NRA: Bored with Plank

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pg. 153

Bad news, I’m afraid, for Steve Plank.

You remember Steve? He used to be Buck Williams’ best friend. For years, in fact, Steve was Buck’s only friend. Buck lived alone in New York City, thousands of miles from his family. He had no friends from school, and most of his other colleagues at work viewed him with jealousy and resentment, so Steve was all he had.

If Buck needed a ride to or from the airport, he called Steve. If Buck needed to talk to someone about story ideas, he talked to Steve. Steve was also the boss who helped guide Buck’s career and his rise as a professional magazine writer. So Buck owes him.

And yet here we are in Book 3 of our series and it seems that Buck, and the authors, have grown weary of Steve Plank. Poor Steve’s days are numbered.

The authors telegraph Steve’s fate here in the middle of Nicolae, where Jerry Jenkins has decided to devote a couple of chapters to catching up with peripheral characters. Buck sees Chaim Rosenzweig and that leads to several pages of reminding readers who Chaim is, what’s happened to him so far, and how fond Buck Williams is of his old friend. Rayford Steele gets a phone call from Hattie Durham and off we go on a multi-page review of Hattie’s history in the story and a reminder of Rayford’s guilty sense of obligation to his former co-worker.

Those review sections emphasize that the authors are still invested in Chaim and Hattie (and also in Tsion Ben-Judah, a.k.a. Bruce Barnes 2.0).

But when we get to Steve Plank, he only gets two dismissive paragraphs. Uh-oh.

Those two paragraphs, of course, involve Buck making a phone call:

Buck settled into his room on the third floor of the King David Hotel. On a hunch he called the offices of the Global Community East Coast Daily Times in Boston and asked for his old friend, Steve Plank. Plank had been his boss at Global Weekly what seemed eons ago. He had abruptly left there to become Carpathia’s press secretary when Nicolae became secretary-general of the United Nations. It wasn’t long before Steve was tabbed for the lucrative position he now held.

It was no surprise to Buck to find that Plank was not in the office. He was in New Babylon at the behest of Nicolae Carpathia and no doubt feeling very special about it.

Buck showered and took a nap.

I’m not sure what to make of Buck calling Steve “on a hunch,” and then not being surprised that Steve wasn’t in. I suppose that means Buck is no longer surprised when his hunches turn out to be wrong.

In any case, Buck’s dismissive sneering makes it clear that Steve Plank’s fate is sealed. He has cast his lot with Nicolae and will therefore die and be damned to Hell for eternity. And the authors are no doubt feeling very special about it.

What has Steve done, exactly, to earn this sarcastic derision from his old friend Buck?

Well, first he took a job as an assistant to the Antichrist, signing on as Nicolae Carpathia’s press-secretary. For Buck and for the authors, this is unforgivable — even though, at the time that Steve took that job, Buck himself was busy giving Nicolae a standing ovation, then arranging for a private audience so that he could beg Nicolae for protection.

Buck stuck a deal with Nicolae in which he agreed to bury a story in exchange for his personal safety. As a consequence of that deal, three people were murdered — one pushed off a ferry and two shot. And despite knowing all this, Buck kept his end of the deal and never reported on any of it. But apparently none of that is as bad as taking a job as a press secretary.

We’ve just learned, though, that Steve is no longer serving as press secretary. He left that job for a lucrative post working directly for the Antichrist as his hand-picked puppet-journalist in charge of a daily newspaper. For doing that, he clearly deserves damnation.

Buck Williams took a lucrative post working directly for the Antichrist as his hand-picked puppet-journalist in charge of a weekly newsmagazine. And that, of course, is completely different.

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  • hidden_urchin

    Of course it’s different. Buck is disapproving while he works for ultimate evil.

  • Hth

    I know I read too many comic books, but I can’t read about the broken friendship between Steve and Buck without going to a very Captain America/Winter Soldier sort of place.

    You know what’s way, way better than LB? Captain America. (I know, you were going to say “everything.” Well, I took the high road!)

  • Sue White

    He was in New Babylon at the behest of Nicolae Carpathia and no doubt feeling very special about it.
    Is it just me, or does it sound like Buck’s jealous?

  • aunursa

    I learned that there is an additional effect of the Event. Prior to the beginning of Book #1, most of the characters were stagnant in their careers. Apparently the Rapture caused the career trajectories of a select group of people known as the “main characters” to skyrocket from relative obscurity to global influence…

    During the 10-year period prior to the Rapture: (based on the prequels)
    Buck advances from Princeton undergrad to Global Weekly senior writer.
    Hattie is promoted from Pan-Con flight attendant to senior flight attendant.
    Rayford: no advancement
    Nicolae: no advancement
    Steve: no advancement
    Chris Smith (Rayford’s co-pilot): no advancement
    Earl Halliday (Rayford’s boss): no advancement
    Stanton Bailey (Global Weekly publisher): no advancement or retirement
    Abdullah Smith: no advancement *

    From the Rapture to the present:
    Rayford advances from Pan-Con pilot to Global Community One pilot.
    Buck advances from Global Weekly senior writer to Global Community Weekly publisher.
    Nicolae advances from the lower house of the Romanian parliament to president of Romania to UN secretary-general to Global Community grand potentate.
    Hattie advances from Pan-Con senior flight attendant to personal assistant to the grand potentate.
    Steve advances from Global Weekly executive editor to press secretary for the UN secretary-general to Global Community East Coast Daily Times** publisher.

    * Smith, a Jordanian Air Force pilot, will be introduced in Book #5.
    ** A merger of the New York Times, Washington Post, and Boston Globe

  • That’s part of the whole, “everyone important knows each other personally.” It’s helped by the Rapture, which probably created a lot of vacancies. It does create an odd situation for Nicolae though, because now he has encircled himself with people who hate him and their loved ones, filling the ruling class with current and future foes.

    Almost all of those people end up rebelling against the GC at some point.

  • aunursa

    Actually, Steve Plank’s fate is another episode in which Jerry Jenkins pats himself on the back for being so clever with his plot twists. Following the end of Book #3, Steve is not mentioned (Buck doesn’t even give him another thought) until he makes a shocking reappearance in Book #8.

  • Heh, yeah. Steve Plank’s days are not quite numbered…yet.

    Dun dun dunnnnnn

    (I actually don’t have a problem with Steve’s shocking reappearance as such—I only have a problem with how stilted the scene is, and with Rayford’s utterly stupid reaction.)

  • Verna Zee Sensible Shoes Confrontation Countdown: 195 pages

  • But that’s okay because Bruce Barnes totally put God’s stamp of approval on the very idea of working for Nicolae Carpathia – being his fetcher, carrier, town crier and chauffeur. All Rayford and Buck need to do now is keep believing in their heads they are totally Godly and inventing sophomoric pranks to play on their boss.

  • Guess that’s how it is – you die, we move up in rank.

  • Buck sounds seriously jealous. Nicky likes someone besides him ;_;

  • reynard61

    “On a hunch he called the offices of the Global Community East Coast Daily Times in Boston Generic Large Liberal East Coast City(…)”

    Fixed that for ya!

    “Buck stuck a deal with Nicolae in which he agreed to bury a story in exchange for his personal safety. As a consequence of that deal, three people were murdered — one pushed off a ferry and two shot. And despite knowing all this, Buck kept his end of the deal and never reported on any of it. But apparently none of that is as bad as taking a job as a press secretary.”

    Repeat after me: “It’s Okay As Long As You’re A Real True Christian.”

  • Buck showered and took a nap.

    Here we see a great example of how Jenkins produces so much. Does Buck showering and taking a nap advance the story? No. Does it reveal Buck’s character? Well, he can nap while supposedly being worried about his good friend, but I don’t think this is an intentional reveal. So let’s put this in the “no” pile. Is it necessary description? No. Is it an interesting line? No. Does it add to the word count? Yes! Even better, it’s a one-sentence paragraph, so it can count for three whole lines!

