But the book did not come about immediately. While already a noted author, Tim LaHaye recognized he was not a fiction writer and sought the advice of his agent, Rick Christian, to find one. "So, I prayed, Rick prayed and one day he called me. I'll never forget that. He said, 'Tim, I just signed Jerry Jenkins as a fiction writer. I think he's your man.'"
Jenkins recalls his first meeting with LaHaye:
"It really was an interesting day when our agent introduced us. I was living in the Chicago area at the time. We met at a hotel. We really hit it off almost immediately. Any novelist is looking for an idea for a book that's a big concept--anything that has, like this one does, supernatural elements and the fact that the basis of it is true is just a writer's dream. But, I was struck by Tim's burden for souls. He really cares about people and he has an evangelistic spirit."
In fact, one of the hallmarks of the Left Behind series would become the inclusion in each book of at least one event described by LaHaye as "a believable conversion that's reproducible in the heart of the reader."
Having always written with a focus on his audience, Jenkins was a bit unsure of LaHaye's desire to reach both believers and unbelievers. "So, when I started to write the first book, for the first time in my writing career I was not thinking of one specific audience--I was just trying to do justice to the story and to the dream and to the scripture. As difficult as that was, it proved to be a stroke of genius on his part. What has happened is we have reached both audiences. The church is inspired and excited about their faith--when prophecy is taught the church gets revived and inspired and.many people have come to Christ. That's been the dynamic all along and it's been a great relationship."
Once their mutual literary agent connected Jenkins and LaHaye, they submitted the series to several publishers in 1992. Tyndale Publishing House showed the greatest interest. Mark Taylor, president of Tyndale, saw great potential and even said he felt that Left Behind might sell as many as 500,000 copies, a remarkable number for any book.
When writing began, the thought was a single book that would tell the story of the rapture, the tribulation, and Jesus' appearance on earth. Here's how Jenkins describes the process, and the realization that one book was just not enough: "I remember I got half way through the writing of Book One, which I thought was the book, and I had covered one week. I called him and said, 'we've got a problem.' We talked to Tyndale. So, before I even finished Book One we had agreed it would be a trilogy. By the time I finished Book Two, I wasn't much further and we agreed it would be six books. And then we were locked in at seven books. We finally had that figured out. I finished Soul Harvest, Book 4."
"The first four books were a year apart and at the end of the fourth book I was only 2-1/2 years into the Tribulation. Ron Beers, Vice President for Editorial at Tyndale, said 'Do you really think you can get 4-1/2 more years into three more books?' And I said, well, it's going to change the pace. It will have to be more action-oriented, a little less character-driven. And he said, 'we think that's part of the secret of the success. People care about the characters, they fall in love with the characters, they want to know what happens. So, if you didn't change the pace, how many?' So, I said, it will take six books to get to the half-way point, thus another six to finish--so, twelve."
Jenkins elaborates more on the collaboration involved:"I get a fairly ambitious work-up from Dr. LaHaye. The great part of it is that it's a novelist's dream because the things that are prophesied are so incredible, they're so much fun to write about, they're so visually oriented, and while I'm working on a scene--I'm not a Bible scholar or a theologian--I'll call him--we communicate by fax or phone or email--sometimes every few days--depends on how the manuscript is going.And besides being an expert on it, he's a great cheerleader. Every time he gets a hundred or two hundred pages, I usually get a call saying, 'send more, I want to know what happens myself.' That's very encouraging."
Asked what led him to use a 747 pilot and reporter as key characters, Jenkins says:
"A lot of people don't realize that when we first got together and talked about this, Dr. LaHaye had the idea of starting on the 747. That turned out to be a good stroke as well because, if the rapture had occurred at a place like this, there are magicians who could just about duplicate it. There are illusions where elephants disappear, airplanes disappear, the Statue of Liberty disappears. There's a way to divert attention and people can hide somewhere, but on a 747 there really are not that many places to go. Nobody has stepped outside. You may not know it's the rapture, but you know that something supernatural has taken place because people are gone.
"As far as the reporter, when I wrote the first chapter that our agent took to find out what publisher would be interested, it really only covered Rayford and Hattie's conversation and the rapture. Tyndale was excited about it and we eventually signed with them. When I sat down to write the book, I realized fairly early on that I needed another perspective character who could go places that Rayford couldn't. Rayford could go certain places as a pilot, but a reporter could go to other international sites on assignment. So we added the Buck Williams character and switched perspectives back and forth between them and it really gave a lot of flexibility. For me, it made it easier to cover the story."