You may know author Jerry Jenkins from his blockbuster bestselling Left Behind series, a collection of 18 books that have sold 80 million copies since its initial release in 1995. But what you may not know is that Dallas Jenkins, creator and director of the highly successful The Chosen television series calls him dad.
So, when it came time to create a novelization of season one of The Chosen, rather than hunt high and low for a writer to truly capture the essence of the series, Dallas didn’t need to look far. He called upon someone who has published 21 New York Times bestsellers and just happens to know a thing or two about Biblical fiction.
The Chosen: I Have Called You By Name, focuses on the most amazing story ever told, the life of Jesus. Jerry takes readers on a journey to first century Galilee and displays how this humble carpenter transformed the world through the lives of everyday people.
I recently spoke to Jerry about his prolific writing career, how the genesis of The Chosen actually began from a failure, and what he learned about Jesus during the writing process.
You’ve been writing for a long time. In doing some research for our interview today I read that you have been writing professionally since you were 14 years old. How did you get interested in writing as a profession in the first place?
Yeah, it’s kind of strange. I was really into sports as a kid. I played a lot of baseball and I got hurt playing football as a freshman in high school. Because I was on one of the sports teams, I got to go to the varsity games for free. But then when I got hurt, I still wanted to go to the games for free. So, I started writing for the school newspaper and almost immediately realized that I’d found my niche. I wasn’t any good, but I enjoyed it. I actually went to the local newspaper and told the sports editor I was a sportswriter. I was a big kid, so he didn’t realize that I was too young to even drive yet. My mother always came along and waited for me in the parking lot. He assigned me some games to cover to see how I would do and paid me. I think it was a dollar an inch that survived his editing and wound up in the paper. So, as a 14 year old, I’m making $10 bucks here, $12 bucks there. And I’ve been a professional writer ever since.
While most people know your work from Left Behind, you have also written many other memorable works including 20 memoirs on people like Hank Aaron, Walter Payton, Mike Singletary, Orel Hershiser, and others. I see a theme there with a lot of sports figures. Is there one common thread in all the people you have written about that always seems to come to the forefront of these writing projects?
Most of the guys that I’ve written about have been people of faith, but not all. I think the common denominator, especially among Hall of Fame level athletes, is this incredible competitive spirit they have. They want to be the first one through the door, they want to be the first one to give a compliment or to get one. It’s just that competition. But I’ve learned an awful lot from them. They just have this unbending discipline and give themselves totally to their sport. So many of the guys that really stand out would be great, even if they just sort of mailed it in because they have incredible athletic gifts. But they’re the ones who are always there practicing and working out. That makes such a difference. Sometimes you run into guys that have incredible talent but they’re lazy. They could be Hall of Famers. They’re even better than some of the Hall of Famers, but they don’t have that drive. That’s one thing I learned from those guys.
Your latest effort is the novelization of The Chosen television series that your son Dallas (Jenkins) created and directs. The genesis of this project took place when he was at sort of a low point in his career, after The Resurrection of Gavin Stone performed poorly at the box office. How has this series changed the dynamics of filmmaking?
Well, it’s just been revolutionary. You’re right. He (Dallas) was at a low point. He had a pretty good deal going. The Resurrection of Gavin Stone tested well, and the Hollywood studio behind it thought it was going to be a hit. And so did I. I think everything Dallas does this great. It just tanked at the box office and he was devastated. But he got this idea for a story about Jesus and about the people he surrounded himself with. And once I saw it, and once I started reading the scripts that he was writing, I felt like I was sort of peeking through his window saying, “Hey son, since I had financed your early career, can I come out and play too?”
So, I’m writing a novel for each of the seasons. Of course, they’re finishing up shooting the second season now, but it’s just been incredible. It’s so different. And it’s now of course, an international phenomenon seen around the world in dozens of languages. It’s been a great ride.
Had you ever written a novelization of a movie or television show before?
I have. I did one for a movie called Hometown Legend. That was one of Dallas’ early movies. Not only was I the producer of that movie, but I also wrote the novelization. That was great fun. It is sort of reverse engineering. The Chosen is based on the Bible, so it’s already based on a book. And now there’s a book based on the TV series. So, it’s a little different, but it’s been a real privilege to be involved with it. I had to watch every episode of Season One over 20 times to write this novel. I never got tired of one scene and every scene moved me. At first I thought, well, I’m just a proud dad. It’s been really gratifying to see that everybody tends to agree with me that this is something special.
How is the process different for writing a novelization versus writing a straight novel like Left Behind?
Well, for one thing I have to admit, it’s a lot easier because Dallas and his two co-writers have already brilliantly put together this sequence. I want the novel to look like what people saw on the screen. Now, I don’t want it to be strictly a one hundred percent representation and that’s it. But when you see a scene in the novel that you’ve seen on the screen, I think it needs to be exactly the same. It needs to have the same dialogue in the same setting and all that type of thing. But I get to add inner monologue. What’s the character thinking? How is it impacting them? There are things you can do in a book that you can’t do on the screen without voiceovers, or for other characters. So that’s a big difference. It’s a pet peeve of mine to read a book that’s based on a movie and have it be too different from what you’ve already seen. So, where you see those themes, those are going to be the same. It’s fun to build up to that and say, here is what this could have looked like. Here’s what could have led to this.
What is one thing you have learned about Jesus that maybe you hadn’t considered before as you were writing this?
What really impresses me most is how Dallas and his team have made Jesus so accessible. So often when you see Jesus on screen, He’s ethereal, He speaks in King James English, and of course he’s perfect. We know that, but we sort of see that divinity clothed in the human body. And in this, we’re seeing the human too. He has a sense of humor. He dances at a wedding. He teases his friends. He can be sardonic. And that really just brought it to life for me and made Jesus seem even more like a real person, somebody you’d love to know, not just as your savior, but as a friend. It’s changed even how I read Scripture. I just love to imagine the character I see on the screen has the person that the Scripture is written about.
After people have read Book One of The Chosen: I Have Called You by Name, what would you like to see your readers get from the experience? What is your greatest hope for the book?
My greatest hope for the book is the same that Dallas has for the series. And that is, we don’t want anybody to make the mistake of substituting this for their own Scripture reading and their own walk with God. We want them to see through these characters that Jesus makes people what they’re not and what you don’t even think you can be. He makes you that. And so, we want people to go back to their Bibles, back to their churches, back to their walk with God and have that enrichment. That’s our greatest hope for both of these projects.
Please Watch a Trailer for The Chosen: Season 2: