Interview with the “Queen of Christian Fiction”
Time magazine has called Karen Kingsbury the queen of her genre of fiction. She’s a #1 New York Times and USA Today best-selling author and is America’s favorite inspirational novelist. Nearly 20 million copies of her award-winning books have reached the hands and hearts of readers, including several million sold in the past year. Karen has written dozens of novels, 15 of which have hit #1 on national lists. She gets 8 million hits a month on her website, KarenKingsbury.com. Karen calls what she writes Life-Changing Fiction,™ and her latest book, the highly anticipated “The Bridge,” a love story set around the demise of a book store, was released by Simon and Schuster October 23, 2012.
Karen started as a young reporter by interning for The Los Angeles Times before landing a job at the Los Angeles Daily News writing front-page features. She became one of the first women sports reporters in the United States, interviewing such iconic sports figures as Magic Johnson, Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson. After two years, she earned a promotion to be a Front Page writer of emotional features stories. One story, a tragic murder of a young girl, was sold to People magazine and attracted interest for a book. Desiring to work from home as her first child was on the way, Karen accepted the challenge and wrote “Missy’s Murder,” the first of four true crime books.
Her first books focused on true crime stories, but as Karen’s faith deepened, her desire to tell a different kind of story grew, and so began her career writing inspirational fiction. Dozen of books later, Karen’s books have inspired theatrical and TV movies including LIKE DANDELION DUST, which starred Academy Award-winner Mira Sorvino and was recently in theaters, and EVERY WOMAN’S DREAM, based on Deadly Pretender, which was a CBS Movie of the Week starring Kim Cattrall.
Karen lives and works in Franklin, Tennessee, with her husband Don and their five sons, three of whom were adopted from Haiti. Also living nearby is their only daughter, Kelsey, an actress in inspirational films who is married to Christian recording artist Kyle Kupecky.
AMFM: Mainstream media is not conducive to the idea of Christianity right now. How were you able to successfully jump from mainstream media to writing Christian Fiction?
Yes, it’s not really conducive or friendly to someone of faith. I think they saw that I was bringing in a new angle and it was a good thing. After we had been married for some time I was getting ready to have our first baby, and my husband and I were praying for a way that I could be home. I ended up selling a story to People Magazine that I had originally written for the front page, a very sad murder story. Right before I was set to go back to work after my maternity leave I had found out that an agent in New York had gotten my story. I worked with him a little bit and wrote a proposal, and he had gotten it into a bidding war. All of a sudden, just like that, i was writing True Crime books.
So it was a really great answer to the prayer for us, I was home and I never worked a day out of the house since our oldest was born, and now she is 23. That was a huge blessing but it was still not what I wanted to be writing, these very dark stories about true murders. I did that for four books, but the whole time I felt called to write life changing fiction.
I wanted to write stories with the message of hope and redemption, even when the ending wasn’t happy. So I wrote my first novel which was “Where Yesterday Lives,” and I wrote it without a contract and without an agent. But it was what I wanted to do and I knew that God was calling me to do it. It took a year before I was able to get it published. The whole time I thought that God was drawing me closer to himself in a way that I would be grateful and desperate and excited to write fiction that glorified him.
So this is the first one. I just finished the contract. I finished up my serious books with the Baxters and the Flanagans so this is the first one with Simon and Schuster Howard and everyone is saying this is my most anticipated novel now.
SYNOPSIS: For three decades The Bridge bookstore connected the people of Franklin, Tennessee with cherished stories and with Charlie and Donna Barton, the store’s owners. Molly and Ryan were two college students who were regular visitors, united in a shared faith, love of music and an undeniable attraction to each other, but the two were separated by circumstances that cut their story short. When a hundred-year flood devastates the town, it nearly destroys The Bridge, crushing Charlie’s spirit and causing him to doubt whether his work in books really mattered. Can the people of Franklin rally around The Bridge and find the second chances they all need? The Bridge is a story that will remind you that your love for books matters. It is a story for our times, a story that will stay in your heart forever.
AMFM: Can you tell me about the screen play?
Right now we have a couple that are in works. “A Thousand Tomorrows” is in pre production at Sony Affirm, the branch of Sony that has brought us Courageous and Soul Surfer. Sony Affirm is amazing and I’m so excited to be working with a team of very talented producers. As far as “The Bridge,” we don’t have it with a specific producer at this point but there are several major studios that are interested. When I pray about it i feel like God is saying ‘You have no idea how big it’s going to be.’ And I keep feeling that the bigger it gets the smaller my role. He puts the story in my heart but he has all these other hearts in mind, and only he can do that. But “The Bridge” hasn’t been signed so we are still entertaining offers right now.
AMFM: Tell me what it means to write Christian Fiction.
People will say “What does that mean, Christian Fiction? And how do you work Christianity into the story?” But to me, it’s the opposite. I tell the complete story. I have the privilege of including the physical and the intellectual and the emotional and the spiritual aspects of the story. To me all stories have a spiritual angle. It’s there in all true stories and all fiction stories. It’s whether we want to include it or not. So most people who write fiction that appears on the New York Times list they just don’t include it, like it doesn’t exist. I just include it. I don’t cut that out.
