When an author's work makes both the New York Times and USA Today bestsellers' lists, you know their work is connecting with readers. Inspirational author Karen Kingsbury had several books make those lists, and it's almost become a regular occurrence for her novels.
For years her audience has clamored for her stories to be turned into films, and this year, on September 24, they will see their wishes come true when Like Dandelion Dust opens in theaters around the country. Karen recently shared her thoughts about the film, about the process of making the film, and her life as a best-selling author.
As the author of the novel it was based on, what has it been like to see the response of the audiences who've watched the film?
Karen: I've been very excited to see the finished product. The incredible acting, directing and editing have resulted in a very high-quality product. Clearly, the wins at various film festivals have validated that. It's not just us standing around saying it's a great movie, but the world in a very secular way is endorsing this film. I'm proud of that.
I also have a nervous feeling. The readers love the book. What if they think there's not enough of the book in the movie? I've been really, really pleased to hear the feedback that they love it and are really excited to take their friends, neighbors, spouses who maybe aren't readers to the film for that same Life-Changing response.
That's how the Downes have gone about this film. If the book is Life-Changing™, the film needs to be Life-Changing as well. So the real stories from readers who've already had the chance to see this film have been great.
A young man in our own family said his dad has seen the film, and after seeing it, his dad has changed the way he treats him. There's much more love and much less of a critical spirit toward him. It's been truly Life-Changing for them.
When someone makes a film of your work, you're entrusting your vision to someone else to see it come to completion.
Karen: I think you have to trust the heart of the people you're partnering with. If you have a like-minded vision and attitude toward the project, then it's a lot easier to give them some freedom because God is speaking to them as much as He's speaking to me. And it's not just that you're trusting them, you're trusting that God's going to be working through them.
In working with the Downes Brothers on Like Dandelion Dust, I'm trusting their heart and their intent. I'm trusting they're going to be honorable and keep to their word about what I would and wouldn't accept in a film and I'm trusting them. When I trust them, there has to be room to take creative and poetic license with the project. You can't put 100,000 words exactly as they are or it would be a five-part miniseries.
I understand there has to be condensing and there has to be some artistic license that happens, and I'm great with that. I don't have a sense of wanting to be overly controlling because I trust them and I trust that we share the same vision.
Your "Above the Line" series has been a real hit with readers. How did that develop, and how did all your writing activity mix in with the festivals you attended for Like Dandelion Dust?
Karen: When I was working on the Redemption and First Born series, I had kids very involved in Christian Youth Theater, and life and art really just kept circling each other. Things would happen and I'd think, "Wow, that would be amazing in a book." Then I'd be writing a scene in a book and it would end up happening in life sometimes. So it allowed me to be not too splintered in my interests.
The same thing happened in the Above the Line series. As I watched the production of Like Dandelion Dust, I was amazed what it took to make a movie, what goes into pulling that off. In the process I began taking notes and thought it would make an amazing series. I began talking about it during the week I was on the set of the production.
As, of course, they've gone through stages of trying to find a theatrical releasing partner and defining the marketing strategy and all this, my producers are also going through that in the fictional Above the Line series. There are, of course, differences and the novels are fictional.
But as I'm living out the research, it's a more economical use of my time because I'm involved in something I'm also writing about. So it's a wonderful dovetailing process. I'm getting to experience it first-hand and also getting to draw from very realistic first-hand research.
Last year you released a book of Miracle stores. That's a change from the novels that you're most well-known for.
Karen: The novels are sort of like a movie in my head. They're all made up already and it's like a fun journey. I feel like I'm reading when I'm writing. God makes it all possible, and He gets all the credit.
With the Miracle stories, these are stories I've collected over the past 10 years. They first appeared in a longer format in my collections of Miracle stories. I have Miracles Stories for Women, Miracle Stories for Friends, etc. So now we took all the Miracle stories I'd ever written and we decided to abridge them and condense them into 52 of the strongest stories. That way, a reader could take this devotional and read a small but true story that would inspire them to look for, and believe for, miracles. Our hope is that by going through this yearlong process of despair and hope, they could be completely turned around.
It was inspired by a real-life miracle involving my dad. Two years ago, on July 10, he had a heart attack. My nephew at 11 years old gave him CPR for 19 minutes after getting instructions over the phone from the 911 operator. My dad was a big guy, 300 pounds, and was in a La-Z-Boy chair. When the paramedics got there, there was still no heartbeat and he wasn't breathing. He should have been dead or brain-damaged.
My nephew had gone into the other room and was just broken and weeping because he thought he'd done it wrong. The reality is, nobody should be able to give CPR to a person in that condition lying in a La-Z-Boy chair. After 20 minutes with the paramedics doing CPR, a police officer pulled my mom aside and asked her, "Do you believe in Jesus Christ?" My mom said, "Yes, we do," and the police office said, "Then we need to pray so that young boy won't have to live with thinking this was his fault." They prayed that the power that raised Lazarus from the dead would breathe life into Ted Kingsbury.
As soon as they said, "In Jesus' name, amen," the paramedics in the other room said, "We have a heartbeat."
My dad went on to live another eight weeks and we had beautiful times with him. That miracle story in my own life, in the midst of seeing him fail and his health decline, we knew that God is still God and He can do whatever He wants to do to move and touch and change the lives of the people around Him.
Sometimes we get discouraged and think, "I need that miracle today. I need to get a job and pay my mortgage," and wonder why we don't get that miracle when we really need it. But sometimes it's a matter of really looking because the miracle that we were expecting isn't the miracle that we're given, and we need to be aware of that.
You also had a children's book come out last year. Would you tell us about that?
Karen: Yes. It's called The Princess and the Three Knights. I wrote it a couple of years ago because so many of my readers have young children. There will be two books eventually. This is a girl one, and a boy one will come out in a year.
This is a fairytale that's beautifully illustrated. It has a pink glittery cover, and little girls will be crazy and excited over it. It tells the story of a competition staged by the king for the hand of his daughter. It is narrowed down to three knights and they're at the final stage. Each knight must get on his horse; pick up the princess, and race toward the cliff. He has to see how close he can get to the edge without going over.
The townspeople have all gathered to watch. The first knight gets on his horse and says, "I'll take the princess within a foot of the cliff without going over." The townspeople are amazed. He charges his horse to the edge of the cliff and pulls to an abrupt stop and when they measure, he's exactly a foot away from the edge.
The second knight does the same thing and gets within six inches. The townspeople can't believe it. They say, "this is a shocking thing," and wonder what the third knight will do.
The third knight is on his horse standing tall in the saddle with the reins in hands. He lowers them down and tells the king, "Sir, I love your daughter and I would never take her anywhere near the edge of that cliff." He's the one who truly loves the princess and he wins her hand.
The message to girls is so clear. The people who love you, who truly care about you, would never put you in danger. They would never compromise your safety, your innocence, or your purity in any way. It's a beautiful message, and it's a very enthralling kind of fairytale. At the end it leaves girls with a very important message that if they can get it at this age, maybe they'll carry it with them as they grow up.
Photos from Like Dandelion Dust courtesy Downes Brothers Entertainment.