    If you want to be a hack, take note: telling the reader about the boring minutae of your character’s everyday lives helps immensely with your deadlines.

  • Bruce Barnes signs off on working for the Antichrist. A few days later, Bruce Barnes dies a horrific death at the hands of God’s judgment. Maybe we shouldn’t be doing the things Bruce Barnes said were OK. Maybe he was wrong and WW3 singled his hospital out because God was pissed.

  • This is the part where it starts to become clear that this was originally a much shorter series. Plank is a fairly significant character, yet he just disappeared for a good long while and is going to do so again.

    This is problematic from a writing perspective. Every time a key character reappears after a long absence, the writer has to stop and remind us who this person is and why we should care about him/her. This completely disrupts the flow of the narrative (not that it was silky smooth before, but still).

    Now, in really epic novels or long series, there are ways to deal with having a giant cast. Most of these stories don’t have a single protagonist, or even a series of them – they have an omniscient narrator who can drift around with the story. This way, we can keep track of everyone who might be important in the near future. But the two defined narratives in LB are just grossly inadequate for the rapidly growing cast, so we end up with awkward asides like this. It might have worked when this was a much smaller trilogy, but the extended series is utterly hamstrung by it.

    At times like this, I have to remind myself that I’m the small-time amateur and Jenkins is the one getting paid to teach people how to write.

  • To be generous, a lot of authors do this. We live in a world where the quality of a novel is judged by its length, so while it might be good storytelling to trim the narrative to the bone, there are incentives to do the opposite.

  • Jen K

    …and when this was coming out, I knew people who insisted these books were “better thrillers than James Bond, because they’re, like, real.”

  • We live in a world where the quality of a novel is judged by its length

    We do? This is the first I’ve heard of it.

  • Cathy W

    Please tell me I’m not the only one with Ed, Edd, and Eddy flashbacks….

  • reynard61

    That’s pretty much how the Military works. I think that that may be a bit of a “No shit, Sherlock!”-type clue as to LaH & J’s mindset while “writing” this tripe.

  • Dogfacedboy

    Since we’re in the part of the book where Jenkins is regurgitating what happened in previous books, I’m a little surprised that Steve Plank is given such a concise recap, given that Jenkins could have padded the hell out of that, too. And that Buck doesn’t actually get through to him. I suspect Jerry wasn’t feeling well this particular day and didn’t churn out his usual 20 pages. And that bit about Buck taking a shower and a nap? I think that’s what Jerry planned to do as soon as he turned his word processor off.

  • P J Evans

    I worked with someone who had the ‘manager retires, I get promoted’ mindset.
    Come to think of it, they’re the kind of person who would read LB.

  • FearlessSon

    To be more specific, we live in a world in which some publishers judge a book by its length.

    Of course, I would not presume that the publishers of these books judge them only by their length. I am sure that “spiritual appropriateness” of content is a criteria.

    Quality, obviously, is not a priority for them.

  • FearlessSon

    Honestly, all this is why I gave up on the Wheel of Time series before Robert Jordan even died. Jordan is a much better writer than Jenkins, but the plot advancement in those books got spread across such a wide area it was hard to keep up with. Characters (and their associated arcs) could disappear for a few novels at a time, only to be reintroduced when you had almost forgotten them, and Jordan had to keep up with so many that by the end of the book maybe a day or two had passed in narrative time.

    Still good, just got too much to keep up with and that impacted the pacing too strongly for me to enjoy it so much.

  • Jared James

    I was going to say Twilight, but that would just have been mean.

  • Silly Steve, thinking he’s soooo special just because the leader of the world wants an audience with him.

    That is not at all like thinking that being “the youngest ‘senior’ writer ever” should make everyone applaud when you enter a room, or insisting that everyone call you “Captain,” even when they don’t work for your airline or ride on your plane.

  • Baby_Raptor

    To be more fair to Bucky than he probably deserves, sleeping can be a way of dodging worry (or other stuff one wishes to not think about.)

    That would probably be more depth than he actually has, but it makes him seem a little more human.

  • Guest

    Ah, feck it! Bored with plaaaaaank!

