For many of you, tonight’s author really needs no introduction…but I’m sure there is a small handful of people who have never heard of Jerry B. Jenkins before. So I am very proud to feature him on this week’s post. Mr. Jenkins really became a household name after teaming up with Dr. Tim LaHaye to write a series of Christian novels known as the “Left Behind” series. These novels, a fictional telling of the events leading up to the end of the world, based on prophetic accounts in the Bible, became an international success and lead to several movies being made as well.
These books have become so popular, they’ve been translated into several different languages and sold all around the world. They’ve even been adapted into a series of young adult novels as well! Hugely successful books and I’ll tell you right now…with no hesitation at all…if you’ve never read these books (whether you’re a Christian or not), you definitely don’t want to pass up the opportunity. Pick up the first book, Left Behind, and see for yourself. You’ll be hooked before the second chapter and will want to read all 16 of these incredible books (as well as the incredible spin-offs)!
Besides the Left Behind books, Mr. Jenkins has written a vast array of other books (both fiction and non-fiction). His latest release, The Last Operative (released on 06/24/2010), is actually a complete re-working of a novel he wrote nearly 20 years ago and features a classic spy thriller in every sense of the word. Here’s the product description of The Last Operative:
Jordan Kirkwood wants to go quietly into the sunset. His career as an NSA intelligence officer has taken a significant toll. His two adult children are little more than distant acquaintances. His wife has been patient and supportive, but he knows she has deserved better. That was part of the reason they were going to London. He wanted her to see Europe like a tourist. But that was before he was given intelligence information during the recent mission to Germany. The threat is grave—bigger than 9/11. And the risk is compounded by the fact that someone inside the NSA is involved. The most hidden place in Kirkwood’s past will have to be unmasked in order to meet the challenges of this mission.
Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? I’m definitely picking up a copy and can’t wait to dig in!
Well, recently, I had the fantastic opportunity to talk with Mr. Jenkins about his books, his writing, and his passions. This is what he had to say:
1) Tell us about how you first realized you wanted to be a professional author?
I was in my early twenties and met Sammy Tippit, a young evangelist who was totally sold out to God. I was doing a story on him for a Sunday school take home paper at Scripture Press when I realized that though he was only 25 (and I 23), he would make a worthwhile biography subject. My first book was called Sammy Tippit / God’s Love in Action. Sammy and I remain friends to the this day, have both become grandfathers, and I serve on his board. He preaches around the world.
How old were you when you started writing?
I was 14 when I was injured playing sports in high school and started sports writing to stay close to that scene. I began stringing for local papers, and because I wasn’t old enough to drive, my parents had to take me to the games and to the newspaper office. I almost immediately realized I had found my niche, and I became sports editor of a Chicago suburban daily when I was 19. Many of my early books were sports bios, and I have been privileged to meet and work with such people as Hank Aaron ,Walter Payton, Orel Hershiser, Nolan Ryan, Joe Gibbs, Mike Singletary, Bill Gaither, Billy Graham, etc.
Have you ever written any novels that weren’t published, but would like to see published someday?
Happy to say, no. I’ve been very lucky that way. My wife says she’s going to put on my tombstone, “Never an unpublished thought.”
2) You first really became noticed (at least by me) while teaming up with Dr. Tim LaHaye in the “Left Behind” series…a series that has left its indelible mark on the literary world. Can you tell us a bit about how the series came to be?
We were introduced by our mutual agent who told me that Dr. LaHaye was a nonfiction writer with a great novel idea and I was a novelist with no ideas, so we should get together. Because he has kids my age, there was a father/son dynamic, plus I just loved the idea.
What was your role?
I wrote every word.
What was Dr. LaHaye’s role?
He was the theologian/scholar and biblical prophecy expert. Plus he was a great cheerleader. Besides keeping me on track biblically, he kept asking to see more.
Where did the inspiration come from?
