Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Jordan and Jenkins

First, some random blatherings ... I updated my links (yours works now, Mir) and added a few. More to come, when I remember and/or am not distracted.

I was up till 3:30 am canning another wave of green beans--so late because I had trouble with one of the canners, but it goes much faster now because I'm working with two now--back up at 7:45 to take my eldest to a dance camp where he's helping out this week, then back home and to bed again till ...
noon.

I don't normally sleep in that late, even when I get to sleep in. *blushing*

Anyway, because I have such a late start on the day, it would be a good time, I think for this pre-written entry ...

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Elliot questioned me a few weeks ago for referring to Robert Jordan and Jerry Jenkins as “luminaries.” Well—they are very well-known names in their respective writing circles. And not only do I have deep respect for both as writers, though I may not entirely care for what they write, through both of them I’ve learned not to judge too quickly or too harshly those who are well-established when I—well, quite honestly, I am not.

Regarding Jerry Jenkins—I read the first few chapters of
Left Behind a few years ago and was not impressed. But when I saw that he and Andy Scheer, managing editor at Moody magazine for several years, were hosting a “Thick-Skinned Critique” workshop at the first writers conference I attended, I jumped at the chance to get in. To my shock—and delight—Jerry had many positive things to say about my piece, in addition to properly shredding it. (His praise of everyone’s work, overall, was very sparing.) I also met Kathryn Mackel at this workshop—she was at the conference teaching screenwriting—who had come in just to observe and sat next to me. (One result of this is that I got to see her sci-fantasy novel Outriders in rough-draft form—and there were things I actually preferred in that first version to the one in print—but that’s another story.)

Anyway—Jerry is a GOOD editor. I’ve come to the conclusion that part of the fault of his novels is that he’s probably a better editor and journalist than a novelist. But he’s one of the humblest men I’ve ever met and is frankly stunned at the success of the
Left Behind series. (Oh, and it’s Jerry’s actual writing in that series.) Since then, I’ve read Left Behind and most of its sequel Tribulation Force just so I could say I’d made it that far. His most vivid character was Buck, the journalist, made more alive by Jerry’s own background in that area.

So, while I’m not a fan of the books, I have a deep respect for the writer.

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Robert Jordan, now. Here’s a classic case of upstart writer putting her foot in her mouth.

At the time I started up writing fiction again, 3 ½ years ago, I’d read the first Wheel of Time novel and at least one or two that follow. From a theological standpoint, I found the series interesting—oh, so close to Christianity but with a New Age twist. His characters were very real and alive, the story engrossing—until they started bogging down in myriad subplots and the romantic thread surrounding the hero got weird. In later books, I found all but one of his female characters—shall we say—wenchy? And I suppose the relationship Rand Al-Thor has with his three women isn’t any different than polygamy in Biblical times, except for the mental link they share. Strange what a personal examination of issues like that will do for one’s outlook on different stories … but I digress.

Jordan continued to interest me because he lives here in the Charleston area. One of the local papers had an interview with him, and as a mom-of-many trying to carve out writing time, I grumbled no small amount to learn that he has a regular writing schedule from 9 or 10 in the morning until 6 in the evening. (Yes, I realize that comes with the territory of being a very established author, but I still couldn’t help being a little jealous.)

Not too long after that, I joined a local writers group, and one of our guest speakers is a professor of English at a local university. She’s a member of the Poetry Society of Charleston, and the poem she brought to share with us had actually been critiqued by Robert Jordan’s wife, Hillary. Well, disgruntled or not, I was interested and impressed. Ellen went on to talk about the writing in general. When she made a comment about writers who “don’t have a life” because they get so wrapped up in their writing and thus forget to fuel themselves with outside experience, I muttered under my breath, remembering that newspaper interview, “Like Robert Jordan?”

Heh—Ellen heard me. Her eyes fastened on me and her eyebrows came up and she said, “Do you know him?”

I stuttered something about having read a recent interview about his writing schedule. That was when Ellen told us that he attends the Poetry Society meetings sometimes, and that he and his wife had just come back from Europe. “Well,” I muttered, feeling very abashed now, “I guess he does have a life after all.”

And I have to say, the man can write. When I picked up the next-to-last book,
Knife of Dreams, and began reading scenes at random in order to study Jordan’s style and craft, I got so caught up in the story that I forgot to pick it apart. Not many books do that for me, these days.

He does have an awful lot of detail, and I still find most of his women too snarky. But the series has a huge following—enough to merit a whole track devoted to his fans at Dragon*Con—and no wonder.

And really, when it gets right down to it, both Jenkins and Jordan are published, and I’m not. I wonder how much of the criticism aimed at them isn’t, as it was for me, pure jealousy.

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Footnote: I found out recently that Robert Jordan has been ill. Another recent guest to our writers group who knows him and his wife says that he's doing better, but I'm sure under the circumstances he wouldn't at all mind our prayers. :-)

2 comments:

  1. I had the same experience as you with the LB books. And I like Jerry Jenkins A LOT. Every time I hear him in interviews or read about him, the impression is that he's a lovely, lovely, humble, sweet, caring man.

    I just don't care for his writing style. That's a personal preference. Period.

    Lots of folks loved his style enough to make him an astounding fortune, so, hey, I wouldn't mind that kind of success. :)

    But no, his prose ain't for me.

    Haven't read Robert Jordan, even as famous as he is. But your comments make me want to try him.

    I don't tend to like a lot of narrative detail, and I tend to stay away from sagas that run into many many sequels. That's why I avoided him.

    Mir--on, and thanks for fixing zee link.

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  2. Good post!

    I've heard that Jenkins is a good guy, yeah. A mensch! As you say, he should probably devote himself to editing, though.

    I'm just an embittered ex-fan when it comes to Jordan. I really liked his books, up to number 7 or so. My favorites are still 3-5. I think he's quite good at some things, though it's not great 'literature.'

    But the quality plummeted and the books kept getting longer and less eventful. I heard that his recent volumes have been getting absolutely abysmal reviews. So, I'm not happy with him for wrecking a good fantasy world. I suspect that the money went to his head and he just got bogged down in his own grandiosity

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