AMFM:what kind of advice would you give people who would want to write Christian Fiction?
I would say that there are so many opportunities for a person who wants to write life changing or inspirational Christian Fiction right now; the world is very hungry. I would say write that story that God puts in your heart. Read the genre that you are most interested in being published in so that you’re familiar with the way stories are being told. Then of course you do the best work possible, and then continue to pray about it and believe that there is a place for the book that you have.
AMFM: Lets go back to the beginning when you were a college student who wanted to pursue law. What did that college professor say to make you change your mind?
That was an amazing moment. You look at your life and you look back and you see those glimpses that guide you to make a complete difference in your life and that was one of them. I had been writing since I was 5, stapling pages together, jotting down short stories, and writing poems. I had always loved it and I had always assumed that I would be a writer. You get to a certain age and you think “What am I doing? Where am I going?” I think I was around 19, but I had come to the grand conclusion that I would be a lawyer instead of a writer.
I was in my first year of college and Journalism I was an option as an alternative to English and I thought that was an easy A. When I took the Journalism I class it was a big auditorium type of class with hundreds of kids. At the end of our first week we had written one short assignment. The professor, Bob Scheibel, kind of a rough guy, said ‘Alright, class is almost up and when class is over I want Karen Kingsbury to come to the front of the room.’ And I thought “Oh my goodness, what have I done to get in trouble so quickly?” He said it so sternly. After everyone had left I walked to the front of the room and I said “Hello I’m Karen Kingsbury.” He lowers his glasses and he looks down his nose and he said “Two things,” and i said “Yes sir?” He said “Number one, you will show up at my office tomorrow morning, we want you on staff for the newspaper, and number two you will never stop writing.”
It was like a life changing moment. My faith wasn’t very strong at that point. I was young and I didn’t really find that faith until my mid 20s but it was just a defining moment like “Ok. Alright, I guess I’m supposed to do this.” Then I never went back, I’ve been a writer ever since.
AMFM: What was the story about?
It was just a one page news story. I don’t know, he saw something, God used him. We talked about it not that long ago and he can’t say it enough, he’s so proud of me and that I’m writing books, but I don’t think that he will really understand just how impactful his words were in my life.
AMFM: So how did you make the transition from sports writer to fiction writer?
For the first year or two as a Sports Writer I focused on the emotional aspect of stories. And I focused on the feature story aspect for the readers of the paper and let the guys handle the game story. It was a natural transition to the front page and I didn’t want to tour with the team or be a beat reporter for one of the pro teams. So it worked out well.
AMFM: I heard it was really tough to be one of the first women sports reporters, the men didn’t like it.
There is some truth to that for me, Marcus Allen would be an example. Marcus came to the Raiders and he had been training there when they brought in Bo Jackson. Marcus Allen was the star running back so when they brought in Bo the other reporters wanted to create some sort of controversy and jealousy and division on the team. But he trusted me because I wasn’t trying to write like that. I was trying to write what he really felt. So at one point I was the only reporter he would talk to. It was definitely a lot of animosity and an uphill battle so it was hard to imagine in those days how I was ever going to transition to writing emotionally gripping fiction. But you know, God had a plan.
AMFM: When did you find the time to write when you were a new mother? You must have been really dedicated, or really called to do this.
A calling is a great way to word it. God puts the stories on my heart like movies. So they are really visual. So I just sit down and capture what he has already put there. A lot of the time the stories write themselves. That was the case with my first novel. I had a local high school girl come in during the afternoons to help me watch Kelsey and I would just take three or four hours to write. A lot of times in the same room, because I didn’t have an office or a writing space, so I would be sitting at the computer and she would be overseeing Kelsey’s needs and whatnot. As time went on and more kids came I had a little help here and there, and that is a financial thing too. I couldn’t really afford much in the way in child care. But when they would nap, or go to bed or whatever I would find time to write.
AMFM: Can you believe how far you’ve come, are a little in awe of all of this?
I am. It’s funny because I kind of forget sometimes and I get wrapped up in my life of being a wife and a mom and raising my kids. My Mother in Law is with us right now, she said “Do you ever like, stop and think about this and how big this has gotten?” I really don’t think about it that often and I think that is part of it. Two things that my Dad said to me and stay with me still and I think always will, and one is, “There won’t be any autograph lines in heaven, so you’re just connecting heart to heart.” And the second thing was “You can never believe it, no matter how great they say you are, or how discouraged they are with you, You can never believe it .” Especially when it comes to the praise and bestseller lists, it came to a point years ago that I just don’t look at bestseller lists. I’ve got to write the story on my heart, and spend my time loving my family and loving my readers and I do that on Facebook and on Twitter just about everyday. I think that the bigger it gets the smaller I feel and the more I know that it is about connecting with readers.