Jerry Jenkins on Violence in the Left Behind Series
Writing fiction can be a messy job when it comes to depicting some of the more unpleasant realities of life. The dutiful author deals with the disagreeable facts of real-life horror, without attempting to senselessly embellish or glorify violence in any way.
Author Jerry B. Jenkins discusses his convictions about dealing with the more uncomfortable particulars of the tribulation, and how he is able to come up with ideas to accurately capture the terror that will characterize those days.
How do you come up with the tortures like the ones in the Left Behind series?
I make them up! (Grins)
In your latest book, Soon, there was a very graphic scene involving death in a napalm canister.
I've always been fascinated with napalm ever since I heard about it as a teenager during the Vietnam War. Since I'm a lover of words, I was fascinated to hear people talk of napalm as a jellified gasoline—it triggered thoughts of every other kind of tasty jellified items I knew about, having to do with bagels and toast and doughnuts. But gasoline jelly? That's just horrible to think about.
How do you add that to a story?
I tend to see the fiction writing process as loading a boxcar on one side in order to unload it on the other. Loading it on one side is taking everything I've ever heard or thought or noticed or studied or read. I don't do a lot of formal research until I know what I need. I'm often surprised at what just comes. I start writing and I ask myself, What would be the worst way for this to happen? So, I just think of the worst thing I can imagine.
I'm claustrophobic. I wouldn't want to be stuck in a can with my feet above my head and hardly able to breathe. The name Andy Pass isn't too far a jump to think of Antipas, who died burning. And in the modern day, in fact in the future, how would you burn somebody and do it quickly and efficiently?
Do you ever think you've gone too far?
I worry about myself sometimes. What kind of a monster could I be if I weren't a writer and had to do these horrible things instead of just make them up? I think a lot of writers are shy about going the extra distance, especially Christian writers. My tendency is always to make things easier for my main character when, really, what I need to do is keep pulling the pins out from underneath him.
In the prologue of Soon, why is it important to show Andy Pass' death?
Obviously, Andy isn't my main character because I kill him off in the prologue, but he's a mentor of the main character, Paul Stepola. It's a big deal when Paul realizes his mentor, Andy, might have been an underground believer. He's the modern Apostle Paul—persecuting and killing. At first, Paul thinks, It can't be. Andy couldn't have really been one of them. But how did he die? He died the way the National Peace Organization kills people they want dead. So he realizes his own organization exterminated Andy, and that he must have been a believer who died a martyr's death.
How far is too far in Christian publishing?
There is a dichotomy in Christian fiction. There are things you can't do: You can't use language. You can't use sex. Somehow, violence is okay if it's not too graphic. I use certain words—his body has become a wick for this conflagration, and all that, and I go on about the heat being so bad, he screams a lot, and all that. But it could be told a lot worse. I think how Steven King would have told it—he would have the tissue melting and dropping and the sound and the smell. There is a line, and I realize I can't cross the line, but violence is real. The Old Testament is full of violence and graphic violence.
I'd like to think one of my hallmarks of fiction is realism. I don't want to write a book like a comic book. People will suspend disbelief as long as you don't take them past a certain point. I'm saying, Okay, 45 years from now, if religion is outlawed and the punishment is death, what would they do? And I run it right up to that line.