Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

An ode to the tangible book. Hailed as America’s #1 author of inspirational fiction, the USA Today and New York Times bestselling author Karen Kingsbury is out with her latest work due on bookshelves and, of course Amazon et al., today (Oct. 23).

Called The Bridge, the book strikes a Capra-esque chord as it plays out its hopeful tale of a longstanding bookstore (called The Bridge) on the brink of extinction and the people whose lives it touches.

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I just had the opportunity to talk with the prolific author (who has written over 40 books) about The Bridge, her overall career, her special relationship with her readers, her family, her faith and her special gift to some Beliefnet readers. Here are some highlights from our conversation:

JWK: So, it looks like you have another big success here with The Bridge.

KAREN KINGSBURY: Well, I’m very excited. They’re saying “Okay, this is the most-anticipated novel of the season” and, you know, that’s huge. I just feel like somehow the story is meeting with such a time as this and it’s something people need.

JWK: Can you tell me in your own words a little bit about the story and what you hope to accomplish with it?

KK: Yes, absolutely. The Bridge…is a love story of second chances. It’s set against the backdrop of the demise of the American bookstore and I think anyone who’s ever loved a book is grieved in their heart as they drive by a landmark bookstore — an independent store or a chain, it really doesn’t matter — and they see a “Going Out of Business” sign.  And it’s a sign of our times. So, I wanted to do a tribute to books, the classics, and the way that they’ve touched lives and, at the same time, really capture the essence of that loss in a story that still inspires us and gives us a reason to believe again.

JWK: Your book seems to have a kind of It’s a Wonderful Life feel to it.

KK: …I mean that’s one of my favorite stories. I always cry at the end. You know, if you have friends, you’re the richest man of all.  And, no question, the bookstore owner — The Bridge is the bookstore in this story — and Charlie Barton is a man who desperately needs friends. He needs a reason to believe. So, Publishers Weekly in their review they said this is a modern day classic and kind of reminiscent of It’s a Wonderful Life.  And that’s the greatest compliment.

JWK: What do you hope the reader takes from the story?

KK: Well, you know, we are in an interesting time in our country’s history. Socially, economically, politically, there’s a lot of reason for discouragement and despair and as we head into the Christmas season, I think people are desperate for a reason to believe, a reason to feel that when they got up today there’s something greater ahead than (they’ve) ever done before….What I want people to take away from The Bridge is a sense of hope and a sense that we can make a difference and we can see our communities and our nation can rise to something great again if we connect with God and with each other.

JWK: I notice that at the beginning of the book that you have several pages of dedications. I take it you’re a person who believes in the value of expressing gratitude.

KK: Well, you know I think that I’m probably the most loquacious author when it comes to my dedications. The reason is there is some symbolism there. I’ve been writing these books, bringing these stories to my readers who I love so much, and I have a greater love for my family — my husband who is a most amazing man and my kids. So, the dedications take a few pages and I kind of express my heart and where I’m at with the Season of Life with each of them at the beginning of the book. And there’s a reason — because they come first. And so they come first in my book as well.

JWK: I find it interesting that you began your career as a newspaper reporter and that your first few books were actually true crime stories.

KK: I did. Yes, I was a sports writer for the LA Times and that transitioned to doing front-page Sunday features — of like any story that might have had emotion and, in LA, a lot times that was a murder story. So, four true crime books was a way for me to be home with my firstborn child. My husband had been really praying for a way to do that. So those were a really great opportunity at the time but it wasn’t what I was feeling called to write. I wanted to write life-changing fiction. That didn’t happen until about 15 years ago.

JWK: It’s quite a transition from gritty true murder stories to hopeful, uplifting fiction.

KK: I know. I think I needed it more than anybody else.

JWK: Well, you’ve certainly done well with the genre. You’re arguably the most popular inspirational novelist out there.

KK: Thank you. I think that I have a strong connection with my readers. They’re very loyal and they know that I think of them as friends…I meet with them on Facebook and Twitter every day — and I hear them and I hear what they’re saying. They’ll tell me at (certain books) have changed their lives or gave them hope. And, also, God put that story on my heart (and) He had your heart in mind and only He can do that.

