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Karen Kingsbury  has several million  books in print, including one which was made into a CBS Movie-of-the-Week. Karen's books are regularly bestsellers, which include titles from her series; Firstborn Series, Redemption Series, Red Glove Series and her newest  Sunrise Series, but she remains convinced that none of it would have been possible without God's hand. Karen Kingsbury and her husband live in the Northwest with their six children.

 Our Interview with Karen Kingsbury

 

Tell me a little bit about yourself—how you got started writing, what your passions are.

Writing was just something I was born to do. The other day my son asked me, "Mom, when you were little what was your dream? What did you want to be when you grew up?" and I said I wanted to be a writer. My number one dream was to be able to write books at home and be a mom. I know that doesn't happen for a lot of people and I feel extremely blessed that I am doing the thing I dreamed I would do. This was my dream from age five on. In grade school I wrote for the Creative Magazine, in middle school and high school I wrote for the school newspapers, in college I was able to compete at the journalistic level and won some statewide awards in California. That earned me the opportunity to have an internship at the L.A. Times where I started off in sports writing. That transitioned to front page general assignment news. I never really did news stories, I did features. They pretty much said if it was an emotional story, they wanted me to write it, because if they gave me twenty inches of type, I could get someone to cry.

I was a very sentimental, emotional, sensitive type child. It's funny because I was outgoing as well, very outgoing and very social, but very emotional too. So that was kind of the mix of the two—getting out there in the middle of things and getting the emotional story. That led to a few magazine articles including one for People magazine, which an agent from New York City saw. He contacted me to see if I would be interested in writing a book about that story. Of course, that's not how it usually works either. New York agents don't usually come knocking on your door, but that happened as a direct result of prayer.

We'd had our first child and my husband and I were praying for a way for me to be able to be home and still work. Much of our family's journey has been a direct reflection of my husband's incredible faith. I call him my prince charming because he just is. He was the one who was determined that we would be pure before we were married. I was not a Christian when I met him and I thought he was weird. He was such a great guy, but I didn't understand his determination to love God. Of course, in the end that was what won me over. I was challenged by his faith and that drew me to the Lord.

So anyway, it was him who said when I got pregnant that we needed to pray for a way for me to do my writing at home. I was thinking he was so clueless because you don't just write at home, you don't just make your money at twenty-four-years-old by writing at home. But I prayed, despite my lack of faith, and he prayed, completely believing God would show us a way. Eight days before my maternity leave was up this agent called and said, "I've got you a book deal." The advance was three times my annual salary. I went in the next day and quit my job.

 

Ever since then I've been at home. I've written twenty-five books now. It's been an incredible blessing for us. My husband is a schoolteacher, and he's the best there is. Besides that he’s my best friend. He's a great dad and a wonderful support to what I'm doing.

I would say that my passions are my family and my relationship with the Lord and everything that I write comes out of some facet of those.

You wrote quite a lot for the secular market before writing for the Christian market. What caused you to make the switch?

Well, I wanted to write fiction. Nothing I had written before making the switch was fiction. It was all non-fiction. I wrote true crime books, which came out of my job as a front-page general assignment reporter. They were clean, but they were not the topics I wanted to write about. I had to go to prisons to do some of my interviews so I had scriptures posted all over the rim of my computer screen because it was just so depressing to be focused that much on the dark side of life and of people who made choices like that. I can remember writing scenes and wanting to say, "Don’t go there!" but it was too late—that lady was already dead. Those type of books weren’t my heart's desire. After I wrote four of those—one of which was made into a CBS movie of the week – I wrote four books that were collections of miracle stories and answered prayer. They were also in the secular market and to this day I really believe that my editors at that publishing house thought I was writing a real rounded view of religion. It's like God blinded them. Every single story was about a very committed believer who had a relationship with the Lord and they never came out and asked, "Where are your stories about Hindus" or anything. They sold in the New Age section of the mainstream bookstores so I got incredible mail and had opportunities to send Bibles to some of those people. I could do whatever I wanted in response. Those books were kind of like a light in a dark place and it was fun to see what God was doing.

