Behind the Scenes of the Left Behind Series with Jerry Jenkins
The Left Behind series started when Dr. LaHaye and I were introduced by our mutual agent in the early 1990s. I was aware of his ministry and had seen many of his nonfiction books; I knew he had an idea for a novel and had even heard the title. He'd been kicking the idea around since the mid-'80s.
He needed a writer, so we met and talked the idea through. His evangelistic spirit impressed me—the bottom line with Tim is winning souls, and it really moved me to hear him talk about that. At the same time, I wondered if the idea for the book was fresh and different enough, because there had been numerous other attempts at this subject. But as Dr. LaHaye and I talked about it, I started getting more and more excited about the possibility of writing this for him.
I started by asking Dr. LaHaye what audience I would be writing for. Would I be writing for people who agreed with us, and thus encouraging Christians, or would I be writing for people who had no exposure to this idea and would find it very strange? He said he'd like me to do both. I kept telling him that a double-minded book was unstable in all its ways and that we really needed to pick an audience. I pushed him hard on this for several months, but couldn't get him to change his mind.
I remember that first day sitting before a blank screen trying to imagine who I was writing for, with the knowledge I was writing for two audiences. I knew I had to do justice to Dr. LaHaye's interpretation and vision for the story, to the biblical account, and to the prophecies. At the same time, I felt a tremendous poverty of what I was bringing to the table. There really is a supernatural humility that comes over you in this process. You'd like to think, Yes, I'm ready for this. I've done other books. And yet you realize, nobody's qualified for this task. I just had to give it to the Lord. This feeling is very fresh for me because I just finished writing Glorious Appearing.
We initially thought there would be one book covering the Rapture—seven years of tribulation and a hint at the millennium. We knew we weren't going to cover the millennium in detail, because it's a time of peace, and without conflict there's no fiction.
But I got halfway through the first book and realized I'd only covered two weeks! That's when I knew it was not going to be done in one book. We went to a trilogy, and soon it was six and then seven. We finally settled on 12 to get through the tribulation period, and later decided to write a prequel and a sequel.
When I started writing Left Behind, Buck Williams wasn't even a part of it. It was strictly the story on the airplane with Rayford and Hattie. When I got further into the manuscript, I realized I needed another character to be in places where Rayford couldn't be and to tell a different part of the story.
People often ask me which book is my favorite. It's difficult to pick just one. The first one has some music to it because it starts with the Rapture. That turned out to be unique; one of the advantages of having the Rapture occur in the first chapter of the first book is that all the Christians are gone, thus the people who would use evangelical lingo are gone. Anyone could read the book without the evangelical lingo and say, Wow, what if everybody did disappear? Even though I don't know what's happening or I don't know if I agree with this, if a bunch of people disappeared what would I think? Where would I search? Who would I ask? I'd be scared to death! They're looking for answers and finding them in their own language.
We've heard from many readers who say, "I can identify with Rayford Steele or with Chloe because they didn't know what the answers were, and as they were searching, some of it made sense to them and some of it didn't." Chloe and Rayford asked questions such as, Why would God do this? This doesn't sound like a loving God. Look at all the chaos. And the readers were thinking the same thing.
Rather than try to pick a favorite book, I would always say my favorite was the next one. My current favorite is the most recent one, because I just finished writing Glorious Appearing, and it really was an unusual experience. I was so excited about it that I was drawn back to the project every day.
Sometimes writing is a chore and I really have to work at it. I say I'm working in the cave and it's like going to war. This one was tough, and I felt the usual oppression: unexplained fatigue and illness, and computer glitches that happen with the Left Behind series that don't happen on any other of the books I work on. That was true in spades this time. But still, although I've always been partial to Left Behind, now I'm partial to Glorious Appearing.
I do have favorite scenes from the Left Behind series. I think my favorite is early in the series in Nicolae where Buck helps Tsion Ben Judah escape from Israel, go across the Sinai, and get back to the United States. I really liked the scene where they have to go through several border crossings and are constantly being searched, but during the whole trip things happen that make the guards either not see Tsion or he slips away. Finally, a guard gets on the bus where Tsion is hiding under a seat, and we all know where he is. The guard looks under the seat, but Tsion doesn't supernaturally disappear and God doesn't blind the guard—we know he's going to be seen. I tend to write as a process of discovery, so I didn't know what was going to happen either. I was writing to find out what would happen. (Which, by the way, gives me an out with readers when they ask me why I killed their favorite character. I can just say, "I didn't kill him off, I found him dead!")
In this scene, the guard shines the light in Tsion's eyes and asks him who he is. Tsion doesn't lie; he tells him who he is. Then, instead of arresting him, the guard blesses him. I was moved while writing that, just as I hope readers were when reading that scene. It was a wonderful, serendipitous surprise. Of course, everyone wants to know if the guard was really a guard or if he was an angel—they have to keep reading to find out.
The martyrdom scenes in The Mark are other favorites before Glorious Appearing.
That's a little background on what goes into writing the series. I have to say, writing Glorious Appearing was a thrill! It was almost indescribable. I pray the readers will be blessed as they read it.