by C.J. Darlington
Jerry B. Jenkins Interview
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are readers; good writers are good readers; great writers are great
--Jerry B. Jenkins
Jerry B. Jenkins, former editor of Moody Magazine, vice president for publishing, and now chairman of the board of trustees for the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, is the author of more than 180 books, including the 63,000,000-selling Left Behind series. Jerry has been awarded honorary doctorates from Bethel College (Indiana), Trinity International University (Illinois), Colorado Christian University, Huntington University (Indiana), and Tennessee Temple University.
Riven, which Jerry
considers his life’s work novel, released in
July 2008 to stellar reviews and has been optioned for a movie.
It’s exciting to see the final book in the Precinct 11 series releasing. With these novels you drew from some of your family’s police background, but it sounds like The Breakthrough hits especially close to home. Can you share with us how the story developed?
Dianna and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary with a trip to Beijing, coming home through Bangkok. These were among the most exotic places we had ever visited, and I took copious notes, knowing one of the settings would find its way into my next novel. It wasn’t much of a stretch to find a way to get my main character to China.
How much of an impact did your trip to China have on this story?
When writing fiction I often imagine the research part as standing on one side of a huge train freight car and tossing in everything I’ve seen and experienced. When I get to the writing part, I imagine being on the other side of the freight car and offloading that stuff as I need it. My China freight car was full.
What was something you discovered about the culture or people that you didn’t expect?
I was amazed at the gap between the rich and poor. I was unaware that luxury designer stores and car dealerships had found their way to Beijing, but that millions merely walk past these on their way to the subway and jobs that provide a bare existence. I also enjoyed the Chinese’s’ efforts to speak English. It’s charming, and while I used a lot of their broken phrases, I was careful not to make fun of it. I mean, it can be funny, but their intelligence comes through too.
Having experienced the trials and joys of international adoption vicariously through your son Dallas and his family, what do you wish the average American knew about the subject?
Actually, this trip made it more than vicarious, as we became the first members of the family to meet our future grandson, Max, at his orphanage in Bangkok. Dallas and Amanda had been trying to get him for three years, and he knew their names, his future siblings names, had seen pictures of the whole extended family, etc. But they had not met him yet. What a thrill to find him and see that he recognized us from pictures and called us the Thai names for paternal grandparents, Boo and Ya. It destroyed us emotionally to have to leave him, but six months later Dallas and Amanda went and got him. Here he is at home in Illinois with his new siblings (from left) Sam, Elle, and Maya.
Human trafficking is an all too real reality in our world today. What surprised you most in your research on this subject?
How widespread and lucrative and horrific it is. The documentation can make you feel helpless and outraged. My goal in the novel was to have one of the perpetrators get what was coming to him.
What do you believe is the biggest misconception people have about police work?
My father and brothers say a common shift is 8 hours of boredom interspersed with 20 minutes of sheer terror. “Presence” is a major factor and crime deterrent. Excitement is rare, but you have to be fully trained and ready for it to protect yourself and the public.
Do any of the tvTV shows and/or police procedure novels you’ve watched or read get it right?
No. One of my favorite things is to watch one of these shows with a member of my family who’s been in law enforcement and hear them howl. Some shows are better than others at getting the language and the procedures right, but no case is ever solved in an hour. And the majority of police officers will never fire their weapon in the line of duty, let alone several times in one show.
As an author, all your characters are special, but what do you most like about Boone Drake?
I think he’s an everyman. He has gifts and abilities and ideals, but all these are tested and stretched and often obliterated. He struggles with his faith and we find out what he does when everything has been ripped from him. He turns to the only place he has left.
Could you describe the Precinct 11 series and what it means to you?
It’s a trilogy of cop thrillers set in Chicago, and I see it as an homage to all the cops in my family. My dad and my two older brothers were career law enforcement officers, and many in my extended family were too. I wanted the cop stuff to be right, and it’s been gratifying to hear from many police officers who’ve read these and say they found them authentic.
What excites you most about today’s Christian fiction?
I think it’s getting more real and realistic, gritty without being offensive. The irony is that the definitions of fiction and nonfiction have flip-flopped. Fiction has to be believable, even if it’s fantasy. The novelist must make you buy into the fictional construct, and then it has to make sense. Nonfiction these days has to be unbelievable—people who have been to heaven and back, etc. It’s a strange literary landscape.
Which usually comes first for you, character or plot?
Always character. I may have the germ of an idea where the story is going, but I let the plot emerge from putting interesting characters in difficult situations and writing to find out what happens. About fifty percent of novelists write this way. We’re called pantsers, because we write from the seat of our pants. For the other half, they outline and plot in advance. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. For me I fear predictability. If I don’t know what’s coming, the reader certainly won’t. I call it writing by process of discovery, and it gives me an out when readers ask why I killed off their favorite character. I say, “I didn’t kill him off; I found him dead.” That requires intuitive plotting and foreshadowing and often going back to plant certain things to make the story work.
That said, I know many outliners who are not predictable, so I never say one method is better than the other. You have to use what works for you.
If you could spend a day in real life with any of your characters, who would you pick and why?
Buck Williams from Left Behind was a globetrotting journalist. That would be fun. Elgin Woodell, from The Rookie (later retitled Youngest Hero), became a major league baseball player at age 14. Now that would be living!
You’re about to embark on a new adventure with a new publisher and what sounds like an epic book. Could you share with us a little bit about this new project? I believe it’s a Biblical novel about the Apostle Paul?
Yes, it’s a two-volume work of fiction totaling 300,000 words for Worthy Publishing. The titles will be I, Saul and I, Paul, and the premise is that these are his memoirs aside from all his epistles. It allows me to flesh out stories hinted at in Scripture. For instance, Acts tells in a few verses that Paul’s nephew overheard a plot to kill Paul and somehow got it thwarted. To me that’s several chapters. Paul is one of the most interesting personalities and characters in history, and the biblical record alone offers me unlimited story possibilities.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Writers are readers; good writers are good readers; great writers are
great readers. And never stop being a student.
Portions of this interview first appeared as an article in the Aug/Sept 2012 issue of FamilyFiction Digital Magazine.
C.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.