Karen Kingsbury is one of America’s favorite inspirational authors. She has written more than 30 novels, including One Tuesday Morning, Beyond Tuesday Morning, the Redemption Series, and several other bestsellers, one of which was the basis for a CBS Move-of-the-Week. There are more than 3.4 million copies of her Life-Changing Fiction titles in print. Karen lives in Washington state with her husband, Don, and their six children, three of whom are adopted from Haiti.
Interview via telephone January 2006
Gina Holmes: You have got a great web-site. www.karenkingsbury.com It has everything an author could need. Who’s behind it?
Karen Kingsbury: Zondervan put dollars and effort into it so they get a lot of the credit. I get three to four hundred fan letters a week so I had a pretty good idea of what I needed to include on it. The one thing that’s missing is the counseling area. I get a lot of correspondence from people who’ve read an emotional book and now they want to tell me that their relationship is falling apart or they’re having this problem or that problem.
I want to have an in-depth list of counseling links these folks can access.
Gina: Out of those several hundred letters you receive, how many are you able to answer?
Karen: The ones that are the most unique or demanding, like suicide threats, I always answer. My mom helps me out a lot. What we’ve done is created about thirty responses. So, when someone writes me and asks why did you change the name of Jamie to Katie, I have a letter that addresses that my mom can send off.
Then there are other letters I get that aren’t the common ones the standard letters can’t address and my mom will write back on those. She won’t pretend to be me--she’ll sign her own name. My mom has a ton of wisdom. She raised me. And that ends up being a wonderful part of my ministry.
She’ll send on to me ones she thinks I need to personally address. I’m answering about thirty a week myself.
Gina: I read a lot of your web-site and any bit of information I could possibly have wanted to know is there and that’s a wonderful service but I have to say it made it difficult for me to come up with unique questions for you.
You began your writing career as a sports writer and then you wrote a true-crime book. How difficult was it to include the fiction writing techniques into that story?
Karen: There are some fictionalized elements in the scene. You might know that three friends met in the park and one of the girls threw a beer bottle and in the end, she went home feeling like her friends were against her. That’s all I have and I’ve got to come up with a three thousand word scene. I have to create atmosphere and scene.
True crimes always read like novels so you have to add that creative element.
Gina: How did you learn those techniques of fiction writing?
Karen: Lots of reading and I took a few college classes here and there and I got my degree in journalism. I was on a book tour once with five other best-selling authors. They put us on a jet and we were together eight days. We had a lot of time to talk and I quickly learned that every one of us had a degree in journalism.
In journalism you have quotes. There’s a rhythm in that type of writing that isn’t dissimilar to novel writing.
Gina: Did you study fiction how to books early on?
Karen: I read some. I read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, but mostly I read novels. I loved Sydney Sheldon and I read Danielle Steel back in the day when I was fourteen.
I didn’t become a Christian until I was in my early to mid twenties.
I always knew I wanted to write emotional fiction. I had stories in my heart at a very early age that I wanted to tell and I would practice. I would get a notebook and handwrite stuff out. I had great teachers along the way and great editors who taught me things.
One of the words you almost never see in my novels is “said” because obviously if it’s in quotes a person said it. I’ll use action beats instead. It’s the little layers of technique that are involved in becoming a competent writer. You have to learn each one and then you get the next one.
You know you learn point of view and then you learn showing and not telling and then you understand resisting the urge to explain. All these techniques that you pick up along the way I learned from reading and for me it’s a craft and I will always strive to get better.
Gina: What do you like to read now?
Karen: Mitch Albom ( The Five People You Meet in Heaven) is a strong fiction writer. I like that he’s careful not to go on unnecessarily with words. John Grisham is an easy read. Some of the earlier Nicholas Sparks.
I have books that are really special to me like Francine Rivers’, Redeeming Love.
God used that book to convince me to be a Christian fiction writer.
Until then I didn’t really think I could write Christian fiction. My characters weren’t all perfect, there were no prairies. Then I read her book and I literally fell on my knees. God was convicting me and showing me that His work would never be anything but first class.
Gina: You write about five or six books a year, is that right?
Gina: Do you set a daily word count for yourself or a page count to accomplish that?
Karen: A word quota.
Gina: Would you mind sharing that?
Karen: This is my New Year’s resolution: Don’t bother sitting down to write unless you’re going to do ten thousand words.
Gina: [Laughs.] Oh no.
Karen: My best day was twenty four thousand.
Karen: If I want to be done writing by four or five in the afternoon I have to set a ten thousand word quota. You know it’s just God. It’s just His gift. I can’t take credit. It doesn’t come hard for me. I sit down, put my fingers on the keyboard and it’s very visual. The story plays out and I just take notes.
When I’m writing I feel like I’m reading. And my first draft is pretty close to the end product. Like I said, it’s just God’s gift. I couldn’t do it otherwise.
Gina: That’s awe inspiring. You have six children and keep a day job type of schedule?
Karen: That’s right. You know if I can write a novel in two to three weeks and I’m only doing five or six books a year, you do the math. I have a lot of down time to spend with them.
Gina: Two to three weeks, I’ve heard of prolific writers but that’s incredible. I don’t understand that, but hey, I’m happy for you.
Karen: I could sit down and write only three or four thousand words but it’s because I’m procrastinating. It’s stronger writing when I just focus and get it done.
Gina: When you sit down to write a book do you already know the plot?
Karen: Basically. Robin Lee Hatcher once said that characters have to be able to make some decisions and I think that’s true and sometimes the picture in my mind isn’t exactly the picture on my outline, but I do write with an outline. I certainly know where I want to end up. but some things can change. It’s not always a straight line, the story can sway a bit.
Gina: How detailed is your outline?
Karen: A date, a place, a character point of view and the general details about what’s going to happen. About a paragraph for each chapter.