At the end of those eight books I had great relationships with several of the major New York publishing houses. Wanting to write fiction, I wrote a novel called Where Yesterday Lives and let them see it. One at a time I got rejection notices. They were all glowing, but they were rejections. They loved it, but said they just didn't have a spot for fiction that didn’t have sex and language. I was shocked at that because it really wasn’t a preachy book, but I guess at that point it was just a little early for that sort of book. I think today it might have gone okay, but that wasn't where God wanted my fiction.

 

It was about that time that I had a friend who was working as a manager of a Christian bookstore. She said she thought God was calling me to write Christian fiction, but I thought I was above that. I know that's a terrible way to put it, but that's just where I was at the time. I just didn't think I belonged in that market at that point. My friend told me I needed to read Randy Alcorn's books Deadline and Dominion, Wisdom Hunter by Randall Arthur, and Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers and then tell her if I thought I still didn't fit in that market. So I did. Each of them was so amazing. When I got to the end of Redeeming Love, I just hit my knees. I was so humbly sorry to the Lord for ever thinking that writing for him could be anything but the best.

About that time I submitted Where Yesterday Lives to Multnomah because they had published all of the books I had just read. I figured they would be more inclined to do a book that was contemporary. They were interested and told me they would get back to me in six weeks.

It ended up being one year from the time I submitted the book until I got a contract. It was like God was telling me He wanted me to be sure I knew this was His plan for me. That year was my quiet time to come before the Lord, to realize that all good things come from Him in His time, and to be close to my family and just wait. It was all I could do. I didn't even start another book. Then Terri Blackstock introduced me to Greg Johnson, the agent I've had for the past three years. Ever since then God has opened so many doors it’s unbelievable. It's been an amazing journey.

Your books deal with very difficult issues like depression, divorce, sexual immorality, and more. I don't imagine you've experienced all the things you've written about. How do you research these sorts of things to make them so true to life?

 

I think that God's given me a gift of discernment. When I talk with someone—even for a little while—about an issue they’re going through, I feel what they're feeling very clearly. It's a powerful feeling. I also research by speaking with counselors and so forth, but so much of it is just from God. I haven't struggled with any of these issues—my marriage is great, I've not dealt with drunk drivers. Sometimes I think I write about these things because I wonder how I would handle it. Especially like with Waiting for Morning [having your family hit by a drunk driver] or Where Yesterday Lives and losing your dad. So, I think about things people go through, I think about how that tests our faith, and then God gives me the stories. They're the kind of stories people say they can relate to.

Have readers shared with you how your fiction has ministered to them?

In the last four months I've gotten letters at least once a week from couples who say basically that reading A Time to Dance saved their marriage. That's incredible! When I finished that book I got on my knees and prayed that the Lord would use it to minister to couples who were ready to throw in the towel.

I get about ten letters a day. Mostly the letters are from women, but now and then a man will write, as well. I got one letter from a man who told me that A Time to Dance was almost exactly their story. He said he had never wept so much reading a story. He and his wife couldn't wait for their divorce to be final, but then after reading the book they began to talk using the book's plot to show how they had wronged each other—real or imagined. They rekindled their love and respect for each other and little by little they drew back from the brink and now they no longer rely on themselves but on God's grace.

I'm so convinced that I couldn't write anything less than gut-wrenching fiction. It's what I have to do; it's what's in me.

Did you find any of your books particularly difficult to write?

Halfway to Forever was hard to write but only because I love the characters. I feel like I know those people—Jade and Tanner from A Moment of Weakness and Matt and Hannah from Waiting for Morning. My husband jokes and says that I'm going to be very interesting when I'm old—wondering if Tanner has come to visit. Sometimes I’ll be working and my husband will come in and see tears on my cheeks. "Honey," he says. "You’re making it up! It's not real, okay? You don't have to cry about it."

