Readers know exactly what they’re getting when they open a novel by New York Times bestselling author Karen Kingsbury: her stories are designed to convey a consistent message of hope to readers who may be struggling to live their Christian beliefs within a secular culture. It’s a message that clearly resonates with many of them: Kingsbury has more than twenty million books in print and boasts a quarter of a million Facebook fans who look forward to her latest series installments, stand-alone titles, and children’s books. Her newest offering, Loving, is the fourth and final book in the Bailey Flanigan series.
Karen Kingsbury recently answered questions from Chapter 16 via email.
Chapter 16: Loving is the final volume of a four-book series that is itself part of a much larger story cycle. What aspects do you consider when deciding which stories lend themselves to multi-volume collections and which ones work better as stand-alone single volumes?
Kingsbury: I consider whether the characters have the depth to last more than a single story, and whether I can create conflicts that will sustain more than one novel. In some cases, the plot is so specific to the single book the story is better as a stand-alone. When the story is more character-driven, I can usually think up other books to follow the first one. I love both types of storytelling.
Chapter 16: Some readers were unhappy with the choices your characters made in the previous novel in this series, Longing, especially in the matter of the love triangle. Did you take their concerns into consideration when writing Loving?
Kingsbury: I always listen to the readers, but of course whenever there is a love triangle, someone has to lose. The goal here was to follow the characters as honestly as possible. My daughter was the inspiration for Bailey, but I had to realize that Bailey is her own person (fictionally speaking, of course). Though she was inspired by Kelsey, her story is her own. The facts were always fiction in the Bailey Flanigan stories, and with that firmly in mind it was easy to be honest to the story.
Chapter 16: In fact, the entire Flanigan family is based on your own family. Has this level of intimacy between reality and fiction ever posed a problem for you or a member of your family?
Kingsbury: It has created some interesting situations. My boys smile at the similarities, and think it’s fun that I write what I live in the Bailey Flanigan Series. It’s never been a serious problem, even for Kelsey.
Chapter 16: You write your books extremely quickly—often finishing one in a matter of weeks. Have you ever reached an impasse and had to set a manuscript aside for a time—or abandon it altogether?
Kingsbury: That hasn’t happened, but I came close to abandoning the manuscript when I wrote Divine. That was the toughest book for me. It is a modern-day telling of the Mary Magdalene story, and it was gut-wrenching. But even though the process was difficult, it remains one of my favorite stories.
Chapter 16: How do you respond to the criticism that your characters’ lives are sometimes unrealistically idyllic and do not represent the complex, messy lives of people who struggle with temptation, failure, despair, and loss of faith?
Kingsbury: Actually, I haven’t received much criticism like that. Many of my books don’t have happy endings. I like to think they are very realistic in that sense. The difference with my books is that though the situation may be difficult or dark, though the happy ending might not come, God’s redemption remains. In that sense there is always hope, and sometimes hope can be mistaken for a happy ending.
Chapter 16: You have said that you fell in love with writing stories when you were five years old. What books or authors especially influenced you as a young reader, and what books have you enjoyed sharing with your own six children?
Kingsbury: I am a tremendous fan of Dr. Seuss. I’ve read all his books to my kids a hundred times over. As the kids were growing up we also loved the Junie B. Jones series, and Phillip Smouse’s poetic humorous take on Bible stories. He reminds me of Seuss. For me, I was influenced by Sydney Sheldon and John Grisham, for sure.
Chapter 16: You recently returned from the first Karen Kingsbury & Friends cruise to the Bahamas. Can you talk a little about that experience and what it means to you to interact so directly with your fans?
Kingsbury: There is something very intimate about my cruise. I have the chance to literally “hang out” with my reader friends and get to know them on a first-name basis. I love the interaction, and the sessions, and the concerts. There is really nothing else like it.
Chapter 16: You have trademarked your work as Life-Changing Fiction™. What specific changes do you hope your storytelling will accomplish in the lives of your readers?
Kingsbury: My hope is that through the power of story, a person might be changed for the good. The message of the story can slip into the back door of a person’s heart. I’ve heard from people who have changed their mind about suicide, remarried after divorce, and reunited with family members after a deep rift—all because they read one of these books. Nothing is more rewarding.
Chapter 16: In 2011 your family moved to Nashville from the Pacific Northwest. What have you enjoyed most about the move and becoming acclimated to your new home?
Kingsbury: The Pacific Northwest is a beautiful place, but it is like a different country compared with Middle Tennessee. The South is amazing. I seriously feel like I’ve finally come home. I love Nashville and Brentwood and Franklin—the shops and winding roads and topography. I love the shades of green and the seasons, but most of all I love the people. Why didn’t we move here sooner?
Chapter 16: Next up for your readers is another book about the Baxter Family called Coming Home. Can you tell us anything about it?
Kingsbury: This book is saturated with the Baxters, and will take readers back to the beautiful stories of each of the Baxter family members. But there is also an unexpected tragedy in this story. I think readers will be gripped by this book like no other Baxter book before it. People who have read advance copies of this book say it might be my best yet. I wrote it thinking of not only my faithful reader friends, but the new reader as well. So this book will be a stand-alone. The process was deeply emotional, allowing me time to realize again the power of faith and family.