JWK: You’ve written over 40 novels. How do you find the time?

KK: For me, the novels come to life in my head like a movie. So, when I see them there’s sort of a Gulf Stream in my heart and pretty quickly I find that place where the story just takes me and I’m laughing and crying while I write and the story pours out of me a lot more quickly than it might with some other authors.  That’s just a gift I think that God’s given me so that I can make my family my top priority.  So, I think if I didn’t have the love of my family first I probably could write ten novels a year but it would be no life and it’s in the living that I find the stories that can be life changing.

JWK: One of your books, Like Dandelion Dust was actually turned into a movie.

KK: Yes. That was a beautifully done independent film that had Mira Sorvino and Barry Pepper and (there were) some Academy Award-type performances that were in that movie. And now the next one up to bat is A Thousand Tomorrows. That is with Sony Affirm. Sony Affirm is the division of Sony that brought us Soul Surfer and Courageous and they will be rolling cameras later this fall…So, we’re so excited.

JWK: What is A Thousand Tomorrows about?

KK: A Thousand Tomorrows is the story of a girl who is a barrel racer. It’s set in the rodeo world. She has cystic fibrosis. So, she’s a person who believes in living. It’s not the number of days in your life but the life in your days. She is a person who really inspires and gives hope. She never intended to fall in love but she falls in love with this very reclusive bull rider. He’s a guy who’s suffering and struggling with anger because of the way his father abandoned their family. So, there’s a lot going on it’s just a beautiful love story that really focuses on living today.

JWK: Your daughter Kelsey is an actress.

KK: She is an actress. She was in the movie The Heart of Christmas which is coming out on DVD this season and she’s done several projects since then. (She’s) just wrapped a movie and is about to head to Hawaii to take part in a big movie being made on King David. So, that’s so exciting. And she’s newly married to Christian recording artist Kyle Kupecky. He was formerly with Anthem Lights, the Christian group. Now, he’s working on his first (solo) project.  They are just a delight. They live right down the road and they help me here in the day. They’re very passionate about what I’m doing here too.

JWK: You find ways to give back, including through your books and your connection with your readers.

KK: …We have a thing going on in the last couple of books — and we’ll do it with The Bridge — (where) if you can’t afford a copy of my book  when it first comes out, I’ll connect you with one of the readers who will (provide one). There are who readers will race through a book and they’re willing to give it away. It’s gently used. It’s been loved once. Now, it can be loved twice. So, we’ll have people send in their requests and they’ll say “Reader in Need in Indiana,” “Reader in Need in Afghanistan,” “Reader in Need in Nigeria.” Wherever it might be all around the world and then we’ll match that with someone who is willing to give away their book or buy extra copies for people who can’t afford a copy. I’ve had some beautiful things happen with that. I’ve had some soldier’s wives  who’ve written and said “There’s no way I can afford a book at this season and your book so encouraged me while my husband’s serving.” When my readers who can afford to do so — when they find out about people like that — they don’t just send a book. I mean, they’ll send grocery cards and a care package of gifts for the kids. Connecting, that’s my Reader Share program. It’s so important to me that people have a chance to connect and give where there’s a need.

JWK: You also have a program called Forever in Fiction where you auction off the opportunity to name a character in an upcoming book with the proceeds going to charitable causes.

KK: I love that program. A couple times a year we can give away a Forever in Fiction package. One of my favorites was a little girl (named) Kate McRae who was struggling with cancer. She’s cancer free right now. It’s a miracle since nobody in her situation has ever survived as long as she has and she’s a beautiful child, a picture of  hope and healing. But it’s a huge financial burden having cancer and going through the medical expenses of that. So, my readers came forward and I had 300 people come forward and give $100 each. I couldn’t take more than that and got their names mentioned in the acknowledgement. So, that raised $30,000 for Kate McRae. They just sent the money to her foundation and she became the character in the book.  So, (we can) do something a little different like that — where we can really make a difference in someone’s life and have the readers come alongside to help make that happen.

