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Author Interview

Karen Kingsbury on Fifteen Minutes and the Cost of Fame

By Chris Carpenter Program Director - In a writing career that has spanned 25 years and 25 million books in print, it would be easy for Karen Kingsbury to rest comfortably on her 15 number one best sellers.  But the “Queen of Christian Fiction” wants no part of it.  She continues to write for one simple reason.  She wants her readers to “love well, laugh often, and find true life in Jesus Christ”.

In her latest novel, Fifteen Minutes, Karen examines the cost of fame and celebrity set against the backdrop of America’s favorite singing competition.*  Can a person of faith succeed in an environment designed to shape and mold them into something they might not want to be?

I recently sat down with Karen to discuss the aforementioned question as well as why people are so willing to make such compromises; and what she has learned about herself based on her own success.

What compelled you to write Fifteen Minutes?

My family and I have been American Idol fans since the first season.  To me, I never see just the surface of something, I always see the story beneath it. So I watched these seasons one after another, and some people come out fine and some don’t come out that well.  So, you ask yourself, “Was that worth it?” Because it feels like it cost you everything, and it feels like you can never go back to where you were. And that idea has always been compelling to me, and the last few seasons just watching it has given me a better glimpse of the behind-the-scenes.  I thought what a great idea to do a novel that would show this behind-the-scenes environment. Obviously I have a fictitious show, a fictitious set of characters and judges and the contestants. I take a Kentucky farm boy, Zack Dylan and move him from his place where life is good, to the show. He starts winning one round after another, and I show what that would do to him, the compromises set before him. It was fun to write, and I think people are going to be really compelled by it.

You just mentioned that you are a fan of American Idol. What hooks you or draws you to that show?

It’s a story, and that’s why, as a storyteller, why I like that show over The Voice or X Factor. It’s because they do a great job of giving you the contestant’s back story. You feel like you know these people, their highs, their lows, their tragic moments, and the show does a great job of showing that. But I also have enough people in my life that have been on it and have been finalists to know that some of what you see is manipulated to some degree, that there are ratings they need to consider, a lot of money at stake, and they make the show a compelling story. So I create a scenario like that in the book, where Zack unwittingly becomes part of a story where another contestant is kind of paired with him, and this girl has a crush on him and maybe they’re the Romeo and Juliet of that season.  However, it creates a lot of cost for Zack.

Based on what you just said, it seems as though this book, at its core, is about the decision of whether to compromise your faith in the face of pressure from career, family, or friendship.  True?

With reality TV being never bigger and getting bigger every year, I feel like there’s a sense that if I’m not famous, if I’m not well known and my number of Twitter followers or my Facebook friend number isn’t high, then my life has got something missing. It’s missing some meaning or some worth. And that’s a lie; that’s just not true. So, one of the main things I really want to raise as a question in the hearts of my readers is … who are the real winners? Is it not maybe the guy who was cut before the Top 20 who got to go home to life the way it was, and doesn’t have to sing in front of that many people with millions of people watching? With fame, you’ll never have that again.

Were you able to speak to some former Christian finalists from American Idol, like Mandisa, Danny Gokey, or Colton Dixon to help you prepare for writing this book?

Yes.  I’m good friends with Mandisa so we didn’t really ever have a research session so much as just hearing her story over time.  To me, the reality is they need a new crop of singers every year. The show is the show, that’s the product, and they need people to come through and be successful to keep that interest up and keep it going. The finalists are really a cog in the wheel. As long as you can be true to God and to your family and what matters, then great, but otherwise it’s too quick, and it can just destroy you.

I hope that as people watch these things, especially because I have a lot of younger readers, I have a lot of readers in college.  I just want them to realize they’ve got a beautiful life. They don’t need to be on a stage or winning, or have 100,000 Twitter followers to have a beautiful, meaningful life.

You have had a great deal of success in your own right as part of the book publishing industry.  As you were writing this book, is there anything you learned new about yourself that you didn’t already know?

Things that I realized about myself led me to writing this book. My dad would always say, the minute you believe it, it’s over. You’ve lost what got you there. Even in the book world I’ve seen it where people have an air about them. I really hold dear to my dad’s words. He said, there will be no autograph lines in Heaven. The minute you believe you’re something more special than the next person, you’ve lost it. You’ve lost your platform, because it’s a total God-given gift to write or to sing, or whatever it might be. I’m forever just trying to be a reflection back to Jesus. He’s the one that is the gift giver, and you should use your gift to glorify Him. I think things that I found out along the way, ways of keeping humble and grateful, genuinely grateful for the people, retailers, publishers, marketers, people who are working very hard for my books to sell well, to reach hearts, to be thankful for them and humble as opposed to letting it swell you up into this place where you’re not even relatable.

What’s your greatest hope for Fifteen Minutes? What do you want your readers to get out of this after they read it?

What I really want people to take away is a deeper appreciation for the real life that they’re living. Yes, sure, maybe it is the right thing for someone to go and audition and to find a platform there that they can shine bright for God.  That’s great, or there may be another motive.  There’s a contentment with what you already have that’s missing for so many young people and so many families, and I just really would like to see them feel some joy in what they’ve got. If they close my book and they say, you know what, I think I am a winner. I think my life, I think my faith, I think family, I think this is where I need to put my time.

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* Text provided by Karen

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