Dr. LaHaye had been flying to a prophecy conference when he noticed the pilot of the plane he was on flirting with the flight attendant. He was wearing a wedding ring; she was not. Dr. LaHaye began wondering what if the pilot had a wife who was a Christian and who would disappear if the Rapture occurred. So the opening scene is just that. A third of the people disappear right out of their clothes off an airliner, and the pilot returns home amid the chaos to find his wife missing.
3) Your latest release, “The Last Operative” sounds like one exciting thrill ride…especially for espionage enthusiasts. Can you share a bit how this book came to be? Is it a new edition of a previously published book? What are the major differences between the previous edition and the new?
Yes, The Last Operative, is a thorough retelling of my very first stand-alone novel. In its original incarnation more than twenty years ago, it was titled The Operative, and it marked what I considered a major step in my writing journey.My first novels consisted of a thirteen-book series called The Margo Mysteries, and they caught the eye of a veteran Harper & Row editor named Roy Carlisle. Roy was intrigued by those early efforts and encouraged me to keep growing and stretching. I had long secretly dreamed of one day publishing with Harper & Row, so it became my goal to land a contract with them.
Every chance I got in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I pitched Roy on the idea of an international spy thriller. He listened but urged me to keep learning my shops in series fiction. I still remember the day Roy finally called to offer a contract on The Operative. I felt I was graduating to a new level of publishing.The original novel garnered a loyal cadre of fans, including some of the staff of Tyndale House. I couldn’t have been happier last year when they asked me to do a complete rewrite and resurrect the story for today’s readers.
It became a labor of love to dive back into it and write it the way I would today after twenty-plus year’s more experience. Plus I think, in the current economy and political climate, it’s time for a Christian novel that is also a bit of an escapist beach read.Students of the genre may be intrigued by what I consider a successful experiment in the treatment of dialogue in this novel. Much is made today over how to make dialogue taut and realistic and how best to attribute it to various characters with variations on “he said” or “she said.” In the original version—and this one—I took what I considered a thoroughly innovative approach by having no such language and not one reader told me they were confused about who was speaking. I attempted to make each speaker obvious without attributing any dialogue to anyone.
4) My readers always enjoy hearing about the process of writing…especially as far as inspiration goes. What would you consider to be your greatest influences (be it television, current events, other books, etc)? Can you name a few things that you’ve seen that have just sparked the creative flow for you?
I am a movie buff and find I get a lot of inspiration from a good film of any genre. If the concept is big or the movie is quiet and character-oriented, it always seems to spark something in me. I loved The Sting, The Verdict, Sixth Sense, and similar stories, and while I didn’t run with similar plots, just the ideas and tone worked on me.
5) Besides writing, what are some things you really enjoy doing? What are your passions?
Dianna and I will be married 40 years in January and will celebrate with a first ever visit to Beijing. We have three grown sons, two daughters-in-law, and five homegrown grandchildren and one coming soon from Thailand. I also love word games and racquetball – which I hope to get back to as soon as I recuperate from right knee replacement (6/22).
6) You’re really involved in helping young, struggling writers improve their craft with the Jerry Jenkins Writer’s Guild. Can you tell us a bit about that? How did it come about? What are the goals of the guild and how can aspriring writers find out more information about it?
I bought the guild from my old friend and mentor, Norm Rohrer, who founded it in the 1960s and used to coach writers by mail, doing all the work himself. We re-wrote the course, added more, and hired seven full-time people and about 40 part-time mentors, and have expanded the work – doing it all by email now. We have courses for all ages, an annual conference in Denver, and an annual first-novel contest that has seen new writers published every year. www.ChristianWritersGuild.com
In the spring Tyndale will release The Brotherhood / A Precinct 11 Novel, the first of a trilogy about a fictitious Chicago cop named Boone Drake. My own father was a life-long police officer, as were my two older brothers and several relatives. So this has been a labor of love.
You can learn more about Jerry Jenkins by visiting his website: http://www.jerryjenkins.com/
Thank you, Mr. Jenkins for such a candid interview and for the wonderful ministry you have in Christ. I will be praying for you, your family, and your writing career!