JWK: So, you’ve developed a real community with your readers through which you find ways to reach out together to help other people.

KK: I think that’s probably the most important part of it. You know, my dad would say “You can’t believe that great things people are saying or believe you’re something special because you have a gift of what you do. You’re do that well. Other people have their gifts — whether it’s serving or cleaning a kitchen, whatever it might be.”

JWK: Your books are so popular. Why haven’t more of them been made into movies?

KK: I am too. I’ve had some that have been optioned and that kind of thing but I think, really, it’s only been lately (that interest has really risen).

JWK: In total, how many of your books have been turned into films.

KK: Only Like Dandelion Dust and…we (also) had Every Woman’s Dream (which) was a television movie that was made based on my true-crime book Final Vows. That happened many years ago….But (last week) I had a huge meeting with several major producers at a network and we’re looking at The Baxter Family which was kind of the central family, central characters, in 22 of my books. So, (we’re talking about turning) The Baxters into a TV series. (Last week) was the first major meeting. We’ve been talking about this for a little while and now, finally, all the pieces are in place.  These network executives say that, given what you see on TV today, there’s a gaping  hole for something that would encourage (the audience) inspirationally.

JWK: That’s inspirational to me because, from my perspective, the networks have gone over the edge over the past decade or so trying to out-edgy each other. Do you think they’re finally coming back to this kind of programming?

KK: I really do…In fact, I’ve had some of the major people at the top of Simon & Schuster (parent company of Howard Books, Karen’s publisher))…say “Wow! Considering the other things that it’s up against and the kinds of things we’re seeing in theaters and on TV, this is a breath of life and hope and inspiration that would help us to remember what life is really all about and find that faith we may have completely walked away from.” So, you know, there’s nothing like that on TV.  There’s a lot of excitement and I see this becoming a reality within the next year.

JWK: You mean for the 2013 fall schedule?

KK: You know that would be an amazing time to start it and I think that’s what they have their eye on.

JWK: Can I report which network?

KK: I think we can just we’re in talks with a major network…but it is exciting. And, I’ll tell you what, I’ll call you first when I find out it’s on.

JWK: Please do. That would be fantastic.

Now, you also write music, don’t you?

KK: I do…You don’t want to hear me sing but it’s a lot of fun…I might have 100,000 words in a novel but I only have three-and-a-half minutes in a song and I find that is a beautiful challenge to get together with someone who really understands music and add the lyrics to it. It’s just a wonderful hobby. I’ve had some that have made onto albums. That’s exciting and I think more of that will happen in the future.

JWK: I know you a writer’s latest work is always the favorite — in this case The Bridge — but what if you had to choose a favorite among your books, what would it be?

KK: The 9/11 series will always be special to me because the first book, One Tuesday Morning, everything about that story was in my heart. All the details were…clear as the day that the towers fell down from those terrorist attacks. So, as a tribute to people who were running up the stairs when everyone else was running down, it will always stand as one of my favorite books. And then it became a three book series…Then, The Baxters because they’re family.

JWK: Do you write screenplays or teleplays?

KK: I’m working on one from another one of my favorite books, Even Now, which is as tribute to our military. I’m working on a screenplay and I’m kind of about halfway finished and (there’s) a producer that I’ll be working with on that.  We have everything kind of lined up and I just need the time to kind of finish that screenplay.  They said they love it, so if I had my way I’d be doing the two books a year which is about what I’ll be doing here for the next many years out…and then at least one or two screenplays.

JWK: What is the most rewarding part of your career?

KK:  I think I would say that it’s seeing lives changed by the power of story. That’s the most rewarding thing.  I get that kind of an email and it just drops me to my knees in gratitude that I would be able to play a small part (in that).

JWK: Anything else you’d like to say?

Note: Karen Kingsbury has kindly made available to me some copies of The Bridge for Beliefnet readers. Contact me at john@jwkmedia while the supply lasts and I’ll see to it that you’re sent a copy.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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