There’s something in Karen Kingsbury’s voice that immediately puts you at ease, the way you feel talking to an old friend.
And so even if you've never read the New York Times best-selling author, you know right away why she's the queen of Christian fiction. It's in her voice, that thing good writers are made of, that keeps you moving from one sentence to the next until, well, you're all done and wanting more.
Which is also why, right about now, news of her upcoming appearance at Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church is probably sending ripples through metro Atlanta.
I caught up with Kingsbury early this month just as she and members of her family were about to embark on an eight-state tour to promote the final novel in her popular Angels Walking series — "Brush of Wings." It's scheduled to be released March 29. Kingsbury will be here March 31.
She has written a record 50 books, with more than 25 million copies in print. Her last dozen novels have hit the top spot on national best-seller lists, and some are in production as theatrical and Hallmark original movies. Recently, producer Roma Downey in conjunction with MGM Studios announced a partnership to make 22 of Kingsbury's books into a TV series called "The Baxter Family."
The story of how she began writing is as inspirational as the Christian fiction for which she is famous.
It began, Kingsbury told me, in 1982 in a freshman English class at Pierce College in Los Angeles.
If you’re thinking of course, hold on a minute. Kingsbury was sick of writing. She wanted to be a prosecutor.
Bob Scheibel, the professor who ran the college newspaper at Pierce, had another idea.
Two things, he told her peering over the top of his glasses one day.
“First, you will never ever stop writing and, second, you’re on staff.”
Kingsbury didn’t argue. Just like that, her future fell into place.
After transferring to Cal State University Northridge and graduating in 1986, with a degree in journalism, she signed on as a sports writer for the Los Angeles Times.
“I didn’t know anything about sports, but my dad was a good teacher and I was a quick study,” she said.
If a story needed tears, Kingsbury was the go-to writer, a gift — or curse depending on how you look at it — she honed covering of all things high school sports and then front-page general assignment stories.
It was starting to look like Scheibel might be right, but being a journalist was Kingsbury’s plan B. What she really wanted was to write novels.
In the summer of 1987, a funny thing happened.
“I met this wonderful man named Don,” Kingsbury said.
Don Russell was a clean-cut, blue-eyed guy who worked out at the same health club as Kingsbury.
One day he asked her would she go out on a date and, by the way, could he bring his Bible.
Kingsbury thought that was an oddball question but who wouldn’t?
All right go ahead, she told him.
At the movies that night, Russell turned to the book of Philippians and began reading a passage aloud.
Unlike Kingsbury, he hadn’t grown up practicing religion but knew the emptiness that came with bar-hopping and sleeping around. He believed God was the answer to his every longing.
Kingsbury, though, didn’t want to read the Bible or be read to, but she “put up with it,” enduring for the next three months Russell’s Bible readings and probing questions.
Who is your authority? he asked.
Do you have a relationship with Jesus?
Do you know what God thinks about sin?
Russell was very kind and only searching for the answers himself. But Kingsbury grew more and more frustrated.
The couple was standing in the parking lot of Russell’s apartment complex one day when she decided she couldn’t take it anymore.
“I took his Bible and threw it to the ground, breaking the binding,” Kingsbury said. “He picked it up, gave me a sad look and went on his way.”
Kingsbury felt like the earth would swallow her whole.
She got in her car, and for the first time in her life, Kingsbury found herself inside a Christian bookstore. If she were going to prove that the answers she wanted were in the Bible, she needed the good book to do it. Everything inside her screamed it was perfectly OK to sleep together before marriage. It was OK to live life separate from praying. Whatever her personal biases were, they were OK. She purchased an NIV Bible and a concordance and headed to her apartment.
Only she never got out of the parking lot.
“I could feel God saying to me … ‘You can fall away with those man-made beliefs or grab onto my word and never let go,’” Kingsbury said.
Kingsbury decided to grab onto God’s word, to live her life according to his truth. It was January 1988. She called Russell to apologize and he kindly took her back. They began talking in earnest about what God wanted for them. They joined a nondenominational Bible-believing church, and a few months later, they were baptized.
On July 23, 1989, they were married.
Kingsbury would soon leave the LA Times, but first she would sell a story to People magazine and give birth to the couple’s first child while Russell worked on his master’s in education.
She worried, given her work schedule, if she would ever see their daughter. Russell assured her that they needed to pray, that one day she’d work from home.
A New York agent saw the People story and called. That story would make a great book, he told her.
Kingsbury mailed him a proposal, and a few days before her maternity leave was finished, the agent called. He had gotten her proposal into a bidding war. The winning bid? Three times her annual salary.
“I quit my job the next day,” Kingsbury said. “I’ve been home writing books ever since.”
Scheibel was right. And lucky for us, Russell, the man who helped lead her into a right relationship with Christ, was, too.
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