Jerry B. Jenkins, the Guild, and The Brotherhood

2011 marks the 10th anniversary of Jerry B. Jenkins’ ownership of the Christian Writers Guild. I asked Jerry to look back on the last 10 years and the effect the Guild has had—but also to look forward. What’s in store for the Guild—and for Jerry? Find out right here.

Q: What is the Christian Writers Guild and why did you buy it in 2001?

Jerry B. Jenkins: My friend, Norman Rohrer, founded the Guild in the 1960s to teach people to write through a correspondence course. Norm personally mentored hundreds of students in a pastoral way.

But, he reached a point where he wanted out from under the stress of the business, so I agreed to buy the Guild, kept Norm on as a mentor, had the course rewritten and expanded, tried to reproduce Norm dozens of times, added an editorial board, and switched the instruction from snail mail to email.

My goals were:
1. To give back to an industry that had so blessed me and
2. To restock the pool of Christian writers.

I believed—and still do—that there is a need for honest input to writer wanna-be’s, would-be’s, and working writers.

Q: What does the Guild offer students—beyond the courses, critiques, conferences, contests, and community?

JBJ: I want the Guild to be more than a club or hobby group. Too many writers are resorting to vanity-, or subsidy-, or self-publishing, which—to my mind—is not legitimate publishing but rather glorified printing. I want to see writers get to the next level, where the publisher takes all the risks and pays the writer, not the other way around.

Q: Beginning writers have a lot to gain from the Guild’s offerings. But what about writers who are already working? What does the Guild offer them?

JBJ: Our advanced courses, annual conference (Writing for the Soul—registrations still open for 2011), and regional novel boot camps are at a level that should benefit writers, regardless how accomplished they are. We also offer manuscript critiques of various levels—including the opportunity in 2011 to have up to 10 pages critiqued by me.

Q: The Guild has recently revised (and added) courses and updated its website, among other changes. Is this a refocusing?

JBJ: At the risk of using a cliché, we want to remain on the cutting edge. The Guild, under my ownership, is 10 years old. It was time to freshen everything: the look, the feel, the image, the course offerings.

Q: Anything new to come that you can share?

JBJ: We’ve recently launched local CWG writing critique groups called CWG Word Weavers, which I think has unlimited potential. It’s one element we’ve been missing: local communities of writers.

But, we’re also excited to announce that the Guild is purchasing Sally Stuart’s Christian Writers’ Market Guide. As anyone in the industry knows, this resource is essential. When Sally announced she was looking for someone to take over producing the guide after more than 25 years of handling it herself—well, it was a perfect fit for us. We will start producing it with the 2012 edition.

Q: Each Guild student receives a one-on-one professional writer as a mentor. Why is this important?

JBJ: This is one of our distinctives and something I wanted to offer from the beginning. Writers learn best when they have a mentor with whom they can personally interact.

I handpicked the first couple dozen mentors from the hundreds of trusted colleagues I have worked with. I look for accomplished writers, editors, and industry experts with reputations for humility, integrity, and professionalism. Later mentors have come from recommendations from others I respect. Our mentors’ pedigrees are outlined on our website.

Q: How would you answer the following: “I’m on the fence about taking a Guild course (or attending the Writing for the Soul conference) because of the cost.”

JBJ: We don’t apologize for charging what it costs to offer top-of-the-line services from the best people in the industry. You will pay as much or more for college courses or adult education classes. And, the fact is, we don’t even break even. If you are not sure you want to make that level of investment, local groups have a lot to offer. You can get your feet wet and see if you want to move to the next level. When you’re ready, we’ll be here.

Q. Let’s talk about your writing. Your new book, The Brotherhood: A Precinct 11 Novel, released this last Tuesday. What’s the “big idea” behind the book? How did it come to you?

JBJ: I love police dramas, police movies. My father was a police chief and my two older brothers were career law enforcement officers. So I grew up in the milieu. I was even an undercover drug buyer (narc) on three cases. Writing is a safer way to make a living, by the way.

Plus, having lived in Chicago for 35 years, I wanted to set a story there.

The theme of The Brotherhood is an examination of how a Christian responds when his life is turned upside down and he wonders where God is.

I’ve called the writing of The Brotherhood a labor of love because I consider it an homage to all the cops in my immediate and extended family—and to the city of Chicago.

Q. What about research? Given your background, did you still do research?

JBJ: I always do research. This time I did ride-alongs, read a lot of books, interviewed cops, watched videos. Whatever it took.

Q. Boone Drake seems custom-made for a series, flawed but earnest where it counts—someone readers can care about for a long time. Share how you create characters that are multi-dimensional.

JBJ: The fun of writing fiction is that the novelist must become each character. When writing about a mother, I have to imagine being one. A wife…a son…a criminal…clergy, whatever.

Boone, as the main perspective character, allows me to be a young idealist who seems to have everything fall into place for him—until it all falls apart. Then the challenge is to have him react realistically while remaining a well-rounded, and yes, flawed character people still care about.

By the way, I just finished the second in this trilogy, The Betrayal, which is scheduled to release later this year. Then, this summer I’ll finish the third, tentatively titled The Breakthrough. That one is scheduled to release in summer 2012.

More on the Guild
Courses: Regardless your age or skill level, the Guild offers a course that includes your own personal mentor to coach and encourage you one-on-one via email.

Conferences: Writing for the Soul , a top-notch Christian writing conference, will equip and inspire you through instruction, meetings with editors and agents, and spiritual enrichment.

Keynote speakers this year include best-selling author Liz Curtis Higgs, humorist Ken Davis, and creativity expert McNair Wilson. In 2012, look for author Davis Bunn, reporter Todd Starnes, screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi, and funnyman linguist Richard Lederer—as well as others.

Contests: Members of the Guild can enter the Operation First Novel Contest for a chance to win $20,000 and be published by Tyndale House. The winner is announced each year at Writing for the Soul. Past winners.

Critiques: Submit up to 15 pages of your prose, fiction or nonfiction, to our Critique Service and the Guild’s Editorial Review Team will assess your strengths and shortcomings and let you know if your manuscript is ready for publication.

Community: Join with, or start, a CWG Word Weavers critique group in your community. Join the larger Guild community through our Facebook page and Twitter or through Guild membership.

Michael Ehret is the Editor-in-Chief for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. He has written for newspapers and other print and online outlets. He edited several nonfiction books, was the senior editor for a faith-based financial services and insurance organization, and is the ezine editor for American Christian Fiction Writers.