Interview via telephone January 2006 (continued)
Gina Holmes: How long does the outline take you to write?
Karen Kingsbury: Sometimes I can spend a whole day on an outline.
Gina: [Jokingly] Oooh, a whole day. Some authors take six months to write their outline.
Karen: My outline is also visual so I just tap into that. There have been times where I’ve said this week I’m going to come up with a good outline.
Gina: Your first novel, Where Yesterday Lives, did that sell fairly well?
Karen: No, my first six books were with Multnomah and they each sold fifteen thousand copies. At one point we completely ran out of books within two weeks of the release. I wasn’t well known enough to survive that kind of flat tire. By the time you print more books and get them out to the stores people move on to something else.
Now we sell two hundred thousand in the first month so the sales have changed dramatically .
Gina: What do you attribute your success to?
Karen: It really is amazing but it’s not me. I’ve got an amazing team of people. I’m writing the same book I was back then. I am a better writer now because I’m listening to my editors. The reason is God.
Writing life changing fiction is my trademark. From the letters I get I truly believe God is changing lives and you know He loves to use the power of story—like Jesus with the parables. That’s a gift that comes from God and it’s something that should be used for Him and for His purposes.
My books aren’t idle entertainment, they’re changing lives.
I’ll have hundreds of people show up for my book signing. That’s amazing but one in ten is in tears. They hug me, we pray together. I never sit down during a book signing. They’re standing, I’m going to stand.
We’re all just there making friends. God is using me and the power of story. It’s His gift and I’m just obedient with it.
Gina: One of the things about your stories is the intense emotions they portray. Is there a technique you can share with us so that we all can have a little more emotion within our own stories?
Karen: For one, it has to do with the type of stories I write. Writing believable characters is important.
I’m super extroverted and I love to be around people. One of the hardest things about writing is that I have to be alone. So my characters have to be real because they are my friends during that stretch of time.
Sometimes when I’m writing I just laugh out loud. It really just feels like I’m reading.
Listening to the techniques of fiction writing—resist the urge to explain, stay in point of view, cutting unnecessary words, these things play in my head as I write like a constant drum roll. These are the things I know to be true about writing fiction. And following these rules help keep the fiction alive and emotional, rather than passive telling.
Gina: When you sit down to write and you have your cast of characters, do you keep visual cues like pictures you’ve cut from magazine, pieces of jewelry and that type of thing?
Karen: Yes, sometimes. Sometimes I’ll do a celebrity look alike. This person is like Goldie Hawn but with dark hair. This person looks like so and so. I do that type of thing a lot.
Gina: Do you fill out character sheets on each one?
Karen: I don’t have it all laid out all neat but even before I do the outline I write what their motivation is, what are they most excited about and what is the area that God’s going to change in their lives. In every good book the characters need to change, do a one-eighty.
Gina: I’ve read that you’re really appreciative of the small book store owners. That you really go out of your way to thank them and connect with them. Is that a natural part of your personality or is it part smart marketing move?
Karen: I care about them deeply. I just gave the key note speech at CBA Advance last week. That was the point of my talk. I love them and I pray for them. And I personally was one of the people touched by a Christian bookstore. That’s where I picked up Francine Rivers’ book that changed my career goal and that’s where I bought stuff for my brother to help him understand the Lord, and that’s where I was on October 1st this past year when I found out my brother died in his sleep and that Christian bookstore became a church and formed a circle around me and prayed for me. It was okay that I was crying.
The Christian bookstore and the small bookstores are the malt shops of today’s generation and they’re the lighthouses, a community compass. We need them. They serve a different purpose then the discount stores. Both are fine.
I think the successful small bookstore is the one that realizes they aren’t in competition with Walmart. They know they have a totally different ministry where people can come to scrapbook and pray and have contests and read books and meet other people and receive that one on one attention that you get from a small store. I think there’s a huge purpose for them and I feel very passionately about them.
Is it good marketing? Sure but that’s not what’s motivating me.
Gina: Speaking of marketing--say an author’s first book is coming out soon. What advice can you offer them for marketing or publicizing their work?
Karen: The best advice I’ve gotten is from a guy at Multnomah. He told me realize that when you write a book, you and the publisher are getting in the boat together and if they’re the only ones paddling, the boat’s going to go in circles, and if you’re the only one paddling, the boat goes in circles, but if you’re both paddling and putting effort into the success of the book then you’re going to go somewhere.
Gina: Great advice. Are there downfalls to being a best-selling writer?
Karen: Expectations are high. Criticism is always going to be higher but I don’t think of that as a downfall. I always want to get better so I’ll take that as a challenge. I just feel blessed to be where I am. I don’t feel any real negatives to it.
Gina: Any doubts as a writer?
Karen: If I stop to think about it, I could get nervous. I’m currently under contract for seventeen books, but there are more than seventeen stories in my heart right now. I don’t really have doubts. I just feel like you need to be active with life, not passive. Just go after it.
Gina: Do you long to write something completely out of your genre like a mystery or thriller or something no one would expect from you?
Karen: I toy with it but probably not.
Gina: Dreams for your writing future?
Karen: Song writing!
Gina: Songwriting? Have you done some of that?
Karen: Yes, I’m working with some pretty big songwriters. We’ll see where it will go.
Gina: What kind of music do you listen to?
Karen: Country ballads, more modern ones.
Gina: Parting words?
Karen: I would say if you have a story in your heart, write it the very best way you can. Do understand that stories come from God and you need to be the one to really work on the craft.