 

Halfway to Forever was hard to write because I didn't want to let go of those characters… and because I put Jade through brain cancer. There's a chance that if she comes through the surgery she won't come back with the same personality. She might live, but she wouldn't be Jade. So there's a scene where Tanner climbs into the hospital bed with her and talks with her and in his own way tells her goodbye. It was a very hard scene for me to write.

Another one that was hard is the book I'm working on now. It's the second book in my new Redemption series with Gary Smalley. It goes over the September 11th time period. Gary went down to ground zero to research that. There were some hard scenes in that book.

But I think the hardest books I've ever written were my crime books because there was no hope. In my current books, no matter what these people go through, I never leave them hopeless.

Of all the characters you've created do you have a favorite?

They're like kids—it's hard to pick a favorite! If I had to pick I would probably say the characters in Halfway to Forever—Jade and Tanner and Matt and Hannah. I know them, so when people read Halfway to Forever I think they'll probably feel it's my best book so far. I already knew them going into it and that makes them so much more real and more true to life.

I also really like the Baxter family from the Redemption series, which is good because I have to stay with them for five to seven books.

How did that series all come about?

Gary and I both have Greg Johnson for our agent. Gary wanted to write emotional fiction, so Greg sent him one of my books. Gary wound up reading it on the airplane when he was traveling with his son. Gary's a sensitive guy and started crying, which embarrassed his son. So he e-mailed me and raved about the book and how it had touched his heart and asked me to contact him to talk about working together. We work great together as a team. He lets me do all the writing and he brings in his teaching on relationships, the things he's seen in counseling, and what he's learned through observing people. I think as a team, we bring a very important message for the world concerning relationships. People need to be touched that way, they need to see how love works and how it doesn't work.

Do you like working with someone as opposed to writing on your own?

I like it because Gary Smalley is wonderful to work with. It's easy to get from him exactly what he wants in the book, what he wants the characters to go through.

Being as busy as you are, how do you balance being a wife and mother with all that writing?

 

Her name is Amber Santiago! She’s a longtime friend and an amazing singer. I always tell her she should be out there making records instead of working for me. But she’s wonderful. She’s the reason I'm able to do it. I couldn't do it otherwise. She's here from nine to three, which are my business hours. Sometimes on my deadlines I have to work beyond that and my husband pitches in and helps out, but most of the time I can get it all done between 9 and 3.

Do you have any books you're working on besides the Redemption series?

This year I have five books coming out. Treasury of Miracles for Women (Warner Books), Halfway to Forever (Multnomah), Redemption (the first in the series, Tyndale), A Time to Embrace (W Publishing Group, this is the sequel to A Time to Dance), and Gideon’s Gift (a short Christmas novel with Warner Books). As for future projects, in addition to the Redemption Series, I have just signed a four-book deal with Zondervan for my stand-alone fiction.

You also wrote about the Prism Weight Loss Program. Can you tell me a little bit about the plan and how you came to write the book?

I actually got involved by going to the program. I lost a significant amount of weight on it and thought it was just a wonderful plan. They didn't have a book so I contacted the program founder and told her I would love to write it. She was all for it.

The program itself is a three-pronged attack against the struggle of overeating. It's emotional, spiritual, and physical, and the verse that is it's key is Romans 12:2 which talks about the transforming of your mind. Being transformed is the plan of Prism. And that's where the prism comes in—as light comes through it one way, it leaves through it a different way.

The general plan on the eating side is you eliminate all white sugar and white flour, you eat from a list of healthy foods, and stick to between 1,200 and 1,400 calories a day. At the same time you're going through a daily devotional workbook lesson that's very brief—maybe five minutes a day—that deals with some of the reasons why we eat and gives you some scriptures that help you to see through and past that as a way of being transformed.

I thought it was perfect. It’s got a very intelligent, healthy weight-loss plan in terms of the food, and then it deals with the spiritual and the emotional as well. You need all three to be successful.

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