  • FearlessSon

    Bored with Plank?

    Has the meme become stale so fast?

  • I don’t think that Tyndale is really obsessed about with length though.

    I think what happens here is that Jenkins gets carried away writing and includes bits that are stupid. At a “normal” publisher’s house there’s probably someone who works there who will say, “Ah, you probably don’t need to include a full transcript of this phone conversation between the main character and the receptionist at a hotel.”

    Here, though, as long as the book contains appropriately Christian themes everything else is OK. If it’s 50 pages long or 500, it doesn’t seem to matter.

  • To be fair, Nicolae seems to have one-on-one conversations with everyone on the planet at some point in the series. The reason it seems that way is because the authors are lazy, but if they weren’t, it would suggest that Nicolae’s charisma and influence is because he literally knows all of his subjects personally, all 2-3 billion of them.

  • Adamlangfelder

    Man I could write a better story than these idiots any day of the week. I would love to know what Richard Dawkins would say about this garbage!

  • I never cared to keep track of the other characters, but it always bothered me that the Antichrist’s rise to power involved him sitting in the Chamber of Deputies for 10 years doing pretty much nothing, then suddenly becoming president of the country. Why wasn’t he slowly working his way up through the ranks? At the very least, it would make sense for him to have become President of the Chamber of Deputies, which puts him next in line for the Presidency of Romania should the current president, say, suffer an unfortunate accident.

    That would have made for a much more interesting rise to power. It would also, however, have required research. So never mind, I guess.

  • banancat

    What is this I don’t even

  • banancat

    But Plank might very also be secretly disapproving. If he does it in the same way that Buck does, nobody would ever even know about it.

  • Yeah, what bothered me isn’t that he brought Steve Plank back but that he did it so awkwardly and without any foreshadowing. Plus, we know that this plot twist wasn’t planned and crafted so much as the result of Jenkins picking up his pen one morning and saying, “Oh, hey, I just ‘discovered’ that Steve Plank is still alive!” And thus, suddenly, Steve Plank was still alive.

    That knowledge just completely ruins any merit the scene might otherwise have had.

  • I don’t think Jenkins teaches people how to write. (If you’re interested in learning how to write, you are already more skilled than he is and there’s nothing you can learn from him). I think he teaches people how to get milk off of Christian audiences, and that’s not the same thing at all.


    Tyndale House lists “Left Behind” for a measly $19.99.
    Now, if an editor really wanted to, they could cut the main series into at most three books. A single trilogy, with a total street value of $60.

    But the real Christian entrepreneur shouldn’t be satisfied with that. No, if you really want to give glory to the Lord, you know that ‘trilogy’ means no less than 16 books; that’s about $320 — or five times the amount of money.

    Now, I know what you’re thinking. “I don’t have enough material to justify 16 books!”

    Of course you don’t. No one does. Even the master himself didn’t really have it — 95% of the series is filler that could be omitted without even altering the surrounding plot. It takes a lot of skill to come up with good filler though; you have to figure out a way to use 50 words when zero would do, and that’s tougher than it sounds. (But then again it pretty much has to be…)

    But if you have a good copyeditor, one who walks with the Lord, this person can show you all of the ‘tricks of the trade’, so to speak. You can widen the margins, add random page breaks, and embiggen the font (Arial 14.5 is the gold standard — it’s just large enough to take up space but it’s small enough to not look obvious. The extra .5 is Jesus’s way to say, ‘I love you.’)

    As far as page count goes — remember, you only need about 2- to 300 pages to be considered a novel. Anything beyond that should be spun off into another $20 book. And if you’re writing a “For Kids” version of your main series, all you have to do is cut a standard novel in half. You can still charge the same amount of money though. There’s nothing that gladdens the Lord’s heart more than scamming little kids out of their lunch money with crappy novelettes.

    Some Communists might complain that this strategy lacks artistic integrity, but people like that don’t usually buy books like this anyway.

