Karen Kingsbury, #1 New York Times bestselling novelist, is America’s favorite inspirational storyteller, with more than twenty-five million copies of her award-winning books in print. Her last dozen titles have topped bestseller lists and many of her novels are under development with Hallmark Films and as major motion pictures. Her Baxter Family books are being developed into a TV series slated for major network viewing sometime in the next year. Karen is also an adjunct professor of writing at Liberty University. In 2001 she and her husband, Don, adopted three boys from Haiti, doubling their family in a matter of months. Today the couple has joined the ranks of empty-nesters, living in Tennessee near five of their adult children.
I was born in Fairfax, VA, the oldest of Anne and Ted Kingsbury’s five children. I was hooked on Dr. Seuss from the first time my dad read me The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. I had the story memorized by the time I was five.
We moved often because of my dad’s computer programming job with IBM. Maybe it was the moving that truly underlined my love for reading. In books I found friends I never had to leave.
When I was 10 years old we left Michigan for California, where we stayed for the next two decades. I loved Southern California back then and I grew up in the San Fernando Valley – a true Valley girl. The beach was just thirty minutes away over Malibu Canyon, and there on the shore of the Pacific Ocean I dreamed about being a novelist.
My heart overflowed with stories.
But the practical side of writing looked like journalism, which I studied through high school and college. There was a point in my freshman year at Pierce College when I actually decided I was sick of writing. I would be a lawyer, a prosecutor.
That year I took an English class and three weeks into the semester, Professor Bob Scheibel ordered me to the front of the room. Bob was a surly old journalist with a lifetime of experience. He ran the school newspaper. He pointed at me, real sharp-like, and said, “Are you Karen Kingsbury?”
I felt my knees tremble. “Yes, sir.”
“Two things.” He looked over the glasses at the end of his nose. “First, you will never ever stop writing. And second, you’re on staff.”
There was no arguing with Mr. Scheibel. And like that my future was set. I graduated from Cal State University Northridge with a degree in journalism in 1986 and immediately started work 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.
I covered high school sports initially, but quickly I began seeing bigger stories, deeper stories and I earned a reputation. If a story needed tears, my editors would give it to me.
About that time I met the love of my life, a blond, blue-eyed California boy named Don, a guy with one driving passion – to live his life for Jesus Christ. He brought a Bible to our first date and asked me if we could read Philippians together. I didn’t know a Philippian from any other “ippian” and seriously I thought he was crazy. But he was cute and clean-cut, so I put up with the Bible reading.
Three months passed and the tension in our “Bible” conversations grew. I couldn’t defend my viewpoints, my worldly values I’d accumulated over the years. Finally, I’d had it. One afternoon standing outside his car I took his precious, underlined, highlighted Bible and I threw it on the ground.
Split the binding right down the middle.
Don picked up the pieces, gave me a sad look, and drove off.
I figured the ground would open up and I’d be headed straight for … well, you know. Instead, God allowed me to get in my car and drive to a Christian Bookstore, a store I’d driven past all my life and never, not once stepped inside.
There I bought a Bible and a concordance. I went home to my apartment and set about making a case for my manmade beliefs. Instead, I could hear God saying, You can either fall away with your unfounded views on life, or you can grab onto my Word and never let go.
I grabbed. I’m still holding on, still standing on that rock today. I’ll be devoted to God’s word the rest of my days.
Don forgave me and we joined a non-denominational Bible-believing church. We attended a weekly Bible study and a few months later we were baptized. It was the same week Don proposed to me.
The two of us were married on July 23, 1989, on what was a record-breaking day of heat. We didn’t care. With God on our side, we were ready to tackle the world, ready to share His love however the Lord would see fit to use us.
We lived in a rented $100-a-month garage apartment with no air conditioning or heat. Don was finishing up his teaching credential and I worked at the newspaper. About that time I was moved to the front page to write the Sunday feature story – usually something involving a sad and twisted murder.
On our sixth-month anniversary we found out I was pregnant – though that was certainly not our plan. I figured I’d never know this child – too busy working long days at the newspaper. Don simply rejoiced and said, “We need to pray. God will show you a way to write at home. He can do that!”
Over the next nine months I prayed doubtfully, Don prayed faithfully. We prayed the Lord would allow me to make my salary from home. An unlikely request at best. During that time I sold a story to People Magazine – a sad true murder story I’d covered for the newspaper. When it ran in People, a literary agent in New York contacted me. He thought the story would make an interesting book. I agreed to write a proposal.
At the time, I didn’t see my conversation with him as part of God’s plan. But three days before my return to work the agent called again. He told me to sit down. He had gotten my proposal into a bidding war and the resulting deal was beyond anything he had hoped for. The first check? Just $12.49 more than I made a year.
I quit my job the next day. I’ve been home writing books ever since.
Over the next few years I wrote four true crime books – not my favorite topic. After that I couldn’t write about another murder. I begged God to show me what was next, how I might find my way back to that long ago Plan A – being a novelist.
In 1995 I read Francine Rivers’ book, Redeeming Love, and I knew I wanted to write books that glorified God for the rest of my life. That spring I wrote my first novel – Where Yesterday Lives. I had no agent wiling to represent it, and no publisher. Thirty rejection letters followed. The publisher I’d worked with for the crime books said they loved it – but without sex scenes and strong language, they didn’t know what to do with it.
I pressed on, praying and believing.
A year later in 1996, I received word from Multnomah Publishers – they wanted my book. And two more. At least. At the same time we welcomed our third child – Austin – to our family. He joined Kelsey and Tyler and we figured our life was set. Where Yesterday Lives was published in 1997 – the same week Austin was born.
Only days later, doctors discovered that Austin had a severe heart defect. At three weeks old, he had emergency heart surgery – a surgery that saved his life. The operation left him healed and with a life-long battle against congenital heart disease.
Over the next few years we decided to add to our family in a way we had never planned. We adopted three little best friends from Haiti – Sean, Josh, and EJ. (Click here for more of our adoption story).
Ever since that first novel, I’ve been writing Life-Changing Fiction ™, certain that when God puts a story on my heart, He has your heart in mind.
And I’m still sure that my professor from that distant freshman English class was right.
I’ll never, ever stop writing.