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 175 books, including the 70,000,000-selling Left Behind series. Jerry has been awarded honorary doctorates from Bethel College (Indiana), Trinity International University (Illinois), Colorado Christian University, and Huntington University (Indiana). Riven, which Jerry considers his life’s work novel, released in July 2008 to stellar reviews and has been optioned for a movie.
Jerry and Tim LaHaye’s most recent collaboration is the Jesus Chronicles novel series from Putnam Praise, four titles based on the Gospels. The first, John’s Story, debuted on the New York Times Bestseller List. It was followed by Mark’s Story. Luke’s Story released in March 2009. The final title, Matthew’s Story, released in February, 2010.
Besides Matthew’s Story, Jerry’s also released in 2010 The Last Operative, an international spy thriller (July). The first of a police thriller trilogy based in Chicago, The Brotherhood / A Precint 11 Novel, released in February 2011. Jenkins’s writing has appeared in Time, Reader’s Digest, Parade, Guideposts, and dozens of Christian periodicals. He also serves as a contributing editor to Writer’s Digest.
Jenkins’s non-fiction books include many as-told-to autobiographies, including those of Hank Aaron, Bill Gaither, Orel Hershiser, Luis Palau, Walter Payton, Meadowlark Lemon, Nolan Ryan, and Mike Singletary. The Hershiser and Ryan books reached the New York Times best-seller list. Jenkins also assisted Dr. Billy Graham with his memoirs, Just As I Am, also a New York Times bestseller. Jerry spent 13 months working with Dr. Graham, and considers the project the privilege of a lifetime. For more info, visit his website.
Let the conversation begin!
What initially drew you to writing?
My mother taught me to read at age 4 and I was voracious, especially reading the sports page in the paper every day. I wanted to be a big league baseball player (and was even scouted), but was injured playing football as a high school freshman. I started sports writing to stay close to the sports scene and became a stringer for the local papers before I was old enough to drive. My mother had to drive me to the games and to the newspaper office. But I realized immediately I had found my niche. I was a beginner and no good yet (still not J), but I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I became sports editor of a daily when I was 19 and never looked back.
How many words do you write each day?
I’ve never counted. When I’m on deadline I write enough pages per day to always make my deadlines. I start the day doing a heavy edit and re-write of the previous day’s writing (usually 10-20 double spaced pages), then write that day’s allotment. At the end I go back through the entire manuscript until I’m happy with every word.
Are you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pants writer?
Wholly the latter. I write as a process of discovery, putting interesting characters in difficult situations and writing to find out what happens. When readers ask why I killed off their favorite character I tell them, “I didn’t kill him off; I found him dead.”
When are you the most productive? (Morning, noon, or night?)
Morning. The work I do before noon will be the best work I do all day, though I will write till midnight if necessary to complete my daily quota of pages.
What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?
Riven. I had the idea for more than 20 years and was ready when the time came. Hardest was Light on the Heavy / Bible Doctrine Made Easy for Teens. I had no business writing that book and thought it was short, it was grueling. I though doctrine was what a physician does for a living. On the other hand, a seminarian once told me that “that book got me through divinity school.”
Are your characters completely fictional?
Or do you base them off real people?
Every one. I might use one person’s tone of voice, another’s smile, another’s face, another’s hair, another’s gender, etc.
Where do you get your ideas?
I make them up. And I read (did you catch that above?). The best novel ideas are usually interesting juxtapositions. I saw a crucifix and was fascinated by it. A few years later I wondered what would happen if someone chose to be crucified. Riven grew from that.
What advice would you give young writers?
Write every day, and that doesn’t mean texting. Read, read, read. Involve yourself in some kind of journalism. Find a mentor (www.christianwritersguild.com).
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
A piece of published work is always a duet between a writer and an editor, never a solo. Develop a thick skin.
Tell us about the book you’re working on.
I’m in the middle of a trilogy of Chicago-based cop thrillers, an homage to my father and two brothers who were lifetime cops and the city where I lived for more than 30 years. The first, just released, is The Brotherhood / A Precinct 11 Novel. Second (this Fall) will be The Betrayal. Third (next summer) will be The Breakthrough.
Describe your dream vacation.
Kauai, reading by the pool, deciding only where to have meals with my wife of 40 years.