  • banancat

    The sad part is that this is yet another thing that had potential but failed to achieve it. In some cases, describing mundane things can be interesting just to get a deeper feel for the setting. Right now I’m re-reading Wheel of Time from the beginning, and Jordan likes to describe in detail every meal and article of clothing. Some people don’t like this, but I like it because it’s just interesting to think about.

    Ellenjay could’ve actually taken this and gone with it. They could have used it just to be interesting, but moreso they could have used it to set a feeling for the futuristic setting. What are the sheets made out of and how do they feel? Is the shower controlled by a computer yet? How is it different than the beds and showers he used before he was and Important Person(TM)? Does it make him reflect on the sameness of all the expensive hotels he’s stayed at recently?

    The Hunger Games described the showers in the house that all the tributes stayed in while training, and it added to both the setting description and the mindset of the characters as they experienced something so unusual. In some cases it is useful to write about a shower or nap. It can be done, but Ellenjay failed miserably to take the opportunity, yet again.

  • I know the above post is sarcasm, but last year I legitimately went to a “how to get published” seminar where the speaker’s advice consisted of: “To make your book seem longer, change the font size, add bigger margins, use thicker paper, and stick a couple of blank pages in the front and back of the book–no one will notice. Also, if you just make up a publishing company for your book, no one will notice.” Luckily, this was a free seminar, but I can easily imagine Jenkins charging people for sitting through similar awful advice.

  • hidden_urchin

    I think top-selling authors probably have more power too so editors are less inclined to say “cut this. It kills the pacing.” or something along those lines. (Pretty sure there’s a trope for that.) I got that impression from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which I think could have lost a good thirty percent and still carried the story. (I also personally think Harry et al. should have returned to Hogwarts and led a resistance movement from inside the school because it would have been far more interesting than a marathon camping trip and also who would have looked for them in their enemies’ midst? *sigh*)

  • hidden_urchin

    And if he did it in the same way as Rayford, the whole world would know about it.

  • True, but I think Tyndale extends that privilege to everyone. They are very egalitarian that way.

    I bet Voldemort would have also liked it if Harry and his friends had all returned to Hogwarts.

  • aim2misbehave

    That leads to good questions about 50 Shades of Grey… maybe they can go on an “as bad” level?

  • Boze Herrington

    Did he fall out of a building, break all of his bones, and go into hiding? Or am I thinking of Leon Fortunato? It’s been a long time

  • The sad part is, that’s not all that different from a lot of real guides for independent authors. The number one piece of advice is “write a series,” often advice on how to arbitrarily split up a single book into several parts (which is probably why every self-pub author has a trilogy these days).

  • I think Jenkins doesn’t edit at all. He runs his first draft through a spellchecker and that’s it. Then off it goes, and no one else edits his crap, so it gets published like that. But even with that consideration, there is no excuse for putting down the paragraph “Buck showered and took a nap” except to pad the word count, thereby stretching a trilogy over a zillion books, thereby making more money.

    A hack who was not quite so lazy and contemptuous of his audience would have had Buck have a conversation with Steve instead and/or had Buck have an Important Dream centering on Steve during that nap. But Jenkins doesn’t even have that much imagination or respect for his audience.

  • I think Leon’s the one that fell out of a building.

  • Absolutely, there are ways to do this to make it matter. Jenkins doesn’t care enough to do that.

  • reynard61

    “Tyndale House lists ‘Left Behind’ for a measly $19.99.”

    That’s $20 more than I’m willing to pay.

    “The extra .5 is Jesus’s way to say, ‘I love you.'”

    Ah, sweet Charity; Celestia and Luna bless you and upvote you for that line!

  • I notice when people pull the big font, big margins, lots of white space thing, because it gives me headaches. This is one reason I seem unable to finish Twilight.

    What I don’t get is why anyone needs to pad books, unless they’re trying to pad a trilogy into a 16-ology (is there a word for that?). When I write, I end up with about five times the material I need, and that’s a very conservative estimate. Some of it just needs to be trimmed or tossed. But much of it can be used in other things. And I know I’m far from alone in this — I’ve seen writers say it over and over again. Maybe trying to pad trilogies into 16-ologies is more common than I thought.