The Jerry B. Jenkins File:
by C.J. Darlington
Jerry B. Jenkins Interview
"I feel as if I'm starting new every time, and I know other writers can identifity with the compulsion to improve each time. When that goes, I'll have to retire." -- Jerry B. Jenkins
Jerry B. Jenkins, former vice president for publishing at Moody Bible Institute of Chicago and currently a member of the board of trustees, is the author of more than 175 books, including the best-selling Left Behind series. Twenty of his books have reached the New York Times best-seller list (seven in the number-one spot) and have also appeared on the USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and Wall Street Journal best-seller lists. Desecration, book #9 in the Left Behind series, was the best-selling book in the world in 2001. His books have sold nearly 70 million copies.
C.J.: Let’s start right away with your new novel Riven. You’ve said the two main characters, Brady & Thomas, have been with you for over 40 years. Does that mean they are based on real people?
Jerry: Just as types. One was a classmate in high school and one was one of my teachers. Neither was a murderer or a pastor/chaplain.
What about the story? I’ve heard you came up with it about 20 years ago. How did you connect these particular characters with the story that started in your head, and where did it first come from?
Ironically, I was attending an Evangelical retreat at a Catholic facility and a crucifix hung on the wall of my room. I had never studied one before and was struck by how horribly realistically it depicted the death of Christ. The protruding ribs, the riven side, the crown of thorns…
The image stuck with me and got me thinking about how much we really know about the reality of the crucifixion. Over the years that combined with some other ideas and the plot began to form. I judge the value of a fiction idea by how long it sticks with me, and this stuck with me for years.
When and how did you know it was time to start writing this book?
As soon as I was free of some other obligations, Tyndale House and I agreed it was time to write the one I was most passionate about.
Why do you call Riven the “novel I have always wanted to write”? What made this particular book different for you?
I recognized early that it was a big concept with several important sub-themes. I couldn’t wait to get to it, and it was never a chore. It drew me back to the keyboard every day.
In your book Writing for the Soul you say (about plotting), “I like to be surprised, disappointed, or shocked along with the reader.” Did knowing how Riven was going to end make the writing process more difficult?
Actually, I wasn’t entirely sure how it was going to end, because fiction is organic and I knew there would be plenty of serendipity along the way – which proved true.
How much of the story was pre-planned and how much came about organically as you wrote?
If I had to break it into percentages, I would say it was one-tenth planned.
You’ve mentioned that you like to have an ideal reader in mind as you’re writing. What type of reader did you picture for Riven?
I envisioned two potential reader types: someone who feels estranged from God and unforgivable, and someone in ministry who wonders if there’s any payoff this side of heaven for a life of devotion.
How long did it take you to do the actual writing?
More than half a year, which is very long for me. I tend to write my books all at once, several pages a day for many days. This was the longest I’ve ever written.
The details included in this story, most notably of the prison, really plant us in the scene. Do you enjoy research? How much research was involved for this book, especially for the prison details?
I do enjoy research, because it’s easier than writing. :) I was fortunate – in the case of this title – to have grown up in a law enforcement family. My father was a police chief and my two older brothers were career cops. That helped, but the bulk of the research on super max prison life came from a longtime chaplain at a facility in Colorado. His details really opened my eyes and, I hope, added authenticity to the final product.
Interspersed throughout the novel are the words of many classic hymns. Why did you choose to include these, and what’s your favorite hymn of all time?
I grew up on hymns and love the lyrics. I have many favorites, but if I had to choose, I’d say "It Is Well with My Soul", particularly the third verse about our sin having been nailed to the cross and our bearing it no more (‘O, the bliss of this glorious thought…’).
Having written 175 books, many of them novels, how do you keep yourself from treading old ground? In other words, how do you keep your writing fresh?
I feel as if I’m starting new every time, and I know other writers can identify with the compulsion to improve each time. When that goes, I’ll have to retire.
Any plans to turn Riven into a movie, maybe with your son Dallas of Jenkins Entertainment at the helm?
It is being shopped to studios. It’s probably a little ambitious for our little company, but I have no doubt Dallas could direct it.
Switching gears a bit … you recently returned from a trip to Israel. Could you share with us a story or two you’ll never forget from your experiences there?
While visiting an excavated compound of the evil First Century King Herod, I got what I think is a good idea for the fourth book in The Jesus Chronicles series, Matthew’s Story. I write that late this year, so it’ll be interesting to see what readers think.
Then, climbing to the high place at Petra was something I could not have done as a younger and much heavier man. Once I started I knew I could not quit or it would have been the talk of the tour. :)
So does this mean your next book will be set in Israel? :)
That was already the case, as the last book in The Jesus Chronicles is next.
How do you stay on track spiritually in order to have a full well to draw from as you share Biblical truths with your readers?
To write, I need a full tank, and I’m not talking about delving into a mile-high stack of writing books and resources. I’m talking about recharging my batteries for the sake of my physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
With physical exercise, anything is better than nothing. Even just spending a few minutes on the rowing machine gets the blood pumping and the pulse jumping. The same is true with spiritual exercise; I try to do whatever it takes to jumpstart my spiritual life—prayer, Bible reading, reflection, whatever. I’ve learned not to feel like a failure if I miss now and then. Anything is better than nothing, because I always want to be trying to build those muscles.
What’s the biggest obstacle in your life God’s helped you overcome and how did He do it?
For decades I carried 135 too many pounds. People who see my before and after pictures can hardly recognize the old me. Grandkids opened my eyes to the reality that I want to be here as long as I can to see them grow up. I count calories and keep track of every bite and have maintained the loss for more than five years.
What’s your favorite Scripture and why?
Psalm 91:1-2, because besides the heavy, emotional truth it imparts, I believe it is the most beautiful passage ever translated into English.
“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.”
For beginning writers out there, how can someone know they’re called by God to be a writer?
Pardon the grammar, but if you can’t not write, you may be called to write. For me, I felt a definite call into fulltime Christian service. We should all be Christian servants, of course, but also making your living at it can be a calling. When I first felt this, I thought I would have to give up writing and become a pastor or a missionary. But I found that God often prepares you before He calls you, and He had prepared me to write.
What’s next for you now that Riven has hit the shelves?
Book three in The Jesus Chronicles (Luke’s Story) releases in the Spring. Book four (Matthew’s Story) a year later. And in the meantime, an international thriller from Tyndale, tentatively titled SPY.
Writing is a lonely profession. I love to meet and hear from readers.
As a (former?) tournament Scrabble player, what’s the highest point value word you’ve ever played?
I actually hit a triple triple once with a high value tile also hitting a premium space. The one play alone scored more than 300 points. I was as stunned as my opponent.
Where can we find you on a Friday night?
Probably with Dianna at a movie. We’re still courting after 37 years of marriage.
What will your epitaph read?
I want it to say “Husband, Dad, and Grandpa,” but I think Dianna is planning Never an Unpublished Thought.
Writing can often be sedentary profession. What do you do to stay healthy, exercise, etc.?
I’m on the rower 15 minutes a day, the stationary bike 40 minutes, and I lift weights three times a week – besides maintaining my calorie counts.
Favorite food of all time:
Giordano’s stuffed Chicago pizza.
The best vacation spot in the world is:
Watch Jerry talk about Riven:
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.