Karen Kingsbury: Unlocked
These days, you can tell a lot about someone from his or her Facebook page, and bestselling author Karen Kingsbury is no exception. Considering she’s got more than 16 million readers and 107,421 Facebook fans at press time, you’d naturally expect to see plenty of high praise from her devoted readership on her wall.
But aside from all the love for Kingbury’s life-changing fiction, what probably began as just another place to discuss her writing has actually morphed into a tight-knit community of friends.
In what Kingsbury lovingly refers to as her “virtual living room,” readers not only share their prayer re- quests and stories of what God’s been doing in their lives, but their significant personal milestones as well, the birth of new grandchildren, the heartbreak of losing a job, the joys and sorrow of having your kid leave for college.
While the distance between authors and their readers has narrowed considerably since the social networking revolution, a promotional webpage with a decidedly personal touch is still surprising, especially from an author with such a busy schedule. But for Kingsbury, who logs on faithfully each and every day, this deep connection with her fans is an integral, essential part of being an author.
“I really do love my readers, and I enjoy getting to know them and praying for their needs,” Kingsbury says. “For me, writing is a ministry first and foremost. You’re not just telling a story and walking away. You’re telling a story and dialoguing about how that story affected people.”
Making the Connection
Long before Kingsbury’s name appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, it was Karen’s father who always reminded her to remember her fans, whether there’s six or six thousand waiting to meet you.
“He would always tell me, ’Karen, there’s no autograph lines in heaven’,” Karen remembers. “So from a really early stage, I would stand—not sit—whenever I signed books for people. And these days, even if it’s a five-hour line, I do the same.”
Another facet of Kingsbury’s fan-friendly mentality has materialized through the popular Baxter Family Club and Baxter Family Reunion event. The former is a free fan club with special perks for those signed up (including extra chapters and other members-only exclusives), while the latter is an annual two-day event for readers to fellowship with other Kingsbury fans and connect with Karen herself.
Born as a natural outgrowth of Kingbury’s time spent with readers, both Baxter Family projects are close to her heart. “When I meet readers face to face, it’s always very emotional,” Kingsbury shares. “Some people will be shaking; others will have tears in their eyes. It’s all very humbling and just a reminder of what God is orchestrating. It’s nothing I can ever take credit for, of course, and I’m thankful for that. More than anything, I’m always amazed that God can use me—and these stories—to help inspire and change people’s lives.”
Putting Pen to Paper
Of course, all that time spent with fans in cyberspace and beyond cuts into her actual novel-writing time, Kingsbury does admit. It’s occasionally made penning those novels a little more complicated time-wise. Nonetheless, it’s a sacrifice she’s more than happy to make.
In fact, she’s already excited to see how readers will respond to her latest novel, Unlocked: A Love Story (Zondervan). Describing it as a beautiful story of the agape love that Christ calls us to, it tackles a variety of relevant themes including bullying, suicide and the prison-like existence of someone suffering with autism. “I love how Unlocked talks about themes of love, but it’s not the type of love story everyone naturally thinks of—romance,” Karen says. “Over the years, I’ve realized I have a lot more high school and college readers than people may know, so I felt like a book like this could help change the culture by emphasizing the importance of being kind.”
Featuring a young protagonist named Holden Harris, who Kingsbury describes as one of the purest souls she’s ever written, Unlocked is a heart-tugging story of the redeeming power of unconditional love and friendship.
When writing a story with such emotional beats, one can’t help but wonder how Kingsbury manages to make it through without crying herself. “Oh, I get choked up, no doubt about it,” Karen shares. “I fully allow myself to be drawn into the world I’m writing about, and I have to be for the story to ring true emotionally. I’m always crying when I write, and my family knows that’ll happen whenever I’m working on a new story.”
To set the proper mood, Kingsbury carefully chooses an appropriate instrumental soundtrack, puts her head- phones on and immediately gets to work. “The right music always gets me into that place, whatever that happens to be. If I were just listening to my kids talking in the background, writing would be almost impossible,” Kingsbury says. “Sometimes my husband will say, ’Try and remember that you’re making it all up.’ But the funny thing is, I don’t feel like I’m making it up. I have to just give myself it, and I become sort of a slave to the story. When it comes right down to it, I actually feel like I’m merely serving the story, rather than creating it, which is always an incredibly rewarding experience.” FF