a week and try to get next to a dealer. When I casually inquired where I might get some "stuff," he led me to his supplier, who turned out to be wanted by the state police.

I put the word out that I wanted to make a buy, and he actually called me at home, not realizing it was the number of the chief of police (my dad). I played hard to get to make the sting more real. I told him I heard the last stuff he sold wasn't that good and that I also knew he was hot (wanted).

He assured me he would get me good stuff and that if we were very careful, he was sure the cops had no idea where he was. We set up the buy at a gas station at a busy intersection. I left my car and got into his where I gave him marked money and he gave me a bag of drugs. I had no signal to give the watching cops because all they had to do was visually identify him and they would move in.

They apparently had trouble seeing him through binoculars from across the street, so I had to stall him, warning him that if the stuff wasn't good, I wasn't going to be happy and that the cops had better not trace me through him.

The BrotherhoodAs he sat there reassuring me, the police finally moved in, pinning his car front and back and arresting us both at gun point. The whole time he's apologizing profusely. "Sorry, man. I didn't think I was dragging you into a bust."

I had to fight to keep from laughing, because that was exactly what I was doing to him.

Those are scary situations, though, and I had little interest in doing too much of that kind of work. The adrenaline rush is amazing, but the crash is exhausting. I don't know how guys do it for a living.

I have always been intrigued with how police officers who are Christians balance doing their jobs, which can often involve deception to catch the bad guys, and still maintain their faith. As someone who saw this firsthand, what are your thoughts on this subject? How did your dad draw the line?

Dad could be very direct. He never backed down, though if you met him in another context you would describe him as soft spoken and even meek. Just don’t cross him. He was trained in self-defense, hand-to-hand combat, and some martial arts. He was only about 5-11 and 190 pounds, but he was deceptively strong. He had four sons, and even when we were adults (three of us much larger than he), he could take all four of us at once. Yet, as I say, in a profession where gutter language is rampant, no one ever heard him utter a profanity or even use coarse language. More than once I saw him just exit a conversation when someone started a dirty joke. His mantra was “discipline and consistency.”

Jerry JenkinsWhat is your favorite paragraph in The Brotherhood and why?

My favorite paragraph is always the last, because it means I’m finished. Writing is hard work. Good writing is re-writing, and that’s where the fun comes in. People have asked me when I knew I loved to write. I don’t love to write. It’s grueling. What I love is having written.

You’ve said before you tend to be a seat of the pants writer, often discovering things in the plot as your characters do. Was that the case in The Brotherhood and did it cause any issues in writing a tight thriller?

It’s not just a tendency. I walk this high wire with no net, believing that if the story is serendipitous and a surprise to me, it will be also to the reader. I write as a process of discovery, of course having an idea where I want to go but letting the story grow organically and the characters to lead me to the plot. It’s an intuitive thing, and as things become clearer to me as I go, I jot notes to keep me on track. In this one, I realized that a certain character was going to break and come forward, giving Boone what he needed to solve his main case.

You’re closing in on your 200th book. What aspect of the craft do you feel you’ve mastered and what aspect is something you would still like to improve?

RivenI teach emphatically that no writer should ever feel he has arrived or he will immediately begin to stagnate. That said, I do believe I have learned to largely omit needless words, write tightly, and make good use of taut dialogue. I still read every writing book that comes out and try to stay atop all the trends.

Have you ever faced a time in your life when you seriously doubted your writing abilities? If so, what did the time look like and what did you do to overcome those concerns?

Like most artists, and I tend to use that term loosely in relation to myself, I always seriously doubt my ability and wonder when I will be found out as an impostor. In the process of writing every book, I hit the half- to mid-way point and wonder why I ever thought I could do this. I need to look at a shelf full of books I have finished and published and sold and for which I have received good reviews and enthusiastic fan mail to remind me that yes, I can do this. Then I push on to the end.

Who is an author you will read no matter what he/she writes?

Rick Bragg (All Over but the Shoutin’)

I’m excited to hear your novel Riven is being made into a movie by your filmmaker son Dallas. Where do you guys stand in the process?

It’s at a very embryonic stage. We have a treatment and a screenwriter has made progress on a script. But we still consider it very much in pre-production, and it may not even be our next picture. Perhaps the one after next.

What can we expect next from you?Left Behind

The Brotherhood (a Precinct 11 novel) is the first of a trilogy. It releases in February, and the second, tentatively titled The Betrayal, should release next fall. I’m almost finished writing that. And of course there will be one more. Then I have a couple of ideas for novels that will keep my interest, draw me back to the keyboard each day, and hopefully will have the same effect on the reader.

Anything else you’d like to say?

At this stage of my life, I’m living the dream, having great fun trying to give back through my Christian Writers Guild. It will never make money, but if it just breaks even we can keep trying to restock the pool of Christian writers. www.ChristianWritersGuild.com

I have cut down from writing five books a year to about one and a half, a pace that fits someone of my vintage. I like spending time with Dianna and our grown sons and their families.

How much sleep did you get last night and why?

I’m normally a six-and-a-half to seven-hour a night guy, but this morning I was up very early to fly out of Orlando, through Chicago, to get home by mid-day. I’ve been on the road ten days and am sleep deprived, but getting home to Dianna – who usually travels with me – makes this trip a joy.

What was the last movie you saw in the theater and what did you think of it?

Secretariat brought back such vivid memories that I blogged about it at www.jerryjenkins.com

Jerry Jenkins & Dianna JenkinsDescribe yourself in three words:

Husband, father, grandfather

Dog or cat? Why?

My choice would be neither. But my wife wanted a cat. And of course, Bronco is enamored with me, despite – or because of – my indifference.

When was the last time you cried?

Watching Secretariat. His overwhelming victory at The Belmont Stakes was the single most dominant sports performance in my lifetime. I wept watching it live on TV in 1973, and again while watching it recreated on film.

Jerry Jenkins in office 

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.